Will Rollins, a greenhorn--cheechako--(chee-chock-oh) is miserable in his new Alaska life. In addition to the bully after him, he can't seem to make any friends in school and doesn't know a thing about dogsleds, riverboats, hunting, or surviving at 40 degrees below zero. When Will darts out alone onto rampaging river ice to rescue a stranded dog, his bravery wins him a valuable, trained sled dog, Blackie, and a new human friend as well, an Alaskan Indian boy named Elias. It's Elias who challenges and inspires the cheechako to become a rugged outdoorsman and a real Alaskan. Will starts out by feeding, harnessing and then driving a sled dog team. He learns to throw a hatchet-and hit what he aims at! He learns to snowshoe and stay alive in the cold, to challenge his fears and to push on when everything he wants to do is quit. Best of all, he learns to be a good friend. But when a fierce, Siberian blizzard rampages across central Alaska, stranding Will's family, nearly burying their log cabin in wind-blown snow,it will be up to Will and Blackie to try to make it out alive. With Elias injured and Will's family in danger of freezing, can a cheechako save them? Can he save himself?
Cheechako is one book of an Alaska adventure series by Jonathan Thomas Stratman. Mr. Stratman grew up Alaskan and has since lived in the Pacific Northwest. Whether for adult or youth, his novels richly recreate the core Alaskan adventure and experience.
Below, he recalls his first dogsled ride, about age nine.
"The musher sat me in the sled and told me, no matter what happens, hold on to this rope. I'm not sure what he thought might happen, but what did happen is that the sled tipped, he fell off, and his seven-dog team went flying down a frozen Nenana street dragging me. I remember bumping along on my back for awhile, then rolling over to slide along on my stomach. The team didn't even slow down until they left the hard-packed road to head out onto the river, and I turned out to be too much of a drag in the deep snow. It's the kind of first ride a boy never forgets."
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