Illustration by Mary Crooks
National Geographic Education
Real-World Geography is a new series that profiles people from all walks of life who use geography and the geographic perspective in their careers.
A native of California’s Sonoma Valley, Jeff King always had a strong desire to live “a self-sufficient life in a northern environment.”
“Even as a child, I was interested in animals—dogs in particular—and outdoors and snowy environments,” he says. “Even though I grew up in California, my interest was probably spurred by the Jack London stories The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and Burning Daylight.”
When Jeff was 19 years old, he took his first ride on a dog sled. “The first time I went on a dog sled for a ride—someone had a team of dogs—that was a defining moment,” he says. “It was a moment when I just went, ‘Oh my God, I have to do this, and I have to do this every day.’ That was 35 years ago.”
Jeff says that after his first ride on a dog sled he pursued his newfound passion extensively. “If you eat, sleep, and breathe something, it happens,” he says. “I worked my way into volunteering for someone who had dogs and read every book I could get my hands on. I started raising my own team.”
MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK
Jeff says that it is truly exhilarating to prepare for a race and know that you are ready for it. “It’s so satisfying to have worked hard and see it come to fruition,” he says.
MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK
Sleep deprivation. It’s difficult for Jeff to stay awake for as long as the dogs keep running.
WHAT IS GEOGRAPHY
“Geography is the study of the physical, natural environment.”
Jeff believes that learning about the geography of a trail is an important part of getting ready for a dog sled race. “Understanding geography helps with preparations for what we can expect,” he says. “Through geography, it gives me the tools to know what I’m likely to expect when it comes to terrain and trail conditions.”
SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . .
Dog sled racer. Jeff suggests “volunteering at animal shelters, team sports, leadership training, Scouting, winter camping.”
Jeff says the Internet has a wealth of information about dog sledding. “There’s such a ton of stuff out there now on mushing and everything, and it’s at your fingertips,” he says. “Everything is there, from family trips to a short dog sled ride in Colorado or Minnesota or a family campout supported by dog sleds.”
For those with a specific interest in the Iditarod, Jeff suggests becoming an Iditarod Insider at www.iditarod.com. “That provides you some real insight into the event in some real time exposure,” he says.