Dog lovers know the true love and selflessness dogs provide, but sometimes it takes an amazing test of courage to realize the strength they bring into our lives.
Reinette Senum realized it not long after she began a 1,500-mile solo trek across Alaska.
“I could handle the 55-below cold, but I could not handle the loneliness,” she said.
Senum, who grew up in Nevada County will be telling her story, “Alaska Revisited,” this weekend at the Nevada Theatre. The multimedia storytelling performance focuses not just on her search for answers and unwavering courage overcoming immense mental and physical challenges, but also about her dog Diamond.
A portion of this weekend’s performances will go accordingly to Scooter’s Pals, a local last-chance dog rescue organization.
“There couldn’t be a more appropriate partnership with ‘Alaska Revisited,’” Senum said. “(An) Alaskan dog Diamond was the hero of my journey. I would never have completed it without him. His companionship was everything to me.”
Senum had trained with two dogs before her expedition, but they were taken from her unexpectedly in the beginning of her journey. She soon had the opportunity to bring another dog with her, as she came across a trapper, who gave her Diamond.
Diamond, she said, had spent the last two years on a chain, and could barely pull the sled the first few days, but he grew stronger everyday.
“He was so amazing. He was pulling with his heart. It came to a point where I thought ‘I had to make it, what would happen to Diamond?’”
Before completing her journey, Senum was forced to leave Diamond behind, but she returned six months later to retrieve the friend who helped her through her life-changing adventure. She actually created “Alaska Revisited” to help pay for her way back to reunite with him. Sadly, he was hit and killed not long after bringing him to Nevada County.
Senum was horrified. “I thought, what a terrible way for the story to end. But then I realized the story is just beginning.”
Senum’s journey and story continues to inspire her and many others. She was told, after the fact by National Geographic, that she was the first woman to cross Alaska alone. Her personal odyssey inspired her to lead a life of service, strengthening her community.
She went on to serve as Nevada City mayor and become a motivational speaker. She’s been sharing her story for 20 years across the West and in Europe — a story that continues to evolve, changing as she’s changed.
The message and appeal of “Alaska Revisited” has yet to fade. It has been selected to become a solo play by San Francisco’s New Conservatory Theatre Center Emerging Artist Program.
Her already colorful and heartfelt presentation will be theatricalized with more lighting and character development. Locals can still see it in its raw, original form Friday and Saturday.
“I can’t wait to see it,” Susan Wallace, of Scooter’s Pals, said. “I’m so impressed and speechless about what she’s achieved.”
Wallace and Senum, brought together by their love of animals, have been trying to work together for nearly a year. Among many issues, Senum is moved to help the pets of homeless, and the homeless who need them.
“People don’t understand why the homeless have dogs, but my dog kept me alive – the companionship kept me going,” Senum said.
Wallace notes that veterans in particular become attached to animals, foregoing shelter in the winter so as not to leave their dog.
“We’re working together to try and come up with a solution for that,” she added.
Senum will take the stage with “Alaska Revisited” at 7 p.m. Friday and again at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Nevada Theatre. Tickets cost $20 in advance and $22 at the door (seniors $18 and 12 and under $12), and can be pre-purchased at BriarPatch Co-Op or online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/657356.
Katrina Paz is a freelance writer in Grass Valley.