The Call of the Wild

Miranda Clairmonte, 13, wanted a wolf pup for a pet. Her mother, Jeanne, said "no" and got her a sled-dog puppy instead. Miranda named him Trace. At the time, Jeanne was living in Marion, Montana, working as a night technician and later as a cook at the Wilderness Treatment Center, a substance-abuse treatment facility for young men.

Paul Strahl worked in maintenance there and, hearing about the new puppy, invited Jeanne and Miranda to go for a ride with his dog team and sled. Miranda was instantly hooked. When Trace was a few months old, Paul gave Miranda a harness to put on him, and the puppy ran with his team, learning the ways of sled dogs.

While Paul was raised in California’s Bay Area by a devout Roman Catholic mother, he drifted into a destructive lifestyle. Finally wanting to take control of his life, he attended Alcoholics Anonymous.

As a boy, Paul read Jack London’s stories of the North and was fascinated with the idea of living in the far North and running sled dogs. After his recovery, he made friends with people who had sled dogs and learned to work them. Following his dream to go North, he ended up in Montana, living near the Wilderness Treatment Center. He decided to get work there, because he felt he could relate to what the young men were going through and wanted to give back for what God had done for him.

One day after a heavy snowfall, Paul harnessed 14 of his dogs, put both Jeanne and Miranda in the sled and took off for a run. They had just left the yard when one of the dogs came out of his harness. Paul fixed the harness and again started off. Soon the same dog had another harness problem. Paul asked Jeanne to stand on the ice hook, the sled brake, and went to fix the problem. Trained to run and frustrated by the delay, the dogs took off without Paul and quickly reached full speed. Surprised, Jeanne was able to hold on with one hand and finally climb on the sled.

“Whoa!” she yelled, Stop! The dogs did not know those words and kept running. All the time Jeanne was standing on the ice hook, but in the deep, fresh snow, it hardly slowed the dogs. They ran about a mile and, coming to a corner, suddenly stopped. Miranda ran up and grabbed the lead dog and held on to keep them from taking off again. Paul finally caught up with them and asked how they were able to get the dogs to stop. Jeanne said, “I think an angel stopped them.” That was Jeanne’s first experience at running a dog team.

Through working with the dogs, Jeanne and Paul became good friends, fell in love and ultimately were married. They talked about many things, and Jeanne discovered that Paul did not know anything about Jesus. Jeanne had not been going to church, although her membership was still in the Dayton Adventist Church.

One September day in 2001, Melissa, Jeanne's oldest daughter, told Jeanne that there would be a Revelation seminar at the Kalispell Church. Jeanne asked Paul and Miranda to go with her, and at the conclusion of the meetings, both Jeanne and Paul were baptized and Miranda took her stand. During the studies with Rich Caviness, the Amazing Facts evangelist, Paul discovered that a good friend of his was also a good friend of Rick’s, creating a bond between the men.

Two years after his baptism, Paul went on a mission trip to India with Tom Glatts, Kalispell Church pastor. On this trip Paul presented the health lectures during the evangelistic meetings. He had such a rewarding time that he would like to go back to India for more evangelistic adventures.

Paul and Jeanne had dreamed of running their dogs in Alaska—even competing in the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. However, they wanted an adventure with more meaning and purpose than just racing dogs. That dream came true when they were chosen to be part of the 26-member team of people for Colonel Norman Vaughan’s 2005 re-enactment of the 800-mile, 1925 Serum Run.

Nome was dying from a diphtheria epidemic during the winter of 1925. The annual Serum Run commemorates the 20 brave men and their dog teams who risked their lives to save Nome. It also gives the opportunity to promote the importance of vaccinations and a healthful life style in the remote villages.

It was this educational component of the trip that Paul and Jeanne capitalized on. The 19-day trip down the frozen Yukon River from Nenana to Nome passed through a number of small villages. "At each village we would either have an evening meeting with the whole community or meet with the kids in their school the next morning," Jeanne said.

The team was able to distribute vitamins and toothbrushes along with their presentations. Frequently, Paul and Jeanne were also able to distribute pocket Bibles or Sabbath School papers that were donated by the North Pole Church. “Once finished with my dog chores, I would hand out the gifts we had brought,” Jeanne shared. “You think you’re doing something sweet for someone, and it is handed back to you ten-fold! The radiant smiles, the thanks and the hugs from the children were far more precious than the meager gifts we had given!”

Paul and Jeanne now make their living as contract, wild land fire fighters during the summer and fall and own their own fire engine. Jeanne's daughters, Mielissa and Miranda, are also certified fire fighters. They have lived in a tipi for the last four years and are building a cabin on their property near Marion. They each have their own sled-dog teams and frequently run in races. Much of their life revolves around the care and training of the 37 dogs and their other animals.

Their pastor, Tom Glatts, says, “Paul has the conviction that the things he does in life should help to share the gospel rather than glorify self. While he has had the dream to run the Iditarod, he went on the Serum Run to be able to witness.”

Featured in: March 2006