Ralph’s Story

VIEW WEBSITE ABOUT RALPH’S CHILDREN’S BOOK at www.gillyandthesnowcats.com

Greetings from Ralph Bovard,

I was blessed to have two loving parents, to grow up in a community with great schools, kind people, and ample opportunity for a young rascal or tomboy to vent his/her energy in socially acceptable ways–sports, water skiing, catching frogs and snakes in the marsh across the road, music, and sailing.

Not all kids are so fortunate. 

The value of the outdoors experience for kids of all ages remains vital. 

Rich Louve’s book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder underscores this essential truth. 

But things don’t just happen. 

You have to dream a bit, be willing to try and fail, put yourself in the path of the Gods, so that if they don’t see you, they might at least trip over you. 

 In my life, I’ve had some wonderful opportunities. 

Through good fortune, the benefit of some wise adult counsel, some sheer hutzpah, and a willingness, for some years at least, “to hold one’s life and all that one owns in the palm of one’s hand” and venture off on a far journey without knowing where or when I would return. 

There is a great quote in The Evidence of Things Not Seen: A Mountaineer’s Tale by the Scottish climber and writer, W. H. Murray.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. 

A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: 
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. 
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!

I started my post-secondary education at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa.

SIX YEAR IN THE ARMY RESERVES–Then I got drafted out of college in 1972 as sometimes happened in those days. I spent six years in the Army Reserves, four in signal corp, and the final two in the medical corp. 

COLLEGE IN NORTHFIELD, MINNESOTA–I was able to return to college after a six-month boot camp detour and decided to transfer to St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. It was a good place to be. I played rugby, swam, studied, and made some lifelong friends. Somehow, as a mere whelp from the bucolic prairies of Northern Iowa, I mustered the courage to “go abroad”, to study for six-months in England during the last year of college at St. Olaf.  

STUDIES AT THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD IN ENGLAND–I gave up my final year of collegiate swimming to study British architecture and Shakespeare at Oxford during the Michaelmas term in 1975. We had lectures from Tom Stoppard and sipped pints with him afterwards while in summer session at Cambridge. We attended the Fine Arts Festival in Edinburgh and hitchhiked all of Scotland and most of Europe.  

ODD JOBS AFTER GRADUATION FROM ST. OLAF COLLEGE–I graduated from college with a B.A. in literature and proceeded to work as a carpenter, an electrician’s apprentice, a boiler tender at a cement plant, a moving man, and a substitute teacher. It drove my parents mad. 

MEDICAL SCHOOL AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA IN DULUTH & AFTERWARDS–I finally decided to confront my demons and applied to medical school…and miraculously was accepted to the University of Minnesota-Duluth. I loved being on the north shore of Lake Superior and close to the Boundary Waters. I’ve been able to work on and climb the North Summit of Mt. McKinley (Denali) while a medical student (1983), sailed as a ship’s physician on the S.E.A. 126-foot schooner the Westward from Woods Hole to Grenada (1986), worked in a Lutheran missionary hospital in Finschhafen, Papua New Guinea (1986-7), was an Everest expedition MD (1989), a ski clinic doc in Snowmass/Aspen (1990-93), worked as a base physician at Palmer Station in Antarctica (1996-7) after which we sailed up the coast of S. America in a 60’ steel hulled sloop from Punta Arenas through the Straits of Magellan to Mar del Plata and then into Rio de Janiero.  

We were rolled in 40’ seas while drifting 150 miles off the coast of Argentina in a storm with 100 km/hour winds. A muy grande Tormenta! A nearby 100’ pescadore sank with all ten crew drowned. Todos muerte.

 We sailed into the Rio harbor at 5:30 am one morning, on gentle following seas, beneath the extended and welcoming arms of the Cristos Redentos.  

WORKING AS A SET PHYSICIAN ON HOLLYWOOD MOVIE SETS–Later, I was in the right place at the right time to relieve a medical pal as stunt doc on the Syvester Stallone film Cliffhanger shot on location in Cortina, Italy in 1992, and then I was the set physician for The River Wild filmed in Glacier (Montana) and the Rogue River (in Oregon) in 1993.             

VARIOUS OUTDOOR ADVENTURES–I have rafted the Grand Canyon twice: once in 1993 with a group of Aspen guides in 16’ rafts that we rowed the 223 miles from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek, and later in 2008 in giant 34’ motorized rafts with a wonderful group of friends and colleagues in a less rigorous but no less enjoyable float.

I had the opportunity to work on eight international trips with the US men’s and women’s alpine ski teams (1991-98) and US synchro skating teams (2000-2008). 

I worked in Aspen (Colorado), Tucson (Arizona), Missoula (Montana) and  LaCrosse (Wisconsin). 

I have traveled to Australia six times to learn medicine from some of the best in the world, visited dear old friends, and made some delightful new ones;

I’ve been to New Zealand 3 times, Fiji, Hawaii, enroute. 

I played in the inaugural “Old Boys” rugby tournament in Auckland in 1987 on my way back from PNG (barefoot because I had no size 13 cleats) and swam in FINA world masters swim meets in Christchurch (NZ-2002), Perth (OZ-2008), and Budapest (Hungary-2017).

I had at least one top 10 swim at each meet. 

Buddies Wade Henrichs, Roger Volkmann and I ski traversed the Wind River Range in winter in 1984 and climbed Gannet Peak to boot without seeing another person for 10 days. 

I’ve since skied the Haute Route hut-to-hut from Chamonix to Zermatt with a motley crew of talented ski friends in 2012 and the Ortler Route in northern Italy in 2018.

We have a group called the Snow Leopards who annually join some 10,000 silent sport enthusiasts to ski the 55 kilometer American Birkebeiner Nordic xc-ski race or the Korteloppet (half-Birkie);

I have done my 20 Birkies and now do the shorter race, albeit still ~25 kms. 

We (Minneapolis) won the “Old Boys” division at the Aspen Ruggerfest in 1998 and I played (at age 55) in an “old boys” rugby clash with my then 80-year old father with our old teammates from 30 years before. 

Finally, I played flute from grades 3-8 in the Mason City, Iowa, band, which is the home of Meredith Wilson’s Music Man. 

In Clear Lake, Iowa, where we lived in the summer and where my now 90-year old Pa still resides, the Surf Ballroom still honors the immortal Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Richie Valens, who left the music world bereft that fateful night in 1959 when their plane crashed in a nearby cornfield, and “the music died”.

I have no misconceptions about the fact that I was born into most fortunate circumstances. 

MY FAMILY HISTORY–My dad’s father was a physician in Pasadena, California, where my dad was born in 1927. His father, Gilbert S. Bovard, had the misfortune to contract tuberculosis (TB) from a patient. With no cure Gilbert S. and my grandmother Ruth, made the decision to send my three year old dad far away from his tubercular, sanatorium-bound, father to grow up with his aunt Jessie and uncle Ralph in Iowa. 

My pa saw his father only once more before the good doctor died six years later. My dad was accepted to five medical schools, but decided at the last minute to follow his adopted father/uncle into legal practice. 

Dad practiced for 31 years before becoming a state district court judge.  I think he would have been a wonderful doctor…but I think it hit too close to home. 

Although physical time is linear, the memory of time is circular; we cannot escape the haunting of our losses, or my dad his “abandonment”.  

We make life-defining decisions sometimes without any sense of where they will lead us… for better or worse. 

The Fates conspire to make us mad perhaps?

Milan Kundera spoke of the “unbearable lightness of being”. Of gravitas.

Today, we have largely eliminated infectious diseases as a common cause of death and replaced them with the “New Morbidities” of the diseases of lifestyle: obesity, dietary intemperance, and inactivity leading to metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, hyper cholesterol, cardiac disease, cancers, depression, amputations, dialysis, blindness, and prolonged periods of nursing home invalidism in the last decade of life.   

My greatest gifts have been my wife, my family and my friends. 

Much of my good fortune is due to these relationships and my gifted station in life. 

I’d be a hapless, miserable whimpering clod of humanity but for those who buttress my soul. 

So be grateful for what you have…but always dream big. 

Live Large! 

If you were to ask for a requiem for the Snowcats, I’d say: “Run fast, nap often, and howl at the moon when the spirit moves you!” 

For as Ken Patchen wrote: “There is nothing but the Mystery”.   

PROVIDING CHILDREN WITH THE OPPORTUNITY TO BE OUTDOORS–My wife is the CEO of a company that provides children, many in the inner city who immigrated to the US, with opportunities to be outdoors. Some of these kids were immigrants for whom their first “camp” experience was an internment camp. Here in Minnesota they can be exposed to wooded forests, quiet fields, and clean lakes. Rich Louve’s book, The Last Child in the Woods, speaks to this need for human animals to be outside in the elements. 

I wrote Gilly & the Snowcats on a whim of sorts. 

It started as a short homage to my niece Gillian, and grew into a more complicated journey when Gilly wasn’t satisfied with just letting her two cats pull a sled across the yard. So it is with dreams that sometimes get too big for their britches. Somehow my memories of my time as a research assistant on Mt. McKinley (Denali) in 1983 came rolling in. 

MEETING THE LEGENDARY MUSHER SUSAN BUTCHER–While on the mountain, I met the legendary Susan Butcher, mushing up the Kahiltna Glacier at over 7,000 feet elevation. Libby Riddles was the first woman to win the Iditarod, but Butcher won the race five times afterwards.  Sadly, she died of cancer at the age of 51, far too young.

MY IDITAROD CONNECTION–My veterinarian brother worked with Doug Swingley and his dogs that ran out of Seeley, Montana; Swingley won the Iditarod some four times. Soon it became evident that Gilly needed to live in Alaska and run the fabled race, but with a team of cats. And not ordinary cats, of course, but cats with attitude. Cats that dreamt big dreams and whose meow turned into a growl and then finally a roar.  

And so, dear reader, run fast, catnap often, and howl at the moon when the spirit moves you! 

My intent in writing Gilly & the Snowcats has been to provide support to the following five non-profit organizations from royalties:

Camp Fire Minnesota

4829 Minnetonka Blvd., Suite 202, St. Louis Park, Minnesota 55416

Phone: 612-235-7284 / e-mail: info@campfiremn.org

Children’s Cancer Research Fund

7301 Ohms Lane, Suite 355
, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55439

Toll Free: 1-888-422-7348
 / Phone: 952-893-9355 



Fast and Female

100-1995 Olympic Way, Canmore, AB T1W 2T6

email: usa@fastandfemale.com

Ann Bancroft Foundation

211 N 1st Street #480

Minneapolis, MN 55401
P: 612-338-5752

Email: info@annbancroftfoundation.org


The Humane Society of the United States

1255 23rd Street, NW, Suite 450, 

Washington, DC 20037

Phone: 202-452-1100 or 866-720-2676

email: donorcare@humanesociety.org

© Ralph S. Bovard 2018  –www.rsbovard.com - website by Joan Holman Productions: www.holman.com