Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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They bring up images of Jack London’s novel in the Yukon during the 19th century Klondike Gold Rush, images of the extreme dog sled race Iditarod taking place over 1,150 miles of Alaska’s roughest wildest terrain. Alaskan huskies are magical animals. Trained to run 100 miles a day, they are unparalleled in speed for sled racing. Part wolf, part Irish settlers, part Siberian Husky, these dogs need 3 to 5 miles of exercise at least four days a week, preferably in temperatures below 20F/-6C. Powerful doesn’t even come close to describing how these dogs look when they’re harnessed and ready to run. However when we took our girls dog-sledding in Northern California, they were afraid at first. Some of the dogs on the pack were so eager to run that they were whining, barking and fidgeting. We hopped on the sled and bundled up in warm blankets on the snowy slopes of Mount Shasta. The minute the musher gave them the signal to run, the dogs fell silent. A whole new world opened to us and Lara’s theme played in my head.
Photo gallery – click to enlarge
Before our ride
“I’ve been doing it for 19 years,” said Pat Campbell owner of Dogsled Express as we waited for our ride. “Twice I’ve qualified for the Iditarod but it’s too expensive to do it. Instead I’d like to do the Serum Run, running of the medicine to Nome for the children. That’s how they started the race.” Captivated, I listened as Pat spoke while petting his dogs, checking on their paws, adjusting their harnesses and feeding them. I shouldn’t have been surprised but he took really good care of his dogs.
“Some aren’t going to run today,” said Pat, “and they’ll be disappointed.” Saying that, he switched a few dogs around on the running pack. The day we showed up, 23 of his 67 huskies were waiting for their turn on the snow. On good snowy days, Pat takes people for an 8.4 mile ride around Mount Shasta’s scenic countryside. A full hour of Doctor Zhivago white winter bliss minus the datcha. Unfortunately we arrived after a warm spell and enjoyed a shorter tour with some snowy-slushy parts. Despite that, our experience was incredible. We learned so much about the dogs, dog sledding and dog mushing from Pat. Just listening about it all made us dream of Alaska’s wilderness and a different way to experience snowy landscapes.
Dogs and Children
I even saw my girls warm up to the dogs and I loved it because it meant something clicked in them. They are usually dog-fearing children and these dogs sure looked like small wolves. At first the sheer size and muscle mass of the dogs intimated my girls. Their apprehension melted away when they were introduced to the dogs by name and learned tidbits about some of them. After a few minutes they knelt in the snow forming snow balls and spoke to the huskies all doe-eyed like we were going to take one home and they were addressing their future puppy. These dogs were very dog-friendly and some even came close to be petted. Talk about “breaking the ice.”
This was our first dog-sledding ride ever. I was even surprised that any outfitter offered dog-sledding in Northern California, way south of Canada and Alaska where most of the activity is concentrated. Would it be too cold for us? Too intense? Too fast? Would the girls be scared? It was such a relief to realize what an amazingly family-friendly activity dog-sledding was. The warm blankets provided on the sled kept us cozy and warm the whole time. The tall pine forest rolled on by us as we swished and swooshed on the trail. We even took a small hand in the ride as the musher gave us signals to lean right or lean left to help the dogs manage curves. That part really got my girls grinning.
“On by, on by, good dogs!” the musher yelled behind us. On by, on by the dogs ran, following their leader harnessed in the front row. Yes, Alaskan huskies are opinionated animals and dog teams need a leader to follow. Ain’t that funny? After two loops through the forest, our dog team slowed down to a halt and we got out of our warm sled. I could see this would be a fun activity with grand-parents or children ready for a different adventure. It was so fun, I want to do it again. I want to go on a longer ride. Maybe Alaska some day?