Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dog sledding

The dog pen.
My mother, the dog whisperer.
Transporting the dogs to the trail head.
Way happier than Sabah ever would be in a kennel.
Jupiter, one of my favorite dogs.

Over the past few years, my mother has really enabled my ability to travel. From taking care of my dog Sabah to handling my mail, she has been a rock star. I wanted to pay her back in a sense so I decided to enable some of her dreams. She has talked for years about going dog sledding, but never did it so we booked it for her.  She didn't want to go when it was really cold so we waited until KLS' spring break in March. The season goes through April so it should not have been an issue.

As we drove up from my mom's in Wisconsin, we realized we might have been wrong. We didn't see snow anywhere. We got to the closest town to the lodge, Ely, MN, and we still had not seen any snow. We did not see a speck of snow until we got to the long driveway through the woods to the lodge.  We were more than a little concerned. Our guides assured us they knew where there was some snow.  They were partially right.

Taking a trail side stop.
Down at the soon to be famous lake.
Finding every last scrap of food.
Pure-bred Canadian Inuit puppy.
The puppies wanted attention so badly, they found a way to get their heads through the fence.

Team of three, ready to go.
The first day of sledding was great. They did find a trail system with plenty of snow on it. The dogs were still overheating though. At each stop they dove into deep snow just off the trail to cool off. I think I was down to a single layer and all I had to do was stand there. It was warm.

Driving the dogs was easy. You said, whoa to make them stop. Ready-Hut to make them go. Gee and Haw to make them turn left or right. Generally, they were great about just following the sled in front of us. We just had to make them slow up to not run into the other sled. They really don't like to follow. They like to lead so they run hard whenever they are not in front. If they get up beside another sled, they are very likely to fight so its important to keep them back.
Cooling off on a hot day.
My mom rides solo.
I ride solo.
Our guide, Jacob, flips pancakes.
On our second day of sledding, the trail system became half snow and half mud, lots of puddles. The last day, the temperature had really ramped up. They decided to move us out on the lake instead. The sleds go a lot faster and there is no mud to slow things up. I asked if things were safe and they said that they were.
Not much snow left. Better get out the wheeled carts.
Hans, an ex-Iditarod racer, out on the lake.
The lake, with all that water on the left, was supposed to be fine.
Even though they said things were safe, we saw pockets of ice melt. From my time in Antarctica, I knew those should be fine. I had taken snowmobiles across them. However, I never felt safe then. I certainly didn't feel too safe now.  Sometimes when you got off the sled, you would break through a few inches to the more solid ice below.
Taking a break.
Our other guide and my mom take a break.
Soaking up the sunshine.
After a final stop, KLS and I decided to ride together for the first time. I had paired up with my mother for most of the trip so we could visit. KLS paired up with Lars, an ex-Norwegian ship captain and ex-Iditarod finisher. He was quite a bit older and not as steady, but still out there doing it. Just amazing.
As KLS and I paired up for our last 15 minutes of sledding back to the lodge, we had no idea what we were info. As we turned the final corner, my mother and our guide were about a half mile up ahead. We were loosely following their tracks.  We could see our lodge up ahead in the distance and then we heard a loud crack. I yelled for the dogs to go faster, but it did not matter. Our sled went through the ice. Two of our dogs only had their hind legs in. The other one was clamoring to get its front legs on the ice. KLS stayed on the sled because one of the runners hit a rock. She was able to stand on the sled and hold it up so the dogs did not get pulled under.  I was thrown into the water. I did not respond well.
I clamored to the side of our hole and tried to get out. You should do a butterfly kick and try to throw half your body out at once. I tried to pull myself up with my arms which just made the ice keep breaking underneath me.  I cut up my forearms pretty badly before I could get a grip and wiggle my way out. Once I was out, I walked around front to the dogs to try and get them out. I grabbed Matilda who was farthest in and told them to go. The dogs did. They are amazing well behaved and I think it had more than just their own motivation to get out of the water. The sled pulled off the rock and KLS was pulled off as well. Somehow she held on to the sled and was pulled out of the water. Just as we were finishing up, our guide, who KLS had been yelling for, arrived on scene. He checked us over, started to do a lot of talking, and I just tried to shut him up and say lets go. Luckily, I had a mostly dry shirt in the sled and it was warm out. We hustled back to the lodge and were happy to call it a day. 
KLS goes solo.
A Grey wolf at the International Wolf Center.
A Grey wolf at the International Wolf Center goes to put the dog in its place.
We ran into town to buy some of Dorothy Molder Root Beer. She used to live in the Boundary Waters wilderness area and sell it to people who paddled up. They say they have kept the recipe the same. After that, we were on to realize another one my mom's dreams, to visit the International Wolf Center. Our visit lined up with a feeding which was pretty interesting. The wolves really just looked like huskies or malamutes, but a lot LOT bigger. Neat vist. Check it out.
The next day, we were on our long journey home. We swung by Lake Supierior to have a different trip home and stopped in Minneapolis, MN so I could meet KLS' brother for the first time. Good stuff, also good to be home when we got back. Sabah and my mom's dogs did not stop sniffing us for a while to see who we had been cheating on them with.
Feeding time at the wold center.
The names of past dogs.
Lake Superior.

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