Thursday, February 26, 2009

Snowshoeing 101: Exploring Baisley Lodges

Pretty white "quick sand" (aka snow)

After my “swim” through chin deep snow yesterday, I decided to go out for a brief spin around the Lodges on my snow shoes to perfect my snow shoeing “technique.” From now on, snow shoes will be traveling as a required piece of equipment in my sled bag when out dog sledding.

Checking out a bird feeder

Me and another bird feeder

Time for a rest

Dog Sledding in Canada (Day Three)

A perfect day for dog sledding

Wednesday, day three of our Canadian dog sledding adventures dawned brilliantly clear with a perfect azure sky and nose hair freezing cold; a perfect day for…dog sledding.

Since today was the sled dogs’ fifth day in a row of dog sledding, Eric and I elected to rest the older dogs, Zoe and T-Bone, and take out a small team of the three younger dogs, Acadia, Okemo and Sobo.

Given the small team size, we decided to stick to the same six (which is really seven) mile loop we had run on Sunday.
As we were setting up we met up with Gino’s friend and fellow musher, Johanne who was setting up and preparing to go out for her last run before the Can Am Sled Dog Races this Saturday. Not wanting to risk an injury, Johanne hooked her six strong and fast Alaskans to her skidoo for added control.

Johanne and her team of six dogs

Putting dogs on the line

After Johanne got off, we hooked up our dogs. In single lead, was Acadia. Running in single lead is a big feat for a 9 month old sled dog. Behind Acadia in wheel, we had the powerhouse sled dogs, Sobo and Okemo. As we took off, the dogs ran much better than I originally anticipated. As we cruised along, the dogs maintained a good pace.

Scenery along the trail

Turning gee and heading up hill, the musher got some exercise as well. As we approached, we could see a small, currently inactive wood cutting operation. Since the dogs were running and pulling good, I decided to pass by the five mile turn around point and continue on for the full seven mile loop. As we climbed up hill, the dogs again needed some musher assistance.

Setting up the dog sled

Sobo, a Siberian Husky

Our host, Gino, grooming the trails with his prized Skandic

Acadia in single lead with Sobo and Okemo in wheel

Arriving at the “loop” portion of the seven mile loop, I nearly continued past it since the near blizzard conditions and high winds of the days before had nearly blown in the entire trail. As we glided by, I realized this was the seven mile turn around point.

The trail ahead

Turning the dogs “haw” I decided that the trail must be up there “somewhere” and headed up the steep hill. Going up, the dogs and I managed to stick to the relatively packed trail even though it was not clearly visible. As we approached the top of the hill, however, the dogs turned sharply gee and dragged me and the sled into chin deep snow. My calls to move haw went unheeded and we found ourselves well and truly stuck. In the very deep soft snow it was impossible for me to pedal to assist the dogs and get us down the hill since ever attempt to do so resulted in me sinking chin deep in snow. Moreover, the three dog team was simply not strong enough to pull me, standing on the runners through the deep deep snow. At this point in time, I decided to radio Eric and see where he was and what his ETA was. I radioed my predicament and he called back that he was about 1.5 miles out and would continue to ski in to see if he could assist me and the stranded dogs. At this point, I realized why snow shoes were required equipment for sled dog races. Unfortunately, I had left my snow shoes at the cabin.

Winding through the pines

Slowly, the dogs and I wiggled, slid and sunk our way down the hill through the deep snow and just as Eric was cresting the last of the hill to reach us, we managed to wiggle our way down onto the groomed trail. Of course, as we hit the groomed trail and I called “gee” Sobo heeded my gee command while Acadia attempted a haw and another go around on the completely loop which she had apparently enjoyed immensely. Not so for the stranded musher. Since I had put Sobo up in lead while struggling through chin deep snow, I had not placed a neck line between Sobo and Acadia figuring that freedom of movement would aid them in the extremely deep snow. I finally convinced Acadia to make the gee turn and we headed back down the trail.

The high winds the day before left interesting ripples in the snow

All told, the sled dogs ran approximately 7.2 miles, I struggled through chin deep snow, we learned that Acadia is not a good open country leader, and that Sobo knows more than I thought and only pretends to be "silly" Sobo. Oh, and something I already knew but was still sort of fun to watch: Sobo likes to be snow angels by rolling in the snow and Acadia likes to hunt snow gremlins in deep snow (and I mean really deep snow).

Maximum speed was approximately 17 MPH while cruising speed (moving average) was a blistering 4 MPH given the hour the dogs and I spent trying to slog through the chin deep snow.

Finishing up with Acadia (l) and Sobo (r) in lead with Okemo in wheel

Dog Sledding and Skijoring in Canada (Day Two)

If you aren't the lead dog, the view never changes

After Sunday and Monday's blizzard, Tuesday morning dawned bright and clear.

With the amazing weather, Eric, the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures sled dogs, and I headed out for some skijoring and dog sledding on the Trappers’ Cabin loop trail. The trail system starts in New Brunswick and traverses into Quebec. The trails are lightly used and one of the few other users is a trapper who uses a dog team to help haul his gear. The 8 mile Trappers Cabin trail is one way to access the trapper’s “off the grid” cabin. The first portion of the trail climbs gently paralleling the Madawaska River. At the top of a small plateau, the trail turns “gee” and heads up sharply through a pine forest. Approximately one mile later, the trail reaches a working trapper’s cabin. For today’s adventure Eric planned to skijor with T-Bone (but T-Bone had other ideas) and I planned to run just four dogs. Harnessing the dogs we put Zoe and Acadia in lead, followed by Sobo and Okemo in Wheel. T-Bone was harnessed and booted but then put back in his box while Eric got geared up with his skis, skijoring line, and belt.

The four dog team: Zoe, Acadia, Okemo, and Sobo

Cresting a small rise

About a mile down the trail after I took off with the four dog team, I noticed the sled dogs were distracted and looking back. Since this is unusual behavior, I glanced behind and noticed that T-Bone, complete in booties and harness, had caught up with us and was running full speed along behind in an effort to catch up. Not happy running behind, however, T-Bone jumped between the moving team and sled in an effort to resume his rightful place on the sled dog team. Not wanting to leave T-Bone behind and not wanting to hit him with the dog sled or end up in a massive tangle, I stopped the team, loaded T-Bone into the sled bag, clipped a neck line on him to keep him secure. As we climbed up towards the trapper’s cabin,T-Bone rode in the sled bag, seeming to enjoy the ride and sights of the trail.

Here we come!

Reaching the trapper’s cabin, the sled dogs and I stopped for a brief lunch on the trail. While I ate lunch, the dogs rested and were snacked. Shortly after breaking camp and heading back towards the truck, we bumped into Eric skiing towards us wondering where his skijor dog, T-Bone, was. Eric quickly snapped T-Bone onto the skijor line and we both headed back towards the truck.

Eric skijoring with T-Bone

Eric didn't want me to use this photo!

T-Bone demonstrating a nice line out

Altogether, the dogs ran approximately 8 miles round trip to the trapper’s cabin with T-Bone riding about four miles in the sled bag and skijoring back about four miles with Eric. Our maximum speed was 18 MPH while our cruising speed was a slow 6.1 MPH. Total load was approximately 250 lbs.

The sled dogs LOVE going down hill

Maryland Sled Dog Adventures Goes Dog Sledding in Canada (Day One)

Driving north through northern Maine on Sunday, Eric and I along with the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures’ sled dogs were blessed with good weather despite the dire predictions of a big nor’easter slated to dump 1-2 feet of snow in the State.

Arriving at the Canadian US border late in the afternoon, we cleared Canadian customs, and hit the Trans Canadian Highway headed west towards St. Jacques, New Brunswick. The biggest and most important question, will the dog sled (riding on top of the truck) pass safely under the awning marked 9 feet 0 inches. The answer…..yes, the dog sled (and sled dogs) along with us humans managed to “clear” Canadian customs just fine.

After arriving on Sunday evening at Baisley Lodges on the Madawaska River, our home away from home for the next two weeks, and socializing with our hosts, Fran and Gino Roussel, we headed out to provision the cabin with groceries in Edmundston, NB.

On Monday morning, after a restful night’s sleep in our snug cabin , we awoke to full blizzard conditions as the nor’easter racing up the Maine coast hit the Maritimes and New Brunswick. Over the course of Sunday night, Monday and Monday night, we picked up approximately a foot and a half of new snow here in St. Jacques. Never one to waste good snow, we devised a plan that would allow us to explore some of the new trails that our host, Gino, had groomed in since we visited last year. The plan was simple, Eric would ride the snow machine with Gino and break trail for me and the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures sled dogs. At the six mile loop, Eric would take over the team and head back to the truck while I continued on with Gino so that he could show me the ten mile loop and the Lynch Mountain trail. The plan hit a minor road bump when I went to turn the truck into the trail head parking lot and got stuck. Even with four wheel drive, the truck was good and stuck. After a brief attempt by Gino and Eric to push the 5000 lb truck out was unsuccessful, Gino wisely decided to prevail upon his heavy machine operator friend to winch us out with his front end loader. A few short and stressful moments later, the sled dogs and I were free and safely parked (not stuck) in the trail head lot.

Harnessing the dogs, we put Zoe and Acadia in lead, followed by a booted T-Bone in team, followed by wheel dogs, Okemo and Sobo. Eager to follow sled dog dad, Eric, down the trail, the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures dog were raring to go.

Out of the trail head we followed the trail winding gently up and down through the Madawaska river valley. Coming to a seasonal road, we turned the team “gee” and headed steeply up hill. At the top of the hill we turned the dogs “haw” and traveled upwards through a pine forest. Coming to the six (which is actually 7) mile turn around, I handed the team off to Eric while I continued on through the ten mile trail on the back of the snow mobile with Gino while Eric drove the dogs back towards the dog truck. After completing the 10 mile loop, we headed back to where the dog truck was parked, arriving only a few minutes before Eric and the sled dog team. After a brief pause to remove the dogs dog sledding harnesses, snack the dogs and load the truck, Gino and I continued on to explore and groom the Lynch Mountain trail while Eric and the sled dogs returned to the cabin in the dog truck.

Altogether, the sled dogs ran approximately 7.2 miles while pulling between 200-250 lbs. Maximum speed was 17 MPH and cruising speed (factoring in the hills which were slower) was approximately 7 MPH.

(Unfortunately, due to near blizzard conditions during this particular dog sledding run, we did not get any photographs. Photos of the gorgeous trails here in Canada will be posted in subsequent blog entries)

Dog Sledding in Harmony, Maine

Maine: The way life should be!

This past Thursday, Eric and I along with the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures sled dogs set off for the long drive north to Maine for over two weeks of dog sledding and other winter adventures. Arriving in Maine late Thursday night we spent three “harmonious” days at the Lumberjack Lodges in Harmony, Maine skijoring and dog sledding.

The Lodge at Lumberjack Lodges Harmony, Maine

While in Harmony we stayed in the Spruce Cottage, a cozy one bedroom log cabin. The Spruce Cottage has a small kitchen, a first floor bedroom, a loft bedroom, and is well heated with a wood stove and propane monitor heater. Charlie, Kim, Riley, and the kids are quite dog friendly and Lodge has roughly two miles of groomed cross country trails that join into the local Harmony snowmobile trails. We had stayed at the Lumberjack Lodge earlier in the season without the dogs and the dogs fit in well at the cabin. The cabin was cozy with the five dogs and two adults, but is suitable for smaller skijor or dog sledding teams.

The Spruce Cabin

By Friday evening, it was clear after two long days in the dog truck that the dogs needed a bit of exercise so Eric set off for an after dark skijor with our two youngest sled dogs, Okemo and Acadia, while I remained at the cabin to prepare a yummy hot dinner. Okemo, in particular, had a blast racing through the windy cross country trails at the lodge. Every time he would hit a downhill, Okemo would start to gallop with maniacal glee. Eric’s light only penetrated a little ahead of the dogs, so he had to trust in his lead dogs Okemo and Acadia. Eric’s report on the trails was quite positive so on Saturday I decided to try out the trails with the whole team.

Waking early on Saturday morning, we harnessed all five of the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures dogs and I headed out for approximately four miles of dog sledding and lots of gee/haw training on the lodge’s trails and then onto the Maine ITS (snow mobile) trails. In lead, were Zoe and Sobo, with T-Bone in team, and Acadia and Okemo in wheel. While out dog sledding, we enjoyed gorgeous tree lined trails and pristine snow conditions. The only slight “bump” on the trail was when the sled dogs dumped me within the first 100 feet while trying to make a hard haw onto the cabin loop trail. Holding on, my handler and Maryland Sled Dog Adventures’ chief poop scooper (aka Eric, my husband) came to my rescue as the raring to go sled dogs attempted to drag me through the lodge parking lot. After several go arounds on the Lodge trails, we caught the connector trail to the Maine ITS system and headed out towards the town of Harmony. Along the way we passed through dense forests and open fields. All told, we ran approximately 4 miles and did quite a bit gee haw training on the looping trails surrounding the Lumberjack Lodges.

Coming down the trail with Sobo and Zoe in lead

On by the photographer

A "gee" turn onto the cabin loop trail

Another shot of the same "gee" turn. The dogs cut this one a bit close

Wheel dogs, Acadia (l) and Okemo (r) pulling hard

Sunday morning, we planned an early departure north to Canada in an effort to outrun the oncoming nor’easter predicted to strike Maine. Arising early, we once again we harnessed the sled dogs this time placing “Rookie of the Year” 9 month old Siberian, Acadia, and established MVP, Zoe in lead, followed by T-Bone in team, with Lombardi trophy winners, aka the “Big Boys” Okemo and Sobo in wheel. After several gees and haws, we once again caught the connector trail to the Maine ITS this time heading in the opposite direction towards Cambridge, Maine. At about 3 miles out, we were beginning to run short of time and I decided to turn the team around and head back towards the lodges. This trail took us on a winding, twisty, turning ride through pine forests.

After our successful run, Eric and I packed up the whole Maryland Sled Dog Adventures crew and headed north towards Baisley Lodges in St. Jacques, New Brunswick where we will spend the next two weeks skijoring, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and, of course, dog sledding. Stay tuned for details on our Canadian adventures.

The long drive north (ok, not really)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Heading North

The trail ahead

After a long President's Day weekend of dog sledding programs, the sled dogs of Maryland Sled Dog Adventures are preparing to head north for a couple of days in Harmony, Maine (let's hope they are harmonious) at Lumberjack Lodges.

After our brief stop over in Maine, Eric and I along with the whole Maryland Sled Dog Adventures canine crew will spend two full weeks mushing, skijoring, snowshoeing, and relaxing at Baisley Lodges in St. Jacques, New Brunswick. I can hear T-Bone warming up his rendition of "O'Canada."

Our dog sledding head quarters and cabin for the next two weeks

The Canadian flag at Baisley Lodges

While dog sledding up in Canada, we will venture back into the United States for the weekend of February 28th to meet up and visit with friends and fellow mushers, including our Canadian host, Gino Roussel, who will be racing in the Can Am Crown International Sled Dog Races in Fort Kent, Maine.

Eric skijoring with Okemo

As we embark on this wonderful dog sledding adventure, I thought I would share with you some photos from last year's dog sledding trip to Canada. Stay tuned as we hope to post updated blog entries of our adventures as we travel.

Here we come, Canada!

Downed tree in the Madawaska River

Ice crystals along the trail

Linda Powers and team coming heading out

"The future is so bright, I have to wear shades"

Friday, February 6, 2009

Last Day at Tug Hill

So long Tug Hill....

Our last day of dog sledding at Tug Hill dawned bright, sunny and cold. Heading back to the Wart Road trail head, we planned a 5-6 mile run with the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures dogs after which we then hit the road with the sled pups to head back to Maryland.

In lead, we put Zoe and Acadia. In team, behind Zoe and Acadia we placed T-Bone, and then in wheel, we put Okemo and Sobo.

Heading out, we followed Wart Road to Hiscock except that we had a bit of "musher error" and manged to go past the turn off for Hiscock. Reaching the end of Wart Road, I realized my mistake but with the dogs traveling fast down a steep hill, I was wondering what options I might have available. After getting the team stopped and the snow hook firmly planted, I called "come haw" to my leaders and after only a bit of debate, they came around. Heading back up the steep hill we had just descended, I managed to spot the turn for Hiscock and we turned "haw" onto Hiscock. After turning, I realized that this was going to be a slow go as this portion of Hiscock was barely broken open and heavy with deep and nearly untracked snow. As we slogged through some deep snow on Hiscock, the dogs surprised me by pulling hard, especially our big wheel dogs, Okemo and Sobo. Following Hiscock, we turned "gee" on Bargy and the dogs enjoyed a fast run down Bargy. We turned "gee" again on Hawley and again, I let the dogs run. At Winona, we turned "haw" and followed Winona through it's winding stretch of heavily wooded trail and headed back to the truck. Despite the deep and relatively untracked snow on Hiscock, the dogs did great pulling hard the whole time.

Leaving the Wart Road trail head

Giving the "gee over" command and leaning to bring the sled to the right

After our dog sledding run, we made a brief stop at Frank and Regina's house to see the one day old Malamute pups that Aspen delivered the prior day, to say goodbye, and then to hit the road headed south back to Maryland, our dog sledding adventure, sadly, over.

Skijoring: A Day of Fun!

Anyone want to go skijoring?

For our third day at Winona Forest on the Tug Hill Plateau in New York, we decided to give our two oldest dogs, Zoe and T-Bone, the day off and head out skijoring with our three youngest dogs, Acadia, Okemo and Sobo. Skijoring is cross country skiing while a dog pulls you. It is an exhilarating and fast growing sport which combines cross country skiing and dog sledding. Originating in Scandanavia and literally meaning "ski driving" in Norwegian, skijoring (sometimes spelled "ski-joring") involves a dog and owner exercising together in partnership while enjoying the outdoors. Skijoring is not simply skiing while your dog runs alongside. It requires that your dog know all basic mushing commands including, gee, haw, line out, on by, and most importantly, whoa and it requires that you be a intermediate or better cross country skiier proficient especially in snow plowing and stopping. To read more about skijoring, you can visit the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures skijoring page and skijoring lessons page.

Eric with Okemo and Sobo practicing his snow plowing

Looking down the trail

Acadia and I skijoring

Okemo and I skijoring down Alice's Ally

For skijoring, the dog(s) wears a traditional dog sledding harness. We like x-back harnesses made by Dogbooties. The dog is connected to the skier by a line with an integrated bungee/shock absorber ranging in length from 7-13 feet. We make our own skijoring (and bikejoring, scootering, and canicross lines). The skier then wears a skijoring belt which the line connects to via a carabiner (we prefer screw gate or "locking" 'biners) and typically a panic snap. For skijoring belts we use our White Pine belts (we also use these belts for walking the dogs and for canicross). Some skijorers prefer "diaper" style belts that have legs loops that offer a lower center of gravity and tend not to ride up. Whatever belt you decide to use, it should be a minimum of 3 inches wide and padded. For more information on where to purchase gear visit the Resources page of the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures website.

Okemo and Sobo demonstrating a nice "line out."

After loading all of the dogs in the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures dog truck, we headed back to the CCC camp trail head at Winona (map of Winona).

We began by setting up the picket lines and dropping and harnessing the sled dogs.

Harnessing Acadia

Putting Acadia's belly band on while Zoe (green jacket) looks on

After dropping and harnessing the dogs, we re-loaded T-Bone and Zoe back into the truck (who immediately began throwing up a ruckus having now realized they were going to be left behind) and headed out onto Bargy. I had our pint sized puppy power, 8 month old Acadia and Eric had wheel dog, Okemo and lead dog, Sobo (aka the big boys). As we skied along, it was clear that the dogs were enjoying themselves immensely, especially Okemo. Indeed, Okemo surprised us with his aptitude for skijoring and his drive to go down the trail (note to self: try this dog out in lead with the team) although "whoa" is not a command that Okemo heeds well. Turning "gee" onto Frank's Fancy (for a list of commonly used dog sledding commands click here), Eric and I wound our way through gorgeous pine and hardwood forests blanketed with snow. Frank's Fancy is a fabulous trail for the dogs since it is winding and twisty with a number of modest hills (this is where snow plowing and stopping ability become very important). As we started down the first hill, Eric got going a little too fast and ended up wiping out in a snow bank. Following Frank's Fancy to Hessel, we turned haw onto wide open Hessel, going on by Bargy we turned "gee" onto Alice's Ally. As we turned onto Alice's, we decided to switch dogs and Eric took Acadia and Sobo while I took Okemo. Now, to date, Okemo has primarily been a wheel dog. At three years old, he's 70 lbs of pulling power with a little puppy mixed in. While he's not a speed demon, he is by far our strongest dog. Apparently, however, we for this particular little skijor excursion someone forgot to tell Okemo that he wasn't a lead dog as he galloped along, pulling hard during the entire 5 mile skijor. One one particularly steep down hill on Alice's, I ended in front of Okemo but managed to slow down enough that he was able to catch up. Following the connector trail (not shown on the map), we moved onto Dog Leg, eventually coming back to Bargy, making a "gee" turn and heading back into the trail head lot.

Acadia pulling hard down the trail

Acadia and I coming down Hessel

Stopped on the trail, Acadia searches for snow gremlins

Eric hamming it up for the camera with Okemo and Sobo

New lead dog? Okemo and I skijoring

After all that skijoring, the dogs and Eric and I were all hungry so while the dogs had a nice chicken snack, Eric and fired up the camp stove and made hot corned beef and swiss sandwiches and heated some yummy lentil soup.

After all of the excitement, we headed back for a late afternoon nap at our accommodations.

"This was so much fun," says Sobo. Can we go again?