Thursday, February 26, 2009

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