Whoa, Fast Eddie! WHOA!!!

1st attempt:

On our second day owning sled dogs, we couldn’t resist taking them out for a run. One small snag – a blizzard warning. “Oh well” we thought, maybe it would keep snowmobile traffic off the lake. After unloading the dogs, massive snowflakes began to fall. We hooked up the team, unanchored the sled and yelled, “hike!” Nothing. They just stood there confused, looking at us like they’d never been on snow before. My husband questioned whether they were really sled dogs! Finally, with the two of us running along side of them and the kids on the sled, the dogs began pulling. Half way across the lake, it began to rain – sideways. With zero visibility, we made it back to the car and found ourselves soaking wet and stuck! Yep, we were “those idiots” you see on the news. After we finally got home, we felt pretty unsure of things – thankfully, we were too tired to give it much thought.

2nd attempt:

A few days later, my husband and I decided to take the dogs out by ourselves. Surprisingly, a park reserve nearby offered designated dogsledding trails so we wanted to check it out. Uh yeah, the trails looked like they may have been used by one snowshoer, ever. Still, we thought we’d give it a shot. We hooked up two teams of three and hoped that they’d be able to pull us through the deep snow. Boy, were we fooled. When the dogs saw the resemblance of a trail, we took off like a bullet. Then we knew why they didn’t run on the lake; no trail! My sled was in the lead and we flew up and over hills barely touching the snow. And when the trail came to a tee, I yelled “Haw” to my leader, Fast Eddie, and he took a sharp left. They knew their commands! I was so proud, “WOO HOO!” I whooped. Then… the trail narrowed into an overgrown forest. The dogs ducked right under the branches but I wasn’t so lucky. Before I knew it, I was knocked off the sled and I watched in horror as the dogs kept going. “Whoa, Fast Eddie, WHOA!!!!” I yelled, with no avail. My husband rounded the bend –  with instant panic on his face as he took off after them. I ambled through the deep snow cursing my short legs. Our saving grace was that the previous snowshoer had only gone a short distance further – making the dogs think that the trail ended. My husband lectured me about the golden rule of dog mushing – never, ever, EVER, lose your team. I was too winded to argue. When I finally caught my breath and got my team turned back around, they saw the trail again and “poof” – we were off, running over my husband’s legs in the process. This time, I successfully ducked branches and we seemed to find a good pace. Suddenly, the other team began to pass me and when I looked back, I saw an empty sled – no husband! We chased the team all the way to the entrance of the trail where there was (thankfully) a gate. With tongues hanging out and excitement in their eyes, the team looked back at me and I knew what they were thinking, “we won the race!” What else could I do but tell them they were good – and tie them up, tight. Eventually, my husband emerged from the woods with a bloody lip from a branch that whacked him in the face. I motioned with my hands, “let’s have it” and under his breath he offered an exhausted apology. After we collected ourselves and untangled the teams, we both agreed that we couldn’t leave on such a disastrous note – we needed to tackle the trail again. Just as we relished in the fact that no one had seen us, I spotted a lone photographer in the woods! Oh great – where are those photo’s going to appear! Perhaps under the photographic pressure, me and my team effortlessly made it to through the forest and eventually stopped to wait for my husband. I thought his team looked so majestic bounding over the hill… until I saw it – an empty sled! Not again! Fortunately, I was ready to secure the team and my husband wasn’t far behind. Darn branches! The trail ride back was a smooth and somewhat redeeming – however, we broke the golden rule THREE times in one day! Yep… us greenhorns have got some learnin to do 😉

Stay tuned for our 3rd attempt!

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Meet Our Sled Dogs!

When we finally met our new dogs, we were so pleasantly surprised to see how affectionate they were! Instantly attached to them! And we knew they had been well cared for because the musher teared up as the dogs were unloaded from her dog box and loaded into ours. The feeling we had from the love in her eyes was that of great responsibility. We promised to be good stewards of the creatures placed in our care… then I gave her some Godiva chocolates. Chocolate aids every situation. And with that, we were on our way home – getting second looks on the freeway as our dogs stuck their snouts out of the holes in the dog box. “This is going to be quite an adventure” the kids said more than once!

Stay tuned for more 🙂

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Prophet

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Fast Eddie

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Sid

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Hamilton & Jackson

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Dejour (DJ)

Mushing 4 Dummies? – Click, Click!

Approaching the next step in our dog mushing obsession, my fingers hovered over the keyboard; I hesitated… then quickly typed, “sled dogs for sale.” In an instant, it was over – I’d taken the first step into sled dog ownership. There was no going back. My very first search led me to a kennel in northern Minnesota; it mentioned a few dogs for sale, so I called them. The lady, a renowned dog musher herself, grilled me a about my experience, then told me that she thought they could put a mature team of six together for us. Wow! It seemed too good to be true. And when we called on other kennels, we discovered that finding a trained team for sale was a rare find. The first piece seemed to slide into place. Our next dilemma, living in the suburbs. Where would we keep our team? Our second call was made to some relatives that operated an animal education center a few miles from us. As dumb luck would have it, their barn had just become available and boarding our dogs would work. Click… next piece in place. Our next stop; Amazon.com for books and videos – basically, mushing for dummies kind of stuff. After reading as much as we could, we learned that we had A LOT to learn. “What are we getting ourselves into?” We asked each other. Between us, we could’t think of a good enough reason not to do it, so we forged ahead. I called our city park and rec office and asked, “where can we run a team of sled dogs in the area?” “Uh, what?” I repeated my question. “Uh, what!?” The confused lady said again. Following up with, “In all my years I’ve never been asked that question.” I found this to be same case with the county. One park and rec personnel however, found that dog sledding was allowed in a local park reserve near our home as well as three others in the metro area.  Next phase; the dog box. My husband found a box for sale but it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for – coincidentally though, they happened to have two small sleds that they sold us. Click, click! Then, with the help of a few youtube videos, we decided to build our own dog box. The kids had fun helping my husband and it was rewarding to see the project turn out great! Before we committed to the final purchase of the team of six, we went up to Ely Minnesota for another dog sledding adventure. It happened to be a gorgeous weekend, further solidifying our desire to have a team of our own. Heading out of Ely that weekend, we stopped at Kondos dog supplies and the owners not only outfitted us with all of our ropes, lines and collars, they were also encouraging and full of helpful hints. Throughout our venture into sled dog ownership, we’ve discovered a wonderful group of people – willing to help out those brave enough to dive into such an obsession.

Stay tuned for the next click; the dogs!

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Bitten by the dogsled racing bug!

We went up north to watch the John Beargrease dogsled race. The 400+ race begins in Duluth, travels up the Gunflint Trail and ends back in Duluth. Mushers must sleep outside during part of the race because it is an Ididerod qualifier. It was so much fun to see the excitement of the dogs in their element – and to see so many female mushers! A sport that my husband, myself and my daughters could do together! Hmm… “We can do this!” Well, if we had training… and a team of dogs, and sleds and a kennel and a trailer…Hmm. Wheels start turning…
*Stay tuned for more.

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Feeling Silence

Feeling Silence

Continuing with our quest to embrace the Minnesota winter, we were drawn to yet another dog sledding adventure. We weren’t quite sure what the alure was, but it kept us coming back for more. After we’d thoroughly had a day of fun zipping over portages, fishing on the ice, and eating lunch over a fire in the wilderness, the day (and our energy) wound down. The late afternoon sun set low in the sky and we methodically began the journey back to where we’d begun. Our girls had become quite skilled at mushing so they led their own team of dogs out. As we cut through a forest passage, I watched ahead as each girl balanced naturally on one ski. One stared ahead while the other gazed back – As if they were listening to something. They were not listening to an iPod, talking on the phone, or even speaking words to one another… they were just feeling the rare sound of silence. And when I calmed my mind, I heard it too. With only the background noise of breathing dogs and the sled moving over the snow, the entire world seemed to mute. I tuned in to the falling snow and looked up in wonder at the magnificent pines. My soul stilled and my heart opened to the creator of it all. The feeling of silence; what a wonderful alure.

“Hooked” on Mushing… and More

In 2011, after embracing winter, we took our three kids and our new found love of the season to the dogsled capitol of the world; Ely, Minnesota. This is where we met local musher, “Basswood Bob.” Where our initial dog sledding experience on the Gunflint trail had been methodical and rule bound, all caution was thrown to the wind with Bob. Not that he was reckless with us, we like to think that he just sensed our raw, natural mushing talent. Our journey began with Bob unloading dogs and directing us where to harness them in the gang-line. With a lot of howling, jumping and peeing, we learned; the faster the better. When the teams were complete, Bob boarded the lead sled and casually instructed us to pull the anchor hook out of the ice after his team had set out. And with that, he was gone. Apparently, we were in charge of our own sleds and dogs! Not quite knowing what we were getting into or even where we were going, I looked back at my husband and we shared a look of hesitation. The dogs instinctively wanted to follow their leader, leaping and lurching forward – encouraging us to go for it. Balancing on one ski of the sled with my daughter balancing on the other, I reached down and jarred the anchor hook out of the ice. With a quick release of power, adrenaline, and dog poo, we too were gone. When the dogs paced themselves and the snow settled, I saw Bob’s team heading into the sunrise and my husband’s team galloping up from behind – like animations in a vintage snow globe. From one pristine lake to the next, we crossed over portages and cut through forests of giant pine trees. We emerged onto a lake that bordered Canada and tied the teams up next to the boulder shores of a snow-covered wilderness island. The dogs immediately curled up to rest and the falling snow blanketed them. After the guys drilled holes and set out ice fishing tip-ups, we built a warm fire right on the lake and waited. One by one, little orange flags popped up and the fishing frenzy began. We pulled in one lunker after another, laughing at the excited wide eyes of our children. When one of our daughters caught a 38 inch pike and coddled it like a baby, Bob said, “I’ve seen a lot of things, but I’ve never seen a girl hug a fish before.” And when our kids skillfully and enthusiastically mushed their own team of dogs on the way back, we knew we were hooked. Hooked on more than the ice fishing or the winter wilderness or even the dog sledding… we were hooked on the adventure.

Stay tuned for more on our developing obsession…

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Cocker Spaniel Sled Dogs?

After our first experience dog sledding, the kids were determined to become dog mushers. When we didn’t give in to their plea for real sled dogs, they asked if our cocker spaniels could be sled dogs. With a hesitant “maybe” from us, their sights were set. They found an old wooden sled at a garage sale and spent all of their money on two small harnesses and leather booties.  Throughout the summer, we laughed as the dogs were coaxed into pulling the sled around the yard. The only thing the dogs seemed to be successful at was gaining weight from the endless “training rewards.” And yet, the kids remained lovingly unyielding.

When winter came and snow accumulated, we rented a cabin for the weekend on the magnificent Gunflint Trail in Northern Minnesota. We booked another dogsledding trip with renowned musher, Erik Simula, and we were all equally excited.

The kids asked to bring the cocker spaniels with us for the weekend to train them at the cabin. We agreed – knowing that the dogs probably wouldn’t want to place their paws onto a frozen lake, let alone pull a sled! We figured that all hopes of our dogs becoming Ididerod champions would draw to a conclusion that weekend. However… the will of a child can be an all powerful thing.

Upon returning to the cabin from yet another amazing mushing adventure with Erik, the kids were more resolved than ever. The next morning, my husband and I awoke to applause outside. We stepped out onto the deck and observed a training trail in the snow, lined with our firewood. Around the bend came the cockers, harnessed up – pulling a sled of logs. The kids announced that the dogs were ready!

We all bundled up and headed out onto the frozen lake, not expecting much but excited nonetheless. After a few minor adjustments, treats and encouragements, the dogs were off! With snow flying and kids cheering, the cockers actually pulled the sled all over the lake!

It was a moment that my husband and I will never forget.

And so the question has been answered. With the persistence of a child and the unbridged love of a dog – yes, absolutely…a cocker spaniel can be a sled dog. Even for just for one afternoon.

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Stay tuned for more about our evolving sled dog obsession!