Thursday, February 6, 2014

Dogsledding



 As Canadians, we should be grateful to have four seasons!  Nature inspires  us to “Discover Ontario” as stated on our vehicle plates. This winter we are experiencing extreme Arctic weather: temperatures that   plunge well below freezing, winds of gale force, snow and ice storms that have been devastating. Isn't it amazing that during hot humid summers, we gladly strip down to shorts and bikinis...yet so many people in  the chill of  winter are reticent to layer with clothing...don warmer socks...wear colourful scarves, hats and mittens?  Consider our season Winter!  We pray for snow on the evergreens for their magical beauty at Christmas time.  Our Canada is symbolic throughout the world for its wintery sparkle of snow and ice.

Granted, many enthusiasts (even me, as a skier for many years) are lured to “the white stuff” to snowshoe, snowboard, downhill and cross-country ski, toboggan and sleigh ride;  hockey players, figure skaters and bonspiel events frequent the ice arenas;  often ice fishermen with their tents, chair or short stool,  and with fishing rod pierced through the ice…can be seen  patiently waiting in the blustering wind and chill for “the catch”.

Last Saturday's Spectator (January 25) featured an article submitted by Lorraine Sommerfield about a winter adventure she experienced in Haliburton Highlands.  I take the liberty to select a few excerpts.

Dogsledding is the Way to Find the Beauty in a Canadian Winter

“Now you're going to have to hold the lead dogs steady while we hook up the rest.  Just pet them, use 'baby' talk even,” said Mike, my guide.  I looked down into the face of a black and white Siberian Husky who could smell 'cat person' all over me as he tried to pull away.  “Elvis,”  rather sternly I said,  “Come here and I'll hug you.”  I squatted down between his head and Gem's, the lovely white husky who was his partner.  Elvis started barking in my ear.  Every other dog around the other sets of harnesses started barking in chorus, except Gem, who I swear rolled her eyes. 

I thought I had crossed Canada's snowy terrain nearly every way possible...in boots and skates...in small cars and large trucks...on snowmobiles and skis...on  snowshoes and toboggans.  And finally, after all these years, I've discovered the best way to travel through the snowbound beauty of an Ontario winter;  being pulled by a team of Siberian Huskies.

Owners of Winterdance Dogsled Tours, Hank and Tanya have about 150 dogs that they have trained. Here we can experience this ancient mode of transportation.  Along with smaller races, Hank has also participated twice in the world famous Alaskan Iditarod as well as the Yukon Quest, a race he will be heading north for again in early February. 

It's tough to imagine the mental and physical stamina required of both man and beast ~ to run near the frozen top of the world in a race that can last two weeks.  It rapidly becomes evident that these dogs are not only capable...they live for it!  Removed from their snug cages by guides who cuddle and carry  each dog to its position, you can feel the electricity as more and more are put into place.  Barking, howling, yipping, jumping, they allow themselves to be petted, but they want to run now!

The order on the harness is calculated.  Some dogs are leaders...those in the middle are teamdogs...and those nearest the sled are wheel dogs.  Where a dog runs depends on both personality and temperament as well as physical attributes.  Dogs are trained from puppyhood.  Choosing 20 to take to a race like the Iditarod means knowing your dogs as well as you know yourself.  The sled has a padded, slung seat for a passenger and the driver stands on the back runners that frame the brake.

Once you're off, the dogs quieten immediately.  We're winding through a snow-covered trail, majestic trees bending under the weight of the white.  All I can hear is the slight panting of the dogs  and the runners slicing the snow.  I am flying through one of the most beautiful  settings I've ever been in...and I'm doing it in pristine silence.   Mike talks about his dogs like friends...Scooby, Maverick, Shrek and Suzy.  One litter they had, were named Doc, Wyatt, Kidd and Garrett.

I'd postponed this trip a  year due to scheduling conflicts.  If  I'd known what a remarkable experience it is, I never would have waited.

For your information:  The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is an epic event held annually in Alaska the first weekend in March...run from Anchorage to Nome...covering a distance of 1200 miles in 9 to 15 days or more.  Teams frequently race through blizzards, white-out conditions, sub-zero temperatures and gale force winds. 

Siberian Husky dogs are highly intelligent, strong-willed and sometimes will disregard their owners.  Obedience training is a must for all dogs.  Huskies are pack animals and don't cope well being alone.  They need the company of humans and other animals.

Previously, I mentioned that when my children were attending schools, we bought a Siberian Husky pup ~  Kiska was black and white with a facial mask and ice-blue eyes. As a puppy, she was strong and very rambunctious; my son accepted the challenge and diligently took her to  “Obedience Classes.”  He was elated to realize that when the dogs’ performances were assessed, they scored in the 190’s (out of a total of 200 points). When she was fully grown (and  my son a skier),  he rigged a type of harness for her. At Glen Eden, a Milton ski resort, he was the subject of attention as this Husky pulled him (on skis) across the snowy terrain ~ to the absolute delight of skiers and snowboarders...who viewed “human and husky” sharing “winter fun.”

Canada
( I extend my gratitude to Tom who today, sent me the following)

On the sixth day, God turned to Archangel Gabriel and said, “Today I am going create a land  called Canada.  It will be a land of outstanding natural beauty. It shall have tall majestic mountains full of mountain goats and eagles...beautiful sparkling lakes bountiful with bass and trout...forests full of elk and moose...high cliffs overlooking sandy beaches with an abundance of sea life...tumbling waterfalls that rivet your imagination...and rivers stocked with salmon.”

God continued, “I shall make the land rich in resources so as to make the inhabitants prosper.  I shall call these inhabitants Canadians and they shall be known as the most friendly people on the earth.”

“But, Lord,” asked Gabriel, “don't you think you are being too generous to these Canadians?”
“Not really,” replied God.  Just wait and see the winters I am going to give them!”

(Author Unknown)

Merle Baird-Kerr...scripted January 31, 2014
Comments welcome...e-mail to

4 comments:

  1. wonderfully understood and beautifully informative...
    Thank you for another fine Post.
    S

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you, Sol, for your comment...with enjoyment of winter activities. Readers and followers like you continue to inspire me
    to express my views and share experiences.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sherrie writes: "We had a Husky for 14 years ~ Chinook,
    who made our hearts sing."

    ReplyDelete
  4. I respond, Sherrie, with this quote: "Until one has loved an animal,
    part of one's soul remains unawakened."

    ReplyDelete