“The problem is ahhh…how do you say…we don’t have enough…ahhh… tour guides. You will have to go alone.” The head guide said this to me in his French Canadian accent. The funny thing about saying, “How do you say,” is that it’s almost always followed up with the exactly what the person wants to say. So in this case, my response should have been, “How do you say…I’m screwed.”
While traveling in Québec, I had decided to try dog sledding for the first time. I was questioning my decision as the guides’ French conversation around me was drowned out by the chorus of 200 huskies howling in unison. Not only have I never been dog sledding before, I’ve never even owned a dog. I was more familiar with Porkchop, the dog from the animated series ‘Doug,’ than any real-life canine. Yet here I was, about to grab hold of a toboggan being pulled by six huskies, without a guide.
It turns out the guides’ dialogue centered on me and whether or not I could handle a sled going 32 km per hour. The conversation was getting animated and it seemed that two of the guides thought it would be a breeze for a Maine-born boy like myself. However, a more senior, grizzled guide who appeared to be in charge completely disagreed. The dispute continued until, with one drastic word from the older guide, the group went utterly silent. Slowly, the group leader turned to me, crossed his arms, looked me right in my eyes, and interrogated me with questions I never would have imagined.
“Some questions, American…” The older guide barked in a seasoned voice that had seen too many cold winters.
“Yes sir,” I replied, having absolutely no idea what I was doing here.
“Do you…have Type II Diabetes?” He asked.
“Umm, no,” I replied.
“Ok, very well. Have you ever played sports?” He rebounded with immediately.
“Yes,” I answered, somewhat confused.
What seemed like an eternity passed in a three second pause.
“…He will do!” The guide exclaimed, exploding into a bear of a laugh.
As ludicrous as this conversation seemed,I later realized that the guide’s questions
were apt. He simply wanted to know if I was a relatively healthy person with adequate coordination. As intimidating as dog sledding may seem, almost anyone can do it, with or without diabetes.
Eventually they brought out my snow chariot, and they even trusted me enough to put another family’s child in the bed. Little Pierre had no idea this was actually my first time. They lined the dogs up in three pairs, with each pair consisting of a male and female. Interestingly, if two dogs of the same sex are put beside each other they don’t run, but fight constantly. I stood behind the toboggan with one foot on each of two blocks of wood extending from the back. A rubber mat floated between the two blocks, connected by a chain to each of the blocks. By putting my weight on this rubber mat I would dig into the snow, slowing down the toboggan.
Dog sledding is an awful name to describe this sport, as it suggests that you laze back in a sled while a bunch of animals pull you. Though that could be a possible outcome for some, for me it was a team effort. When we came to hills I soon learned to jump to the side of the toboggan and push, keeping the speed steady. As we came into turns I would lean hard, counterbalancing the weight to ease the load and become more aerodynamic. We dashed through the trails, drifting corners with precision that left even little Pierre yelling, “Fantastique!”
I was not the master but an equal member of a team of beings working together. These huskies seemed like more than dogs, each having a story that matched their distinct personalities. Jeriko was a strong, bold male who was raised to lead from birth. Maloukana, a female, was adopted from a local shelter and was a wild card. By the end of the voyage she had urinated on another team’s sled and mounted other male dogs, despite every husky being spayed or neutered. Terattenami was timid but by far the hardest worker, representing the backbone of our team. These beings were individuals with personalities that could match even
my craziest friends.
Despite having a greater familiarity with slush puppies than real puppies before trying dog sledding, I had an incredible time. The act of bolting through trails with a 24-paw engine is an excitement you have to experience to understand. You don’t need to be a sports guru or a dog whisperer to participate; anyone and everyone should feel the exhilaration of speeding across the snow on a dogsled, and the bond with your magnificent teammates.
Where to mush:
Expedition Wolf is a family owned multi-award winning dog sled company just outside Mont Tremblant, Québec. The majority of their dogs are foster dogs adopted from all over North America.
There are more than 15 dog sledding operations with guide services throughout the Northeast. Look in your local area to see whats close!
Huskies are obsessed with movement. Not exercise, but movement. Even those with serious injuries will beg for hours to be part of the mush, despite their pain.