I while back, I tried dogsledding for the first time.
I hooked up with an outfitter in Temagami, Ontario, who guided weeklong interior trips. It was one of the most incredible adventures imaginable.
It wasn’t at first, however. I was quite anxious when I arrived. It was bone-numbingly cold and leaving the warmth of my vehicle was questionable. To greet me were a group of high-strung barking dogs, pulling on their leads in a wild frenzy.
The idea of being towed across the frozen wilderness by these yapping beasts was unsettling. When the outfitter led our group through a “how-to” session before embarking on the trip, we had to memorize commands for stop, go, fast, slow, left, right. It was like memorizing the multiplication tables for the first time.
We were introduced to each dog, all of whom had different characteristics, and all of which we had to become familiar with. There were happy-but-dumb dogs, bossy-and-snarly dogs, cute-but-nippy dogs, smelly-but friendly-dogs. What worried me the most, however, was the stern rule the guide kept repeating. “What ever you do, don’t let go of the sled!” It seems if you do, the dogs won’t come back for you, and quite possibly, neither would the guide.
My dog team seemed to hate me right off the start. They wanted to run fast, and I kept riding the brake to slow them down. The leader, a black husky named Bud, kept turning back and giving me an evil stare. The cold wind burned my face and my gloved hands began to turn numb five minutes down the trail. I started to question if I would truly enjoy an entire week of this.
What eventually banished my doubts was watching the dogs work as a team. What amazing, exuberant creatures. By mid-day, I was using the brake less and trusting my canine travel companions more.
For five days we slept in heated tents, on cozy beds of balsam bows. The dogs pulled us through some amazing scenery of windswept lakes, steep cliffs and old-growth pine; along the ancient trails called “Nastawgan.” We visited Conjuring Rock, Devil’s Mountain and Maple Mountain. I never felt cold, or anxious, again. I even think Bud, the lead dog, started to like me—or at least tolerate me—by the end of the trip, especially since I never once let go of the sled.
It was a perfect adventure in a place I’ve come to refer to as “paradise below zero.”