The wind-chill bit into my exposed skin. My hands were cold even through the thick wool mitts — but I was smiling from ear to ear.
I heard my guide yell at me as she turned around, “Are you OK?”
I didn't respond. I just gave her a wave. I was more than OK. I was alive! I was surrounded by mountains that reached to the sky, the snow all around me shimmered and sparkled like diamonds reflected in the sunlight. I was in God's backyard. I was in the Yukon wilds.
Today was the first day of my adventure in the remote wilderness, a few hour's drive from Whitehorse. Months previous, when I was planning this adventure, all I knew was that I wanted to experience snow, snow, and more snow (and I guess the cold had to be a part of it). I had planned a trip to learn how to be a Dog Musher. For five days, I would be in the wilderness, in charge of my own team of dogs, each with their own adorable personalities. I was going to learn how to feed the dogs, look after their well-being, harness them, drive the sled and, most importantly, gain their trust — a bond of respect, love and pure adrenaline. These dogs just loved to run.
Rule #1 when learning how to dog mush:“Never let go!”
As an active person (and extremely stubborn) I thought this would be a breeze. That was my first lesson. Let go of your ego and listen, watch the dogs and be a part of the team. The dogs will go as fast as they need to, and sometimes faster than you want to go. But dogsledding isn't about going as fast as you can. It's like running a long-distance marathon: pace, grace and endurance. Once you have settled in on your sled and grounded your balance, matching the dogs around corners, over bumps and around the trees is an experience beyond words. Your body relaxes, your senses become alive, the wilderness seeps into your heart.
I fell in love with the dogs. I had a team of four very hard-working dogs. The two lead dogs were my King and Queen. She was a very regal female who led the team of males. Her King, a younger dog, was eager for kisses and the opportunity to share my lunch. The two dogs behind them were my strength, extremely eager to run and pull the sled — with me on it, or not. However, they loved the encouragement; a few “Good Boys” always motivated them to run faster and both loved a good cuddle during a lunch break in the snow.
We were a team. We would run up hills together; as the dogs pulled the sled I was running right beside them, pushing the sled up the hill. Then when I had to put the brakes on, the dirty looks I received from the dogs was more than coincidence. I felt like they were saying, “Hey, aren't you having fun here? Enjoy the ride and let us run!”
The times when we mushed along on the frozen lakes, the majestic forest alive with woodland creatures, silence except for the panting of the dogs and the smooth sound of the sled on the ice and snow were surreal. I felt the wind on my face, I could smell the freshness in the air; I was alive and I was living. All I felt was pure joy, bliss and gratitude for this opportunity.
My guide was a young girl, on a work visa from Germany. It was just the two of us, with our furry team, out in the Wild Country. On our first lunch break, after winding through the forest with the dogs, we chatted about life, travel, who we are as individuals. She came to Canada wanting to work with animals. She was on a limited budget and here she was living in the wilderness. She didn't need designer clothing, or makeup, or to watch the latest episode on TV. Instead she read books on how to build a fire and how to survive in the wilderness (with a few romance novels in between). Here I was, in the wilderness with a person passionate about saving the environment, educating people on living a healthy lifestyle — she wasn't just preaching, she was living it.
My last night, back in Whitehorse, in a very extremely comfortable bed and after a hot shower had me thinking — do I need these things? Do I need a comfortable bed? Do I need a hot shower? The answer is YES!
However, I also realized that I want to learn how to survive in extreme cold, how to build a fire, how to find water and how to live in nature and create the balance between being resourceful instead of wasteful. We live in an “instant” world where we want everything now. What happened to waiting, working and that feeling of gratitude once you have earned something, even as simple as building a fire to cook a delicious meal? In short, I look forward to my next adventure in The Great White North.