Sunday, March 8, 2009

Mushers for a Day

My favourite activity on our northern vacation was dog-sledding. The sled dogs are beautiful and amazing. They live to run, and the colder the better; they function best at temperatures of –10 to –25˚C. Because of this, they get the summers off. The winters are for working and the summers are for grooming and relaxation.

We visited two dog farms. The smaller one had 115 Siberian Huskies. Each dog has a name and their own house. These were the friendliest dogs I have ever seen. This farm was within walking distance from our hotel, and Gilles and I strolled over there one afternoon to meet the dogs. We spent over an hour just petting and playing with them. We were covered in hair and a waxy substance from their fur that helps insulate them, but it was worth it. The second farm we visited had over 300 dogs from all three breeds of sled dogs: Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Huskies, and Alaskan Malamutes.

Our first mushing experience was at the larger farm. Gilles and I had a sled of four dogs, and we took turns being the musher. We were a parade of about five sleds, with the professional at the front setting the direction we were to take. The dogs we used were competition dogs: a cross between a husky and pointer. They were not as pretty or calm as the pure huskies, in fact they were rather crazy! They were clearly designed to race, and as soon as they were harnessed in, all they wanted to do was run. Even with my full weight on the brake, they could make the sled move! I will try and post a video of the dogs going ballistic, waiting to run. We went around a short course, and did we ever fly! We had so much fun that we decided to go on another husky safari the next day.

Our second excursion was at the smaller farm with the dogs that Gilles and I had already met. This time we had six dogs to a sled. This was a much more peaceful ride through the snowy countryside. The dogs were less speedy than the racers, but much stronger with great endurance. The trail we took was not groomed, and the dogs had to run through some pretty deep snow. These dogs understood their job: they ran when it was time to run, and relaxed when it was time for a break. I just loved sitting back, watching their six fluffy tails pointing straight up (apparently a sign they are happy and in no distress) as they hauled us through the snowy woods.

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