Saturday, February 9, 2013

Weekend Wanderings - Dog Sledding!!

Any Friday where you get a hall pass from the office has the potential to be a wonderful day, but it may be a while before I top yesterday's "work" day!

On a beautiful and snowy February day, I traded the business casual attire, desk chair and nice warm office for wooly pants, mittens and and sleeping bag in the basket of a dog sled for an adventure into the hills of Tom Miner Basin with Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures. A worthy trade? Without a doubt.

Our day started with meeting our guide, Josiah, who drove us the rest of way up to our starting point. During the ride, he told us about the type of dogs we would be using (primarily Alaskan huskies) as well as some of the big differences between the common types of working dogs (Alaskan huskies can go 150 miles in a day, where Malamutes go, well, about 35....). We also learned a little bit about his company and their dogs - rather than breeding their own dogs, their owner prefers to get dogs from racing kennels in Alaska where they often end up with too many dogs and nothing to do with them. Not only does this practice prevent unnecessary breeding, but it also allows these "extra" dogs to keep doing what they love and not ending up in a shelter or with someone who does not understand them and their need to work. After a day with these dogs, I can't imagine one of these guys or gals being happy living in a place where going for a walk or throwing the ball around was their source of exercise!

When we reached the point where we would begin our trip, we were able to watch Josiah hitch up the sled teams while he gave us instructions on safety and how the drive the sleds, of which we had 2 different types. Tamarak and I had a traditional sled, with a large basket in front and the driver standing behind. The other was taking by Linda and our guide, and had a smaller basket in front and room for 2 drivers in the back. This unique sled type is much less common (in fact these guys are the only ones in the area to use them) but allows novice wimps like us the opportunity to drive the sled, but still having our guide there to help out...basically Driver's Ed for dog sledding! We voted that Tamarak would drive her own normal sled (she does drive for a living, right?! Sure, it's trucks and snowcoaches, but who's worrying about semantics here?) and Linda and I were perfectly content going along for the ride. While Josiah was getting them set, we got to meet all of our dogs and see a little bit of the personality in each of them. Tam and I had a team of blondies - our lead dogs Dogwood and Rodick, who were followed by Krypton and Brie, our red-headed stepchild Drago (aka, our only non-blondie, a recent transplant from Alaska) and Peanut and Argon brought up the rear.

Once the dogs were ready to go (and they very vocally told you that they were ready!) we were off into the hills of Tom Miner Basin. The trip is about 8 miles round trip and follows the road up past the Tom Miner Campground on the Sunlight Road. The trip in starts out fairly flat and then begins climbing. When they are climbing, the dogs seem to be getting too tired and stopping, but in fact many times it is just that they can't tell whether the pulling got harder because of the uphill or because their driver has the brake on telling them to stop. You give them a little pip of encouragement to let them know they can keep going, and the energy jolt comes one to where Tam thought they were going to leave her behind a few times! There are of course regular rest breaks for them throughout the trip, but after they have eaten some snow and rolled in it for about 3 seconds, they seem raring to go already. Our comic relief on these stops was Argon, aka the Alaskan Jumping Bean....

Once we reached the top of Sunlight Road and it was time to head back down, Josiah's words of wisdom were simple - take it slow! After such a long rest (in their eyes, at least!) the dogs were ready to hit the road and the downhill would just spur them on even fast. Even with a foot firmly on the brake, the first stretch of downhill was like a wild natural roller coaster and the dogs seemed to be having the times of their lives. I, on the other hand, would have a prime candidate for the amusement park cameras that catch you mid-scream on the roller coaster free fall. Don't get me wrong, it was awesome and exhilerating, but I can become somewhat of a chicken when I feel like I'm flying through a tree tunnel. Tam did not seem quite as afraid as I was, because she was pretty liberal with leaving the brake along...which became a bit more evident when she dumped me in the snow. Near the bottom of the biggest downhill, there is a sharpish turn to cut across to another trail - we had a bit too much speed when we hit it and into the soft fluffy snow I went. Our safety instructions had been that, in the event of tipping over, to NOT reach out of the sled but just let yourself fall. Once you fall, get out of the basket and grab the sled so the dogs don't try to run off (fortunately, the tipped over sled creates enough resistance to keep them at least momentarily in place). So, I sat in the sled and felt like a slow motion movie camera as I gently tipped over into the snow. Later on, Tam told me that I had looked quite funny, sitting serenely as me and my pink poof ball hatted head tipped over as it was the most natural thing in the world. And then I was stuck, since she picked a pretty deep patch to throw me into.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, other than of course the awesome dogs, company and surroundings. When we returned our starting point, we were able to play around and pet all of the dogs while they each waited their turn to be unharnessed. They truly were such a loveable bunch, and few of them certainly had that puppy dog "pet me, pet me!" face perfected.

All told, our trip was about 3.5 hours and what an amazing way time it was. Definitely something I would do again :)

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