One Traveling by Dog Sled

What Is a Dog Sled?
The landscape before us was best described as Tim Burtonesque. Everything appeared exaggerated and disproportionate – thin sprouting trees covered in mounds of sticky snow, forcing a bend in their middle, some curving enough to make an arch over our path.

The monotone pallet didn’t change for miles. It burnt into my psyche such that when/if Pete and I ever have a home again, I know the exact colour scheme we will draw from. Crisp white, the steel blue of the horizon, slate brown on the barely visible tree limbs, and the burgundy of the crossing signs marking the trail.

Perhaps we’ll leave out the tiny bits of contrasting orange though. The bright tethers of the dogs jingled as they ran, bouncing off of the white, black, grey, and brown of their fur. Behind them I stood on the sled, often mesmerized by their swift movements that provided the only sound on the trail.

We had been dog sledding before on several occasions, but never quite like this. We were racing 300 kms inside of the Arctic Circle, each running our own team, and feeling for the very first time that this is how dog sledding was intended.

We were racing 300 kms north of the Arctic Circle, each running our own team, and feeling for the very first time that this is how dog sledding was intended.

We began our experience by touring the Hetta Huskies Farm. The grounds are well laid out and clean – the dogs are organized by age, level of health, sex, and there’s even the enviable “Hilton” for mothers who just gave birth. Photos and spreadsheets are posted on boards throughout as a display of the various systems in place. The 150 dogs are managed according to such complex formulas that I began to refer to it as puppy tetris. (There’s even a tracking system to ensure that the male dogs have their, um, crown jewels checked thrice weekly. A quick massage with honey will ensure that they don’t get frozen.)

Detailed spreadsheets keep track of mileage and ensure that dogs are not overrun, and that certain dogs are not run with others (not everyone gets along, you see). Teams are formed by sex (to prevent accidental pregnancies), and so on. The permutations and combinations of what must be considered are endless, and even after years of doing it, are still being figured out.

Aknil and Obama weren’t making my job easy. It was sometimes a challenge to begin with, given the thickness of the snow with a minimally worn track. The dogs would fight their way through the fluffy stuff, I’d step off often to jog between the runners and give them an easier go. Aknil and Obama, however, had other ideas.

They were constantly yipping at each other. And every time they did, a burst of energy would course through the team and we’d surge ahead, often coming far too close to our guide in front. I rode the brake constantly and just hoped that these internal grievances of my dog team wouldn’t take us completely off track.

We finally made a stop so that a change could be made, another version of puppy tetris was underway. Obama was unhooked and picked up to be carried off to another team, Aknil stayed in the power position directly in front of me, and another was brought and tethered kitty corner. Their gripes would be noted on one of the many spreadsheets upon our return.

This was one of many changes over the day in an attempt to balance speed, power, and rapport. Once the final combinations were set, we were a steady line of three bundled humans with five dogs each, powering us over the Arctic expanse.

The permutations and combinations of what must be considered in running a husky farm are endless, and even after years of doing it, are still being figured out.

The weather was surprisingly hospitable. At only -10c, there were times we were even sweating in our heavy snow suits, especially when we had to help the dogs run up hills or over drifts that formed via fierce wind the previous day.

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