MAHOOSUC GUIDE SERVICE: MAINE, NEW HAMPSHIRE, NUNAVIK AND NUNAVUT

Little did I know that my vivid childhood memories of snowy mountain tops and dog teams as portrayed in various glossy magazines would take me on a journey, many years later, across the pond from the UK to the White Mountains of New Hampshire.With that memory firmly implanted in my mind, I simply couldn’t wait for my first experience behind a sled. I began my quest to find the first of my furry family thinking of an image of a large, heavy-coated malamute. With the help of a few good friends, one Alaskan malamute named Sasquatch, a treasured old Moody sled and a strong desire to learn how to run a dog team, I found my way to Kevin Slater and Polly Mahoney from Mahoosuc Guide Service in Bethel, Maine.I booked the first of several trips. One was a fun-filled day trip on Umbagog Lake by dog team. This was truly a hands-on experience from start to finish. The day began with a warm welcome at their homestead followed by a meet-and-greet with the dogs in the dog yard. We then gathered clothing and equipment, listened to instruction, met fellow participants and loaded up the trucks. The scenery was stunning, the truck was filled with excitement and conversation in eager anticipation of our wilderness adventure – each venturing with our own purpose.The journey across Umbagog Lake was enough to convince me that I needed to experience more, much more, and soon! The warmth and friendship from my guides, coupled with the power and devotion of their dogs, was the beginning of my own personal journey. After several day-trips, I felt compelled to sign up for a camping trip. By this time, the experience had given me confidence to add more dogs to my own dog yard, including two pups from Kevin and Polly. My friendship had grown with Kevin and Polly; they became my mentors and my confidence as a musher had grown too. My knowledge of running dogs was being molded through their expertise and guidance. The bond they have with their dogs and the dogs’ devotion to them simply draws you in, leaving you with a lasting impression of the joy of working with animals and the companionship of like-minded people.Memories of my camping trip during a very cold and snowy January include snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. These activities allowed us to take some time for ourselves and enjoy our surroundings. The camp meals and conversations by the camp fire with fellow participants were wonderful, with the dogs snuggled down for the night, and sunsets over the lake. This was a great way to slow down this fast paced life we live and enjoy a traditional activity under the guidance of two exceptional people. It was amazing was how well coached we were to deal with the trip, the dogs and life in a tent in the middle of January. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy a day, a weekend or a vacation. So much so that for me, my experiences with Mahoosuc, soon became a way of life for me.For some this may be a once in a life-time trip. For others, the draw is so huge that they came back several times and sample all that Kevin and Polly have to offer, and for a few like me, they gave me the knowledge and confidence to have my own team and adventures and a life-time friendship with my guides and mentors, Kevin and Polly. Lidia Dale-MesarosMahoosuc Guide Service has been in operation for 19 years guiding dogsledding trips in Maine, New Hampshire, Nunavik and Nunavut. We keep a kennel of 35-40 Yukon huskies. This is our own breed as we have a family line of dogs that began 29 years ago in the Yukon Territory. Kevin and I met each other working for the Outward Bound School in Newry, Maine and decided to start our own business shortly thereafter. I’d already had a lot of mushing experience from my 10 years in the Yukon Territory and Kevin had a lot of experience guiding, so we combined our skills and cumulative experiences and formed Mahoosuc Guide Service. Our trips are all owner guided so one of us is on every excursion. We feel this maintains a quality experience and ensures well mannered dog teams.Our dogs range from 55-90 pounds with good coats, long legs and a steady disposition which makes them a pleasure to work with. Some of our bloodline came from the last RCMP team from Old Crow in the Yukon and were also featured in the movies Never Cry Wolf and Death Hunt. We have many lead dogs to work with, and we feel that this comes from the individual attention they have received from birth. All of the dogs in our kennel were bred and raised by us and we keep them throughout their natural lives. Recently we brought in a puppy from another freighting bloodline for genetic diversity. It is a real commitment to care for the elderly dogs in their twilight years. We have a nice ground level basement with no stairs, easy access and plenty of daylight for the elderly dogs. We usually have 4-8 retired dogs at one time and they are on a daily routine of dog yard visits and fed smaller amounts of food more frequently than the rest of the dogs each day.Our kenneled dogs have their own houses and area within a fenced yard. Years ago we built three one-acre pastures for them to romp and play in during the off-season. We find this very rewarding for them, mentally and physically, to have a “summer vacation” and a break from working. This is also a good time to work out the pecking orders within the teams and build trust among themselves.With the larger size of our dogs we generally run smaller teams of 5-7 dogs. We find this to be very easily manageable, and that number provides plenty of power to carry the loads we ask of them. Our dogs always get a day off after an overnight trip, whether it is 2 or 5 days in length. We find they need the psychological break with so many different people working with them. They need some down time to get ready for the next group of excited guests.Our trips range from all-day outings to multi-day overnight trips, where we camp in traditional style canvas wall tents heated by portable wood stoves with fir bough floors. Our camps are very comfortable even for someone who hasn’t winter camped before. The dogs are staked outside the tents and get more than enough attention from the clients. We have our clients help as much as possible with any dog handling, feeding, bedding them down for the night. We find that this really enriches the experience for everyone.Our trips are not only about dogsledding, but people learn how to be comfortable outside in the winter. We teach clients how to dress properly, how to eat and stay well hydrated. Some of the trips also include cross country skiing and all trips have the option for snowshoeing in any idle time. We include lessons on natural history, such as animal tracking, to bring more awareness to people’s surroundings. There are maintenance chores that go along with winter camping such as chopping a hole through the ice with a chisel for water, gathering and cutting firewood, and picking fresh fir boughs for the floors of the tent. Everyone is asked to pitch in to help and leave the camp ready for the next group.We like to see the changes that some people on a trip experience such as an added sense of self-esteem and confidence from doing something totally out of their element. There is often camaraderie among trip members and bonding that they take home with them. It is also nice to provide an experience for people in the natural world. This is very rewarding and much needed. Some clients have gotten hooked after a trip and gone on and acquired their own dog teams. Others come back year after year, trying longer and more challenging trips.For many years we have worked with Cree and Inuit people in several communities and helped some of them start their own guiding businesses. We feel it is important to experience other cultures and see how they can live so comfortably in the environment that they have been raised in. We like to bring non-Natives to these northern villages to experience firsthand how Natives have adapted to the climate and what they have to pass on to us from their ancestors. It is a very rich experience and unfortunately some of the traditional ways are becoming lost. We like to promote and support the Natives who still spend time in the bush or on the land.Every year we have a few people work with us as apprentices who are interested in learning what we have to teach and seeing what it takes to run a small guiding service. It is very hard work and takes total dedication to make a successful business. The hours are long and we are out in all kinds of weather. This business is a “labor of love” and one must be totally devoted to it. The rewards are many, and in our opinion well worth the work! Mahoosuc Guide Service offers day trips through multi-day camping trips.For more information visit www.mahoosuc.com.To contact Kevin and Polly call (207) 824-2073 or email info@mahoosuc.com.

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