130 Miles of Wilderness + 16 Enthusiastic Dogs + 2 Guides + 1 Rookie + 1 Tent = A Dream Come True or A Recipe for Disaster?Part 1: A dream come true.Heading into the unknown with a bunch of sled dogs that are enthusiastic no matter where you take them always appears to be a good recipe for a great adventure—if not right then, then at least in retrospective. There is never a question that we will enjoy being on the land with our dogs—even if being lost in a raging blizzard or experiencing what ‘slush’ really means when dragging face down behind your team does not appear very appealing at the moment. Our Snowtrekker tent is our second home and we never felt threatened by the wilderness. (I am talking about polar bear free Northern Saskatchewan here.) But what if we have customers and often rookie mushers along? How do they experience the wilderness? What are their biggest joys and greatest fears?Generally, if a customer does not respond to a friendly dog greeting with a hysteric scream for a hot shower and soap, and manages to stay on the runners, the prospects for an enjoyable trip are pretty good. And if, on top of that, the customer wakes up early in the morning after a cold night of minus 40 Celsius with the biggest smile in his face, telling you “I woke up and my head was frozen to the tent wall” then you know the customer is definitely up for the adventure. This customer was 49 year old police detective Steve Forrest from England.MK: Steve, why did you choose a 7 day dog sledding adventure in Northern Saskatchewan as your winter vacation? Steve: You mean why spend a week in the middle of nowhere in the freezing cold? That’s what I asked myself when I discovered I was the only person on the North bound plane. Well, lots of reasons, really, but mostly because I can. I am fast approaching THE big birthday. This was my present to myself and I wanted it to be a good one. As it turned out it was the best. I wanted a hands-on, no cozy hotel for me, wilderness adventure. It had to be off the beaten track, away from the noisy snowmobiles, an intrusive reminder of the modern world and somehow so out of place in the untouched wilderness. I wanted the opportunity to learn running a dog team and I wanted to do some winter camping—although come to think about it I haven’t been camping since a boy scout. The package that Miriam and Quincy at Paws’n’Paddles Wilderness Tours put together for me fit the description perfectly—following in the foot steps of the early voyager and exploring some of the countless lakes and islands of Northern Saskatchewan. MK: Did you have any experiences running dogs before?Steve: I have seen the Iditarod and Yukon Quest on previous trips (staying in hotels!), but my experience in actually running a team is, well, limited. I have a dirt rig and I do enjoy running my few dogs, but living in a climate that consists largely of 9 months of warm rain and three months of cold rain, does not qualify me in any way—not even as a rookie. MK: So were you nervous when heading out with your brand new dog team?Steve: Of course I was nervous, but did not need to have been. Miriam and Quincy are both very experienced and patient when it came to teaching me the way of the dog. Their dogs were just the best behaved dogs I’ve ever come across, so willing and eager to run. First lesson I learned though: Those dogs are way smarter than me. Or as Will Rogers once said: ‘If you get to thinking you’re a person of some influence, try ordering somebody else’s dog around.’ When it comes to mastering the sled, there is nothing like a face full of frozen fur tree to focus your mind on the job at hand. That’s the second lesson I learned: Watch the dogs—not the scenery, tourist! But I caught on pretty quickly and the trip just got better and better as the week went on and my confidence increased. MK: Steve, I was worried for a while on the 4th day when I found your mitt decorating a spruce tree on the side of the trail. What happened?Steve: I never liked those mitts anyways. What happened? The further we travelled the more challenging the trail became with some narrow twisting routes across the portages in-between lakes. Some just seemed wide enough to fit the sled between trees. Don’t stick your elbows out our you loose them (or your mitts), duck beneath the overhanging branches, stand on the brakes as we plunge down seemingly vertical drops, and increase your steering skills—quick. It was exhilarating, even scary at times. And fun. And then we are through the portage and back on the lake, time to breath, rest the dogs and try some wonderful home baking. MK: I noticed after the first night, where it was so extremely cold, you could not be stopped gathering and cutting firewood for the little tent stove. Did you enjoy the camping part of the trip?Steve: Was I having fun, oh yes, big time! Camping out overnight, chopping firewood, swapping stories around the campfire, watching the stars, listening to the dogs howl. I enjoyed every minute of it. The only thing though is those northern lights. I have never seen them, don’t believe they exist, must be computer generated for the tourist brochures. MK: Any recommendations for first time winter campers?Steve: Regarding the cold, I have only this advice to offer: What are the locals wearing? Wear the same. Having said that, if like me you are flying from far away bear in mind that all the warm clothes, boots and sleeping bag etc. is heavy and bulky and the current airline allowances seems to be geared around everyone flying South for the winter with a suitcase full of t-shirts. Other than that, I can only say: DO IT as long as you’ve got the chance and you want to experience something out of this world. Just do it. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Would I go with Paws’n’Paddles again? Let me answer by saying I didn’t want to come home. Thanks for everything guys. Part 2: A recipe for disaster or: Oh my god, we killed Kenny!MK: We love to introduce our customers to dog sledding and wilderness camping for one simple reason: Most of them bring such an enthusiasm with them that we learn to appreciate all those little things we started to take for granted all over again. But enthusiasm alone doesn’t make you a good sled driver. Quincy, in all your years of guiding who was the worst sled driver?Quincy: Definitely Kenny. Some people think, if we let them ride their own team, there’s nothing to worry about and no need to listen to any instructions. That’s what Kenny thought. I saw him bouncing off trees left and right, frantically using his break in the wrong moments and shifting his weight to the wrong side. Finally, he lost what little control he never really had to begin with and dumped into the snow. I remember thinking ‘Oh my god, we killed Kenny.’ We became pretty good friends while we were sitting in the hospital waiting room. He came back for another trip as soon as he got rid of the crutches! I don’t remember anybody listening so careful to instructions as Kenny did then. And I don’t remember anybody being so excited and proud after a successful trip. MK: Our dogs love camping. They love discovering new trails, the extra snacks and extra belly rubs. Sometimes I think they get fed up with our faces and rather lick somebody else’s face for a change. They are enthusiastic no matter who is on the runners. There is no question about it: Our dogs are all super dogs—as long as they know who is in charge. Quincy, who was the worst dog handler and why?Quincy: Definitely Kenny. You know the saying: Unless you are the lead dog, the scenery never changes? Not so for Kenny. He looked at the rocks and the trees, the tracks in the snow and the birds in the sky, but never at his dogs. One time his dogs were tangled so badly that Happy was running backwards. Even Kenny noticed that. He tried to untangle them and before long he was wound right up into the gang line. Do you know the game Twister? Well, this was the four legged version of it. To make matters worse, the dogs pulled the hook and started running and tumbling down the trail. I remember thinking ‘Oh my god, we killed Kenny.’ That day I learned what cable cutters really are for. MK: Camping has become our second nature. The times of figuring out what we need and most of all what we do not need are long gone. We feel at home with the bare minimum for survival plus our snowtrekker tent and stove. Quincy, did you ever have a customer being unsuitable for the wilderness? Quincy: Definitely Kenny. You know the aisle in any major supermarket, where you can buy all those little knick-knacky camping utensils? Kenny had them all. Including mosquito coils and bear bells. In a hockey bag. Maybe a hundred pounds heavy. One day Kenny carried the bag up to the tent. He slipped and got buried under the hockey bag. I remember thinking ‘Oh my god, we killed Kenny.’ That’s the day we decided to do bag checks before heading out on a trip with a customer. MK: If you go to an outdoor store looking for parkas, boots and sleeping bags, you’ll find all these little labels claiming “Rated to -60 Celsius.” (Who tests this stuff?) But what might be warm for skiing or mountain climbing, might not be when standing on the runners of a dog sled exposed to wind and weather for several hours. It took us years to find the gear that works best for us. I sometimes forget that if I am not cold, it doesn’t mean our customers are not dreaming for hours now about changing their dog sled experience to a camel trek in the hottest desert on earth. Quincy, is there any gear you definitely would not recommend?Quincy: Definitely Kenny. Uhmm…Sorry, what was the question? Any gear I wouldn’t recommend? Yes. Kenny’s boots. Your warmest winter boots for the city will definitely not be warm enough for the trail. Not even for a day trip. I told Kenny to use our rental boots. He wouldn’t listen. When he got off the runners his feet were so cold, he could barely walk. For a moment I was thinking ‘Oh my god, we killed Kenny’s toes.’ So we switched boots. And Kenny, it was only minus five! Note: Kenny does not read Mushing Magazine. If you do happen to know Kenny and if you do happen to pass your Mushing Magazine on to Kenny, please let him know we still enjoy going out on trips with him. We always come home with a story to laugh about—at least when we know Kenny is safe and sound back home, where he works as a risk assessor for Health and Safety.
Dog scootering involves having your dog(s) pull you on a wheeled scooter whilst attached via