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Adventure #8: Running with the Dogs (Dogsledding in Haliburton, Ontario)

We are about 20 minutes away for our cabin in the woods and I can feel myself slowly calming. The road is the color of deep ocean water, the blackest blue, and it stands out besides the soft snow covered pine trees.

I had difficulty thinking of something to get for Gerald this Christmas. I wanted to do something special for him so he recognizes how much I appreciate him but didn’t want to just buy him ‘things’. I ended up renting a lake-front cabin in the middle of the forest for two nights and booked our first dog sledding adventure! A little escape, a new adventure, an experience we could share – a way to stay connected.

We pass a blue sign that welcomes us to Miden, Ontario. There is a Bowling Club attached to a Shell Gas Station that boosts fast lanes around back. Godfather Pizza. Three Insurance Companies. A Value Mart. Why would any small town need three insurance companies? Live Bait & Tackle. Kawartha Dairy. We are 1.9km away; I realize that we have Sour-Patch Kids, Oreo cookies, a bottle of wine and no real food.

We arrive at Ogopogo Four Seasons Resort. Someone shoveled the driveway. It’s beautiful here. We check in and cabin #2 is our home for the next three days. It’s newly renovated and unbelievably cozy with a big bed covered in marshmallow soft pillows and a fireplace to keep us toasty. We often speak of selling our house and buying a home in the woods like this. I’d come down to Toronto to shoot on the weekends and return to nature to edit during the weekdays. What a dream that would be!

We relax on our first day. We spend the evening explore the town of Minden, walking through the shops in Halliburton, eating soup in white mugs. When we get in, we watch Canada defeat Russia 5-4 to earn the Gold Medal in the World Junior Hockey Championships and then fall asleep with ease.

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The second day, we go dog-sledding. We’ve book a 1/2 day adventure at Winterdance Dogsledding Tours. We forget our wallets on the way there and find enough change in our pockets and in between the car seats to buy a bag of whole wheat bagels at the nearest convenience store.

As we eat, I realize that Gerald and I are very different people. He is energized by noise, commotion, and people and I love solitude, peace and quiet. He can watch the same show 45 times and still laugh loudly, as if it’s the first time he’s seen it, whereas I abhor watching the same thing twice and would rather read or write than watch TV. However, the thing that sets us furthest apart is his unwavering belief in himself and his abilities. When he heard of the Yukon Quest, he thought he could complete the 1000 Mile International Sled Dog Race from Whitehorse, Yukon to Fairbanks, Alaska race with no prior training. I struggle believing that I can even drive for a sled for 100 yards without leading my dog-team head first into an oversized pine tree, as I did once with a snowmobile almost 8 years ago.

When we finally arrive, we see two trucks full of huskies, barking wildly, each roused and ready to run. I am, at once, excited and nervous.

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We introduce ourselves to our guides, Moses and Mark, and they joke that it’s easier for them to remember the names of 150 huskies than it will be to remember our names. You’ve got to love dog people. 🙂

They begin bringing the dogs out to meet us. The first dog to join my sled is Gem, and she’s a bit anxious and shy. I connect with her instantly, and in attempting to calm her down, I calm myself down. Harry, the next dog attached to the sled, looks more like a wolf than a husky.  Each sled gets 5 dogs. Phenoix, Spring, Hubble, Harry, Gem. 20 paws gently running.

The rules are simple:

  • “Hike” to get them moving.
  • “Whoa” to slow them down.
  • Step on the break when you go downhill.
  • Get off the sled and walk when you go uphill.
  • And never, ever, let go of the sled!

Easy enough.

The terrain is rough, it’s a new course. I’m wearing three pairs of pants and under-armor, two hoodies, a sweater and a jacket and I’m still shivering. It smells like fresh wild air with the occasional whiff of dog poo.

Guiding the sled is exhilarating. _MG_3252_MG_3181_MG_3323_MG_3164_MG_3305

The dogs are aflame. We cover 20 km and then stop to have hot chocolate in light blue tin cups. The dogs are fed hot dog slices from margarine containers and are impatient, feverish to continue running. I fall in love with Spring, one of the smallest dogs, who is jumping up and down frantically the entire break. She is a spark-plug of a dog. We turn around and complete the next 20 km. By the end of the four hour run, Gerald is near delirium, bumping into trees and determined to end strong. “I want the dogs to respect me,” he yells as we glide back into camp.

It was invigorating. A rush. We eat dinner and head back to the cabin. Walking in I think this is what frozen toast must feel like as it enters a toaster oven. The cold melts away, the rosy cheeks remain, and Gerald falls asleep quickly beside me, breathing softly. I stay up for five more hours, reading and writing. I’m too awake to sleep.

When I do finally begin to fade, all I think is that I would love to have a husky best-friend for Meatball. They could run together in the forest. And when Meatball gets older and her little bones tire, her husky best friend could pull her in a sled so she can still feel the wind in her floppy ears. ❤

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