Contributor: Nina Chambers
Steve Charles graciously took Stuart and me on an introduction to dog sledding on the Windsock and other adjoining trails in Willow last weekend. What a great time! The day was beautiful! Cold, but who hasn’t been enjoying these bright, sunny days? The trails were in great condition, winding through aspen groves and over frozen lakes and streams. Along the way, we saw skiers, snowmachiners, and a couple other dog-sled teams all enjoying the day. Everyone was friendly, and we especially appreciated the courteous snowmachiners who stopped their machines along the side of the trail to allow us to pass without spooking the dogs.
The dogs are amazing; it was a great insight into what it is like to travel with dogs and a sled. I like dogs. We have a skilled and exuberant bird dog that sleeps against us at night. He can be single-minded about things, especially when it comes to retrieving. But sled dogs are another kind of single-mindedness. They run and pull, and don’t like to stop. Taking each in turn from being clipped to their tether near their dog house to being clipped into their harness and tug line in their place on the tow line, they pulled like raw energy and power. Then the barking ensued. Some of the dogs were impressive howlers! The older, large, dark dog in the back had some beautiful howls, as did one of the lighter-colored rescue dogs in the middle of the line. Once we let off the brakes and the dogs could finally fulfill their mission in life, to pull us down the trail, they were silent. I could imagine traveling miles and miles through the snow-covered country with stars overhead, just listening to the shush of the runners against the snow.
The other thing I enjoyed on our outing was the different personalities of the dogs. Granted, I was not around the dogs long enough to get to know them, but from watching them as they worked, I felt like I got a little sense of their personalities. The larger dogs’ gaits were an easy trot. A smaller dog in front bounced down the trail with both hind feet popping off the snow at the same time. One dog took bites of snow from the trail’s edge as he ran, another kept an eye on the dog next to him, either for approval or in challenge. The lead dogs were eyes front, tongues lolling, and tails wagging!