Monday, January 31, 2011

A Dog Sled Adventure

If you’ve ever read Call of the Wild or watched the grueling Iditarod, you might have, like me, visions of dog sledding being an epic journey through frozen tundra, relying solely on your survival skills and the cunning of your faithful dog team.

Alas, my 20-minute ride with a musher from the Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel around the grounds of the Omni Mount Washington Resort was not exactly a brutal test of endurance. But we did get to enjoy the company of some energetic furry friends, one of which that actually did participate in the Iditarod.
After a check- in at the Activities Desk at the Omni Mount Washington Hotel, we drove down to the Dog Sled area, near the Bretton Arms Inn. There were four or five teams there, and they all looked anxious to get running. Since you have to be at least three years old to ride, Bridget and I would be hopping in the sled while Matt and Timothy took pictures.

Even though Bridget is enamored with dogs in general, I wasn’t sure if she would suddenly become tentative in the face of so many dogs - some a bit more energetic than our 11-year-old Lab. But she didn’t hesitate to approach them and begin petting their ears.
Chris, our musher, first introduced us to all the dogs. He clearly cared for the dogs, and shared a story or some history for each one, including one of the two lead dogs, named Quebec, which had lead in the Iditarod and won! The Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel is based in Jefferson, NH, and many of the dogs are “rescue” or “second chance” dogs, meaning that they’re either past their prime for racing or just in need of a home. The front three pairs were all Alaskan Huskies, and the two wheel dogs were Siberian Huskies, and Chris loved to give Spike a hard time for the tendency of his belly to bulge out a bit from his harness. They were especially friendly and eager for Bridget to pet them. In the sled, we cozied up in a warm blanket and got ready for the ride. The dogs knew it was time to get running and all of them, including the other teams who were not going out yet, started barking excitedly – it was impossible not to feel their pure enthusiasm for running through the snow. As we toured the Resort grounds from a dog’s eye view, Chris gave us some more background on the dogs and the commands he uses to guide them. It was amazing to see how well they all worked together, even though some were in training. Chris encouraged them as they pulled us up a little hill and Bridget and I laughed as we barreled down the other side. When they got going fast, Bridget announced happily, “Mommy, my eyes are cold!”

Although the dogs surely know the route they follow for this short excursion, it was a moment of new perspective in putting myself and my daughter in the hands (paws?!) of the dogs… the musher has a snow brake, and they followed his every command, but what a treat to allow the dogs to carry us along.

Bridget didn’t say much as she took it all in, but the grin on her face told me the dogs were pure bliss to her. Following the ride, Chris had us thank each dog and tell them what a good job they had done. Bridget gave them each a hug. I have a feeling this won’t be our last experience with dog sledding!

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