As a California native, it has taken me many years to learn that the best way to handle Wisconsin winters is to get outside and find winter-only fun. That’s why my husband and I decided to give dogsledding a try last year.
On a dark Friday evening in late January, we drove six hours north to Bayfield, a charming town that hugs the shores of Lake Superior near the Apostle Islands.
Forty incredibly well-behaved dogs and their owner, Jen Dale, greeted our arrival at Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing, about 20 miles outside of town. Dale has been dogsledding since she was a kid, and her love of the sport and her dogs practically beams out of her. After introducing us to the canines that would be on the trail with us, she walked us through the basics of the sport: how to brake, how to stop, how to handle a sled that’s tipped over. These dogs were born and bred to pull, and each team was lunging at its chance to run. At first slack they took off: my team following Dale and her team, my husband and Dale’s two assistants behind us. We were a parade of five sleds and 22 dogs out to make the best of winter.
My team raced around each turn, eager to see what was beyond. It was on one of these turns that I lost my balance and the sled tipped softly into the snow. The dogs would have gladly carried on, dragging the sled on its side, but Dale’s instructions echoed through my head, and I looked for the snow hook (it’s like a small anchor with sharp, earth-catching hooks), which had released from the sled and burrowed into the ground. I planted my weight, pulled against the sled and hoisted it upright, two feet on the brake as I returned the snow hook to its spot. Then I shook the snow from my hair and climbed back aboard.
My husband was immediately at ease, letting his body move with the sled, leaning into the curves like a pro. He left talking of moving north and raising our own pack of sled dogs.
For me, dogsledding was a study in contrasts: The hills and the speed were a thrill, but the beauty of our path and the rhythmic panting of our dogs were peaceful. I wasn’t quite ready to give up the comfort of my life in Milwaukee, but I could certainly understand the appeal.