Dogsledding, take one

I am not a dog person- never have been. My fiancé Josh, however, is. For Christmas this year I really wanted to do something special for him. Notoriously against “stuff,” I prefer experiences and found the perfect experience for him. We were going to go dogsledding.

He had mentioned that he wanted to go watch dogsledding before but never mentioned actually doing it. Honestly, I didn’t think you could just go dogsledding without having a dog team and knowing what to do. Living in Maine, we actually have options for dogsledding getaways. After looking online I found the perfect place for us- in our favorite region of Maine. New England Dogsledding (newenglanddogsledding.com) offers day as well as overnight dogsledding packages in their lodge. I booked us a 3 day “Intro to Dogsledding” package in which we would learn dogsledding and eventually drive our own team of dogs. Then I remembered, I am a sun-loving Florida girl- and did I mention that I am not a dog person?

Fast forward one month- we are headed up to Bethel, ME for our trip. As is expected in our business, we are both overwhelmed with clients and obligations and we know we won’t have very good, if any cell service when we arrive. I texted and emailed clients while fielding phone calls on the way up, thinking I would never be able to relax enough to enjoy this trip. Driving down the long driveway to the lodge I lost reception and put my phone into airplane mode, accepting that I wouldn’t get much work done.

As soon as we got out of the car we were greeted by Sean and Paul, the keepers of the dogs. They showed us in and introduced us to Alice (Paul’s girlfriend) and Leo (one of the owners) who showed us to our room and told us the guys were going down to give the dogs some water so suit up and let’s go! We grabbed our bags, put our warm layers on and headed down to the dogs.

There are about 70 dogs there and they are all sweet as pie. We greeted each dog, learned their names, got doggy kisses and scooped a little poop. Around here, if you’re here, you’re participating!

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We got the dogs loaded into the dog truck and headed to the trail. One thing we learned is that everything is a process with dogsledding. Once at the trailhead we prepped the truck with chains for the dogs, unloaded the pups and sleds. Sean taught us how to harness the dogs and we were back to work harnessing our 10 dog team. Each dog had a pre-planned spot on the team. There were 2 lead dogs, 2 in the point position, 4 “team” dogs and the 2 at the back were the “wheels.” We led each dog to their position, got them set in place and we were ready to go!

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Sean started out driving the team with Josh and I sitting in the sled. It was hard to believe the dogs were pulling us so effortlessly. It took about a mile or two for them to really warm up (much like me when I run!). Josh then hopped on the back of the sled with Sean and learned how to drive the team for about 8 miles. We stopped a few times to let the dogs rest but the funny thing was that they were almost annoyed by us stopping. Sean was great at reading the team and switched some of the dogs’ positions on the team so they were performing at their best and undistracted. They were built to run and that’s what they wanted to do.

It was my turn to hop on back and let Josh enjoy the scenery from the sled. I was surprised at the power of the team when they jolted us forward the first time. Sean would call out the dogs names to motivate or correct them as needed. He taught me to slow the sled to a stop, shouting “easy…easy…WHOA!” Yeah, the dogs didn’t think I was serious about that one…

Once our 16 miles was done, we helped get the dogs in the dog truck and headed back to the lodge to warm up. It was COLD outside! During the trip I stayed pretty comfortable with my 4 layers of technical winter clothing, rabbit fur cap and beaver fur gloves- but even with hand warmers in my boots, my toes were NUMB.

The lodge was warm and smelled amazing when we arrived. We changed into comfy clothes. Josh took care of some business that needed his attention. Alice had cheese, crackers and wine ready for us. Sitting by the fire, sipping wine, writing this blog post and talking to Steve, one of the owners, I am cozy and looking forward to a wonderful dinner and another day of sledding tomorrow!

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