Canadians love to joke about how there is always snow, we all live in igloos, and our main source of transportation is the dog sled. While, it is definitely not a main source- there are roads, highways, airports- dog sledding is a part of the culture in the North.
The Yukon is north of 60° (latitude). It’s a 2.5 hour flight up from Vancouver. It borders Alaska, USA to the west and British Columbia, Canada to the south. It was home to the Klondike Gold Rush in the 1890’s. And, in the winter, boy is it cold there!
One major winter event is the Yukon Quest: a thousand mile race from Whitehorse, Yukon to Fairbanks Alaska. This race follows the gold rush route and is called the toughest dog sled race in the world. The race can take between 10 and 20 days to complete, with limited checkpoints between. This is not a winter sport for the faint of heart. Yukoners are hearty, strong, and adventurous.
Tourists can partake in this cultural sport without facing the sure death that would befall the inexperienced musher (sled driver). A resort just outside of Whitehorse offers day trips and short expeditions. It is called Muktuk Adventures and is home to experienced mushers of the Yukon Quest. We did a quick 2 hour trip that followed a very small portion of the Yukon Quest trail. It ran on top of the frozen Takhini River.
The trip starts with a major bundling up in winter gear: wool socks, winter boots, thick snow pants, giant jackets, warm hats with ear protection, hoods, and, of course, water and wind proof gloves. We then learn the easy basics: a sharp “Let’s go” will get the dogs moving, a low “Whoooaaa” will bring them to a stop. Two to a team, we each have one driver and one rider pulled by five dogs.
Let me tell you, if I was as excited for a day’s work as these dogs, life would be perfection. Every dog in the yard wanted a turn to get out for a good run. Imagine 100 dogs barking and running in circles for attention. Even on the trip, their excitement never dwindled. They barked and danced. They ate snow and played with each other. They constantly seemed tangled in their lines beyond repair during breaks, but always seemed to sort themselves out in time to start up again.
Overall, it was quite a fun experience. I did fall once, but managed to pull myself back up onto the skis of the sled, find the brake, and give a “whoooaaa”. No harm done. Being on the river, most of our trip was flat. The way back up to the cabin, though, was a short uphill. Here, the driver is expected to jump off and run with the sled to help out the dogs. Hopping back on is the tricky part.
I am very glad to have been able to join in on such a stereotypically Canadian winter sport. Though I am years of training off of running a race, maybe next time we will try an overnight expedition.
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