On a brisk February morning in Ely, Minnesota, I woke for yet another adventure of a lifetime -- Dog Sledding. I giggled to myself as the van I was traveling in pulled up to the dog sled farm. The beautiful Alaskan Huskies were barking, saying "pick me, pick me”, as they were all excited to pull that day. After just a brief introduction on how to attach a lead to the dog and who was going where in our line up, we were out the door for a day of hands-on learning. As our handler and guide pointed to different dogs we put on the sled harnesses and attached our pups to the rig. “Mush!” and we were off. Now the first few steps are a bit tricky if you are new at this. I would suggest that you do NOT hesitate as you must gracefully jump on the sled runners after a couple running steps with the dogs getting up to speed. With an occasional push (pedaling) you assist the dogs, but mostly you just hang onto the driving bow (handles of the sled) and pray. Pray to any god or goddess you choose, I typically go straight to Mother Earth. Trying to remember “haw” for left and “gee” for right and “oh crap … WHOA!.”
From experience, when you falter, several things may happen.
- Your dogs, sled, and partner (sitting in the basket) continue without you and you trudge through DEEP snow to find them as you hear laughing / shouting in the distance.
- You are physically dragged a ways and as you continue to flail hanging on to the driving bow for dear life trying to get your feet on the runners as you laugh so hard you pee yourself causing just a brief moment of warmth.
- You (and your partner) are really lucky causing the entire sled to fall over and everything comes to a complete stop.
Mom and I have never laughed so much together as we did that week. My adventure partner was a bit of a strange choice, my 77-year-old mother. I would normally do this sort of thing with my husband or a child, but it was mom who asked me as she was browsing through her Road Scholar book just 6 months earlier. Initially we both had hoped to find a buddy but sadly that plan failed. It was August, and I was visiting in Wisconsin. I looked and said I’m 45 am I old enough, I’ll go. Now it was 90 degrees F and humid, so winter in northern MN didn’t seem cold at that very moment, and if the group was small and as much fun as my mother promised (as she had done at least 20 different high adventures before this) how could I go wrong. She had traveled the fall before to Canada to see Polar Bears, in winter she still did some cross country skiing and biking in the summer, so I knew physically she was up for this.
Of course, it took a day or two for group members to realize that I was not mom’s caretaker and that she planned to participate in everything the program offered. The weeks’ trip was not just dog sledding, but learning to snow shoe and cross country ski as well lectures related to Northern Minnesota wolves. Our group of 20, stayed at a youth camp just north of Ely a stones through from the Canadian border. Mom was the oldest and I the youngest and I think we might have won for MOST FUN.
Arriving in Ely with temps dipping well below zero, we took in the ice sculptures in the park that were from the previous week’s festival – pretty awesome display of craftsmanship. Huge blocks of ice that had been turned into art by brave local ice / cold loving hearty locals. But as the weather warmed, reaching 40 degrees one day – a strange and rare occurrence in February- even George Washington had a runny nose.
When we left on this trip, I was on a roll with number of consecutive days of running (over 300 days at that point in time) so I started every morning with a run (wearing layer upon layer) and Traks (crampons) on my shoes. I would sneak out at 6 am in the dark cold and take in a few miles. Now my logic on the running was as long as I had 2 miles or more I could count it as a run, therefore I was pulling bare minimum that entire week. It was COLD!
The weeks’ finale was a wood sauna and a “polar bear” swim. I will admit that it took two tries as I scampered out of the wood sauna in my swim suit and wool socks, across a cold icy deck and down a few very slippery stairs to the swimming area (which had been cut through 22 inches of ice). First attempt outside, my brain took over and said, “NO!” just as I got to the “swimming hole”. Then after a lengthy warm up and (and my brain cooling down) with a fresh / dry pair of wool socks on my feet, mom was able to convince me to do it. She actually shamed me (which was against the rules!) with “your daughter will never let you live this down if you don’t do this” -- and the fact was mom was right. She did remind me that she would be right behind me. Getting into that water, I climbed faster than I have ever climbed before down into the swimming hole, swam across the “8 foot” area and scampered at light-speed up the other ladder to get out. I did it! I ran into the sauna, nearly in tears from fear and cold. I remember calling out to someone to make sure mom got out OK, but in no way was I sticking it out to pull her from the pool. When I was inside, I looked out a window and saw others helping mom off the ladder and out of the lake… she was alive. I will admit, a little joy set in with a “serves you right after the shaming” that her swim lasted longer.
As I look back on this trip I can only smile. MOM was the adventure!