“Drive all the way to the back- at the kennel. To the right of that building. That’s where you’ll park, and come meet me with all your stuff when you’re ready.”
We get into the car, and you follow behind me. I’m driving a white beat up truck, with a red logo on the side of the door.
It’s right out the parking lot, then to the left, you take another left as I lead you down a long winding road. It’s plowed, but it’s not a bare road.
It’s 10 45, you’ve been driving all morning, from Toronto, to get here by 9am.
I’m going pretty fast, you think to yourself, and you’re a little worried about your car. In this driving condition-snow- you keep a steady pace. There are many other cars following behind you.
I’m not worried about losing you, because there are no turns for a while. I’ve driven down this road hundreds of times, and know it- and its views- like you know the route you take to your work.
There’s a small bridge that crosses over the water, the lake is flat, and white, and all around it, that beautiful outline of evergreen trees in the distance.
The heat in your car is pumped up all the way, you’re wearing all the clothes you’ll be wearing for the day- you feel a little bulky, and you’re quite noisy when you move. Your coat is made of a plastic feeling bright coloured fabric, but you’re nice and snug anyway. Your snow pants are made of this fabric too.
The sky is whitish-grey- the same colour as the snow, you try to pay attention to the road, and the driving as others in the car are building up their excitement around you. Pointing out the beauty of their surroundings passing by them.
There’s a house at the end of the bridge. It’s a wood cabin- and one of the only ones in the area. My buddy rents here- and there have been moose in that field. But you see what reminds you of a painting, a wood cabin, by the frozen water, in a snow field with forest in the distance.
The road keeps going, quite barren. Turns here and there, we come to a place on your left, a road, crossing the frozen lake once again, with more cabins and trees in the distance, and back into the forest we go. A sharp right turn as you follow the curve of the road. The view changes into a monocropped Scot’s Pine forest.
It used to be highly used and valuable- the industry diminished, I guess. That or the economic value of Scot’s Pines has diminished… Regardless, that land has been bought and someone lives in there now.
Down and across from that lot, there are a couple horses, wearing blankets over their back, a reminder of the heat, on full blast in the car. You turn that down, and anticipate the cold you’ll be feeling later on…
Before you know it, your car comes to a full stop. What’s going on? It’s a red stop sign. A crossroads. You see the white truck’s right turn signal, and you copy it- reaching over with your right gloved fingers.. Flicking downward, hearing the tiktok- tiktok- tiktok- and you turn down a long straight road.
Peacock RD, it says on the green sign, in those white letters. Driving down this road, there are houses on each corner, and evergreens line the road. That white truck has slowed down.
Ahead, and I’m signaling left, my windows open, and I’m pointing to you to go into a large opening in the fence.
You remember I said to drive all the way to the back and park by a building. You think to yourself: This way though really?
You’ve never seen anything like this before.
Rows upon Rows upon rows of dogs. How many dogs did I say again? Oh yeah 400 dogs.
You drive into the kennel. Down towards the building, the path to the parking is only as wide as your car, and to the left there are rows of dogs, and to the right, there is a field of rows of dogs.
They are all either looking at you, or they are focused on something else. The ground everywhere is white, and the field is covered in blue barrels, with snow over top of them. The dogs are all short haired, and none of them look like Glacier. That white dog you practiced harnessing at the shop.
The dogs look like mutt breeds. Like my old dog max- not even, Max had more fur. They are all almost hound like in build- and extremely short hair. They are running excitedly in little circles or pacing looking at your car. You drive forward and make your way to parking.
“Here? This is parking? “ You think- “ Will I be able to get out of here after?”
When you’re out and ready, and have all your gear. You wonder : Can I walk through the dogs, or do I use the driveway? You can see other people, at the other end of the kennel. That must be where you need to go.
You and your group, walk down the driveway, your legs, making that zip-zip-zip sounds with every step you take,
Zip zip zip zip
Now you see the dogs, and you hear them too.
Zip zip zip zip
The rows of dogs just keep going and and going as you turn down the path way towards a green building. To your right, you see sleds. Much like the one in the shop- but bigger. To your left there’s dogs.
When you get to me, I am standing next to some dogs, who are all on shorter chains.
“Alright everyone! If you are with Stamie- go over to him! That guy in the green waving at you! If you are with Jeph- go to the person over there, with the long hair, she’s waving at you too. If you’re with me, we are going to head over here.”
I walk you past the dogs, back outside of the fenced surrounding.
“First, I’ll be assigning you and your partner to a sled. Put everything you have on your sleds, you have a sled back by your handle bar- with juice bottles for you, for the day. Make sure you drink water!
Take a moment to use your brake and pull up on the handle bar. Decide who will be the driver and who will be the passenger. Remember which number sled you are on. “
You were listening to me, but you were also looking at those dogs standing on the short chains, nearest to us. Some are playing with one another, and some are not even paying attention to one another. You can see there’s a more excited looking young dog, reaching over to the dog next to it, with the other dog, not paying in mind – and looking away yawning.
The sleds are all in a single file, to the outside of the kennel, on the side of the road. Every sled is spaced out the distance of a gangline. You follow me down, and I turn over and point out the sled.
“ I want you to take off your mittens or gloves. Either put them in your coat, or your pockets, or leave them on your sled if you need to. Then come see me. I’ll at the very first sled.”
You check out your sled, and it’s pretty barren. There’s a thin blue mat in the basket where one of you is sitting. The sled isn’t too heavy either- you notice as you step on your break, pulling up on the handle bar.
Everything is mostly quiet- you can see the other groups are tying things onto their sleds, which are just lined up beside each other.
“Okay- go on up to see your guide please” someone says to you in an australian accent- or was it new zealand?
You walk back up the line, a row of sleds, with ganglines layed out, and harnesses on the ground. i am standing by my sled, the first sled.
“OKay folks, it’s going to get really loud, really fast, and I’ll be speaking to You LIKe THIs- – don’t be afraid- I’m not mad- though I might sound it when things get loud- I just want to make sure you hear me.
When we are ready,I’ll be giving you a dogs name, and harness colour and sled number
Have you chosen who is driving and who is a passenger? Put your hand up if you’re a passenger? Remember your sled number?
We’re starting with the first sled, and going all the way to the back. One sled at a time, lead dog to wheel dog. When I give you a dog’s name, and harness colour and sled number, you’re going to go back to that old man, standing there, with his arms crossed.
You’re going to loudly tell him his name, and he will point left, or right
Then you’re going to go to another person, in that direction- – you’ll know who works here because we are all dressed in worn out winter clothing. And wear shades. Come find one of them, and they will point you to the dogs.
This is when you’ll need your hands. Remember 4 fingers under the collar, 2 wheel drive, and come back to that sled number and position, there will be a harness waiting there. HArness your dog, put them on the line and come back and find me.
I’m short! So you’ll have to really look. I’ll be waiting for you at the next sled, ready to give you another dog’s name.
Passengers, if your team is up- or your lead dogs are on- you need to hold your team- by the double leader neckline, i want you to look at your team, pay attention to your dogs. Stay there until we are ready to go.”
Some of the dogs on the short chains start barking.
“Alright ? Ready? Looks like the dogs are getting ancy- They know. “
– Im pointing at you-
“Pike, in lead, multicolour harness on the very first sled”
Your looking at me still-
“ okay- go back- get Pike, in lead, multicolour”
I turn away from you and point to someone else “mighty, point, multicol….”
You start walking back, towards the kennel,
You walk past the dogs on the short chain which are all barking now, and passing, all you hear is barking.
There’s a large old man- with thick fur hat- sunglasses, a white beard, and large brown fur mittens. His coat is blue fleece, with huskies.
“PIKE in lead in a multicolor harness..” You say.
All the dogs are now barking. Frantically. Excited.
“What was that?” He says. Not looking at you, but leaning in, turning his ear towards you.
“PIKE!” You shout as loud as you can
Without turning his head, the man is looking head over you, and pointing to his right, you walk down, as another person is waving at you to come.
You make your way over “Pike in a multico…” you say.
“Oh, Yes, Pike Yep! This way.”
They are walking away from you, and you are walking trying to keep up.
They stop, and turn around facing you and point to a dog , who is excitedly barking..
AAAAAWA AAAAWA AAAAWA!!
His eyes are large and brown, and his body somewhat hunched over.
You grab him by the collar, and he walks and tries to pull you forward.
AAAWA AWA AAAWA!!
He is pacing now. Coming up to you, and back to his house. You try to catch him. Got him!-
You grab his collar, and put your fingers underneath with your right hand. Then you look for that way to disconnect him from his chain. Right, that snap you practiced in the shop. You feel around and try to remember how to open up this snap!
Everything now feels rushed- the dog’s excitement is carrying onward to you- you are in a field of dogs. All barking- and pacing.
You fiddle around with the chain, and try to disconnect the dog.
One handed. You’ll need your good hand so you thumble in efforts to switch hands under the collar. Finally, with your good hand you pull it open, you hear a snap and let go of the chain.
Now you’re walking your way back over to the sled.
You are not holding this dog up by the collar, for it to walk on it’s back paws- like I showed you- it just doesn’t seem right, so you’re letting all four paws touch the ground.
This dog is pulling you forward toward the opening of the fence, towards that sled.
You can hear the high pitched bark of the excited tone, and the metal of the chains. There’s lots of thump sounds too, but you’re focused on the task at hand.
When you get to that first sled, and bring the pike to the lead position, you see that harness and pick it up with your loose hand.
How does this go on again? You wonder as Pike is pulling at you “AAAAAWA AAAWA AAAWA!”
“Step over him”- someone says- this person looks like a guide- “step over him, and get that harness on”
RIght. You step over him. Feet together, he is trying to move forward and you have your two feet together to hold him in place with your thighs.
You take that harness line up the holes, and with that back loop to the ground, and over the dog’s head it goes.
AAWA AAWA AAWA
Pike is trembling in excitement, and his bark is peculiar. He has wide bright eyes, a long nose. He’s thin and his colors are light brown.
Next you lean over, to put get the legs in the holes, – how do you??-
Right, grab a wrist and pull up. Where’s the hole??
“AAAAWAAA AAAWA!!” Pike barks in your direction, your head next to his. This dog has a weird bark. – AAAWA AWAAAAAAA
One leg in. You lean over to the otherside, both feet together still, the other leg. This one just slipped into the hole no problem. You stand back up, grab the collar, and attempt to find the snap to tie the dog to the gangline.
The moment you turn around, that guide is there, clipping the dogs harness onto the gangline.
“Awesome- Go see your guide! Get more dogs!!” they say smiling.
Behind you there are more people, struggling to put their dogs into harness, into gangline. The dogs are all so excited. You look around to find me. What was I wearing? Oh yeah, a blue sweater and a black hat. There I am! Waving at you to come over.
You come by, as I am holding a name car in my hand, standing at the sled. Im smiling. “ Get me Tony- in Wheel in a blue harness- 3rd sled. “
I’m two sleds back from the first. “Tony, Wheel, Blue Harness”
Again you go back to find that man, with the furry hat and gloves. People are walking past you with dogs, holding them up like I showed you, by their collar. The people are moving quite fast, and dogs are jumping up, front legs upward.
U notice someone smaller looking. They fall over with a dog at their hand, the dog is lunging forward still, as the person on the ground is flat on the ground, still holding on o the dogs collar. Another person, who looks like they work here comes to help them.
“Well?” that man says. He’s still just facing forward- you can’t tell what he’s looking at because his sunglasses are blocking his eyes.
You can barely even see his lips, as he repeats once again
“Who are you here for?” he says,
“TOny!” You shout.
“Aww yes, Tony-” he points left. And there is another guide- a tall one in green, with an orange shirt- waving at you.
“Who are you looking for?” They ask.
“Alright, yeap. He’s all the way down , tenth down this row, to your left. “
Now, for the first time, You’re walking down the row. In the middle of this large kennel.
Dogs to your left, dogs to your right, the ones nearest to you are all pulling at their chain to you.
“Pick me. pick me” is probably what they are saying- you think. It seems like they are barking about wanting to get out there to run. I did tell you earlier- they love to run. Now you see it. Now you Hear it.
Each One of them has a bark as different as their shapes and sizes and colours.
All of their homes look the same. Those blue plastic drum barrels. Like the barrels used to collect rain. But on their side, with a hole cut out. Over that hole, there’s a name written out in black or white paint. All the barrels are over a small wooden platform. The snow, right up to the wood.
The chains are all the same length. There’s an outline of the dog’s reach. A circle in the snow. A hard packed circle. The edge of the reach of their chain.None of the dogs can touch one another.
You can hear the clicking sounds of chains, as some dogs lunge towards you,and others pace.
As you pass each one, you look for the name TONY,
“Dos” a black hairy dog,
“Tipsy” she is jumping up, bouncing up high- looking at you with her bright black eyes.
You keep going forward, looking back – is this right?-
Keep going forward looking at the sea of dogs.
That dog only has its head out of its barrel, looking at you. You keep going down the row, none of the dogs can reach you, but they are trying- lunging at you from the edge of their chain.
“TONY” its marked in white, over the hole on the blue plastic barrel. The entrance to his barrel- you don’t even have time to wonder how he fits in that thing.
You just remembered, now you got to bring him back up the row, pass all those dogs. Back to the sled.
Tony’s a tawny brown, with medium length fur. He’s very tall. He’s really happy looking. He’s looking at you and then jumps in a circle motion, showing you his back and looks at you again.
Bright eyes, mouth wide open- this dog is clearly smiling.
“He’s much larger than Pike” you think to yourself as you conjure up the will to grab him.
You try to grab him by the collar. He jumps and spins. Jumps and spins. Looking at you, lunging forward. Jump. And Spin.
He’s strong, you feel it, as you unclip him from his chain.
He jumps, and you lose your footing, and grab him with your strong arm.
You now are holding him with two hands, and wondering, how it is, you’ll be talking this large strong dog, back down, down this narrow space past all these other dogs which are barking, and pacing.
You step out of his hard packed circle, with him to your left. Tony jumps up, forward.
Now you are holding him up- on two legs- he is bouncing- jumping- lunging forward towards where you need to go.
You may be new at this, but Tony clearly has done this a few times before.
You do your best to hold your ground and keep your footing. When you walk back down the line, with this dog at your side, you can’t help but notice the other dogs are now reaching to grab at you, or your dog.
You keep Tony close. When he stands like this- and jumps, he’s up to your shoulder height.
Sometimes Tony snaps his teeth at the dogs you are walking pass. You do your best to keep your arms strong.- and hold on tight to this dog. It’s not that hard, since now, adrenaline is pumping through your veins.
This large excited dog- in a field of dogs- barking and pacing. This is the loudest place you’ve ever been. Some of the barks are so loud, you can feel your eardrum shake.
You make it back outside of the rows, and head towards that third sled.
You try to let Tony down, so he can be on 4 paws but instantly you almost lose your footing to Tony’s strength “two wheel drive” you hear someone yell.
Not that you notice because you’re focused to get Tony to where he needs to be.
You get to the sled, and see that there are already 4 dogs on the team. They are lunging forward and jumping and barking. Tony’s in wheel, in a blue harness, you say to yourself. Wheel: The back of the team, closest to the sled.
You get to the wheel position, Look for the harness. Blue- someone else shows up beside you, with a dog too. They grab the other harness, and step over their dog.
As you reach down, Tony gets on 4 paws. Tony is pulling at you, and you somehow get one leg over him. And put two feet together.
He’s a tall dog. And he’s a large dog. And you squeeze much harder as you can feel him trying to wiggle out in excitement.
You go as fast as you can -Harness over his head.- trying your best not to let go of the dog.
Tony’s excited. One leg at a time, you harness him up.
You look up and this time no one is around you- just dogs, tugging, lunging forward, barking.
You grab Tony by the collar, and try to snap his collar onto the gangline. The chain is bouncing up and down. Your well aware of your teeth right now- as you try to grab this brass snap as it bounces, and spins around the main chin,
The collar’s in. You look back, and step off the dog. You grab him by the harness, and pull him back. Tony’s is pulling forward. You pull back, as hard as you can, and try to reach the tugline, which is also flopping around as the other wheel dog is now focused on pulling, and jumping, and barking.
You reach as far as you can, and grab the snap-
Pulling the loop, as strongly as you can. Tony is still lunging forward. With all your strength, both hands pulling towards each other, trying to reach.
Tony is good to go… You look back for me- can’t see me.
You feel someone touch your shoulder. ”okay! Get to your sled please.”
You look around- nothing looks like before. TThere are dogs pulling at sleds, which are tied to the trees. “Which one is mine?” You think as you look for your sled partner.
“Is that your sled?!” That person yells.
There’s someone at your sled. “C’mon on over!” You’re being waved over to your sled.
“Put your mittens on for me”“
The person says loudly- barely audible over all the barking.
“Feet on the brake and Hold on to your handle bar! When it’s time, I’ll signal to your passenger to sit on the sled. When we’re ready- I’lll unsnub you from the tree.” you nod. Not quite sure what that person is saying. “ You’re going to have two feet on the break- keep your feet on the break until I say so, okay?”
You see me ahead, looking back, with my arm straight up in the air.
“You reADY? “ says the person beside me.
You see me at the front, and I put my hand up.
“Put your hand up” the person beside you shouts.
Everyones hand is up. You see me put my arm down and turn back around facing my teams…
Then you don’t see me.
Moments later, the sled right in front of you then releases from the tree. You watch them come off the bank, and onto the road, two people on the back of the sled.
“CMON!!” That person beside you shouts. Signalling to your passenger- who was also looking at the sled in front of you go down the road.
It’s still as loud as ever- with the barking of all the dogs.
“COME ON!!! GET ON THE SLED””
Your passenger snaps out of it, lets go of the lead dogs, and runs back to the sled.
“Get in here” they sit in, and the person turns to you
“ GET BotH FEET on the BRake!”
They grab that hook and place it on the sled.
“OK- When you’re ready say the words!”
“Ready.. Lets go!” You shout as you take your foot off the brake.
The sled is moving! The person is still beside you…
You’re going extremely fast now, and the person puts their foot on your brake. Are they going to be here the whole time? You think to yourself. Wow- you can hear yourself think. None of the dogs on your team are barking, or jumping… they are just running.
“Now” No longer shouting, the person is smiling, looking at you “keep one foot on the brake”
You do that, and your team slows down
Your person is now, just holding onto the handle bar with a foot on your runner- on your sled
“OKay! Perfect, Keep your gangline tight like this! You’re doing great! Have fun!”
They jump off the sled.
The barking slowly fades away behind you…
And just like that: You are driving a team of dogs.
You are dog sledding.