In these days, the annual Yukon Quest takes place. It is the toughest dog sled race in the world and the teams cover a distance of around 1000 miles from Fairbanks in Alaska to Whitehorse in Canada within a few days. When I found and adopted Jake there in 2011, it was summer and you couldn`t even think of snow despite the very north region of America. However, a few years have passed and now I took the chance to make the experience of dog sledding. In the Rhoen, a region in the middle of Germany.
Which provider of dog sled tours is the right one?
When you inform yourself about the offers, you should pay attention to a couple of things. An important aspect surely the reachability. In my case, the Rhoen was the closest region with an elevated probability of having snow during winter. As a beginner you should not directly start with a 3-days experience, but with a taster of a few hours or a day trip. Furthermore, I always try to directly book at the provider`s homepage and not via third providers or travel companies. After I have set my criteria, I found a good offer after a while and booked it via phone.
Here, you should also check the offer very well: Often, the deals sound nice and good, but in a lot of them, you are only a passenger, but not the driver of such a sled. In contrast, I wanted to drive it on my own – despite the risk of falling off the sled (more about that later…).
First contact with the musher and the dogs
I really would have loved to have Jake with me, because his home is world famous for its sled dog races, mushers and huskies. But as a short-legged Huskymix, he could probably join me only if he was sitting on the sled as a passenger. The expression of the dogs` faces would surely have been priceless. But yeah. The Rolling Stones are right: You can`t always get what you want. Instead, my girlfriend came along. Also good! ?
Finally, we arrived the place in the late morning. The musher – the dog sled leader – was already waiting for us. Around 20 dogs are living in that compound what you can hear far enough. We were introduced to the dogs and got an introduction into the use of the sleds. On that day, there was snow, but not enough to sled with a real one. That`s why everyone got a sled with wheels instead of skids, which is not a big difference compared to a “real” sled. I can`t even say that, because I have no experience in order to compare them. But I still claim it. Just to sound like an expert.
Tracking through the woods and a risky situation
After the musher harnessed the huskies in front of the sleds, we were finally ready to go. After the start of the musher and my girlfriend, I also could release the brake and the energetic dogs could finally do what they love the most – RUN!
All dogs were freaking out and yes, so was I. This vitality gave me a great feeling and I was already feeling as a member of the pack, also because we all felt the same: “Go, go, go!” I really had to pay attention, because I underestimated the acceleration – despite the note of the musher before. He was in control in the front and the two dog teams just had to follow him. We didn`t have to show more skills than simply not falling down. Sounds easy, right?
Well, yes. Kind of. After a while, you feel more secure about sledding and you get great ideas like taking photos. Which I did. However, it was not a good idea. After shooting a few pictures I am not very focused on the sled anymore. I was drifting more and more to the right and tried to direct the sled back to the middle of the track with one hand. That was no easy job, because I was holding the camera in the other hand and I was getting closer and closer to the trench. Then, I was driving half on the track and half on the trench.
However, after a while I could direct the sled back on the track, which needed a big effort. Who is falling off the sled and lets dogs run? That would have been quite embarrassing, but everything luckily went well. Finally, it was a good thing to make photos. I have no idea what the dogs were thinking when I was in trouble and honestly, I don`t wanna know it.
A great highlight comes to an end
After around 2 hours through the beautiful countryside and woods the dog sled experience came to an end. Now, the tongue of the dogs was much longer and visible. However, they still could have run many more hours. It is truly remarkable how strong and persistent the – not even that big – huskies can be. Even for me, the whole trip was really demanding and that experience was the reason why I now have so much more respect for what sled dog teams accomplish during mulit-day or ultimative races like the Yukon Quest or Iditarod. There, the race is not only much longer, with sometimes below than -50° degrees it is also ice-cold.
During a sled dog-sled ride you get a very good sense for the original form of transportation in the coldest regions in the world. It is so much fun and left an intensive and lasting impression. I can really recommend it to anyone who dares to make that. And even for those who are not that persistant, it is possible to experience that kind of event: You can also do it as a passenger on the sled.