Homer's Travels: Minnesota Mushing

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Minnesota Mushing

Dog Sledding.  We tried to do it last year but there was not enough snow.  Last year was the year without a winter in some places.  This year we had enough snow so off to northern Minnesota we went.

Last Saturday, after driving up the night before, we joined the Matron of Honor (MoH) and the Best Man (BM) and drove up to Duluth, MN to Positive Energy Outdoors, a non-profit organization that organizes outdoor activities including dog sledding.

We arrived at their rural location and proceeded to add layer upon layer of clothes.  It was cold.  The forecast was for a high of 8°F (-13°C) and a low of -16°F (-27°C).  Add the artificial wind chill of riding a moving dog sled and it was going to be frigid to say the least.  Fortunately there was no wind and it was sunny.

We were introduced to some of the dogs.  They have 50+ dogs, all rescued from racing teams when they either did not make the team or when the team was being disbanded.  The dogs are amazingly small.  They are a mixture of all breeds (i.e. mutts).  They are all referred to as Alaskan huskies (not a real breed of dog) despite their mixed breeding.  After a few introductions we helped put harnesses on the dogs and connect them up into teams.  We learned how the dogs are paired to balance their pulling force and their dispositions.

Yapping dog ready to do some running.
Four teams were assembled - ten, eight, and two six dog teams - Each of us climbed into a sled and off we went.  While we were hooking up the dogs they were a cacophony of yapping, yipping, and barking but when they started running it was dead quiet.  The dogs were all business.  The mushers took us through a frozen bog and along wooded trails used for dogs, horses, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and hiking.  We left the trails when we emerged onto the frozen surface of Island Lake Reservoir.

On Island Lake Reservoir.
I took most of my pictures and videos on this first part.  At that point my hands started to hurt so I put the camera away and pulled on some mittens over my gloves.  I'd started out in the second sled (we were forming a sort of a dog sledding convoy).  Some point along this part my musher hurt his arm (He said he tore a tricep muscle).  The first and second mushers switched sleds and I ended up in the head sled.  My musher told me how he could steer the dogs with voice commands and he pointed out features of the reservoir.

As you can see in the video, the dogs move fast.  We were going between 12 and 15 MPH (19 and 25 km per hour).  The dogs did slow down after a few miles of running full bore.
About half way through we stopped to stretch our legs and to give the dogs a break.  By the sound of their yapping, they did not want a break.  As the other sleds caught up with us I realized that the BM was mushing his sled (He ended up doing it for almost seven miles we estimate).  I took some pictures of the sleds and dogs and of the wide, white expanse of the lake.

We switched up sleds before we started again.  My new musher asked if I wanted to drive and I was hesitant.  Thankfully a little while later we had another opportunity and she asked again.  I'd been thinking how I would feel if I did not take this opportunity so I said yes.  She gave me a basic rundown of the breaking systems (there are three) and off we went.  I have to say it felt very easy to me.  I wasn't really doing much.  The dogs knew where they were going (i.e. following the sled ahead of us).  The only thing I really had to do was apply the break when we went downhill so the sled wouldn't run over the dogs and to help push the sled on the up hill sections (On my first hill the dogs actually looked back at me like they were asking "Why aren't you pushing back there?").  It might have been easy for me since the dogs were all getting tired and were not as rambunctious.  The MoH had mushed a little bit too but she was overwhelmed by the energy of the dogs - I think she mushed too soon and her musher should have let the dogs burn off some of their energy first before offering the sled to the MoH.

Heading through the forest.
We returned to the start, the dogs were given a treat of frozen poultry fat, and we helped unhook and unharness the dogs.  We all swapped notes and agreed that it was AWESOME!  Sadly the Wife did not mush her dogs (long story).  This will be corrected next time, and yes, there will be a next time.  We had such a good time that we are going to do it again next year (snow willing).

As we started to shed layers and we talked to the Positive Energy folks about all the other activities they offer.  We are now looking into coming back to do some kayaking on the reservoir the summer.

We ended the day with dinner, and brew, at a brewpub in Duluth.  We kept saying "Wow! We just dog sledded!"  It felt kind of like a dream and that is how this kind of experience should feel.  It should be dreamy and full of awesome memories.  Dog sledding in Duluth was all that.

I took a few pictures but they had quite a bit of redundancy so I picked seven pictures and two videos to illustrate the experience.  Pictures can be found in my 2012-02-02 Dog Sledding Google Photos album.  Videos can be found on YouTube Here and Here.


  1. Wow, what a fantastic experience. Judging by how you felt afterward, it sounds like Positive Energy has named their company appropriately!

    1. GH: It was a great time. And yes, they named their outfit appropriately.