Mush! Dog-sledding Through the Upper Valley

Alex MacLennan (above) takes Ron Dull, his wife Kim, daughter Katie, and grandson Darby on a dog-sled tour.

Prior to my excursion with Braeburn Siberians of Windsor, the only dog-sledding experience I had was when my brothers and I would hitch up our Collie to a plastic sled and attempt to entice him to ‘mush’ down the driveway. This ‘mushing’ would only occur if one of us ran in front of the dog with half a bologna sandwich. If the dog caught you, the sandwich was quickly gone and the ride was over. We always used our younger brother as a pseudo ‘lead dog’ since he was very fast and often wouldn’t be caught for a whole minute. When my wife, Kim, informed me that she had booked a two-hour sled trip for the family I thought, “I’m not really in that kind of shape anymore.” I called my brother. He refused to go, figuring that once more I was tricking him into becoming part of the sled team. Reluctantly, wishing to please the wife, with bologna sandwich tucked securely in my jacket, we headed out to the trailhead in Claremont where we were met by the owner, Alex MacLennan and his assistant, Emily.

Now, we like dogs so imagine our delight when, after reaching the designated trailhead, we were greeted by the excited barking of ten purebred, blue-eyed, and energetic Siberian Huskies. These beautiful animals are historically bred to do this sort of thing versus Collies who, like Lassie, are more at home on a movie set and thus reluctant to work unless bribed. A Siberian lives to run and pull! It’s when they are happiest, and for a more thorough description of this magnificent dog you must visit their website (www.braeburnsiberians.com) and read the words of co-owner Kathy Bennett. “If you have any thoughts about it being ‘mean’ to ask them to work, let those reservations go. What would be ‘mean’ to a Siberian Husky is to keep it cooped up in the house with leash walks. This is what the running lines of Siberian Huskies are designed to do. This is not to say that they don’t enjoy couch time. They do! But not as a steady diet.”

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Of course, this does not apply to Sunday football or whenever their favorite team – the University of Washington (Huskies) – are in the college playoffs. Then, they just lie around and eat hot dogs.
On the property in Windsor, there are 42 purebreds living together in pristine and obviously loving conditions. The owners began 15 years ago with a mere five but, like potato chips, apparently you can’t have just one. “We are humbled and inspired by the mutual  partnership and friendship we have with the dogs,” they say.

The sled is controlled by a professional driver. There are eight to ten dogs per sled with a 375-pound-weight limit on each sled. There are no reins or physical connections between the driver and the dogs. There are no bologna sandwiches either, but I kept my own close by just in case something happened, and I would have to take command. The team follows the leader. The leader listens to the musher and the musher watches the leader’s body language. It is all built on two-way communication and trust. There seems to be a lot that we as humans can all learn from this operation.

On the day we reserved the excursion the owners picked the best appropriate trail for weather and snow conditions. These trailheads could be anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes from the kennel in Windsor. Our own was chosen to be a portion of the rails-to-trails in Claremont, about 45 minutes from Quechee. After introduction to all of the very friendly dogs and plenty of squealing snuggles, we were quickly off onto a picturesque trail following along the frozen Sugar River.
These dogs love cold weather! The colder the better, but for their human cargo who are getting much less exercise than the running pups (unless smiling a lot counts) the 20-degree temperatures with sunshine, blue sky, and a fresh six inches of snow was simply perfect.

While one passenger sits in the front of the sled, cozy under warm blankets, another will stand on the runners behind the driver and can mush the team. Smaller children like our grandson, Darby, will sit with an adult in the main body of the sled covered by warm blankets and although the entire experience is exciting and unique it is totally safe with no roller coaster style plummets over sheer cliffs or harrowing turns. There are plenty of chances to switch roles, although I must admit I was an impatient rider and really preferred to yell “Mush!” while endeavoring not to fall off and being left to freeze to death in New Hampshire. There are plenty of stops for pictures, switching positions, snacks, and dog snuggles – everybody’s favorite part. By the way, the dogs don’t care if you yell “mush” or not. “Giddy-up” will work just as well.

So, do something different this winter! Check out the website for loads of information and book a trip for the whole family. It’s fun! And that is no bologna!

See you on the trails!
Cap’n Ron 

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