Dog Mushing in Samiland: An Apex Experience
Posted by Kevin Clement
in Europe and Of Interest
Things That Will Surprise You the First Time You Mush a Dog Team
On the Samiland trips I have led, we’ve had any number of exhilarating experiences: viewing the northern lights; meeting the hardy Sami people and participating in their colorful Easter celebrations; driving snowmobiles across a wide-open and little-known landscape. But when our travelers talk about their experiences, the one that seems to have surprised and delighted them the most is mushing a team of sled dogs for the first time.
If, by some chance, you, dear reader, have not yet had the opportunity to drive your own dog sled over snowy terrain, you have some surprises in store for you, as well. Therefore, in order to prepare you for that first experience, I offer the following list of things that will take you by surprise.
1. Sled dogs LOVE to pull a sled
For a thousand generations, they have been bred to love running in harness with their teammates. And they live for it. It is almost never necessary to urge them on. Each one is a small endurance athlete whose greatest pleasure is his sport. Dashing along over the snow, they are happy and content.
2. There will be a cacophony in the dog yard as you hook up your team
When they see they are about to get the chance to do what they love (see #1), the dogs get very, very excited. As soon as the process begins, they start to bark, howl, and jump up and down in chaotic eagerness. Although this doesn’t make the harnessing procedure any easier, it does make for a thrilling start to your journey. Then, the instant you release the brake and shoot off down the trail, the dogs fall completely silent, focusing on their jobs.
3. Dog mushing is not a spectator sport
Some people have the impression that all a musher does is ride along on the back of the sled enjoying the scenery. And certainly there are times when it’s like that. But a dogsled has no reins and no steering wheel, so what makes it turn is your body weight. You lean from side to side, apply the brakes to varying degrees…and when you’re going up a steep hill in soft snow, you jump off and help the sled along. You owe it to the dogs.
4. The dogs are smarter than you are
Any dog lover knows the bond that can form between man and animal, and the nobility of a dog’s spirit. But when you and the dogs work together in the open air toward a common goal, that bond is even more special. The dogs are 100% in their element. They know exactly what they are doing, and they love doing it, so they will work with you. They will help you.
I have a good friend who is an avid outdoorsman. For most of his life, he was a hiker, backcountry skier, and big-time mountain climber. But when I got to know him, he had largely given all that up in favor of dog mushing, which had become his passion. I asked him why the switch.
He thought for a long moment, and then said something that surprised me: “Because of what I learn from the dogs. What the dogs have taught me. And are still teaching me.”
If you want to learn what the sled dogs have to teach you and to try your hand at dog mushing, join us for our Samiland expedition in March 2018.