On my Alaska trip, I was able to cross off something on my bucket list that I have been dreaming about for some time–dog sledding. Although it wasn’t through the snow and it was only a quick ride, I am extremely grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The ship docked in Skagway, Alaska–a minuscule town of 800 people–and we joined a tour for $99 per person to take us across the border into the Yukon Territory in Canada. The scenery and wildlife in the Yukon is unparalleled (that’s where I encountered the bear), but our final destination was the community of Carcross (formerly known as Caribou Crossing).
During the winter, Michelle Phillips and her team of dogs race the Iditarod Trail–a 1,000 mile sled dog race across the Alaskan tundra. Spring and summer is training time, and that is precisely what Michelle and her winning team of dogs are at Carcross to do. Summer training for the dogs consist of building up their muscles by having them pull tourists (i.e. me) around in a 4-wheeled cart. Each cart seats about 8-9 people, with a team of 9 dogs to pull–which is pretty incredible if you consider the enormous amount of weight that these dogs can manage. So we get to help participate in their summer training, and in the winter, they are off to the races.
We were lucky enough to be paired with Michelle and her winning team of Alaskan huskies. We got in the cart, and the dogs were just as excited as we were to begin the journey. The team that was lined up at the sidelines jumped and pulled at their leashes, barking and howling as trainers clipped them to the harness. Once all nine dogs had been harnessed to the cart, Michelle signaled and the dogs leapt high into the air, starting the cart with a jolt–we were off. We rattled, bounced, and swerved along a snaking trail through the trees–the dogs received commands from their master when the road forked, but otherwise they knew exactly where to go.
As we were riding, she was more than happy to talk to us about dog sledding and her wonderful team. The Alaskan husky is noticeably smaller than the Siberian husky. These dogs are actually mutts: they are a mix of Siberian husky, malamute, greyhound, and various other breeds–all designed to give them the advantage when it comes to speed, strength, and survivability in the frozen environment.
The two lead dogs are the smartest, they guide the whole team through the trails. The unpaired dog in the second row actually helps turn the cart, and moves from the right and left depending on which way the sled needs to go. The dogs at the very rear are the brute strength–large and strong beasts that keep the heavy sled moving. Each dog can run 8 to 10 hours a day, burning thousands of calories–thus requiring a protein intense, high calorie diet.
At the end of the ride, we got to meet these incredible dogs. They were so friendly and loved the attention! I admit, I had a hard time tearing myself away from these pups, especially the very friendly blonde lead dog.
They also had puppies and off-duty dogs on the farm, and we were welcome to walk around and play with them as well. This was an unforgettable experience–perhaps when winter rolls around again, I’ll be watching and cheering for my team on the Iditarod Trail.