Duchesnay Station Ecotouristique -- As the dogsled team launches itself in a flurry of barking fur, I grab for the sled and think, "I really should have left my purse behind."
"Dogsledding isn't a leisurely ride in the park," says my guide, Martin.
At Adventure Inukshuk, an outdoor outfitter at Quebec's Duchesnay Station Ecotouristique, he's conducting a quick orientation on how to navigate a sled.
"The musher is considered a member of the team and is expected to get off the sled and run, push, dislodge or otherwise coax the sled up steep hills," he explains.
We learn to "talk dog." More hillbilly-speak than dog whispering, the language includes "Gee!" (right turn) and "Haw!" (left turn).
"But your biggest responsibility is braking," Martin says. If I don't pay attention while running downhill, the sled's runners might hit the rear sled dogs and injure them. With a shout of "Allez!" I'm under way.
Under the guidance of lead dog Storm, a five-year-old female, the dogs need no urging to put on speed. She's not the usual grey and white sled dog, but pale yellow, like churned butter, and half the size of a husky.
But Storm's diminutive size hides an alpha personality. She's been leading the team for three years and doesn't hesitate to stop, turn around and snap at the other dogs in true soccer-mom fashion.
"If you guys don't stop that fighting, I'm gonna have to pull over."
Based on the scowling glances she's throwing my way, I realize that as a musher I have a lot to learn. Whenever I slack off, the other dogs follow Storm's backward gaze and sigh as though deeply disappointed in me.
I redouble my efforts. The temperature is -21 degrees C, but within 10 minutes I'm sweating and soaking wet.
As I get into the rhythm, we fly through the woods. I work hard, leaning through the curves like a seasoned Harley-Davidson road veteran. Snow explodes from the sled's runners as I brake with confidence.
With my mushing duties under control, I have time to look around. Snow lies heavy on the branches of the trees and, apart from my panting breath and the sliding of the sled runners, the woods are silent.
I can almost imagine I'm a coureur du bois, one of Canada's earliest explorers, heading into the wilderness to check my trapline. The fact that I'm in designated parkland less than 30 minutes from the heart of Quebec City does nothing to dispel that illusion.
Duchesnay Station Ecotouristique Park stretches for 89 square kilometres along the shoreline of Lac Saint-Joseph. Originally a seigneury of early pioneers, it was owned by lumber merchants until Quebec's Ministry of Lands and Forests acquired it in 1923.
Now this important centre for recreation boasts 142 kilometres of cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and dogsledding trails.
As we climb the steep, powder-filled trail near the end of our 5-kilometre excursion, I needn't wonder who's wearier, the dogs or me. Although Storm is pulling hard through the deep snow and the anchor dogs are no longer stopping to piddle on every patch of unmarked snow, they seem ready to go again.
As for me, I'm soaked with sweat, yet strangely exhilarated. Despite my exhaustion, I'm no longer getting nasty looks from the canine athletes on the team. There seems to be a bond of mutual respect.
Looking back over my shoulder at the snowy peaks of the Laurentians, I wish I'd signed up for an overnighter. The dogs look ready to consider it.