Haliburton - Imagine 9:30 on a Saturday morning in January in Haliburton. Arriving after a three-hour drive, Jim and I start wondering why we've asked for the early dogsledding adventure.
A hearty breakfast revives us before we walk over to the office to check in. There's always something unnerving about signing a waiver. What could possibly happen that I'm agreeing not to sue them for?
I've always thought of Huskies as large and rather unfriendly dogs. This team of the Siberian breed are small and come in many variations of grey, black, white and, surprisingly, ginger. Leashed in pairs to a long chain, they're impatient to get going and start howling. I join in, imitating their call, until I realize I'm the only one doing so.
We're given a brief introduction on how the facility's run and the "art" of sledding. There's very little to learn, and it all sounds easy. The dogs respond to the command "Hike" and stop when you apply the brake. Once we've picked a sled, our six dogs are harnessed two by two. We're ready to go.
The temperature has reached a high of -30°C, making me glad to be wearing some winter clothing borrowed from my sons. In spite of it, my fingers and toes go numb.
I sit like the queen of all I survey while Jim, my trusty team driver, does all the work. Then it's my turn. Pushing off with one foot to get and keep the sled moving, walking uphill, leaning to one side as we try to negotiate a corner or avoid running into a tree, I'm getting a real workout.
We take turns sitting and driving, and I'm actually starting to get the hang of it. I have the dogs trotting along at a good clip and can finally relax and enjoy myself. Looking ahead, I see the beginning of a long, and to my thinking, steep hill.
This is when I panic and hit the brake. My foot slips off the metal bar and I flip into the bushes, thankful for the deep snow.
As I get to my feet, I can see Jim sitting cozily and serenely in the sled. The dogs continue to run down the hill, around the corner and presumably up the other side. The path, rutted from previous treks, is difficult, but I persevere. Jim and I joked about how slowly our dogs moved compared to the others, but now as I strain to catch up with them they seem to be trying to break all speed records.
Reaching the corner, I see the sled lying on its side.
Fortunately, Jim is fine. He's been busy talking to me, not realizing that I've fallen off. When the sled reached the corner, the dogs turned, but he didn't.
It's lucky for all of us that the snow is deep and soft. We hear many similar stories over lunch. No one's been hurt - but we see why the waivers are necessary.
A friend asks, in jest, I'm sure, if I'm now ready for the 900-kilometre race from Alaska to the Yukon or vice-versa. Yeah, right! I wouldn't even consider the 60-kilometre trek with an overnight stay in the reserve's bush camp.
The stargazing and howling at the wolves does sound enticing, but I don't know how I could get there except by dogsled. Fun as it's been, one sledding adventure is enough for me.