Haliburton - "Will you have to whip the dogs?"
The question stumped me. Now, I'd have no problem whipping a human (with his or her permission, of course) and cats, well, if they were assholes a big maybe. But dogs? A dog? I'd rather whip myself. Dogs are the only animals we can really trust.
Other animals, in their own surreptitious ways, are out to get us. Don't believe me? Check out your cat the next time it leaves you a treat in the litter box. Look at the smirk. It's playing with your head. Dogs are guileless. All they want is a buddy.
"Gee, I hope not."
I got a bee in my bonnet over Christmas that I'd take the new boyfriend dogsledding. Do something different, impress him with my imagination, celebrate the best of the four seasons. We took the 12 to Minden, our destination a B&B near Haliburton.
We marvelled at our luck. After reaching a high of 17° two days before, the temperature had dipped to -10° just in time for fun in the snow. A base of 12 centimetres had fallen the night before, powdery fluff that gladdens the hearts of Nordic adventurers.
We chowed down at the Cosy Corner, a family restaurant on the main drag in Haliburton village. Jim couldn't take his eyes off a patron in a booth across from us. The corpulent gentleman donned a unique chapeau.
"I wanna ask him about his hat."
" No . You'll get us killed."
When I came back from the washroom, Jim filled me in.
"Dyed buffalo bones on the band, with bear claws attached. In front, raccoon feet, and a metal pin of a bat as a fastener."
"He didn't deck you?"
After killing some time at the Dysart Arena watching a hockey tournament (we saw the Trailer Park Boys play the Chiefs, score 6 to 6), we got back on the road. I'd never stayed at a B&B before, and felt some trepidation.
"Will we be able to have sex?"
"Us? Er, better not. This is somebody's house, after all."
Along the deep and dark County 7 road that would take us to base camp the next day, we found Swiss Acres. Kurt Herzog and his wife, Lisa Herzog, warmly greeted us. Kurt is an energetic man, anywhere between 50 and 70, who was once a member of the national luge team.
"Our luge track is now open."
This I would have to see. Next day we wolfed down a hearty breakfast of French toast and fresh fruit. But we had to scram or else we'd lose our deposit.
With three minutes to spare, we made base camp at Haliburton Forest, 60,000 acres of privately owned rolling hardwood forest, lakes, rivers and general paradise. Six other people joined us for the hour-and-a-half introductory tour.
Our guides, Shannon and Bruce, were busy harnessing the dogs, beautiful purebred Siberian huskies of varying temperaments. We spent about 10 minutes getting to know our "team." I had Brandy, Hawk and Luck. It was Luck's first time out after giving birth eight weeks earlier, and she was eager to bolt. After a briefing on the sled and the four essential commands, "Slow the fuck down" not being one of them, we took our places. There's an option to take a double sled (one person sits, the other drives), but go with a single. "Hike up!"
The dogs took off following Shannon, the lead guide. Jim and I were the first two sleds behind her, and then came the people in double sleds. I could see Jim had the brakes on going down the first hill, so I did the same. My heart started pounding.
The dogs ran along the pristine track, through snow-covered forest and clean cold air. I grinned. This was neat. Shannon hung a left. I steered my team through the narrow turn. I swallowed my fear as I came perilously close to trees. Lean, then balance. Up front, Shannon had brought her team to a halt. "Easy, easy whoa!"
The six other people on the tour weren't behind us. We waited for them. Five minutes later, Shannon pulled out her walkie-talkie. "This has never happened before," she said. "They're gone." A search team had to be dispatched. Within half an hour, the others appeared, a little sheepish and limbs intact.
We resumed our run. Negotiating skidoo crossings, we slid through silent forest. We were coached to jump off the sleds and run uphill with the dogs to take the weight off. That's what I did several times, getting an awesome cardio workout - dogsledding is not for slobs. As I caught my breath on the sled, my team suddenly took a hairpin turn I didn't brake for. I flew off the sled and into a hard snowbank. Shannon and Jim heard my cries and stopped. The dogs rested while I hobbled back to the overturned sled.
"I'm OK, I'm OK. Just a fracture of the tibia. No problem."
What's a winter activity without an injury? I was fine - bruised, but fine. We carried on for another 500 metres or so, until the tour ended back at the kennels. Exhilarated, flush with life, we played with the dogs, our helpers and best buddies. Then we said goodbye to an experience that had whetted our appetite for more.
Go, dog, go.