Boreal Forest Ski Mushing Tours
Pat’s Ski Mushing Saga
by Patricia Saunders
Consider for one moment all that you have done this week… don’t forget the mini-van shuttling, the extra-curricular work, waiting in traffic lines, selflessly deciding to be satisfied with a 7-11 coffee and shelf lived cellophane-wrapped butter tart in place of a decent coffee break, stopping for some quick groceries at 8:00 pm in consideration of the needs of your family, answering telephones, returning voice mail, being put on hold, cutting into sleep time to complete a report, keeping the house clean, rushing to be on time for the… okay, okay.
I think you agree: you really need to get away from this and a single weekend will do the trick… enough to let you relax, eat and wine well, breathe fresh air, be chauffeured, sleep in, enjoy good company, x-c ski a “little”, recline to the vista of a tree lined lake…
And this is precisely how we lived on the last week of January 2000. As our good friend and certified licensed accredited ski master extraordinaire, Cliff Speer, chauffeured us through the aurora borealis bedecked evening in the direction of Emma Lake, my recurring thought was, “It’s Friday, and I am OUT of the city, and someone else is doing the driving!” These factors alone constitute a good dream, but wait. There’s more. For we, all of us (a journaliste de Quebec, a Ph.D. student from the Czech Republic, a couple of ag biotechnologists from England, a researcher/photographer from Croatia, a school teacher from Saskatoon, and Cliff), are heading into Saskatchewan’s boreal forest for a weekend in a funky two storey cedar cabin, with enough space to sleep ten or twelve people, and are awakened in the morning by the friendly gurgling of a coffee maker. Someone else has hot coffee ready for me? This is already worth the admission.
We wax our x-c skis, pack a lunch — the ingredients of which Cliff has set out for us to choose from, load up, and are chauffeured out to the Anglin Lake area for some warm-up/refresher/ski improvement lessons. Cliff’s experience in instructing goes way back and his eye is a precision instrument; each member of our little group receives personalized instruction and practice time. In my skiing he detects a habit that has annoyed me for at least two years and I can’t blinkin’ get rid of it: beavertailing – it’s an irritating slap of ski on snow caused by a premature weight shift. He spots it, offers a solution, then sends me up the trail to practise while I am secretly asking, “How in the name of goodness am I to change this in time for our 13 km run today?” As already stated, this guy knows how to instruct: I try, I fall, I regain, I trip, I ache, I huff and I puff, I remember his advice and try to enact it, and lo and behold, may the heavens be praised… for within one hour I have completely – yes entirely – changed the leg work of my technique. Smoother, quieter, less work. Others in our group too, comment on their satisfaction with improvements made in this brief time period.
Photo credit: Branimir Gjetvaj /Lida Cermakova
Our 13 km run under a perfect blue sky, through rolling and pristine pineland ends about four hours later at the Land of the Loon log chalet; and its restaurant with full sized stained glass windows framing a crackling fireplace makes us want to stay for a second cup of creamy hot chocolate served in a pedestal mug.
Returning to our “cabin” just in time to photograph from the rooftop balcony a remarkable pink and orange sunset across the breadth of Emma Lake and beyond, we stretch out, get a lovely massage routine going, sip on good wine, are served gourmet courses, play a few card games, and enjoy scintillating conversation.
Au matin, following a bacon and eggs and multigrain toast with-all-the-trimmings breakfast, we and our skis head out to the north to meet Bradley Muir of Sundogs Excursions and his friendly energetic Alaskan huskies. Brad takes carefully planned time to talk about animal care and sledding safety, he teaches us how to harness and command the huskies, he calms his team whose members are hyped and delighted that they will soon be called to PULL, and he bids us farewell as he sleds ahead 6 km to prepare hot lunch for us at his aptly chosen tent site on Beaver Dam Lake. And… he leaves behind for us a pretty little canine called Puccoon who will be our skijor leader. By the end of the day we will, all of us, have a deep love and respect for this little creature who clearly just wants to get going. Skijoring is an old Norwegian tradition of winter transit in which a skier is simply harnessed behind a pulling horse. Sled dogs are equally eager and able for this kind of work, and what a pleasant break it was to have that little harness passed over to me. Puccoon is smart and strong; she’s eager and sensitive, every so often looking behind to make eye contact with me. She pulls for a long stretch, and I only have to do some easy double poling; she loves the down hills and she digs in on the up hills. I pass her on to my friend Jean-Sebastien and we meet at Brad’s campsite on the sunshiny lakeshore where he waters and rests his dogs, and his canvas prospector’s tent provides woodstove warmth and another nutritious-delicious menu for we bedraggled who really needed to get away this weekend. Several times during the day a voice in my head repeats, “This is a bit of heaven.”
Over lunch Brad continues to educate us on the culture of dog sledding and shares his sensitivity for the surrounding ecosystems, and one easily notes that he very much enjoys and values all elements of this lifestyle. Our 8-km return trip is, as promised, a veritable utopia. Skiing (and skijoring) on snow like velvet through tranquil undulating trails, we are 3 km from the trail end when Brad and his panting puppies do a series of double-backs in order to provide each of us with a sled ride, a tow-ride, and if we’re brave enough – a chance to do some “mushing”.
To the very busy & overworked…
this is the best kind of getaway. You won’t have to drive, you won’t have to decide where to stay, you won’t have to determine a menu, watch the clock, check the gas gauge, phone for reservations, stop at the A.T., wait for the… Okay, okay. Researchers say that most North Americans spend more time planning their vacation than they do planning their retirement savings! With this excursion all you do is write one cheque and pack one duffle bag!
When you go…
you may hear a voice inside your head saying something about paradise, heaven, real living, and other such related topics. Upon your return you will realize that you really needed to get away!