This was an adventure that was months in the making.
I first stumbled across Abitibi Sled Dogs on Tiktok. I was drawn to the account not only because of the dogs, but because it was actually based out of my childhood hometown, Timmins Ontario. The more I scrolled through the account, the more I felt compelled to follow and chat with the owner, Jacob. He was so knowledgable and had a tidbit of information in every video I was watching. I sent him a message and we began chatting about everything from business, to life in the north. The power of social media, I'm tellin' ya!
When Christmas rolled around, I was scratching my head as to what to gift Carolyne. In the previous year I gifted her an excursion flying owls with Hawkeye Canada, and I truthfully had no idea how I was going to top that gift. Then I remembered my countless conversations with Jacob and it sparked an idea. Unbeknownst to Carolyne, we were going to embark on quite the Northern adventure!
A 10hr drive later filled with heavy snowfall, dropping temperatures and 2 very anxious and excited passengers, we arrived in Timmins and were prepping for our dog sled adventure. Thankfully I still have some friends (who truthfully are more like family) that live in the north and we were able to crash at their place the night before our excursion. That night the temperature dipped to -40C with the wind chill. The next day looked to be warmer with the temperature hovering around -25C.
We layered up in the morning with some warm wool base layers, our cozy Bear and Fox joggers and sweaters, our trusty Bob and Dougs as well as our Ripzone Canada jackets and ski pants. We were also putting our new Keen Canada boots to the test in this cold weather.
When we arrived at the trail's head, it was organized chaos. As soon as we opened the doors of the Paddy Wagon, we were greeted with the overstimulating sounds of 12 very excited Alaskan huskies. Everything from barks, howls and yelps were pouring out of the team. They were beyond stoked to hit the trails running! Jacob's partner Chantal was giving us the run down on how to drive the sleds, use the drag to slow the sled down and how to brake with both the foot brake and the snow anchor (and how not to fully trust the latter because the dogs want to go!) Between the safety run down, and the excited canines, we were feeling a little apprehensive and nervous to hop on the sleds. After a quick pep talk with Jacob, Chantal and their collegue Marc, Carolyne decided to ride "princess" as we lovingly called it, and was strapped into the sled while I took the metaphorical reigns and got on the back of the sled.
The plan was that Jacob would take the lead and him and his team of 6 dogs would go first and then we would follow with our team of 6 dogs. This way, if we bailed, fell off or totally lost the sled and the dogs took off, he could stop the sled and advert tragedy.
While standing on the back of the sled, I could feel my heart racing. Even now as I'm blogging about it, I can feel the excitement in my chest again. I look over at Jacob and see Chantal release the lead dog and he and his team are off! Our dogs are pulling and the sled is buckling under their power. Then Marc drops the rope and Chantal signals for me to get off the standing brake. I get off the brake and we were off and running too! The transition from barking chaos to absolute silence was immediate. It was a very, very cool moment to experience.
I've spent lots of time on both ski doos and four wheelers, and I had imagined in my head that we wouldn't be able to speak comfortably while dog sledding. That couldn't have been further from the truth. Carolyne and I were able to chat comfortably and just revel in the moment. The silence of the bush, the padding sound of the paws hitting the trail and the soft cutting sound of the sled tracks on the snow were all sounds I will never forget.
We ran through the loop a few different times, allowing the dogs to rest in between each run. With every run we became more and more comfortable with how the sled moved through the snow and where we needed to get off the tracks and run alongside the sled to help the dogs up hills and using the drag to maintain distance between the dogs and the sled on the way down the hills.
On our very last run Jacob invited me to hop on the tandem sled with him. This is a unique sled as there is significantly less space on the front of the sled for storage or even a passenger and has 2 stand up positions on the back of the sled. This was again, another unique way to experience the adventure as I got to pick Jacob's brain a little bit on the ride and really got to experience his interactions with the team. He was so encouraging of the dogs and praised them when they responded to directional commands and even offered words of encouragement when they were pushing to get up a hill. Watching the interaction between musher and dogs really reiterated to me, that they are the true definition of a team. One cannot exist without the other. And that was super cool to witness.
At the end of the tour, we enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate Chantal made in a traditional mushers trail cooker. This is a double barrel boiler that burns alcohol instead of wood and has no moving pieces or valves, making it ideal for excursions in frigid temperatures. We learned so much history from Jacob during our adventure on the trails. Dog sledding might be my personal Roman Empire - I can't stop thinking about it since we've come home.
This was truly an incredible experience and one that I will never forget.
If you're ever in the north and want to experience it in a way unlike any other, I cannot recommend spending a day with Abitibi Sled Dogs!
And be sure to give Frank and Bagel a scratch behind the ear for me too.