“Mush!” …is not at all what I said when I went dog sledding a week ago Sunday.
In fact, it didn’t even occur to me to say it. I did scream in terror quite a bit, though. I also laughed, whooped and silently prayed.
OK, so let’s rewind.
A week or so before, it was announced that there was an opportunity for anyone who was interested to go dog sledding. I immediately said, “Yes!” This was a no-brainer for me for no other reason than it seemed like a fun activity.
I had visions of sitting on a sled, surveying everything around me, being pulled around by a team of dogs while the driver stood behind me shouting, “Mush!” to the team.
This was SO not that.
Four of us wanted to go, three foreign teachers and one local teacher, all women.
Surprisingly, our entire group that ended up sledding that day were all women. The only men were the three who own and run the dog sledding excursion (there was also a woman on their team).
Anyway, as the days passed and the time drew closer for our outing, I felt less and less like going because I was tired from all the extra work that has been on my plate lately.
Honestly, if I could have, I would have dropped out but a minimum of four people from our group was needed and we were exactly four so I felt obligated to go.
On the Sunday morning of our excursion, we all drove together to our starting point and met our hosts and the dogs.
Imagine my surprise when we got there and one of the hosts was the bass player from our band! He speaks only Russian and Sakha so we haven’t been exactly conversant.
This is why I had no idea that it was his operation we were using.
When we arrived, four other women were already there, also “tourists” who were going sledding. So our group included eight female “tourists” plus a host team of three men and one woman. We were twelve in all.
Our training for dog sledding lasted a full three minutes.
We were shown how to brake the sled, what to say to instruct the dog to keep going straight, left or right, and what to say to get the dog to stop.
Our instructor told us that we’d have to help the dog at some points and showed us how (hold on to the sled, keep one foot on it and use the other foot to propel the sled, much like riding a skateboard).
And he said we shouldn’t complain about anything.
At that point, I was like, “Yeah, this is NOT going to be the relaxing day I expected.” I still asked about sitting on a sled and getting pulled around, though, but the instructor laughed and said no-one was doing that.
I sighed and said OK, deciding to make the best of it.
Then I was introduced to my partner for the day, Blanca. She was such a good girl all day.
Some of us had one medium-sized dog while others had two smaller dogs. All of our sleds were made of some type of light metal and plywood, so the it didn’t add too much to our weight for the dog to pull.
Within thirty minutes of arriving, we were on our way. Within two minutes of being on our way, we all started falling off our sleds.
It took me a whole ten minutes before I fell so I guess I should have felt proud. In any case, by the time we got to the nearby hill, I was ready to turn back because, people, that hill looked like it was ninety degrees straight up!
No joke, it was steep.
Blanca and I struggled up that hill, me pushing the sled (poor girl, no way she could pull me and the sled up that crazy hill) and trying not to slide back down in the fresh, loose snow.
After a good twenty minutes or so of praying and struggling, and finally with help from one of the hosts, we made it to the top. By that time, I was huffing, puffing, sweating and muttering under my breath, wondering what I’d let myself in for.
Thankfully, the course got less crazy after that, although we had to stop regularly, either because one of our party had fallen off their sled or because the dogs kept stopping to pee on bushes.
But once we got going into the forest and onto an easier trail, I could really just take in my surroundings and enjoy the experience.
After about an hour and a half, we stopped in an open field for a meal. It wasn’t too cold that day and the forest had shielded us from most of the wind.
Plus, having to “help” the dogs with the sleds at some points kept us all warm, I’m sure; it certainly did me. But it was windy in the field where we stopped for lunch so I think we were all cold very quickly.
We hung out there for about thirty minutes, drinking tea or coffee and munching on cheese and grapes and blini and other snacks that members of the group had brought.
Then it was time to be off again.
The thirty-minute rest had revitalised Blanca and we set off at a nice run, me whooping behind her like I was on a speedway. By this time, I was totally into the experience and had settled my mind at the position that the spills and difficulties of the trail were well worth the joy of the experience.
Back into the forest we plunged, along a different trail this time, deeply laden with fresh snow.
Thank goodness I had worn my ski pants and unti, because there was no way Blanca could have pulled me and a sled through that deep, loose snow. I called out encouragement to her all the way, pushing or running with the sled at some points to keep us going.
Finally, we got to the last part of the trail that would take us back into the village and on the last leg of our journey back to the dacha where we had started off just a few hours before.
Our lead host stopped us and warned that the trail would now become like a roller coaster, littered with somewhat steep declines, and showed us how to use our brakes to control our speed and descent.
I talked up Blanca and myself to get us pumped to go. I’m not sure she was impressed with my speech but I felt ready.
Then I promptly fell about a meter down the first incline.
I think it’s because the person ahead of me fell and I caught sight of her tumble and lost my concentration.
I got myself and the sled righted and talked up Blanca and myself again and am proud to say that I only fell once more on that roller coaster descent, just near the end when I got distracted by instructions that my host was trying to shout at me.
Finally, though, we all made it down. Then it was another thirty minutes or so of slowly riding back through the village to the dacha.
By this time, I think most of the dogs were tired and they just wouldn’t go quickly so we had no choice but to go at their pace.
About four hours after we left, we returned to our starting point and I bid a fond farewell to my good girl, Blanca, who had done such a great job and behaved herself all day.
About an hour later, I was hobbling through my front door. My ski pants had a few rips in the knees. My left knee hurt where I had banged it way too often against the bar of the sled, and some of the times I had fallen.
No worries, though; it’s fine now.
My right wrist hurt from that last fall, I think. It’s better now but it still hurts a little; I had to brush my teeth left handed for two days after.
And boy, did my muscles ache! All those muscles I haven’t used since I got here were engaged that day. People, dog sledding is a full body workout and don’t let anybody tell you different!
So, what was the sum total of my dog sledding experience? First, I never had a dream of going dog sledding, I just took the opportunity when it came up.
This reminds me that opportunities will come up in life that I never expected or planned for but that can create memories that I will cherish forever.
Second, I didn’t want to go. For days before and even when I got there, I was having second thoughts about joining the excursion but, because I had made a committment, I went anyway.
This reminds me that feelings are important but they’re not always reliable. I could have missed an absolutely brilliant experience because of my feelings if I had followed them.
Third, as tired as I had been before I went, the experience refreshed me immeasurably. Being out in nature, having a brand new, first-time experience can do that to you.
For a few hours – once I let go of my initial misgivings – I forgot my to-do list and all of my other responsibilities and just felt pure joy. I let go of everything else and revelled in the experience and that left me feeling renewed.
And fourth, nothing really worth having is easy to get. The best things in life almost always require me to give up some comfort, ease and peace of mind.
But so far I haven’t found one of those things that isn’t worth it in the end.
Do you know how, when you spend the day at the beach, as you lie bed that night drifting off to sleep, you hear the sounds of the surf around you and feel like waves are washing over you?
Well, after dog sledding, I went to bed that night (early, because fresh air does that to me) feeling like I was flying along a snow covered path.
As I lay on my back in bed, I felt the crisp early spring air going deep into my lungs and heard the the wind rushing around me. Dog sledding was an absolutely wonderful gift that God gave me a week ago, and like every gift that He gives me, it’s worthy of praise.
We give thanks to you, O God, we give thanks to you! We proclaim how great you are and tell of the wonderful things you have done. Psalm 75:1 (GNT)