Magical Canine Ride

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canadian-geographic
Magical Canine Ride
Deborah Mensah-Bonsu
Canadian Geographic – Winter 2009 – 2010

EARLY MORNING. Algonquin Provincial Park. Crisp air hits your face and blasts the sleep out of your system. The insides of your gloves become damp and you struggle to hold the bar linking you to a sled and 24 sprinting feet. Your muscles stiffen and brace for the bend up ahead … and you tumble as the sled lurches into the turn.

John Langford chuckles, thinking about the countless times he’s seen it happen. “The first left-hand turn,” he says, “everybody wipes out.”

Langford has been running dog sledding tours for more than a decade. His company, Voyageur Quest, is one of several that operate out of Algonquin, about three hours northeast of Toronto.

A weekend trip begins with a crash course at 8:30 a.m., after which groups of eight to 10 are expected to retrieve and harness their own mixed-breed huskies before heading into the woods. The main misconception about dog sledding, according to Langford, is that it’s an easy ride.

“You’re not wearing fur coats and sipping peach schnapps while dogs glide you along like magic,” he says. “It’s really physical, and when working with animals, they don’t always do what you say.”

Between maintaining control of six excitable dogs running at up to 25 kilometers an hour, pushing and braking the wooden sled in which a fellow rider sits and keeping your own feet firmly planted, a day of mushing makes for a demanding but exhilarating experience.

“No one sees the scenery for the first hour,” says Langford. “But when the dogs are finally doing exactly what you want and it’s quiet, that is magical.”

Visitors can sign up for day trips or multi-day excursions that also offer snowshoeing, hiking and skiing. To recuperate, they can either spend the night in a simple stove-heated tent or retreat to the luxury of a furnished log cabin. Prices vary between operators, but day trips usually begin at around $200 and include training and lunch.

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