The late December snow and ice crunched almost rhythmically under our feet as we approached the isolated dog kennel nestled in the backwoods of Whistler, BC. Dusk was rapidly turning into dark, but the fleet of Alaskan huskies designated to pull our sled were bouncing with energy like it was high noon.
“Don’t let them lick you in the face!” shouted one of the tour guides as she approached us bearing an arm full of harness equipment. “They have a raw meat diet, so we strongly discourage them from licking people…you know, because of bacteria and stuff.” We continued petting the high strung canines weary of their “bacteria laced tongues” while our guide, Jen, gave us a brief history of dog sledding in the Canadian outback.
One of the first things you will notice about working sled dogs is the odor! In a species where pecking order is everything, a leader NEEDS to smell like a leader. It is a primal stench that will absolutely permeate any clothing you are wearing. The next thing you will notice is the size (or lack thereof) of your sled team. We had an 8-dog team and the largest dog was probably 90 lbs. Everybody else in the pack was more like 70 lbs. However do not mistake this lack in size with a lack in heart, endurance or determination.
I stepped on the skids jutting out of the back of the sled while Jen lifted the ice anchor out of the frozen soil. I then proceeded to use my right foot to lift the sled break out of the mounds of snow in front of it and said the one thing I had been dying to say my entire life……”mush!” One trite command and we were off whooshing and meandering through the icy, evergreen tree lined trails of the Callaghan Valley.
After about a quarter mile of intense mushing, “The Incident” happened.
The crisp, clean, winter breeze that was once blowing through my knit cap was now perfumed with the rankest stench that you could ever imagine. My brother Rome, who was playing camera man at the time, and our guide Jen gagged simultaneously as the awful smell circulated in their nostrils.
Apparently, sled dogs poop WHILE they are running. Not before the run, not after when the excitement has worn off and they have some time to themselves, DURING! Now, if the lead dog poops, that means every dog behind him has to trample through the warm, moist pile AND the sled has to run over it.
???? This is not your ordinary poop by the way.
This is the poop of champions, laid by a hound that is much more primal and feral than any of the lap dogs lazy laying around 78.2 million American living rooms. This is the kind of smell that sticks to your ribs and leaves you debating rather or not you are actually tasting it as well as smelling it.
The guide explained to us that the dogs are discouraged from relieving themselves on the trail, but how can you stop something like that? We’re talking about an animal that will run until his or her heart explodes if the musher doesn’t stop them on occasion and mandate a break. I’ve got to tell you, I have never been happier to smell doo doo in my life.
Overall? I’m not writing this to discourage you from experiencing the joy of dog sledding yourself. I’m telling you this so that if you are ever in that position you will be prepared to enjoy the aroma of a champion. Godspeed!