The ‘Fun Run’

Shar­ing the mem­ory of a har­row­ing dogsled ride through the cold, dark night

Our Canada - - Contents - By Lois Trot­ter, Cherry Grove, Alta.

One con­trib­u­tor shares her mem­o­ries of a har­row­ing dogsled ride through a dark, frigid Al­berta night.

About 30 years ago, my hus­band David and I along with our daugh­ter Amy mov e d from South­ern Man­i­toba to Cold Lake, Alta. Al­most im­me­di­ately, we met some peo­ple who were dog mush­ers. David was al­ways look­ing for ad­ven­ture and a chal­lenge, so we were soon the proud own­ers of three Alaskan huskies and a sled.

Af­ter that our dog count con­tin­ued to ex­pand—to 27! Amy was in her early teens and of­ten joined David in work­ing with the dog teams. One win­ter, our friends Dave and Miche­line in­vited us to par­tic­i­pate in a fun run—a gath­er­ing of lo­cal mush­ers with their chil­dren, dogs and sleds. These fam­i­lies gath­ered to try out var­i­ous lo­cal trails. David took a team of our sled dogs for a run, then at sun­down, Amy was of­fered a chance to try the shorter eight-mile trail. The tem­per­a­ture was cold, about -35°C, but the short trail seemed like a good quick run at the end of the day. Years later, Amy wrote about her ex­pe­ri­ence. I would like to share her story in her own words.

AMY’S STORY

My fam­ily and I en­joyed run­ning the sled dogs. This par­tic­u­lar day of the fun run was a typ­i­cally cold day in North­ern Al­berta—a day that would make ici­cles hang from noses and re­quire many lay­ers of cloth­ing against the chill. The truck ride out to Dave and Miche­line’s place was un­event­ful, but as we drove into their yard all the dogs barked loudly and ex­cit­edly! We were told the wind was par­tic­u­larly cold on the frozen ponds that day, but stub­born as I was, I thought noth­ing of it.

When my turn came, I had full con­fi­dence in my dog team know­ing they were fa­mil­iar with the eight-mile trail that we were to take. Lit­tle did I re­al­ize that by the end of the night, con­fi­dence in my team would change into deep respect and a trust that could never be chal­lenged.

My fa­ther and I hooked up our three-dog team to the sled while he in­structed me to be care­ful and to keep as warm as pos­si­ble. Af­ter these and other words of en­cour­age­ment, I was off— my dogs ea­gerly pulling me to­wards the sun­set.

Ev­ery­one had been right in say­ing it was windy, and I’d un­der­es­ti­mated how much that wind had blown the snow around dur­ing the day. Ev­ery­thing was go­ing smoothly un­til the team rounded the cor­ner where the 12-mile trail branched off my path. The wind had scat­tered snow over the trail we were on and my dogs were un­sure where to run. See­ing that the 12- mile track was clearer, my team be­gan to wan­der over there. It was at this point that I be­gan to worry. Sink­ing my snow brake into the ice and snow as best I could, I quickly grabbed my lead dog, Cody, to show him the cor­rect trail. Un­for­tu­nately, the trail was snowed over so badly that he couldn’t see it. Quickly re­al­iz­ing that I wouldn’t be able to lead him far-

ther down the trail, I made the de­ci­sion that would change ev­ery­thing— we started down the 12-mile trail. It was un­fa­mil­iar and with the sun now com­pletely set, I was scared.

My fa­ther’s words echoed in my mind, “Stay warm!” I looked around for my warmer pair of gloves and saw them rest­ing safely in the bas­ket of my sled. Be­fore putting my gloves on, how­ever, I thought I’d give turning the dogs around one more try. Once again plant­ing the snow brake into the hard-packed snow, I pro­ceeded to turn my team around. Just as I drew par- al­lel to Cody, another team mem­ber jerked the line and the brake broke loose. As the sled whizzed by me I made a fran­tic grab for it, but missed. It was at that mo­ment I be­gan to pray. So many thoughts went through my mind. I thought of my par­ents and what they must be think­ing as my ar­rival back at the yard was de­layed; would I get back alive?

I con­sider what hap­pened next to be a mir­a­cle. The snow hook (a steel hook that acts as an emer­gency brake) caught on an ex­posed tree root and the dogs stopped. Trem­bling and heav­ily clothed, I ran as fast as I could, manag­ing to hop onto the sled just as the brake re­leased, and we were off again—i held on for dear life! Not be­ing able to hold back tears, I cried a lot in the next lit­tle while, not know­ing where I was or if we were even on the trail. My huskies ran on into the night.

What I saw next can only be com­pared to a parched man in a burn­ing desert who sees an oa­sis. I didn’t be­lieve it at first, but there it was, a light in the dis­tance. A gleam­ing light in a yard that beck­oned my team and me to safety. I knew I had to try with all my might to get the dog team off this dark, frozen trail and into that yard. As though read­ing my mind, Cody im­me­di­ately headed into the ditch, across a road, down the lane and straight to the farm­house. I saw a burly, bun­dled- up man com­ing to­wards me and my only thought was of get­ting warm. The big man was kind as he asked me some ques­tions but, re­al­iz­ing that I was too cold to an­swer him, he sent me into the house and then took care of the dogs and sled.

Soon, the kind stranger re­turned to the house and im­me­di­ately put a pot of wa­ter on to boil. He asked me where I came from and I fi­nally man­aged to give him Dave and Miche­line’s names. I heard him talk­ing on the phone but could only fo­cus on the steam­ing teacup that I was gin­gerly hold­ing with my white-tipped fin­gers.

I’d come so close to giv­ing up in the dark, freez­ing night that it al­most seemed un­real when I saw Dave and Miche­line’s truck pulling into the yard to pick me up. The looks of re­lief on their kind faces re­as­sured me that ev­ery­thing was go­ing to be all right. I was headed back to my fam­ily, friends and a good hot meal. n

Full of ner­vous an­tic­i­pa­tion for Amy’s first-ever race!

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