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Lead dogs, Acorn and Tina, are anxious to keep running during a quick snack break, barking, howling, and lunging in their harnesses until it's time to run again. Photo by: Dave Freeman

A Year in the Wilderness: The Sled Dogs Arrive – Week 13, Post #7

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Amy lights ice luminaries around our tent in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on New Years Eve. Photograph by Dave Freeman

Our best Christmas presents arrived a few days late this year, and instead of being delivered on Santa’s sleigh, they arrived by dog team. On January 2, our 102nd day in the wilderness, we spotted a dog team gliding silently across Newfound Lake. Eight dogs lopped along in unison, pulling local musher and county commissioner, Frank Moe, toward our campsite. A few white, billowy clouds added texture to the warm, calm, sunny sky as we ran onto the lake to greet our guests. Along with a bag full of food and supplies, Frank brought in three sled dogs that will help us haul our food and supplies as we explore a wilderness blanketed in snow and ice over the next three months.

Tank, Tina, and Acorn are seasoned Alaskan huskies with many dogsled races, including the John Bear Grease Dogsled Marathon, under their harnesses. Acorn has been Frank’s lead dog for many years, and she was in lead when Frank dogsledded up to the Minnesota capitol in Saint Paul with a sled full of petitions signed by thousands of people who were concerned about the proposed sulfide-ore copper mines in northern Minnesota in 2012. She literally led his team of sled dogs through the city streets, stopping at traffic lights alongside idling cars as people pointed and stared. It seems fitting that Acorn, Tina, and Tank are joining us now as we work to educate people about the Wilderness and protect the Boundary Waters watershed from the same threat.

After Frank left our campsite on Newfound Lake, we were excited to take the dogs out for a run. We quickly put on our ski boots, harnessed up our new team, and headed out skijoring. Amy was hooked up to Tank and I was hooked up to Tina and Acorn. It was a little tricky getting our skis on with the dogs barking and lunging in their harnesses, but as soon as my boots were clipped into the bindings, Acorn and Tina shot off down the lake. The lake was covered in just a couple inches of snow and the dogs easily pulled me along at seven or eight miles an hour. It was faster than we had gone in a long time and it really felt like we were flying across the lake. Tank was right on my heels pulling Amy with his ears and tongue flopping as he trotted along. It was obvious the dogs were having as much fun as we were.

We had been waiting for more than a month for the lakes to freeze and had been stuffing ourselves with homemade fudge, Christmas cookies, and other holiday treats that friends and family sent in with our December resupply. We could feel ourselves getting soft and were anxious to move. Finally, connected with our canine teammates, we were ready to start exploring the winter Wilderness in earnest.

The next morning we loaded our toboggans with 200 pounds of food and equipment, harnessed the dogs, and strapped on our skis. With the dogs barking and lunging, Amy yelled, “Let’s go dogs, let’s go!” and the next chapter of our year in the wilderness began.

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Amy skis behind the team as they haul our supplies across Wood Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Photograph by Dave Freeman

We have spent the last week moving from campsite to campsite, getting to know our dogs, and enjoying the meditative silence that envelopes us as we ski across untracked Wilderness lakes. The challenge of wrestling our toboggans over the steep and rocky portage trails that connect the million acre labyrinth of frozen lakes and rivers that surround us leaves us feeling tired and satisfied at the end of each day and help us appreciate the simple pleasure of a hearty meal, the warmth of our wood stove, and the silence that engulfs us.

“Simplicity in all things is the secret of the wilderness and one of its most valuable lessons.”
-Sigurd Olson

For Amy and me, sled dogs provide a catalyst that allows us to experience the simplicity of wilderness in a way that no other form of wilderness exploration does. Sled dogs make life more vivid and help distill experiences down to the basics. Food, your pack, and the urge to experience what’s over the horizon are what matter to a sled dog. When you boil it down that is really what matter most to us out here in the wilderness as well.


Amy and Dave FreemanAmy and Dave FreemanAmy and Dave FreemanAmy and Dave Freeman, 2014 Adventurers of the Year, are spending 365 days in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to call attention to the threats that a series of proposed sulfide-ore copper mines pose to our nation’s most popular wilderness. They are sharing their Wilderness Adventures through regular blog posts throughout their Year in the Wilderness right here on the Beyond the Edge blog. Learn more about protecting the Boundary Waters, follow them@freemanexplore, and connect kids with the adventure through the Wilderness Classroom.