Real Canadians Dog Sled, Don’t They?
Page #2
Going down!
  Burt had a team of six dogs, one reserve, in the lead. Marten, because he was weak with stomach flu, was in the middle. I carried about three hundred pounds of gear including our stove at the rear of my sled. We were on a height of land that descended down to the lakes below. Bert said he’d meet us at the bottom where we would have a long flat spell for a while.

"This top part might be a little tricky," he said. "The dogs are anxious and it’s a little steep. Ride the brake."

" Right," I said, with just a slight diminishment of confidence.

When a harnessed dog team is not running the sled, it is anchored. The anchor is a fierce looking three-pronged hooking device that looks as though it would land Moby Dick if he ever took the bait. The trick, I found, was to lean back from your sled, to remove this weapon from the snow while it was being wedged ever deeper into the frost by what seemed to be the hounds from hell, and maintain control and balance. I got the anchor out. One out of three ain’t bad.

My five dog team sled raced down a tunnel of brush just barely wide enough to accept our presence. Everything around me instantly blurred. My muscles tensed and I went into survival mode. The phrase, "Ride the brake," came back to me and I slammed it down hard.

The dogs make it look easy.
The brake is a mini version of the anchor attached to a spring-loaded board at the back of the sled. In theory, you drop your right leg down with sufficient force to reduce your speed. I had enough force on that thing to take a core sample below eight feet of frost but it didn’t do much good.

There had been a flash thaw a week previous. This had caused the snow levels to drop, forming a sheet of ice on this drop and exposing slashed stumps from the blazing of the trail. I’ve never actually seen the spikes on a Malaysian tiger trap but I figure they couldn’t have been much less deadly. I rode the brake while bouncing off sapling stumps at 50 kms/hr. Within a brief moment, I was experiencing that transcendental state that Burt called horizontal free fall. It was rapturous. My fears faded. I was enveloped in a sense of euphoria. Time stopped. Then I became one with a tree. Literally.

  Fortunately a fire had denuded the forest in 1975 and new growth trees were only about 15 years old at the time or the story would have ended twenty seconds into our trip. When I came to, I got up and felt for broken bones. Fortunately, due, probably, to the five layers or so of cold weather gear I was wearing and the elastic quality of the sapling I hit, I was still intact, though dazed.

Just glad I didn’t have to ride those dogs down this chute any more, I got ready for a long steep walking trip. When I rounded the first bend, I found my dog sled hooked to a tree and my straining dogs waiting for me.

The above scene repeated itself three more times before I left the tunnel of death, black and blue, clinging to the back of my sled with one hand. My team dragged me 300 metres past my waiting comrades on the lake before they figured I had had enough.

Five minutes into the trip and my sled and I looked as though we’d been through a demolition derby. Burt pulled up beside me and chuckled. Marten wore a vacuous look of shock. As I dusted myself off, I whispered to Marten, "Did you think you were going to die back there?" "Yes," he replied. "Marten," I said, "we are dead men if the rest of the trip is like this." I woefully recalled the letter I had written, especially the part about the rough and tough adventure.

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