Producer Ed Janus takes us dog sledding in the snow-quiet northern woods of the Bayfield Peninsula in Wisconsin. Whoosh!
GELLERMAN: Winter driving, driving you crazy? For a change of pace, try guiding a team of dogs through two feet of snow. Producer Ed Janus traveled to the Bayfield Peninsula of northern Wisconsin to learn the fine art of mushing.
He recorded Wolfsong Adventure owners John and Mary Thiel as they showed him and other first time mushers how to ride on the back of a sled at 12 miles an hour, with eight dogs pulling as one.
[FOOTFALLS IN SNOW, BIRD SONG. DOGS YELPING]
MARY THIEL: Hey, Java. Starbuck. They love what they do. They just love it.
JOHN THIEL: People like to do hands-on stuff. I mean, that's the big thing. What they really want to do is handle the dogs. I mean that's the best part of it. So, we have them do everything. They harness the dogs and hook ‘em up and drive a team. When we're done they can come back and feed ‘em. And that's people's favorite part.
JOHN: Hi, guys.
MARY: Kennels often name litters by categories so you can keep track of who the brothers and sisters are. And, my family's very Norwegian, so this is Lefsa, there's a Lutefisk. This is Krumkaka, which is a Christmas cookie.
JOHN: We have a blues litter – B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Luther Allison.
MARY: This big fella is Gonzo and he's just awesome. He pulls so hard. Good boy, Gonz.
When people go to harness Gonzo, he lays down on the ground with his legs up so they can scratch his belly. (Photo courtesy of Wolfsong Adventures.)
JOHN: You can see in the dogs now, they're starting to get fired up a little bit. You're really working with that enthusiasm. Trying to keep them feeling happy all the time.
[YELPING, JINGLE OF HARNESSES]
MARY: I'm getting the harnesses ready. We'll lay them out … hey, Jitti, go for a little run? You want to go for a little run? Some of these older guys will just about dress themselves, though. Lift their paw for you.
JOHN: There you go. Slip it right over his head. Sort of pull it back…
MARY: I'm going to do a little sled instruction with you before we hook anybody up. The skies are called runners; you'll stand there most of the time. The sled will track behind the dogs quite well and you don't have to do a whole lot of steering. You've got a couple different break systems here, which you will use a good deal of the time out on the trail…
MARY: Let's go ahead and hook up my team first. Ready to go, Gonz? Let's go, girls! Let's go, girls! Good dogs.
[QUIET SOUND OF SLED ON SNOW, NO BARKING]
MARY: This is the best part. All that excitement and noise and chaos hooking up and you pull the hook, and it's just instant silence. Good dogs!
[CROW CALL, JINGLING]
JOHN: On-by, on-by. I don't know if you saw it up there but Lucy, the little one, she was trying to go right, which would have been "gee." And Lutie, the old experienced leader, said, "no, no, we're not going that way."
[WHISPER OF MOVING SLED]
JOHN: We're going about ten miles, 12 – Gee! – miles an hour. Haw, haw. Good boy, Lutie, good boy. Come on guys, come on.
[JINGLE OF CHAINS, SLED ON SNOW]
JOHN: About this time in the run the dogs usually get in to a bit of a rhythm. And, you can just, sort of, just go through the woods like this, look around a little bit, snow hanging up in the trees. And, we're just, kind of, slipping through the woods now.
MARY: You look out over your team and you see them when they really get in the groove, the dogs will move like a wave, you know? Like one animal. It's just a beautiful thing to see them running and doing what they love to do. And they're happy and excited and you can't help but be the same.
[FEET RUNNING IN SNOW, SQUEAK OF MOVING SLED]
JOHN: Going to run up this hill here. The only way to stay warm in the winter when it's really cold out is to run. Take ten steps, jump back on, rest a little bit. I help them up the hills a bit.
JOHN: Straight ahead. Straight ahead. Try to kick your sled forward as we turn here. Just give a couple of good hard kicks. It'll help you around this corner. Haw. Good dogs. [GASP THEN LAUGH] Alright! Just hop back on. There you go.
[SLED WHOOSHING IN SNOW]
JOHN: Well, I think they're fired up. Now they know they're going home so they're going to – they might want to run a little extra fast. Let's go. Let's go.
[SLED STOPS, THEN YELPING AND HOWLING]
GELLERMAN: John and Mary Thiel run Wolfsong Adventures in Bayfield, Wisconsin. Our sound portrait was produced by Ed Janus.
MALE: That was a great ride, kid!