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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

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In Travel & Visitors Guide

Mush!

Mushing through the Wisconsin snow


The "real winter" around Wisconsin this year has people getting outdoors for downhill and XC skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and other recreational activities. You might also want to mush around the state.

No, we're not talking about melting snow here. This is the stuff of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. (Sorry to those too young to know who this guy is; he was a Canadian Mountie who said "mush" and "On, King! On, you huskies!" a lot on radio and early TV.)

At least seven kennels in Wisconsin list dog sled rides as an attraction. They include: Spirit Lake Trails in Rib Lake, Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing in Bayfield, A Wilderness Haven Resort in Hayward, MJ Sled & Dogs Ltd. In River Falls, Northwind Kennels in Park Falls and Paw-Tuck-A-Way in Danbury.

According to the Northwind Web site: "There is little that can compare to the thrill of traveling by dog team, in the beautiful Northwoods. Create memories to take back home with you that will last a lifetime. Learn about nature that is around you and the dogs that will share their world with you.

"To travel with the dogs is more then just a ride, it is a opportunity to see wildlife and explore new areas. Travel in silence with only the sound of the runners sliding in the snow and an occasional song of the chickadee to sing to you along the way. At the end, you return home having gained new skills and created memories that will last a life time."

Northwind offers sled dog basics, how to harness and gang line, how to handle dogs and how to ride and mush a sled. You can actually take the dogs and sled for a run after some instructions. Many of Northwind dogs have run the Iditarod from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska.

Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing offers dog sledding trips for all ages and abilities. The focus is on the dogs, the 35 friendly Siberian Huskies, for these hands-on, 4-hour (with lunch) and 2.5-hour daily trips.

You can learn to drive-your-own team or ride along with one of the guides. Wolfsong has provided been in business since 1997. One word of warning from the owners, however. After the Chicago Tribune did a story on them, things have gotten busy:

"We are getting full for the weekends until March thanks to a normal winter, but there are still a few spots open as well as weekdays. The snow conditions here are perfect, as is the weather."

In addition to those places already listed, Sno-Trek Kennels near Mondovi has offered dog sled experiences since 1971. You can take half-day trips and receive instructions from owner Howard Thompson.

Two Moons near Mercer also offers instructions and rides and recently was featured in a story by Laura Kearney on travelwisconsin.com.

Outward Bound and other organizations also offer dog sledding experiences in Wisconsin and around the country.

If you're rather be a spectator and not make a trip to Alaska or Canada, you can take in the Apostle Islands Dog Sled Race near Bayfield. You'll have to go next year though, since the 2008 race was held last weekend.

People have been using dogs to slide around on the snow for a long time. Eskimos and Inuits used them as a necessity in travel. As the International Sled Dog Racing Association (ISDRA) reports on its Web site: "Sled dogs enabled explorers such as Byrd, Peary, and Amundsen to explore the frozen wastelands of two continents and played a vital role in bringing civilization to the snowbound areas of the world.

"As early as 1873, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were bringing government to northern frontiers with dog-team patrols. Throughout Alaska and Canada, mail teams delivered the news to outlying settlements.

"One of the proudest chapters in sled dog history was written in 1925. In January of that year, a case of diphtheria was discovered in Nome, Alaska, and the supply of antitoxin in that city was inadequate to stave off an epidemic. A relay of 22 native and mail teams forged through the rough interior of Alaska and across the Bering Sea ice to bring the serum to a grateful citizenry."

Of course, Nome remains a big part of dog sledding as one of the destination points in the Iditarod, which has become the most famous dog sledding race in the world.

There always is interest in the dogs themselves. Again from the ISDRA site: "Several distinct dog breeds are commonly used as sled dogs, although any medium-sized breed may be used to pull a sled. Purebred sled dog breeds range from the well-known Siberian Husky and Alaskan Malamute to rarer breeds such as the Mackenzie River Husky.

"Dog drivers, however, have a long history of using other breeds or crossbreds as sled dogs. In the days of the Gold Rush in The Yukon, mongrel teams were the rule, but there were also teams of Foxhounds and Staghounds. Today the unregistered hybridized Alaskan husky is preferred for dogsled racing, along with a variety of crossbreds, the German Shorthaired Pointer often being chosen as the basis for crossbreeding. From 1988 through 1991, a team of Standard Poodles competed in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race."

Alaska and Canada are the "hotbeds" for this cold-weather sport. But, with the kind of winter most of Wisconsin has had this year, you need not leave Wisconsin to be able to shout "mush," or if you learn more about Sergeant Preston you can even shout, "On, King! On, you huskies!"


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