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Moose on the loose…or is it Jens?

Date: 02.21.05
Position: 49°42'N 88°8'W Lake Nipigon, Ontario, Canada
Weather Conditions: Sunny, clear blue sky, 10F/-12C

Well, we have not seen any moose yet – but lots of exciting Polar Husky power has sure been let loose. Let’s just say it has been an exciting week.

Aaron and students making and packing trail mix while Jeff Abuzzahab from the University is filming them.

Watch Watch Aaron and his team of students in action!

The excitement began right off the bat Monday morning as we pulled into Eden Lake Elementary School in Eden Prairie, Minnesota with a loaded trailer and all the dogs in boxes on the back of the truck. Here Polar Husky lead teacher Sheryl Cater and her group of 50 second and third graders sang a multi-lingual “hello” song to greet Amy, Paul, Aaron, Jens, Mille, and Beacon. Also with us, from the University of Minnesota, were photographer Pat O’Leary and Jeff Abuzzahab who was there to film.

Paul and students cutting loads of all important cheese.

Then the food pack began. About 200 pounds of cheese, nuts, chocolate, pasta, sugar, powdered milk, oatmeal, energy bars, soup, ramon noodles, hot chocolate, butter, and much more was unloaded on the gymnasium floor and neatly counted, organized, and packed by the students working in groups with each of the team members. It was a blast – and we have never had our food packed that fast!

Amy, packing oatmeal for the trail with students at Eden Lake Elementary.

“I was so impressed with how the students mastered measuring out the correct amounts. It was definitely an excellent way to get in the groove for great team work.” said Amy. The night before we had picked up Amy, our Teacher Explorer and team member from Snyder Elementary in Sayre, Pennsylvania. “I really had not slept for four days prior to meeting everybody in the airport.” Amy reflected. “I was just so excited, and all these questions were flying through my head: How cold is it going to be sleeping on top of the ice? When will I see my first wolf? What will my reaction be when I hear the ice crack the first time? How far a distance can I actually cover once I get into a rhythm?”

Amy with her inspirational token.

She continued, “I admit I have been very nervous and have worked hard to prepare myself both mentally and physically. Every night after school I would go for a 4-5 mile speed walk outside in the cold. I would dress lightly and walk as fast as I could, thinking that would probably be good training for catching up to the sled when I fall on my skis! Realizing that life on the trail is all about being in a rhythm, I also made an effort to establish a pattern of routine. Whenever I have become a bit overwhelmed, thinking of it all being a little scary, I have blocked it by telling myself - I can do this - while remembering my favorite quote: ‘Dream big and dare to fail’. That was told to me by the world-renown polar explorer Norman D. Vaughan who is one of the most inspiring and genuine people I have ever met.” Mr. Vaughan has truly lived a life of adventure from traveling by dog team with Admiral Byrd in Antarctica in the 1920s to taking the Pope on a dogsled ride. Amy was fortunate to meet him in person a couple of years back. At 99 years old, Mr. Vaughan continues to inspire – for his 100th birthday he is planning to climb Mount Vaughan in Antarctica, which is, you guessed it, named after him!

A break from driving – the Polar Huskies are “dropped” on the stakeout chains;

Watch Jens unload Beacon from the dog box.

Our little training expedition pales in comparison, but nevertheless we were all really excited driving down the road with the 23 Polar Huskies loaded on the back of the truck. Stopping every eight hours or so, we unloaded all of them so they could get water, stretch, and eat once a day. We pull out and attach these long travel or “stake-out” chains as we call them. One end is attached somewhere on the dog truck and the other to a post, pole, or a fence. Then there are small bi-chains every 4-5 feet to which we can attach each Polar Husky. It is quite the sight, and as you may imagine, at times it can be somewhat difficult to find a good location to “drop the dogs.” We almost always get lots of visitors that stop to say hi and hear what in the world we are doing; while they are being warmly greeted by loud Polar Huskies.

Along the way Amy and Paul saved Jens from being swallowed by the world’s largest walleye catch.

The dogs love traveling this way – probably because they know they are going on the trail. Our last stop before finally making it to our point of departure at Poplar Point on Lake Nipigon was the town of Nipigon itself. We stopped not only for a last hearty lunch, but also for the important matter of getting our permits to travel on the lake. When it is not covered by ice Lake Nipigon is a very popular lake to fish. One has to have a “day permit” to camp by the lake overnight and since we are actually on top of the lake when out here dogsledding, that goes for us as well. Stopping at the local office we purchased ten “day permits” for each of us, at $10 Canadian dollars apiece.

Finally, 40 permits being written so we can get on the trail.

Well, actually they are not use to people coming to get permits in the middle of winter, so they did not have enough on hand. Instead they asked if we would please return in a couple of hours, while they looked to see if they could find some more permits. While we were at the office we were also lucky to get to talk with some of the local biologists. Beyond studying the fish population in general, they work closely with the local fishermen who fish commercially on Lake Nipigon. They also study the many moose, bears, wolves, and not least - the forest-dwelling Woodland Caribou. Lake Nipigon is the furthest south you can meet caribou in the wild in North America.

Fresh wolf tracks right by our campsite.

Caribou are actually considered a species at risk and the Committee on the Status of Species of Risk in Ontario, as well as for all of Canada, has just recommended that this species be designated as “threatened” which means it is at risk of becoming endangered not only in Ontario but in all of Canada. It is important to realize that these caribou are a little bit different from the ones we will be traveling with next year which are known as Barren Ground Caribou. Unlike Barren Ground Caribou, which migrate hundreds to even more than a thousand miles in huge herds of tens-of-thousands animals, the forest dwelling animals wander much shorter distances and in groups of a few individuals or even alone. The biologists told us we would most like see them on one of the many islands, especially in the northern part of the lake. We have not seen any yet, but we did actually see some huge wolf prints yesterday - right where we made camp!

Paul and his team on Lake Nipigon.

Yesterday was an exciting day. Following a good night’s sleep in the tents we had set up on the lake (after unloading the dogs and trailer the night before) we got up, took down camp, loaded the sleds, and hitched two teams of Polar Huskies roaring to go. They were simply wild! Knowing what was to come, Timber got us all up before the break of dawn. He got everybody going – continually howling, yipping, and yapping with excitement right to the point when the sleds were lashed down and the harnesses brought out. We all worked as fast as we could. Amy did a terrific job keeping up, as she was taught “how to harness a Polar Husky” in true crash-course style. Finally Paul and Amy, on the front sled, lifted the snow hook anchoring the sled; Jens pulled out the ice screw put in to further anchor the sled, while Mille did her best to keep the second team standing under control. Paul, Amy, and their 12 Polar Huskies, led by Freja in the front, took off for a flying departure out over the wide expanses of Lake Nipigon. It was a gorgeous day with blue sky, sun, and a slight breeze from the north. Humans and Polar Huskies alike enjoyed the fluffy snow and the wide open world ahead of us as we headed into the adventure with smiles from ear to ear.

This week’s Polar Husky Superstar Beacon.

Speaking of smiles, this week’s Polar Husky Superstar is earned by Beacon for being the most smiley Polar Husky of the week. Even though Timber is still the loudest dog on the trail, Peto the most crazed - and the fact that every single Polar Husky has been all smiles all week - Beacon still takes the prize for delivering the grandest beaming grin when he walked into Eden Lake Elementary School on the day of the food pack-out. That said, we think Beacon was born to smile. Ever since he was born, despite growing up as a lone puppy, Beacon has been an extremely happy dog; always ready to play and goof around. Though a big dog who at times likes to act tough and growl at other dogs while being handled - it is really all an act. Beacon just wants to have fun - and wow is he is having it right now!