The first dog started yelping, barking and jumping wildly on his hind legs, instigating the others to join in the commotion. “They’re really excited,” grinned Jerry Scdoris, sled dog trainer and racer. “This cold, clear weather is exactly what they like, and they can’t wait to run!”
I was excited, too. I clambered into the bright red sled basket and bundled myself under the layers of blankets while Jerry and handler Dave leashed ten Alaskan Huskies to the sled. The frenetic energy of the dogs, hopping and hollering, was palpable. Suddenly, Jerry took up position at the back of the sled, released the brake, and yelled, “Hey!” Instantaneously, the dogs shot forward, dashing down the hill at what felt like breakneck speed. The snow the dogs kicked up whipped across my face and into my mouth, which was opened and squealing with delight.
As we rounded the corner, we burst onto the packed snow trail lined with towering snow-laden hemlock pines. Juxtaposed against a periwinkle blue sky, the Deschutes National Forest was as magical as any Grimm fairytale illustration.
“This is soooo beautiful!” I cried out as the sugar-coated landscape whisked by. The dogs had stopped barking and settled into their own bliss as they glided and weaved effortlessly through the twists and turns of the path, as if they could not wait to see what lie beyond the next bend. The swooshing of the snow and patter of their running feet created their own unique syncopation. I was glad I had worn sunglasses, and I pulled my scarf up over my mouth and cheeks so I could enjoy the scene passing before me.
Jerry laughed and chatted amicably with me from his post on the back of the sled. “I have to keep my foot on the brakes all the way,” he said, “because these strong dogs are in their element and really want to go for it!” Jerry and his daughter Rachael own the Trail of Dreams dog sled operation at Mt. Bachelor. Jerry has had a 35-year career, training and racing Alaskan Huskies, and Rachael ran the Iditarod in 2006 – a monumental accomplish for anyone, but all the more so for her as the first legally blind racer to finish the epic 1100 mile race through the Alaskan wilderness.
I have to admit, in addition to the exhilarating ride, I was impressed by Jerry’s very apparent fondness and care of his dogs. No whips or “motivational” instruments of any kind needed, or wanted; the dogs respond solely to various inflections of Jerry’s voice commands.
The Trail of Dreams’ Huskies are not like the Malamutes or Siberian Huskies that people associate with sled dog racing. These Alaskan sled dogs are a mixed breed; they’re not fluffy, but are leaner and stronger, with more endurance and speed, specifically bred for racing.
The dogs are chosen and placed in very special jobs which make up a complete team, including the lead dog, point dogs, and wheel dogs whose task is to pull the sled from the snow.
As we rounded the last turn, the trees cleared and we were treated to a stunning view of snow-capped Mt. Bachelor looming up on our left and the Cascade mountain range directly on the front horizon.
“The dogs are very happy and have such a friendly disposition,” Jerry said with pride as we approached the end of the trail. I was to witness this with my own eyes. After the dogs were untied from the sled, a small girl came over and was allowed to pet and feed the dogs. By all accounts, the dogs appeared to bask in the attention.
This story was first published February, 2014 in Trekity.
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