And fall in love with her, and then start your own dog-sledding business together, which they did in 1989. “We knew that no one else was doing extensive dog sledding in the Northeast,” Kevin says, “so if you wanted to really learn about it and experience it, you had to go to Minnesota or Canada. And people were doing that. So we gave them the chance here in the Northeast.”
For me, that opportunity was the two-day Mahoosuc Intro weekend, which includes mushing on the frozen Umbagog Lake and an overnight at a permanent camp, where we’d stay in canvas-sided (and wood stove-heated, thank goodness) tents on the lakeshore.
Living in Vermont, I’m no stranger to cold weather and came prepared with all my winter camping gear, but a visitor from Florida could show up, be outfitted with all the appropriate parkas, mittens, mukluks, sleeping bags and space-age-looking insulated boots and have a great adventure with hardly a chill.
It wasn’t always that way.
“When we first ran trips, we’d cut the poles for the tents, set them up, collect all of the boughs to line the floors and gather firewood, all with the clients,” Pauline says. “Now it’s all set up beforehand — and it’s pretty cush. But the permanent camps are imperative because we’re getting older and people are getting softer. We’ve definitely noticed that people don’t want to work as hard as they used to.”
I’m intrigued by Kevin’s tales of the rapidly disappearing dog-sledding culture of the indigenous Cree and Inuit people, with whom he has traveled extensively. “Once this last generation dies, it will be gone,” he says. “You’re never going to be able to go out with a traditional northern native who grew up in the bush and knows how to live off the land again, because now they grow up in villages.”
Even though we aren’t hunting caribou and taking ice readings during my trip, it still feels steeped in authenticity. There’s no cellphone service, and while most trips now include a staff member on a snowmobile, a nighttime outing to the (outdoor) loo magnifies the solitude, particularly when the dogs greet you with an unearthly howl.
I share a tent with Karen Boss, a graduate student and communications manager at a Boston nonprofit, and Christy Cunningham, an associate director in the careers center at Stockton College of New Jersey. Boss is what Pauline laughingly calls “a Mahoosuc junkie” — this is her third dog-sledding trip — and she mushes her own five-dog team like a pro.
Mahoosuc trips are as hands-on as you want them to be, whether you want to mush your own team or would prefer to trust yourself to the capable hands of Pauline and her three young apprentices. It’s hard to resist the novelty of camp chores, though, so when apprentice Joey Shaw grabs an ice chisel and several stainless-steel buckets and heads out onto the lake, I’m hot on his heels.
He chips away at the ice, finally breaking through to our water source for the next two days (don’t worry, it’s boiled first), and we fill up the fire-blackened buckets and head back to camp. Lagging behind, I take a moment to look back at the snow-covered lake and the mountains in the dusk. In camp, I know that Pauline is feeding and bedding down the dogs, and the other guests are spreading fir boughs for our beds and collecting firewood. But out here there’s nothing but silence.
And that’s exactly what I came to hear.
Details: Maine dog-sledding
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Westley is a freelance writer in Burlington, Vt.