Coalition in the News

The Trials of Dogsledding

The Trials of Dogsledding

Imagine being told that you would never be able to dance at your daughter’s wedding, or do certain activities that you once pursued passionately. Would you accept defeat or would you strive to adapt – to prove to doctors, your family, the world, but most importantly, to yourself, that you are not disabled, but still the strong-minded, determined and inspired individual who served your country so proudly?

This was essentially the challenge facing me and two other northern Michigan veterans wounded in the Mideast wars as we recently put our bodies to the test during two days of dogsledding. Joe Tormala, Nick Hurst and I had grown up riding either ATVs or snowmobiles through the state’s vast network of trails, but none of us had ever tried this activity. While most people may think that dogsledding is just riding on a sled behind the dogs, we quickly learned that is not the case.

Upon arriving at the trail head in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the three of us were met by our guides and a brisk temperature of minus- 16 degrees that eventually warmed to the mid 20’s. Before assigning us our dogs, our guides gave us a brief instruction on how to hook up our teams, after which they remarked on how quickly we “rookies” took to such tasks, as if we had been doing them for years. Once the dogs were set and gear loaded on our respective sleds, we then took off on our overnight camping trip, which was to cover about 15-18 miles the first day.

While the dogs did most of the work, we soon realized that this was not just a “ride and enjoy” session as we had to help the sled uphill by either running next to it or pushing it along with one foot. We also had to steer the sled, making sure the dogs took the correct path by shouting “HA” for left and “GEE” for right, and were constantly using the brake system to keep the dogs from running into the other sleds. By the end of that first day, the dogs were not the only ones tired as we shared dinner and a few laughs before spending the night at the winter encampment.

Morning broke with more than a few groans about sore and tired muscles, but everyone’s upbeat, can-do attitudes prevailed as we prepared for the run back to the kennels. Deciding on a shorter route of only 10-12 miles for the return trip, we were soon enjoying the serenity that comes from being behind a dog team. When you can ride through the wilderness and the only sound you hear is the barking of the dogs or your own voice shouting encouragement to them, it makes for a peaceful and enjoyable day.

After our return, with the dogs put away, we said our good-byes and drove to our respective homes, each filled with a new respect for the sport of dogsledding.

Tony Covell
CSAH National Spokesman

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