|Rita and her Stoney Creek dogsled te|
By Lisa Meyers McClintick
For most Minnesota vacationers, dogsledding is one of the most exciting and authentic ways to enjoy the North Shore’s winter scenery. If you have dog lovers in the family, even better.
I couldn’t wait to take my 6-year-old twin girls on a mother-daughter mush earlier this month. Katie, declared the dogsled outing “the best day of my life!” as she tumbled out of our van and rushed to meet Stony Creek Kennels’ sled team.
My friend, Beth, and I and the girls met owner Rita Wehseler about five miles up the Sawbill Trail near Tofte.
Her Alaskan huskies joyfully greeted the girls, jumping up, trying to lick cheeks and wagging tails. As Rita hooked them up to the sled, Grayling, a pretty female, repeatedly jumped straight up and down with excitement–all four feet in the air. It was like Call of the Wild meets Pepe Le Pew.
Rita’s Alaskan huskies didn’t seem much bigger than our own border collie mix, but 10 of them eagerly pulled all five of us. We were stacked into the sled toboggan style. With a blanket on top, we stayed warm for the 40-minute ride in 5-below-zero temperatures.
Like all dogsled teams, each husky has its own personality. Some are focused and natural-born leaders. Others not so much. Rita and her husband, Bill, have more than 40 dogs total. (Can you imagine keeping them all straight?) But it’s obvious they are “the kids.”
After a brief scolding–especially of a willful dog named French Fry–owner Rita Wehseler proudly yelled, “That’s my boys!” and encouraged them onto Superior National Forest trails.
She’d give series of whistles to guide them up hills and around curves through pine glades and over rivers. These are trails few people see other than her and Bill, who grooms them. We did occasionally glide onto snowmobile trails, which were popular on a blue-sky winter day.
Rita helped run a dogsledding business in Alaska before returning to her home state about a decade ago. She was the first woman to finish the 250-mile Can-Am Crown in Maine and has set speed records in the past few years.
For us, on a recreational ride, there was no effort. We simply leaned back, watched the trees and blue sky spool past while the dogs happily sped ahead.
|Duluth’s John Beargrease Marathon|
John Beargrease Marathon
Dogsledding has historically been one of the easiest ways to navigate rugged, forested landscape along Lake Superior and the Upper Great Lakes. At this weekend’s 28th John Beargrease Marathon you’ll find international dogsledders who compete in this heritage sport and work to qualify for Alaska’s Iditarod.
You can watch the teams at several way stations Sunday and Monday or join in the pre-race events in Duluth starting this Friday.
More dogsledding opportunities
In addition to Stoney Creek, you can also dogsled with Arleigh Jorgenson, who is based in Grand Marais. He has been a leading musher with more than 30 years of experience. He guided trips for the last 13 years and has a 100-dog kennel that he runs with his son, Odin.