On our first evening Kevin showed us a slideshow of his time in Northern Canada, where he learned many things about winter living and dog sledding from the Cree and Inuit people, who are native to that part of the world. The next morning we were finally able to meet the dogs. All of Kevin and Polly’s dogs are born at Mahoosuc and trained from birth to pull sleds. They work for about 10 years before they retire to the doggy senior citizen home (Kevin and Polly’s basement) to live out the rest of their days in luxury. The working dogs live outside in the dogyard. They were very eager for attention, rubbing against us, laying down for belly rubs, and putting their paws up on our chests, a dog’s way of saying hello.
Once the dogs were loaded into the truck we drove to Lake Umbagog, which lies on the border between Maine and New Hampshire. We split into two groups, mushers and skiers, and the skiers headed out first with Elena. The mushers helped Kevin and Polly hook up their dog teams and learned how to ride on the sleds. The dogs were eager to run, whining and tugging at the harness. Polly pulled the rope loose that held them tight and they took off across the frozen lake, the lead dog setting the pace and the rest of the dogs matching it. It was amazing to watch them work in harmony as a team, following the musher’s commands (“Gee” to turn right, “Haw” to turn left) and running with wild abandon, tongues lolling. Kevin’s team followed close behind and for a few hours we zoomed over the ice, the cold wind blowing in our faces.
Kevin’s Dog Team
Rory (lead dog)
Polly’s Dog Team
Shawnee (lead dog)
We arrived at the other end of Lake Umbagog to a cozy winter camp, with canvas tents to sleep in and a fire ring on the edge of the lake. Polly and Kevin have been guiding winter trips in this same spot for 30 years. We made our home there for two nights, hauling water, chopping wood, and snuggling with the dogs. On the second day Polly led us in an animal communication exercise. Each of us drew a dog’s name out of a hat and then sat with our dog for 20 minutes without speaking, just petting them and observing their behavior. Then we came back together and shared what we had learned. Everyone felt a special connection with their dog and we miss them already!
Skiers and mushers switched groups on the way back so everyone got a chance to ride with the dogs, and we made our way back across the lake on Wednesday morning. We shared a final meal with Kevin, Polly, and Elena before saying goodbye and getting back in the van for the long ride back home.