Dog sledding has been on my bucket list for awhile. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would get to drive a dog sled. I was so excited when we met Terry and he invited us to his home to try driving a dog sled. We met him while he was giving demos for family Winterfest event at an outdoor nature preserve.
While at the event, we got to pet the dogs and my husband even helped Terry by holding a few dogs before he demonstrated dog sledding to the crowd.
I was so excited that it worked out a week later to try it as a family. Snow has been very inconsistent this winter and I have learned to take opportunities when we get them. We got several inches the night before where we lived. Terry who lived 30 minutes away, had a little less snow than us but felt that it was enough to give it a try. Upon arrival, our boys found out that Terry and his son were big University of Michigan fans. The boys of course had an immediate connection with their love of U of M and began a game of snow football while we were setting everything up with the dogs.
Terry has a trail at his home set up for the dogs to practice on. He has competed in several races and even took a bucket list adventure to watch the Iditarod in Alaska. He was gracious enough to show us some of the equipment he uses in summer. A friend customized a summer sled for him to keep the dogs in shape all year long.
The only downside is when you fall it’s gonna hurt. There is nothing to cushion your fall once the snow melts.
We took some time checking out the dogs. Two of the dogs could not be in the same cage together. They were true alpha dogs who did not play nice together. Most of the dogs were related in some way. One of the stories that Terry shares during assemblies to children is about how one of the dogs used to always run next to it’s father. They ran together for years side by side. The dogs use commands to turn left or right and to slow down. When the dog’s father died the dog would miss the turns and cause problems while on runs. It turns out that the dog relied on her dad to nudge her into the turns instead of learning the commands. This is why Terry shares with students that it never pays off to cheat because one day you will be in a situation where you will need to use what you were supposed to learn.
I was so excited and nervous to take my turn on the sled. Terry had shared with us how that the dogs have no loyalty and if given the opportunity they will run away. If you were out in the woods and fell off, the only hope you would have for them stopping would be if their harness got caught up in something causing them to have to wait for you to free them.
So no pressure. Rule #1 Never let go of the sled. Rule #2 Refer to rule #1
My husband and Terry began bringing out the dogs. I had 3 dogs who would be pulling my sled. Each dog can pull about 50lbs of weight for their optimal speed. We had a pull line set up so that when they let go of the dogs I would be ready to go. Once they start running there is no holding back. I was instructed to bend my knees down like when you are skiing to help balance on the sled to keep it from tipping. You have to call out the command “hike” to start or go faster, “g” for right, and “haw” for left before the first dog starts to turn the corner.
The first thing I noticed right away is how much power they have. The dogs were so excited to be running that they hit the ground fast as soon as the tether cord was released. We made the first corner and then as we were approaching the next corner my sled lost balance and flipped hard causing me to hit the ground. My sled tipped to the left so fast that it caused my head to hit the ground first. I was holding on tight but when your sled is sideways and the dogs are still running full speed there is no stopping them. They weren’t really concerned for my safety. All I could think was “Oh Crap just broke rule #1 and 2.”
Terry quickly caught up to the dogs and gained control and I learned the valuable lesson of squatting really LOW while riding the sled. I am a visual learner and I learned the hard way. My husband was waiting to video tape and all he saw coming around the corner was the dogs minus the driver.
After Terry regained control of the dogs, I gave it another try, really lowering down each time we turned. Near one of my final corners the sled began to tip again but this time I jumped off and ran in between the sled and jumped back on when it became balanced again. That seemed to be easier that fighting gravity. I was happy that I didn’t let go and regained control. The experience was amazing!
The real dog races have as many as 16 dogs and 1000lbs of equipment. I have a new respect for the drivers because you have to be so strong to keep in control of all of that power.
Next, was my husband’s turn. He had 4 dogs pulling him. His dogs ran a bit slower but he still got the feel for it also. His sled also tipped and once again Terry had to catch up to the dogs. He got the hang of it later and tried the same trick I did by jumping off and then back on when the sled was unstable.
My boys also got the give dog sledding a try. They each rode on the sled together.
I was relieved that Terry was the one driving. I knew that I didn’t trust my abilities to have that scenario not end in disaster. Watching Terry showed me how you really balance and get down low on the turns. The boys had a great time on their ride.
I love meeting people who are passionate about their hobbies. The dogs involved truly become a part of the family and are a labor of love. I would love to go for a long ride as a passenger sometime but I will always treasure the fact that we had a once in a life time experience of driving a dog sled.
If you would like to go for a dog sled ride check out this site to find one near you and if you would like Terry Perysian to do an educational assembly at your school or business you can contact him at (616)- 218-9135. He brings the dogs and presents a hands on demo about dog sledding.