This blog post is one of a multi-part series on Alaskan adventures near Fairbanks.
In 2010 the Alaskan Malamute was named the official state dog of Alaska.
One of many excellent recommendations per our VRBO hosts was to book with Just Short of Magic** for a sled dog ride (a.k.a. mushing), a little drive north of North Pole. After a late-night pickup of our friends J & G who courageously agreed to share in our Alaskan adventures, Jenni found us some excellent (late) breakfast at the Creperie in downtown Fairbanks. Then, off to dog sled ride via a thirty minute drive. As mentioned in the previous post, sled dogs have been a fundamental companion to Alaskan life for centuries, so I was really excited to partake in even a small, touristy way.
Jenna called us as we were a little late showing up at a designated cushion time, to make sure we were safe, and tell us not to worry. So nice of her! Despite the unseasonably warm weather, the staff did some standard checks that we were layered up properly (maybe in case it suddenly turned into below zero weather rather than 30?) Of course, that turned it into a competition for me.
J won 1st place among the four of us, and didn’t have to suffer any alterations of borrowed clothes. My too-trendy Sorel boots got replaced with these white duds 3 sizes too big, but plenty warm. If it were below zero, I’d probably have gone with hand warmers and mittens instead of gloves.
I was worried I’d feel conflicted about the treatment of the dogs and leaving them outside, but apparently, those with husky (and other cold weather dogs like malamute) blends have double-coats and are strongly conditioned to be comfortable in below zero weather. Getting to interact with the dogs waiting their turn to run was even more fun than I’d imagined. I did my best to be canine-polite, and somehow got myself into a double-handed petting situation with two dogs, even! Then, there was this fellow, who decided I was a prime target for belly-rub service. He was right. He was so right.
The ride itself was a delight! In the ‘warm’ weather you could actually tell the dogs were a bit sluggish, poor fluff balls. Nonetheless, it was a straightforward kind of pleasure to ride through the sparse Alaskan woods, getting the privilege to chat with our musher Olaf about his life and ours. I was delighted when Olaf agreed to let me ride the rails even briefly. It was as close as I expect to get to fulfilling my unreasonable childhood dream of riding a Husky to school.
Olaf grew up in Germany, where he saw a movie as a kid about a man in the Alaskan bush. In his early teens (or maybe 8? My memory is fuzzy), he got his first sled dog who he trained to pull him on his bike around town, and by 20 he was in Alaska making his own way. So cool.
Afterward, we stopped by the Northernmost brewery in America, Silver Gulch Brewing. Friendly service, novel location.
Novelty Rating: 5 of 5 OMG I am still excited.
Likelihood of Repeat: 25%? I am really sad about this, but not sure when I’d cough up money again, and a mushing school option (levels up from this) would have felt prohibitively expensive for me. Maybe I’d splurge on one of those multi-day trips across Denali to go camping.
Lessons Learned: Sorel rain boots are not snow boots. Extra air in giant boots still make for warm boots.
If you give a dog a belly rub, he’ll want more belly rub.
Hungry for more on mushing?
- Downtown fairbanks has a Yukon Quest house and a dog mushing museum (look up hours before you go to verify open hours).
- 25 Best Dog Sledding Movies
- Wikipedia on Malamutes: click here for more cute malamute photos!
- Reading: Fast Into the Night, picked up from Seattle’s own independent bookstore Elliott Bay Book Company. Will report back once I’m done. So far it’s nice to read a few pages then go to sleep dreaming of running the Iditarod.
- See bonus dog-related content in the previous Part 1 on Denali.
*Randomly Curious about the Knit Hat?
I am overly proud of having knit the grey and white hat in the belly rub photo above. I used to feel it made me look dorky, but now that I’ve worn it dog sledding, I have fond sentimental memories clinging to it, hurray.
**Just so we’re clear, we paid for the dog sled rides and they did not pay me to advertise for them.