— Articles by/about Wintermoon

From the online magazine The Sleddogger   Winter  2015

Women and Mushing –

How and Why We Got Started                     by     Kathleen Anderson

Thirty years ago a friend started a women’s adventure business in Duluth, Minnesota and was offering dogsledding. I love dogs, the outdoors, being active and supporting women and so I decided to go. It was a week end of highs and lows. I loved the connection with the dogs, getting to know them, working with them. I didn’t like that I tipped the sled, hit a tree and broke the sled and later let go of the sled and lost the team. But the spirit of the husky seemed to call and I started volunteering at the kennel. It was the perfect relationship as I didn’t have the responsibility/cost of a kennel but got to love the dogs and mush. After two years though a litter was born from my two favorites, Cayenne and Toivo and then I knew I wanted to have my own huskies. Luckily I got them. I never imagined when I went on my first week end trip that I would want and then have sled dogs. And I didn’t see it coming that two years later I would be starting my own women’s sled dog adventure company and that I would be still doing it 28 years later.

 

However the husky has a way of touching your heart and soul. They became my best friends. They helped me learn valuable life lessons…. patience, problem-solving, letting go, trust, being in the present moment. They gave an unconditional love that was healing and joyful.

 

DJ Erb – Ithaca, New York   Recreational musher and assistant sled dog guide

 

In 1993, my 30th birthday was coming up and being it is in January, my plan was to be sitting on a beach in the Caribbean. I was sharing this with friend and mentor Judith, who ran a women’s adventure company and she shook her head and said she thought I would have a much better time going dogsledding with her in northeastern Minnesota. I had done my senior college internship in northeastern Minnesota and fell in love with the boreal forest and winter and I am always up for the next adventure, so I signed on. I had no idea how this was going to change my life.

 

It was a four day mushing experience and on the first day, I drew the straw that meant I would drive the second sled out of the dog yard. The dogs were hooked up and ready to go. The sled was attached to a post with a quick release and when it was time to go, I couldn’t get it open. More adrenaline for all as the dogs were lunging in harness, heaving the sled. My friend came up, looked me in the eyes and with an impish grin pulled the release and said “have fun”.

As we started flying down the trail, I looked up at the dogs and I felt like I had been on the runners before. I physically felt my soul fly. I had been sober for three years and life had seemed dull without alcohol. At that moment I felt the dogs gave me my soul back and in a split second I knew what joy was again.

 

Dogsledding came at a time when I needed it and getting on the runners changed the trajectory of my life. For me it is about a spiritual connection to the dogs and the world; I feel peace. This sport grounds my life. I of course starting buying and training sled dogs and have had a recreational kennel of four dogs ever since.
Vivian Coleman, Charlotte, North Carolina     Sled Dog Handler

 

I grew up in northern New Jersey and loved winter sports. There was no dog sledding, but kids on sleds and ice skating on the local pond. I’ve always loved snow. 10 years ago I watched a documentary about the Iditarod. I thought it would be great to see the end of the race in Nome and cheer on the finishers. But then I learned that I could try out dog sledding. A dogsledding adventure to Ely, MN was born and I promptly broke my shoulder within 10 minutes. I didn’t quite follow Rule Number One which is: Don’t let go of the sled. That didn’t stop me.   I was back in Minnesota with a different company the following year to try again and found dog sledding to be amazing.

 

Many people vacation in the Caribbean enjoying the beach. I have spent the past 3 years vacationing at sub-zero temperatures.   I have been thriving on the physical and mental challenge of taking care of sled dogs and driving teams.   Being a dog handler has been quite rewarding. I worked with a musher from North Carolina in 2013 and lived in the Yukon helping with her races. The scenery alone was something I will never forget.   In 2014 and 2015, I worked for Snowhook Kennel in Willow, AK and had the experience of a lifetime. You see, driving Iditarod race dog teams is quite the opposite of my full time job as city planner. The dogs, wilderness, snow and physical nature of the work all ‘feed my soul’. I have to go.

 

The bonus for taking care of the dogs is driving a sled dog team. I am definitely still a novice and driving is not always easy. On the trail these dogs are your lifeline. In difficult situations on the trail such as a big tangle, my musher reminded me that “you have to believe in the reality that is occurring at that moment and that you can and will deal with it.’ How is that for out of your comfort zone? I spent my days in Alaska 2014 with a multiple time Iditarod finisher who believed in me and trusted me with his race dogs. My skill set increased substantially and I received some amazing wisdom.

The advice I would give others who might want to try it: Go for it!   I always quote Ferris Bueller when people question whether they should try something big or different…”Life moves pretty fast…if you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.” Don’t ever miss out on your passions or desire to try something new. Step out of your comfort zone. It makes you a happier person.   Embrace the experience, make sure you have a great mushing teacher/mentor and always follow rule #1 of dog sledding: Don’t let go of the sled.

My husband David who has never gone mushing does think I’m nuts but I can’t believe how supportive he has been over the past 5 years of this obsession of mine. He understands just how much I need to feed my soul in the wilderness with a team of huskies. It is magical. He knows how important it is for me to push my limits and my comfort zone in the name of personal growth.

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Martha Schouweiler   Irma, Wisconsin   Mid Distance Racer

Winner 2015 John Beargrease Mid Distance Race in Minnesota and 2015

 

In 1972, as a teen ager, I went with my parents to Alaska and saw the sled dog demonstration at Denali National Park. I was really struck by it and it was life changing. We bought an Alaskan husky puppy from North Pole to bring home with us. Then when I was looking for a college to go to, the St. Paul Parade magazine had a sled dog team cover with Dr. Byron James from University of Wisconsin River Falls and I decided to go there. I took a class he offered in dogsledding and when he hooked them up and pulled the hook, it was so beautiful, a tear fell off my face.   He let me use his dogs some while I was in college.

 

It was thirty years before I got involved again. In 2003, my son Chad started working for a musher, Dr. Ron Cortte. I just couldn’t stay away and would help too. For the next few years, we ran with his dogs and did some racing. My son really got into dogs and they both ran the Iditarod in 2006 and I went up and handled for them.

My son and I now share a kennel of Alaskan huskies and I help with the training runs. I do a lot of skijoring but love racing. I feel it is healthy being around animals and I love being outside. Mushing is good exercise and like a combination of weight training and yoga. There is so much loyalty with dogs and with running sled dogs, it is magnified all the more. I love their grace, speed and happiness.

 

Colleen Wallin   Two Harbors, Minnesota Long Distance Musher  

3rd place (first woman) 2015 John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, Minnesota

 

 

My husband and I moved up to Two Harbors MN in 1990 from Saint Paul MN because he took a job “up north.” One cold night in January, we saw on the 10:00 pm news that the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon teams were coming into the gravel pit up Hwy 2. This is only 5 miles from our home and I asked Ward if he wanted to go check it out. When we got there Doug Swingley’s team arrived and I was amazed at these dogs. Tails wagging, they started eating big chunks of meat, then a bale of straw was opened and each dog got their own cake of straw. Those dogs rolled around and made a perfect bed for themselves. Doug went down the line putting a blanket over them and shortly there were small streams of steam coming from their little noses. I was amazed.

 

The following year I volunteered at the finish line of the mid distance race. I got up at 3:30am, (it was -45 degrees), and I got to see and sign in mushers as they finished. I remember Dale LaBoda coming in to the finish line and it was his two handlers that I had glommed onto with question after question. One of the other volunteers asked me: “Hey Colleen, when are you going to get sled dogs.” I laughed and thought to myself I am not tough enough for what these guys are doing.

 

The big mistake in 1992 was Ward giving me a trip into the Boundary Waters with a guide in Ely. We ran all day on lakes and trails and I was so impressed. When I got back from this trip I was talking to Ward and I busted out in tears and told him “if I could just have 4 dogs”; we have trails and I could just go for fun, short runs. Ward thought it was a great idea as he had plans of fishing in the BWCA by dog team and winter camping. So we called some area mushers and started checking out how keeping sled dogs is done and our new hobby began.

The learning never ends when it comes to animals. Many mushers were eager to supply us with dogs and I laugh now as I remember wanting cute sled dogs. We had 9 dogs before we knew it and a tippy 3 wheeler that we would hook them up to during fall training. Many times I ended up upside down under that rig wondering why I wanted to do this so badly. I hardly knew how to put on a harness and was fairly sure where to hook a tug line to so they could pull.   I shake my head when I remember those clueless days. I am proud of our kennel and where we are today because we started out knowing nothing and learning/teaching ourselves. Over the years “checkbook mushers” come and go. Those are the mushers that buy a great dog team hoping to glide into the winners circle without the learning process including humility.

 

 

 

I got involved in racing to see how I was doing against others with sled dogs. Many races we were the last truck left in the checkpoint and my patient husband waiting for me to cross the finish line. After every race the critiquing began and we’d ask each other what mistakes WE made, because if there is a mistake made in the team, it is made only by the musher or her handlers. I told Ward that I would NEVER run any more than 6 dogs at a time because that’s all I could handle. So in 1996 I entered my first Beargrease (the 100 mile race), and continued to enter that race in ’96 and ’97, and then in 1998 I bumped up into the Beargrease 190 and slowly crept up into Marathon Bravado.

 

 

I feel fortunate to be able to run a dog team, either for a fun run or competition. The relationship I have with my dogs is that of trust, honor and understanding. They know that I wouldn’t ask them to do more than what they have accomplished in training. They know I will stop to check their feet if their gait looks different, they know every 2 hours they’ll receive a chunk of beaver meat, raw herring chunk, or some other trail snack. I have been asked the question “Isn’t it so much work?”   My reply always is, the minute this becomes work, I will hang it up.

 

The sport has many great women that finish well in races. There are no “women’s tees” as in the game of golf. Males and Females are tested the same and I always enjoy watching the outcome.

 

From the online magazine The Sleddogger     Spring – 2015

Women and Mushing       Summer, or anytime, reads        by Kathleen Anderson

 

Reading stories, true or not, can inspire, challenge, entertain and teach. Nice to sit in the sun on a spring day, sit in the shade on a summer’s day, stay up way too late or share dinner with a good book.

Insert picture IMG 5740 Mrs. Mike here

The first book I remember reading about mushing and a woman was Mrs. Mike. I was in the 6th grade. It was 1960. But I had forgotten about it until 1999 when a guest, Sue shared that what had inspired her to come dogsledding was reading Mrs. Mike by Benedict & Nancy Freedman, 1947. As she described the true story of a very young woman from Boston who falls in love with and marries a Canadian Mountie and goes by dog team to live with him in in the wilderness, recollections of reading it flood in. I loved that book. And I had to wonder, here I am, 39 years later and I have been dogsledding for 15 years. Could it have planted a seed?

 

It’s now been almost 30 years since I got my first huskies and it’s been great to have books to learn from and hear about other’s mushing experiences. There’s some that I consider “classics”, women who were forerunners and trailblazers, Mary Shields, Libby Riddles, Susan Butcher and Dee Jonrowe. There’s the informational Bella Levorsen, Lorna Coppinger and Miki and Julie Collins and inspirational Rachael Scdoris, Lisa Frederic, Doreen Wolff, the fiction, romances & mysteries and lots of wonderful children’s books.

Insert picture IMG 5756 – 4 books and puppies here

I’d like to start with some favorites from friends of the Wintermoon mushing community:

Julie Reimer – Seattle, WA

So one silly book idea I have is this: The one mushing book that resonates with me is Aunt Lulu by Daniel Pinkwater, 1988.  I was pretty apprehensive when I took my first trip Wintermoon (Sled Dog Adventures for Women).  What would mushing be all about?  Could I do it? That weekend I listened to the story, albeit a make believe story, about Aunt Lulu the librarian who would mush books to the miners. The story was fanciful, fun, and silly yet it brought out the inner child in me and opened me up to dreaming of being in remote areas of Alaska, mushing with my dog team.  If Aunt Lulu could be so brave and courageous to brave snow storms just to do her job, then I surely could mush with a small dog team at Wintermoon. Somewhere out there are little girls who do not yet know they will become dog mushers!  Perhaps someone read Aunt Lulu to them!  Let the dreaming begin!

Insert picture IMG 5765 Aunt LuLu book here

 

Craig Johnson, Dennison, MN

Dog Driver A Guide for the Serious Musher by Miki & Julie Collins, 1991. When I was first learning about dogsledding, I found this book had a lot of good advice and was based on their many experiences. They have common sense and are competent and practical.

 

DJ Erb – Ithaca, NY

I enjoyed Iditarod Dreams A year in the life of Alaskan sled dog racer DeeDee Jonrowe by Lew Freedman and DeeDee Jonrowe, 1995, beyond the very interesting “inside story” of what life is like for an Iditarod musher. It had a profound impact, ironically to give me permission that just because I have sled dogs, I don’t need to race. She made it perfectly clear that it is not about the money and racing, but it is about her connection with her dogs and there is a spiritual connection being on the runners. This was reinforced when I met her at Iditarod ’13 and I was describing the loss of my lead dog.   She didn’t know me but I truly felt her kindness and that she understood my grief.

Lynn Olund – Duluth, MN

Running North: A Yukon Adventure by Ann Mariah Cook, 1998.   A family that includes a 3-year-old daughter falls in love with mushing and prepares for and enters the Yukon Quest. The husband is the driver and the wife, Ann Mariah, is the handler.  It is a very straight-forward account with practical details. It is not a romantic tale in the sense of writing poetically about the wonders of Alaska & Canada, but the experiences are written in detail and are very authentic. She does have a cast of real characters that are interesting, too.

Manya Franks – Moosic, PA

This is a great and beautiful book.  Two in the Far North by Margaret (Mardy) E. Murie, 1957. Two months after her graduation from the Unversity of Alaska in 1924, Mardy married biologist Olaus J. Murie, and began a life of adventure and environmental advocacy.  In 1956 they were instrumental in the establishment of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  This book chronicles her early life in Alaska, including some thrilling expeditions by dogsled.  Her story is an inspiration to anyone who has ever dreamed of or sought out adventure of any kind!

I learned of another early mushing adventurer Mary Joyce. I haven’t read this book but it looks like one I want to. It is written from the manuscript of her trip with her dog team in 1936: Mary Joyce: Taku to Fairbanks, 1000 miles by Dog Team by Mary Greiner, 2007. It’s a narrative and description of Alaska’s people, dog teams, vast landscapes and dangers encountered on the trail wrapped in her wry humor and perspectives of the 30’s.

 

It was really fun to pull books off my shelves and greet old friends. I found myself wanting to reread all of them.

Sled Dog Trails by Mary Shields, 1984

Mary was the first woman to finish the Iditarod in 1974 and also shares her many mushing trips in Alaska’s wilderness. She has great stories about her dogs especially lead dog Cabbage.

Race Across Alaska First woman to win the Iditarod tells her story by Libby Riddles and Tim Jones, 1988

An in-depth account of Libby’s 1985 Iditarod race. A testament to “never give up”, she wrecked her sled brake, let go and lost her team, got stuck in a storm and still won.

Susan Butcher and the Iditarod Trail by Ellen Dolan, 1993

Covers Susan’s amazing racing career from 1978 to 1993, finishing in the top 10 thireen times including 4 wins. Info on the historical perspective and 1925 Serum Run and Susan’s early years. Not as in depth as I would like, under 100 pages.

Alone Across The Artic   One Woman’s Epic Journey by Dog Team by Pam Flowers with Ann Dixon, 2001.

She had taken Artic adventures and wanted to retrace a 1923-24 expedition from Repulse Boy, Canada to Barrow Alaska – 2500 miles with her 8 dog team. The 15 month journey tested every survival skill she had.

The Cruelest Miles by Gay Salisbury and Laney Salisbury, 2003

This is an epic historical account of the heroic story of dogs and men in a race against the 1925 diphtheria epidemic in Nome. Researched with amazing detail and pictures, it’s not Disney’s Balto but honest about how brutally hard it was.

Rachael Scdoris No End in Sight by Rick Steber, 2005

Being legally blind did not stop Rachael from wanting to race sled dogs from an early age and she chronicles her journey and struggles to accomplish her dream.

Running with Champions A Midlife Journey on the Iditarod Trail by Lisa Frederic, 2006

You have to give her credit for being Jeff King’s handler and running his B team and finishing the Iditarod. A look at a handler’s life and a woman so driven that it didn’t always seem healthy.

Dog Girl by Lacey Hart, 2011

Her third grade class does Idita-Reader and she right then she decides she wants to be a musher. She convinces her parents finally to get her a dog team and she goes on to run the Junior Iditarod.

Adventures of A Dogsledding Diva by Doreen Wolff, 2012

She rescues many of the dogs in her recreational team and loves them into being good working dogs and they return the love when she is diagnosed with breast cancer. She finds hope and inspiration from them.

Iditarod Trail Aliy Zirkle’s Journal of the 2012 Race by Aliy Zirkle, 2012

Aliy doesn’t keep notes during the race; afterwards she sits and writes a journal. I bought this self-published 37 page gem from her in Anchorage and it is like being on the trail with her. The best descriptions of what running the race is like and I hope there will be a book.

Year of the Dog   How Running Dogs Saved the Life of a Middle-Aged, Woefully Average, Mother of Eight by Michelle Hogan, 2013

The title really tells all and it is despite all odds that she is able to have and run dogs.

There’s many fiction murder mysteries, most well know is Sue Henry’s Murder on the Iditarod Trail. I have to say at the very beginning when the musher impales and dies on the trail, I had to stop reading. So I can’t tell you much about these books but if you like mushing and mystery….

And we love the children’s books and read them often: Storm Run, Danger the Dogyard Cat, Balto, Akiak, Black Star Bright Dawn, Susan Butcher – Sled Dog Racer, Kiana’s Iditarod, Elim – the Determined Athlete, Running With the Big Dogs, Where’s the Boss – a dog team alone on Alaska’s Iditarod trail, Foxy’s Tale, This Dog Team Lives in the House, Granite, Big-Enough Anna, Silver and Three Dog Winter.

This is a great wealth of amazing stories and I am also having the feeling that it really isn’t enough.

Kathleen Anderson – Wintermoon Adventures has been sharing her huskies and teaching dogsledding to women since 1988 in the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota. www.wintermoonsummersun.com   wintermoon@brimson.com

 

 

 

 

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