Friday, July 6, 2012

Hot Enough for Ya?

The sun was angry that day, my friends...
It's stupid hot in Toronto today. It was over 30C before 10AM and eventually reached 35C in the early afternoon, refusing to budge from that mark for several hours. If you didn't go outside, you likely still had a pretty good idea of how hot it was if you checked Twitter, Faceboook or any news sites, listened to the radio, watched local news, or just tried to look out of your window. I had to go out: we were out of beer. Had we been out of, say, food there's no way I would have gone outside. And when I did go out - brief as it was - I felt like I was asphyxiating, slowly. Sarah said it felt like she was "standing behind the hot exhaust of a car". Yes, it was that hot here. So I've decided to do something a little different with my blog today, because you know the old saying: "Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it."

Well, I'm doing something about it. I'm going to tell you all about a trip to Minden, Ontario that Sarah and I took in February of 2007. In the winter. With snow and everything. I hope you enjoy it.

Grumpy P about to skate in the great outdoors
I was leaving one job at the end of February and starting another one the first week of March, so Sarah and I decided to take a short winter getaway between those two events. We booked a two-night stay in a cottage at the Ogopogo Resort in the middle of the week and pretty much had the run of the place. The weather at that time of year is uncertain at best in Ontario, but when we arrived the sky was a beautiful blue and the temperature was just below freezing. We didn't even stop to unpack; we grabbed our skates and headed out to Mountain Lake and the patch of ice the resort keep clear for its guests.

Sarah enjoying the ice and the solitude
While we whirled and cavorted on the ice the only other souls we saw were a couple of people ice-fishing at the far end of the lake. The air was crisp and clear, the ice was hard and the only sound we could hear came from our skate blades. It was glorious; I will never grow tired of skating on an outdoor "rink". We skated for almost an hour, if memory serves, and then headed back to the cottage to unpack and grab a quick dip in the hot tub (inside the cottage) before dinner, which on the first night of our stay was a wonderful, home-cooked meal that was included in the price of the resort.

Grumpy P and the Winterdance sign
We awoke early the next morning as we had booked a half-day dogsled excursion with Winterdance Tours, on the recommendation of a gentleman I had met through work who had his own sled racing team. We drove a little farther north from Ogopogo, up to Lake Haliburton, close to the southern tip of Algonquin Park. We had no idea what to expect; I think this was a leap of faith for Sarah because she isn't what you would call a "dog person" at the best of times and she was about to be surrounded by a couple of dozen Siberian Huskies, all barking and scampering about, eager to get at the job at hand.

Sarah in front of the kennel trucks
We had a short but thorough briefing in the main building where they told us approximately 22,000 times: 1) do not fall off the runners or you will be left behind; and 2) if a dog becomes entangled in the lead and starts to strangle itself then the sled driver (meaning me) had to brake the sled and somehow get the dog free without being bitten. But that "almost never happens". And yet they brought it up many, many times. I have to say, we were a little freaked out. But then we learned that all the other patrons were there together and had signed up for a full day's run, so Sarah and I would have a guide all to ourselves, a team for him and a team for us, and this cheered us up considerably. For one thing, one-on-one coaching is always welcome the first time you try something; for another, the other people there were kind of jerks, so we were thrilled to not ever have to see them again.

Hooking up "our" team
And then the briefing was over and we were told to stand by our sleds while the dogs were let out, one at a time, and hooked up to their leads. We had been warned that these dogs would be "excited" once they got out of their portable kennels; they were "excited" in the way that you might call Brian Burke "gruff". These dogs were crazy happy to be out in the snow and ran around barking and peeing on everything in sight, including - as Sarah would be thrilled to describe in great detail - all over my legs. To be fair, only our team did that; our guide said they were just marking their territory. It took me four washings of those snowmobile pants before it no longer smelled like "their territory". I think that might have been Sarah's favourite part of the whole trip.

Our team and our guide
Once all the dogs - and the "spares" - had been hooked up to the sleds, it was time to set off. The moment these beautiful dogs started to pull the sled they went absolutely silent. It was an incredible thing to witness. We went up a very long hill at the beginning of our journey, which almost killed me even though I was in outstanding shape at that time, because it was too sharp an incline for four sled dogs to pull up a sled and two humans so I had to run behind the sled and push it up the hill to help. Of course, I missed the runners at one point when I was trying to get back on and very nearly got left behind; I almost separated my shoulders hanging onto the sled but I managed to get myself righted and back on the runners. Soon after we reached the top our guide split us off from the other sledders and we headed through the brush to frozen Lake Haliburton. It was a gorgeous day, about 2C, and absolutely perfect for dogsledding. When we got out onto that lake the only sound we could hear was from the runners against the snow. The whole morning was pretty spectacular but the memory of that soundless flight across the ice will live with me forever.

Coming to a halt on Lake Haliburton
We reached the farthest point of our journey about 2/3 of the way across the lake and stopped to have some hot chocolate and snacks, and to let the dogs have a rest. The moment we came to a full halt the huskies began to roll around in the snow, kicking it up in the air or pushing it around with their noses. Some of them lay down and went to sleep, almost immediately. If you look closely at the picture on the left you will see that it was taken while we were at rest; at no point did the middle (or "spare") dog glide along on his back while we were on our journey.

The dogs were absolutely lovely creatures and even Sarah was smitten with them. Here are some shots we took while we were taking our re-fueling break:

Sarah and the "spare" dog - Cherokee
Grumpy P and Winisk

The intrepid sledders, at rest
Winisk (left) and Rocky, watching our guide

Partially frozen creek near Winterdance's property
After our rest we headed back the way we had come - the downhill at the end was easier than the uphill at the start, but not by much because I had to spend the entire time standing on the brakes so the sled wouldn't mow down the dogs. We reluctantly said goodbye to our team and our guide and started back to our cottage. We stopped en route at a pizza parlour that was recommended to us because we were absolutely famished. Since I didn't have a change of pants, I tried as best I could to mask the doggie markings with hand sanitizer (yes, really - and it sort of worked). When we were done we headed back to Ogopogo under skies that were gradually clouding over; by the time we reached the cottage it had begun to snow.

Ogopogo's office building in the snow
The snow made the evening absolutely magical and, after we took another hot tub, I slipped outside briefly to take this picture of the main office building of Ogopogo, which looked rather like a giant gingerbread house. A lot of snow fell that night and it made the drive home the next day very treacherous; we didn't have snow tires on our car that year and that journey home made it quite clear that we needed to buy some the next winter. We broke our return trip up by dropping in on my Dad in Bobcaygeon to get off the road for a while and that worked out just fine. It was a much easier drive from there once they had plowed all the roads.

And that's the story of our winter adventure in 2007. Do you feel cooler? I certainly do, which is no mean feat considering it's now 10:30 at night and it is still 29C outside in Toronto. I am going to have to think long and hard to come up with something even colder to talk about tomorrow.


  1. I also feel cooler after looking at all those photos of snow! I would like to point out that the dogs never once "raised a leg" in my direction .

    1. Yeah, yeah. :P Perhaps they knew who was really in charge of their sled!

  2. I would love to go dogsledding sometime. Now would be good. The heat is disgusting!!! Stay cool over there.

    1. Oh, I so want to go back. It was an amazing experience.

      I'm free next weekend. Let's round up some too-hot people and just go. :)


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