"C'mon it's lovely weather for a sleigh ride ...."
And I hung on -- literally -- behind this crew, grasping a rope with my hands as my feet were planted in thin cross-country skis, slicing over the snowy field. All under one horse's power, kicking up in speed, testing my balance.
Years of skiing experience told me to hang on loose but steady. I was used to always propelling myself. Now, as I squirmed and played around with different stances -- standing up tall, crouching low -- my eyes drank in the expanse of dried prairie grasses as my muscles braced to keep me upright. Hello, shoulder blades -- what's that tug you feel?
We entered the woods, and Charlotte coaxed Buddy to slow the pace, not wanting to fling me or anyone into a tree as we passed the cabin and outhouse.
Smiles had sprung onto all of our faces, a force of nature.
I was doing what's known as skijoring, an old sport that involves skiing while being pulled by a horse, dog, tractor or other means. It originated long ago in Scandinavian countries as a form of winter transportation.
When a horse does the work, it's called equestrian skijoring, which I'd never seen or experienced until a week ago at Prairie Winds Nature Farm, a small educational farm that Charlotte and her husband run as a way for families and school kids to put their hands on the way food is raised. (www.prairiewindsnaturefarm.com or find it on Facebook).
Charlotte says that it's just been a handful of times when her horse and sleigh have pulled skiers.
There are equestrian skijoring races in New England and the western United States. Check out the North American Ski Joring Association at http://nasja.com/index.html.
I have seen skijoring where dogs do the work. The skier has to wear a harness around his/her body and be ready to fly down the trails. Dogs like to run fast. It takes training for both dog and human.
You'd be pretty lucky to find somewhere in Michiana where you can try or at least see the sport. Please drop me a line if you do. But there's always Michigan and other points north. Get there soon. In another month, we may be on to greener pastures.
Gone to the dogs
I found a website that recommends trails for skijoring with dogs around Grayling, Mich., which is almost 50 miles east of Traverse City: http://grayling-mi.com/trails/skijoring.
Here are a few websites for dogs and owners who might want to get into skijoring or buy the stuff to do it: www.skijornow.com, www.howlingdogalaska.com and www.ultrapaws.com.
Next weekend the Fort Custer Recreation Area in Augusta, Mich., will host two days of dog sled racing. OK, it may not be pure skijoring, but it's in that spirit. Racers will include kids and different ages. The event runs from roughly 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17. It's free to the public to come and watch. No food will be sold. You'll need a Michigan recreation passport for your car, which you can buy at the gate (Michigan residents pay $11 for the year; for out of state, it's $8.40 for the day, $30.50 for the year).
If the weather turns iffy, call a recording to see if the race is still on at 906-420-3993. Find the race organizers, a group called MUSH, at www.midunionsledhaulers.com.
Heading east of Kalamazoo on Interstate 94, take the exit for Galesburg, then follow Augusta Drive northeast to reach Fort Custer.
The UP 200 is a big, 240-mile race from Marquette to Grand Marais and back in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, taking off this Friday night and finishing Sunday, Feb. 17. Related events and festivities go from Wednesday through Feb. 18. (http://up200.org)
Sled dog races go on throughout January and February throughout northern Michigan. For a list of races in the Midwest, go to www.sleddogcentral.com/raceinfo.htm, click on "2012-2013 schedules," then find the Midwest race schedule. Some include skijoring races.
There also will be the Kinross Classic Sled Dog Race in Kincross, Mich., on Feb. 23-24; organizers are the Great Lakes Sled Dog Association at www.glsda.com.
Also that weekend is the Sweetwater Challenge No. 2 race in Baldwin, Mich. Organizers are at www.michigandogdrivers.org.
The Springfield Township Sled Dog Race will be March 2-3 in Fife Lake, Mich.
Go mushing yourself
Here are a few places where you can try mushing yourself or ride in the sled:
- Double JJ Ranch & Golf Resort in Rothbury, Mich., between Muskegon and Ludington, offers rides on dog sleds and horse-drawn sleighs. (www.doublejj.com or 800-368-2535)
- Nature's Kennel in McMillan in Michigan's Upper Peninsula offers an array of trips and expertise. (www.natureskennel.com or 906-748-0513)
- Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs, Mich., offers dog sled rides with Nature's Kennel. (www.boyne.com/Winter/SnowSports/Dog_Sledding.html or 231.526.3835)
- In Cadillac, there's Shemhadar Kennels. (http://vbs20.com/ShemhadarKennels or 231-779-9976)
- In Mancelona, northeast of Traverse City, there's Russ-Stick Acres. (http://russ-stickacres.blogspot.com)
Reach Joseph Dits at 574-235-6158 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Look for more outdoors events -- and list your events -- at www.inthebend.com.