By afternoon, we are dropping rapidly through big trees. I nearly lose it two switchbacks in a row, then suddenly we pop out on the broad plain of Esther Lake. The sled bumper fluffs through the unspoiled feather-pillow snow. White pines stand windblown on the skyline, and a bald eagle watches from a snag. Twenty-five miles today. We make camp at the lake’s far end, at the base of a sheer rock face. When the dogs howl in the night, the primordial sound echoes off the palisade.
The first thing I hear on our final day is snow sliding from the tent. It falls thickly that morning, even when the sun blazes. The effect is blinding and beautiful. I feel so comfortable on the sled that I relax and get dumped on a downhill corner. I run after the dogs, shouting whoa, whoa, whoa!-a backsliding existentialist unwilling to trade the sled for the void. I catch them only because they are struggling to drag the sled up the hill sideways.
We bite off a long run-more than 30 miles-and Arleigh pushes hard to get us in by nightfall, but I don’t want the ride to end. We shoot through the forested half-light, plaiting ourselves between the gray tree trunks
in pure cold silence, snaky wraiths working our way back to civilization. Finally, I hear the yard dogs howling, and the sled jumps a little as Abner and the others dig for home.
Arleigh Jorgenson Sled Dog Adventures (www.dogmushing.com, 800-884-5463) offers a variety of outings (from quick rides to major excursions) into the Minnesota backcountry. Jorgenson can customize a trip to fit your comfort level, interests, time, and budget. A typical 3-day, 2-night trip costs $1,120 per person.