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Dog Sledding in Alaska at 30 Below!

charlie wearing big coat in alaska
Charlie Adams and Bob Hauer

Approaching midnight, I found myself piloting a team of dogs deep into the forest in temperatures of thirty below zero!


In the Stoke the Fire Within programs, I often talk about the need to push ourselves - or to have ourselves pushed. I found myself in just such a situation in a recent winter. I was in Fairbanks to deliver "The On Fire Customer Service" and "How to Build a Positive Attitude and KEEP the Darn Thing" to staff at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Temperatures of 30 below were consistent the whole time I was there. I didn't really mind because Fairbanks and the surrounding area is so beautiful. The first morning, while waiting for UAF staff to pick me up at the hotel, I entertained myself by darting outside the hotel lobby, spitting, and watching the spit freeze immediately. To me, that was highly entertaining. As the University employee arrived to pick me up, I quickly changed to "distinguished expert speaker" mode.

When I finished Thursday's session, everyone reached in their pockets and raised their hands. I thought they were going, "Thank goodness he's done!" Instead, they were starting their cars from inside the building. Once outside, they unplugged their cars from the device that kept their oil pan and battery warm!

I wrapped up the event Friday morning with a Book Signing of Stoke the Fire Within. A really neat lady named Marlene Wright came up and asked if I had ever been dog sledding. I said no. "Well, we are going to have to do something about that," Marlene said. "We will pick you up at your Hotel tonight at 8:30!"

Marlene and her sister Beverly picked me up and we drove for about 30 minutes north of Fairbanks to Bob and Alma Hauer's house in Two Rivers. It is an area where for every person there is probably ten trail dogs. What a nice couple. Bob runs his own Water Company called Living Water.

When we went inside, Alma was busy making muffins and Danishes for an event at the Two Rivers Community Church of the Nazarene the next day. Friends from nearby cabins popped in and out. One nice lady said she was a bus driver at Denali in the summer. She went back to her cabin and got a framed photo of Mt. McKinley that she had taken, and gave it to me.

Bob sized me up and came back with his tallest cold weather clothing. At six foot six inches tall I was barely able to squeeze into the jump suit. Then came the U.S. Military Bunny Boots that are designed to keep our troops warm in sub arctic temperatures. Bob came back with a parka and a big pair of gloves to go over the pair of gloves I was already wearing. Then came a neck wrapper. Finally, Bob put a head lamp on me with the battery and cord sliding into one of my pockets.

I moved like a combination of Frankenstein and the Michelin Man from the tire commercials as I waddled to the door. I couldn't have caught a 98 year old woman in a foot race, but I was warm! Actually, I was so warm I had to get outside!

We went outside into the thirty below zero temperatures with Marlene and Beverly to get the dogs ready. I really wasn't cold. I don't think the cold could find my body. My heart was beating with excitement and some nervousness. We could hear the dogs howling as soon as we opened the doors. Sled dogs are the most enthusiastic animals I have ever seen. They live to run! As Bob approached, they were howling "Pick me!" Pick me!" Bob gave me a quick "Hookup 101" course on how to help get the dogs ready. I was shown how to gently straddle a dog and put the harness on. John Balzar is right-on with his description in his terrific book "Yukon Quest"

"Harnessing dogs is a task something between rodeo and diaper changing."

He's right! It took us a good twenty minutes to get them all ready to go. Bob then showed me how to drive. He told me I was going to drive on the way back in! Oh, boy! He showed me the hinged brake which drives two steel chisels into the snow with pressure from the boot. He also showed me the drag brake.

In Alaska, fathers often teach their kids how to fly airplanes and drive sled dogs before they ever teach them how to drive cars.

I then plopped into the basket while he got ready to drive. The dogs were hysterical with excitement. They had not been on a run in awhile and were overcome with anticipation. With a command, we were off! What startled me was that the dogs immediately became quiet as they started to run. They were working! They were in unison. The sudden speed had thrust me back into the basket. My head swung up to see the star-filled night.

Bob drove us out a road into the forest. A fork in the road approached. He said "Haw!" and the dogs immediately went left. "There's a creek up ahead," he said. "I hope it's frozen," I thought.

"Hold on!" he said. Our sled dipped suddenly over a hill and across the creek. Zoom! The road suddenly became a winding narrow trail. Snow capped tree branches seemed to be coming within inches of my face! We curved this way and that way for fifteen minutes. Then came a sudden stop! The dogs had obediently listened to all his commands and rested when he told them to rest.

"Okay, your turn to drive, Charlie. Take us back in."

Bob climbed in the basket and I stood in the driver's position. I felt for the brakes with my massive bunny boots. Within seconds we were racing back towards his house. What a rush! I was driving sled dogs. I was mushing! Slightly hunched, my thighs started to burn. It was an incredible experience. The dogs looked so content running throw the trails. Bob and I carried on a conversation as I drove. It sounded muffled because I was talking through layers and so was he.

"A hill is coming," he said as he told me to brake. I pressed down with my boot and the chisels dug in and slowed us down just enough to go over the hill safely. I released pressure and the dogs were back to full speed.

We zoomed past other homes where you could hear their dogs howling into the night. My head lamp allowed me to clearly see all my dogs and look up into the trees.

Bob's house soon came into sight and I slowed us down to bring us right back to the area where the dogs stayed. He had planned for us to only be out for forty five minutes. At thirty below zero, you don't want to be out too long!

"That was incredible," I told Bob. "You did a good job," he said. "Some people fall off and I have to go back and get them."

I don't know that I am ready for the Yukon Quest or the Iditarod, but I was surprised how easily I had picked up driving the team. It is something you could do on an excursion during a trip to Alaska.

We unharnessed the dogs and took them to a waiting meal.We then went inside where Alma had hot tea and coffee waiting along with fresh Danishes with pecans. I unlayered and plopped into a couch. Alma continued preparing food for the Church event. It was midnight. She would be back up at 4 AM to continue getting things ready. The people of Alaska are so real and giving. I have
always been struck by their hospitality and kindness. They truly have a spirit about them that is special.

Ever the adventurer, Bob started reading instructions on a new GPS he had bought to help him with his sledding. Bob may do the Yukon Quest one day. It is the world's toughest adventure race. The Quest is a two week dog sledding race over 1023 miles between Fairbanks and Whitehorse. He struck me to be a man pushing 60, once again showing that chronological age has little to do with functional age. Who cares how old we are. Get out there and get active! Challenge yourself! Don't travel to Someday Isle where "someday I will do this, or someday I will do that." We are all a heartbeat away from eternity.

My challenge to you is what is going to be your Raw experience? What unique event are you going to do to push yourself?  Travels with Charlie is a unique form of group travel where you have the opportunity to go on incredible Excursions. You can learn more in the Travels with Charlie area of this site.


- Charlie Adams, Motivational Speaker
574 807 2279 || Email Charlie