The hero of my February release, Gabe Jordan, runs a dogsledding business in Colorado. He loves his job and adores his dogs.
I used my experience from my one and only dogsledding adventure to infuse the book with authentic details.
A few years ago, my life fell apart in huge ways. Shocked and disoriented, I felt adrift and knew that I needed to do something to put all of my broken pieces back together. I had always wanted to try an Outward Bound course, so I decided that the time was right. I chose to go dogsledding for four days in beautiful Algonquin Park in northern Ontario.
I'm not an athlete so it turned out to be quite a challenge, despite training by walking briskly for an hour and a quarter every day, often in snow in the park when it was available, and with yoga and lifting hand weights. It wasn't nearly enough. You know those dogsledding trips you can take where you sit in the sled while someone else drives? This wasn't that kind of adventure. We drove those suckers! Two of us shared the back, so we each stood on one runner. At the first turn, I went flying off. By the fourth day, I was bruised and stiff, but euphoric. Gliding over the snow through a pristine forest in the middle of winter with the wind in my face is an experience I will never forget.
It was one of the best things I've ever done! Here's a photo of me in Algonquin Park.
In the midst of the stunning beauty of the park and the hushed solitude I found at times in the forest around us, and in my interactions with the couple of dozen AMAZING dogs who pulled our sleds, I found healing and a measure of solace.
The dogs adored driving the sleds. The second we took out the harnesses and they realized we were taking them out for the day, they went nuts, yipping and barking and surging to get to their sleds. They ran their hearts out for us. We would sled for four hours at a time and the dogs never flagged. When we stopped on the trail for five or ten minutes to eat our lunchtime sandwiches while standing on the backs of the sleds, the dogs were vocal in their displeasure. They just wanted to go.
Here's a photo of Keebler jumping into the air and barking to try to get the sled to move. Azul looks like a long-suffering older sibling :-)
The dogs were full of so much joy.
When we returned to the camp, our first mission was to take care of them. We drilled a hole in the foot-thick ice of the lake to haul water for the dogs. We gathered and chopped dead wood from the forest around us to warm that water in huge pots, with bits of chicken added to flavor it so the dogs would drink enough fluids. The dogs were so clever. Some of them would tip the bowls over. The broth would drain away leaving bits of chicken on top of the snow, that the dogs would then eat. We would have to refill the bowls and then stand over them to make sure they drank their broth.
Then we fed them chunks of frozen chicken. Only then could we rest.
Gabe Jordan takes city kids onto his land to dogsled. They sleep overnight in a prospector's tent—no computers, iPods, or cell phones allowed. All of the details above went into the book, including my favorite—at night, the dogs would sometimes howl. It would come out of nowhere, all of them starting at once, perhaps disturbed by a nocturnal creature out and about. They would howl like wolves for minutes on end and then ALL of them would stop on a dime and we were left with profound silence. That haunting sound in the middle of the wilderness is one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard, as sweet as any concerto.
Here's a small excerpt from IN FROM THE COLD, the first time the heroine Callie MacKintosh meets Gabe.
She girded her proverbial loins and knocked on the front door, rubbing her arms through her wool jacket. Cripes, it was cold in Colorado.
At last, the door opened and a dog peeked out, a Lab with a coat as glossy as melted chocolate. Then the door swung wide and the man she’d all but stalked by phone stood in the entrance. For an instant, Callie couldn’t think.
Her first thought stunned her. He’s beautiful.
Wild dark hair framed a face with granite planes that mimicked the mountain behind the sky-kissing trees of the forest.
I should have brought my camera. She could shoot that face all day. Dark eyes, deep-set and alert, studied her without blinking.
Nick no longer knows his older brother. Her boss had warned that Gabe would put up resistance to their plan, but not to worry, that Nick had ways to get around him. Seeing Gabe in person, Callie wasn’t so sure. The man didn’t look like the pushover Nick had described. This man had substance, presence.
Handsome in a rugged mountain-man way, the antithesis of lean and refined Nick, Gabe wore a plaid shirt and blue jeans, the shirt wrinkled in the spots that weren’t stretched tautly over muscle, and the blue jeans old and pale with wear on his thighs. Not only did Gabe look like he could eat a bear, but he could probably wrestle it into submission with his bare hands.
Here are a couple of more photos of my adventure. If you ever have the opportunity to try dogsledding, do it! It's wonderful.
I'd like to give away a copy of IN FROM THE COLD to someone who comments today.
What is your favorite winter sport or activity? Skiing? Sledding? Curling up beside a warm fire and reading a book?