Now what would a visit to Nunavut in the depths of early spring be without a "Yoiks tally ho," and a bit of dog sledding? Okay, I don't suppose you actually shout: "Yoiks tally ho," when you're crisscrossing the Arctic on a sled, as those nasty British fox hunters do when crisscrossing England's green and pleasant land on horseback.
Anyway, I won't find out what terms of endearment the indigenous Inuit do shout since my dog-meister for this afternoon's $200 caper, known henceforth as DM, is an implant from the south. He's kitted me out in huge boots and a billowing pair of water-proof trousers -- and yes, I fall flat on my back on exiting his hut even before we board the sled. Why ever wouldn't I?
Iqaluit sled dogs
I'm flailing about like a balloon, and he has to pull me upright. We drive out to where the dogs are chained up -- 14 absolutely magnificent furry and friendly animals, barking, caterwauling, yelping and howling in one mighty cacophony that immediately calls to mind a board meeting of your favorite company (fill in the blank as desired).
What about a bit of howling?
DM tethers 12 of the hounds to the long sled, leaving two behind -- one, a young pup in heat, and another who cut his back on some iron.
And we're off!
After a wild ride over a couple of hundred yards, we come to a frozen river, and the dogs go on strike. Having slipped all over the place, they gather back on the bank, sit down and refuse to budge.
"Come on guys," DM wheedles and cajoles, "I know you don't like the ice, but come on there!" So much for Yoiks Tally Ho!
He turns round -- and O.M.G., his unbalaklava-ed face displays in magnificent prominence a frozen stream of snot hanging like a cloudy icicle from his ginger mustache. I may not have seen the Aurora Borealis last night, but I've encountered my first snotsicle.
Come on, Buyla," he remonstrates with the lead dog, directing it back on the ice. "Come on Goose, move over there. You too, Mr. Potato. And you, Maverick. Now you, Big Will. You too, Toonik."
Finally all 12 are pointed in the right direction. And we're off -- again!
We're going full paws ahead, even crapping and peeing on the run. But there are some seriously subversive deviationists in the team. Buyla's taken a sharp swing to the left, half way up a rock, Mr. Potato's veering to the right, and Goose has got herself somehow behind the sled.
DM jams a rubber tyre around the runners to halt. "Come on guys," he remonstrates again, "What's up with you lot?'
I'm not going there
He expounds how Nunavut's huskies can cover 40 miles a day, going for 10 or 12 hours on journeys lasting 60 days. Not this crew! The dogs who go to the North Pole from the top of Ellesmere Island run for 36 straight days. Not this crew!
At this rate, I can see myself in the harness and the dogs sitting in sublime satisfaction on the sled. He cajoles them on some more. And we're off!
It's a snowy Sahara, spreading out endlessly to the horizon, broken here and there by a ridge -- and the roar of a jet plane taking off from Iqaluit's airport.
After about an hour we stop near a bluff to have a snack -- salami, cheese, nuts, biscuits and a cup of steaming hot tea. DM's snotsicle has now been joined by several condensed breathsicles.
Icy rest stop
The dogs are incredibly friendly. I move up the bluff to snap them and the sled. And yes, now I'm flailing about on my back and DM's picking me up again.
It's time turn round and go back. And we're off!
Okay, let's get going again
In fact, we're off in a vengeance. The dogs know they'll get fed at the end of the run and are fairly tearing along, almost overturning the sled. DM's screaming at them, pulling at their harnesses, applying the tyres to the sled's runners, stopping them, growling at them, barking at them, remonstrating with them.
Let's get this show on the road
After a dozen helter-skelters -- with Yours Truly deliriously yelling: "Yoiks tally ho," -- and a dozen tyre-halting stops, he's managed to impose a sort of order to the canine anarchy -- and a more sedate gait. And we're off, until...
The sled is slanting askance on a large rounded boulder. Our lead dog Buyla has spied the frozen river and taken matters into his own paws, ably abetted by Goose, Mr. Potato and Maverick. DM has the tyres applied on both runners.
"Come on, guys, that's your worst ever," he curses.
After some gentle, and less than gentle remonstrances, he turns Buyla's snout in the direction of the river. And we're off! At a sedately trot!
Finally we're back, snotsicles, breathsicles and all. DM lets me help unharness the hounds, gripping them between my legs, back-turning their paws and lifting their legs through the straps, slipping it over their heads and chaining them up at their spots.
Once again it's a board meeting of your favourite company as they deafeningly await their globs of bloody seal meat.
And, yes, DM's picking me up from a snow bank once more as I balloon around yet again on the way back to the car.
Members of the board
By the same author: Bussing The Amazon: On The Road With The Accidental Journalist, available with free excerpts on Kindle and in print version on Amazon.