Hokkaido snow no match for dogsleds

Hokkaido snow no match for dogsleds

I had made plans to cross the northern lands by dogsled, but the weekly weather report said there would be a blizzard on this day in Engaru, Hokkaido. Could I make it?

It turned out my concerns over the weather were groundless.

"Even when the trains and buses stop, dogsleds keep on going," said Hidetaka Murabayashi, the representative of Outrider, an Alaskan dogsled tour company in the town. He means the heavier the snow, the more useful dogsleds are.

For better or worse, the weather on the plains near Shirataki Station was cloudy with scattered snow.

First, I learnt how to control the sled. The dogs adhere to just two commands: "Hike!" (Forward) and "Whoa!" (Stop). The key is to make the vocal commands short and clear.

I harnessed the four friendly huskies to the wooden sled as we readied ourselves for take-off.

I gave a loud "Hike!"

But they would not move.

"Putting males together with females gets their spirits up, but there are also match-up issues," Mr Murabayashi said.

One of the dogs was looking the wrong way, but after it was switched around, the pack started running.

However, when we reached the steep mountains, their pace slowed. The dogs glanced back at me. Was my 80kg too heavy?

I had no choice but to run on my own legs. Climbing the slopes dressed from head to toe in cold-weather gear was extremely tiring and, despite the weather being minus 4 deg C, I was drenched in sweat.

My exhaustion allowed me to sympathise with the dogs, and I made sure to give each of them a big pat every time we took a break.

"Woohoo!" I cried out instinctively as we came off the down slope through a coniferous forest. In the end, I covered about 14km in two hours. Generally, the dogs are capable of running up steep slopes even when carrying an adult male.

Mr Murabayashi attributed the dogs' earlier reticence to the weather. "It's warm today, so they aren't concentrating enough. At minus 18 deg C, their engines are at full throttle," he said.

My husky partners were used to living under the same conditions as polar bears and seals.

TRAVEL TIPS

It takes about 100 minutes to fly from Haneda Airport in Tokyo to Asahikawa Airport. From there, take an Asahikawa Denkikidou bus to JR Asahikawa Station, a journey of 30 minutes.

An 80-minute train trip aboard the limited express Okhotsk will take you to JR Shirataki Station in Engaru.

For more information on Outrider, visit www.outrider.co.jp

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