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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Loon Trail and Lake Run

Highland Trail

Dropping into the swamp on the Highland Trail

Loon Lake with its scenic high cliffs

Following the well marked Beargrease Trail

Heading towards Loon Lake landing to jump back on the Highland Trail

The spectacular cliffs on the landing road

In preparation for a scheduled Loon Trail and Lake Run with guests on Saturday, I took a dog team out today to make certain there were no spots in the new trail that needed attention.

An eleven foot toboggan sled was taken with a straw bale for extra weight. A five dog team pulled me and the lot. In hindsight, a heavier load would have made it easier to navigate around some tight turns but all in all, the run went well.

This run begins in the dog yard and goes around our Highland Trail Loops then cuts across to the Loon Lake landing road and down on to the lake. The total mileage of this run is 14. The GPS reading from my route today indicated it was exactly 14 miles from start to finish and it took us 1 hour and 55 minutes with a couple of short stops. This adventure with clients, should take roughly 2 1/2 hours which includes time for teaching how to harness and getting to know the dogs.

The Loon Trail and Lake Experience is the most diverse of any adventure offered at Gunflint Lodge. The wooded Highland Trails are absolutely beautiful with the fir trees weighted down with snow. The trails are windy and narrow and the dogs just can't wait to see what's around the corner! Once we drop on to the landing road then onto the lake, guests are welcome to hop back on the runners and run the team. We have a wonderful trail down the south shore of the lake that was recently used for the John Beargrease Marathon. The scent of other dog teams that have recently gone down the lake gets our dogs excited to go even faster during this portion of the run!

Loon Lake is narrow with high cliffs on the south shore. Once at the end of the lake, a little island is our turn-a-round point and we return the same way we came in and head back 4 miles down the lake to the wooded trails; six miles of wooded trails in all.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Introduction Update

Me and team of six

Quite a lot has happened since the March 2007 introduction and beginning of this blog. One thing, obvious to those who read the blog often, is that Points Unknown is providing dog mushing adventures at Gunflint Lodge during the winter months.

My Real Estate Appraisal business of almost 18 years was replaced with a position in a reputable appraisal firm, Comprehensive Valuation Services, Inc. so that there would be more time available for the dogs. Many thanks to its dog and outdoor enthusiast members who are very understanding of my need to move north for the winter months. I join them again in April, upon my return from the northwoods with the sled dogs.

In an effort to try and help the Real Estate Appraisal industry, I accepted an appointment to the Minnesota State Appraisal Advisory Board. We are making slow but sure progress to ensure the industry remains high in ethical standards.

The beeswax candle business(Scent from Nature 100% Pure Beeswax Candles) is yet another avenue to bring funds into the pot to support me and the Points Unknown sled dogs do what we love best. The business has grown and steps are being made this year to increase production, increase wholesale accounts and retail venues. The making of the candles still remains a very relaxing and fulfilling endeavor and is a nice balance for the deadlines and pressures associated with my appraisal work.

Phew.....all of this certainly doesn't sound like the title of this blog - "The quest for a more simple lifestyle......." There is a grand scheme to all of this madness. Each item on my plate fits nicely into this plan; the time spent with my dogs in the wilderness being one of the main priorities along with a special relationship that continues to grow even more special as time goes by.

(Re)Introduction; Linda Newman

Klaus and Tuloon leading us down Gunflint Lake in 2008

The following was posted on March 23, 2007 when this blog began. I am republishing it for those of you who may have recently began reading about the Points Unknown sled dogs.

To Points Unknown....? This isn't necessarily a place that might appear on a map. It's all about letting yourself go somewhere new for learning and self -discovery. This could include taking an adventure trip with a dog team on a frozen lake, in the great wilderness, using a map and compass to guide you. It could also mean opening up your mind to a new way of doing something or changing something in your life to make yourself a better person. This too, takes you into Points Unknown where navigation is done by your own internal map and compass.

I am on a quest for a more simple life, guided by my passion for the wilderness and my dogs. Currently, life remains complicated. The Real Estate Appraisal business I have had for nearly 16 years is a bit smaller due to the collapsing real estate market. This is a welcome change for my soul but not for my pocketbook. I truly enjoy my appraisal work and pride myself on doing quality work in an ethical fashion. I am happy to say that my clients are people I can call friends. This makes the "corporate" aspect of it so much more bearable.

I have been hand-crafting 100% pure beeswax candles since May of 2006. I am selling them to the food coops and gift shops geared towards natural and local goods. This is a step in the right direction for me. The natural aspect of this product appeals to my need to be involved with nature. Burning 100% beeswax candles is thought to create a clean and calm environment which is welcome after dealing with the unsavory side of the Real Estate field.

My dogs. My dogs have, for many years, been the highlight and focus in my life. Having a dog as a child, I never felt that connection to these furry beasts until much later in life. I never could have imagined that today I would have a kennel of eleven sled dogs with three house dog mascots. I got my first dog in 1994. Shadow was the most amazing Australian Shepherd. He taught me so many wonderful things that I have been able to transfer into the rest of my life; loyalty, a deeper way to love, living in the moment, having balance in life and the list goes on. Shadow had to be put down a few years ago due to nasal cancer when his condition was no longer bearable. He will be missed.

I married into sled dogs in 2000. (Marriage, by the way, is one of those ventures into Points Unknown where you need to use your internal map and compass to navigate your way through and make your way to being a better person. Sometimes this means ending the marriage to do so.) Prior to my introduction to sled dogs, I had no affection for northern breed dogs. I found them to be stubborn, aloof and just plain hard to handle. So here I am, eleven sled dogs later and loving every minute of it!

Points Unknown; Dog-Based Adventures was created out of my love for dogs and the wilderness. This is my most important and exciting endeavor as it keeps me close to nature and more in touch with who I am. I am honored to have such loyal adventure companions and I am honored to be able to share them with others. This blog is for those who love dogs. It's for those of you who attended a Points Unknown Adventure or for those of you who would like to attend one in the future. It's for family and friends who want to catch up on a day in the life of the dogs. And it's for anyone who loves photos of dogs and/or nature as this is another passion of mine. If you like a particular post or a certain photo, please let me know!

A Glorious Day!

Wolf tracks on the lake with what appear to be fox tracks having been laid either before or after the wolf passed through

Loon Lake Scenery

Beautiful Highland Trail

Temps are in the single digits and the sun is out in full force! Trails were groomed this morning after dog feeding so they will be ready for our weekend guests.

Wolf tracks were spotted all over our dog sledding trail system. They have been more active this year than last and the mangy wolf mentioned in a previous post has made himself very visible. He has been seen on the ski trail heading towards the dog yard in the middle of the day as well as near the apartments at dusk. One morning a 40lb bag of dog food was bit open and dragged down the driveway. (Yes, now the bags are stored inside the apartment instead of right outside the door.) This wolf is the suspected offender.

The dogs have had a couple days off for some much needed rest after our tough lake runs last weekend. Out on the lake today with the snowmobile, numerous good snowmobile trails were found for the dogs to follow to avoid any undetected slush pockets that may be lurking off trail.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Neil's Five Dog Team Run

Phoenix left and Journey right. Sweet Pea smiles behind Journey

Zodiak to the left behind Phoenix

Neil's 5 dog team

Being given the "thumbs up" by very respectful snowmobilers passing by.

Happy Dogs!

The day before his departure from the northwoods of Minnesota to return, for the time being, to the UK, Neil ran solo with a five dog team. Having had numerous runs on the lake with four to five dogs and one run with a guest musher and her six dog team while she sat in the sled, he was more than prepared.

Even though the dogs were less than enthusiastic at hook-up due to a couple of hard working days in less than agreeable conditions on the lake, they rose to the occasion and once the snow hook and quick release were pulled, off they went and the enthusiasm burst forth.

Phoenix and Journey were Neil's leaders. This is Phoenix's first year at open country lead work and his first year being a senior trail leader. Journey is in her first full season of running as she is only 19 mos old and she is blossoming at lead.

Zodiak, still an immature male at 17 mos old, is doing very well in point or wheel this season. Next year, once he grows up a bit, he will be placed in lead. Sweet Pea, Zodiak's aunt, does well in any position as long as she doesn't have to lead. She just doesn't care for the pressure. McKenzie, a seasoned sled dog at 7 years old and father to Journey, was in wheel position for Neil's run.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Guest Musher and Wahya Update

Sandy and Team

Wahya at 17 mos.

Sandy Schwartz, a guest musher, was on site last week and brought her team of 6 dogs. Those dogs included, Wahya, a Tuloon/Bazil litter pup from the September 2006 litter.

Wahya turned into a beautiful and hardworking sled dog.

Lake Conditions Hard-Going

11 dog team on the lake

The conditions on Gunflint Lake so far this season have been very hard-going. Last season the slush came and went in a matter of two weeks. This year, the slush is sticking around much longer due to the increase in snow levels. What is good for the trails is not good for the lakes. We have managed to make trails on the lake with the snowmobile to avoid the slush, however the trouble comes when the snow falls and the wind blows and the trails are no where to be found.

On top of the trail conditions, the temps are well below zero with high winds, making lake travel just plain brutal. Today we've decided to stay off the lake until the temps rise. When they do, we will just need to increase our dog team numbers to maintain a respectable pace above a crawl for our adventures. What would have taken a team of 6 dogs last year is now taking 8+. What is nice about the lake adventures is that guests get a chance to run the team and the dogs do love the open lake running.

The Wolves are About

Last week we had two wolf encounters. One was quite a distance from the dog yard, the other was far too close.

A large, healthy, reddish gray wolf was spotted from the Gunflint Trail, running in the deep snow into the woods. Sitings such as this are few and cherished when they do occur.

The second siting was later the same day. While unloading the truck, a very tall, mange ridden wolf walked out of the dog yard area and within 25 feet of me. The dogs didn't make a sound. When I realized it was a wolf I was staring at, I ran at it, making as much noise as I could. It trotted off, stopped and looked back then continued this sequence all the way down the road. A healthy wolf would not behave this way. Our thoughts are that this wolf was looking for scraps near the dog yard and the dogs didn't feel threatened by it due to its unhealthy state therefore didn't sound an alarm. This second siting is a concern and puts us on alert. Wolves are to be seen and cherished from afar and are not welcome in the dog yard.

Proposal on the Highland Trail

Emily and Matt with Klaus and Tuloon inbetween

The team waits patiently for the proposal

The team comes upon Neil, hidden in the woods with his camera

The mushers of Points Unknown were excited to be asked to take part in a special "adventure" with the sled dogs on the Highland Trail.

Matt planned to propose to Emily during a dog mushing adventure and we were to work out the details so Emily would be completely surprised. Was she ever! We took the couple in separate sleds up to the highest point in the area and into what we call the "Enchanted Forest" which is a portion of the trail where the fir trees covered in snow create a tunnel effect. We made a stop to rest the dogs and at the same time, I had Emily get out of the sled so that I could remedy a tangle in the team (this was an unexpected issue that worked in our favor). I told Emily that she needed to stand on the snow hook that was securely sunk into the snow pack and look forward, keeping a close eye on the dogs just in case they got excited and decided it was time to get moving. During this time, Matt walked up from the sled behind and I took over Emily's spot on the hook. They both walked to the front of the sled to visit the dogs. At the same time, Neil, stationed in the woods with a camera came out for photo ops. Yes, Emily was surprised and told me later that when Matt kept asking her to take her glove off(so he could put the ring on her finger), she told him, "no! my hands are cold!" They had a hot chocolate toast and beamed all the way back to the dog yard.

Minneapolis Examiner Article

During the past week we provided dog mushing adventures to Marie Malinowski, an outdoor writer with the Minneapolis Examiner and her husband. She wrote a very nice article about her trip.

Minneapolis Examiner Article

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Loon Trail and Lake

Entry point to Loon Lake

New Trail cut to connect the wooded trails to the Loon Lake landing

Yesterday the final trail cutting was complete for the Loon Trail and Lake Adventure. This adventure will give our guests a taste of trail and lake running with the dog. It contains roughly 4 1/2 miles of wooded trails and 8 miles of lake running.

Friday, January 9, 2009

First Gunflint Lake Experience of the Season

Dog transportation down to the lake from the dog yard

Liz's team hooked down before we begin

Preparing the team and guest prior to our departure

Helen's with her straw bale passenger

Returning from the run

Linda and Team

Liz and Team

Helen and Team

Thursday, January 8th was our first Gunflint Lake Experience of the season, one week earlier than the previous year. The snow and ice have come early this year. Temps were around 10 degrees F with calm winds. The lake conditions were slow with a few slush pockets, however fewer than had existed just the day before when I shot a snowmobile track down the lake.

Our first guests on this experience were Gunflint Lodge staff members Don and Marilyn. Beginning his adventure in the sled, Don spent some time on the runners on our return trip while the musher sat in the sled and enjoyed the ride! For a first timer, Don did an excellent job and only almost dumped his passenger once.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Action Shots by Neil

Linda and Team

Linda and Team

Hailey and Team

Liz and Team

Liz and Team

Hanging Out with Clients

Leaning to the right

Even more to the right!

.....and recovery after the corner

As mentioned in an earlier post, it is necessary to lean while on the back of the sled to get around corners. This becomes more necessary and is needed on an even grander scale as the weight in the sled increases and/or the corners become more abrupt. In addition, running a freight toboggan sled can be like trying to ride on the back of a large piece of furniture! It is rigid and doesn't steer...... at all. The only way to steer the thing is by moving your body and shifting weight in the appropriate manner for the results desired. Trial and error will determine what the "appropriate manner" means.

You just may not be fully aware of how much leaning comes into play on the back of a dog sled until it is caught on film! The above photos are for all of you who may not have considered that standing on the back of the runners of a dog sled all day is not as easy as it may sound. What a wonderful work out!

In the Dog Yard

This is the Points Unknown dog yard at Gunflint Lodge. There are 30 wooden, flat top dog houses filled with straw. Additional houses are plastic igloo, barn or barrel style. Each dog has a minimum of a 7' chain. There are three pens in which dogs are rotated to stay in close contact with their kennelmates at home. A large fenced play area is in the lower portion of the dog yard for larger group of dogs to play together during days when they are not in harness. Below are just a few of the dogs in the yard.



Sweet Pea