This past March, I headed to a remote part of Alaska: a town called Eagle on the Yukon River. After taking 3 planes and 24 hours of travel, I was picked up by Wayne on a snowmobile to reach their homestead.
I heard about Bush Alaska Expeditions, a tour company that cares for retired racing Alaskan huskies and teaches you how to mush your own dog sled team. Did you know Alaskan huskies are actually mutts? When I met the dogs, they ranged from small to large and everything in between. They are sharp, incredibly athletic and remarkably free of injuries even at 9 or 10 years old. They are running up to 30 miles a day if not more, and yet not even one had a hip problem or a bad knee.
Every dog felt supple and loose. The old saying, “motion is lotion” is certainly true for me, yet I was still amazed by how healthy all of these dogs are into their older ages.
The best part about this tour company is that they rescue unwanted/retired huskies and adopt them to visitors at no charge – all based on donations and with the help of past guests/guides. An amazing trail running friend, Deb, whom I met in the Alps last July is one of their seasonal guides. Deb is one of those extremely kind, friendly and capable people who loves adventure and doesn’t take things too seriously! She’s also a total bad-ass. Check her out teaching me how to chop wood for the wood burning stove! She also hacked apart a moose carcass that was blocking our trail path. I felt like I was in the best hands with Deb as my guide. Ask for Deb if you decide to go! I knew if Deb said it was worth doing, I had to experience this for myself. One of the perks of traveling alone is meeting new people in ways I probably wouldn't if I were traveling with the comfort circle of friends/family.
Here's Deb showing me how to chop wood and Wayne retrieving our drinking water from the stream nearby the homestead.
Unlike my usual travels, I did not book-end this adventure with more sights to see and places to explore. Stretching my trips to two weeks feels like a burden on the restaurant and takes a toll on Tuffy – who waits for me like the loyal girl she is and refuses to sleep in our bed – until I return home. (This is the main reason we have a bed for her on each floor, to give me peace of mind she has plush options.)
I was well warned that this trip would be a step back in time. The owners, Scarlett and Wayne, live off the land like pioneers – by growing their own vegetables, hunting their own meat and buying only what they need. There is no running water or electricity for guests. Food for me will be the usual I-bring-a-suitcase-of-vegan-food. This is the longest I’ll ever go without a shower, and I like to shower every day if not twice a day. I’m a clean freak when it comes to personal hygiene. This will be a good test for future mountaineering trips when I may have to go longer without showering.
My luggage also never made it. The owners adjusted my trip so I could get my luggage the next day. It was all arranged with the carriers, but of course, in true Alaskan/American Airlines fashion, my luggage sat at the Fairbanks airport for 7 days, until I picked it up on my return home. Guess what? I was just fine not having my luggage or food. It was a great lesson to see that I don't need a fresh outfit every day and packing for me in the future will be much more streamlined.
Even though I’ve never worn the same clothes two days in a row, I was able to alternate my outer layers with my inner layers, and washed one layer when I could, and luckily packed my gloves/hats and dire essentials like toiletries/contact solution in my carry-on. To add to this adventure, I also got my period early. Luckily, my guide had extra supplies. The good thing about this is that I didn’t sweat much, since this is Alaska in March, and everyone wears the same clothes days on end, so if my luggage was going to be MIA anywhere, this was the place to happen.
All of my food was also in the missing luggage. The gracious owners made accommodations to feed me vegan meals – something they never had to do before. They took it in stride and made sure I was fed. I was surprised to feel sore in my quads and arms the first few days. It was more of a physical workout than I expected, which I loved. If the dogs wanted to run for 8-10 hours/day, I would’ve been the first to sign up. We only went as far as was comfortable for the dogs. The entire place is run on caring for these amazing athletes from morning to night.
I came to learn a new skill - leading a dog sled is no joke! Racing down the hills felt like an out-of-control roller coaster for a newbie like me because the dogs just want to go as fast as possible. I learned on the last day of the trip that my breaks were faulty, which made me feel better. I thought I was a disaster at slowing down the sled, but Deb figured it out! I face planted onto ice, a glacier and more because I had trouble keeping the sled balanced on turns while flying downhill. Deb unhooked some of my dogs on the downhills to reduce their power. She thought of everything to make the trip safe and exhilarting!
This trip was another reminder of how grateful I am to travel, to see a remote part of Alaska far away from tourists and bond with retired sled dogs and people who live a far different life than me. The trip with Bush Alaska Expeditions delivered on all of the above.
The icing on the cake was finally seeing the Northern Lights! I kept falling asleep early and sleeping through the entire night and missing these magical lights. On the final night, I made myself get up during the night and the universe granted my wish. The Northern Lights were dancing right outside my cabin!
I learned how to drive a dog sled, new outdoor skills and how to be comfortable without modern conveniences. Would I do this again? Probably not! (I rarely like to do the same thing twice). Would I like to see those amazing dogs again and all the wonderful people of Bush Alaska? Most definitely.
If you love rustic cabins and camping, being in remote wilderness areas and love dogs, Bush Alaska has the most ethical and genuine dog mushing experience to share.
Thank you, Scarlett, Wayne, Deb and all of the dogs on my tour who welcomed me with open arms and showed me a different way of life.