Nestled along the Columbia River, a howling good time awaits locals and visitors at Golden Dog Sled Adventures.
Turning off from the highway, a magical snowy drive greets you with bent trees, weighed down in beautiful archways across Wiseman Road.
Turning onto the property, a group of people in black-clad jackets greet you, with “Musher” on their backs. You can tell you’re in good hands as soon as you step out of the vehicle, as they all shake your hand, and owner Matt Parr gives you a jovial bump on the arm.
The welcome is so warm and nice, you barely notice how Parr tried to push you over, just a bit, to see how you size up.
Eight dogs are already out of the kennel, getting prepared for the trip. They’re all hooked up to a line, ready to greet you. The friendly dogs are a mix of breeds and personalities. Some are looking up, tails wagging, and jittery. Others are curled up, relaxing and patiently waiting for your greeting. An important aspect to Golden Dog Sled Adventures is the meet and great before the run. Sled passengers get to meet each dog individually, petting them and learning their names and history. We started at the back of the line, meeting the two dogs with great big leg muscles that will pull our weight first. One of them, Avalanche, is a quirky and handsome fellow, who is well aware his buddy will do most of the work. Out on the trails, Avalanche has fun running with the dogs, and often lets his line go slack, knowing the other dogs will make up for it. Along the meet and greet we get to pet all of the fur family, and Bear, the “poster boy” jumps up for some up and personal kisses. He’s one of the Siberians, or “slowberians,” as Parr fondly nicknamed them. They have a heavy coat, keeping them warm and insulated throughout the winter months. They are big and powerful dogs, that can pull for a long time, but they aren’t built for speed.
Other dogs in the pack are Alaskan huskies and Euro hounds, bred and mixed with other breeds for speed and stamina. The healthy mix of different dogs creates an unbeatable pack.
After a brief demonstration, we helped harness the dogs and get them ready to hook up to the wooden sled. Before bundling up inside the sled, we’ve already heard the do’s and dont’s, and all of the safety precautions, so we are well prepared for the ride.
Taking off, the dogs are excited and ready to go. Right before lift off, they start to howl in excitement. Hitting the trails, we take off with as much dog power eight husky mixes can offer. Laura Crombeen, our musher, commands the dogs quieter than expected, and we careen around corners into the woods.
At one point, we hit a high side, and tumble over. The dogs know to stop, and Laura is quick to turn the sled upside right. After a face full of snow and some good laughs, we’re back on course in no time. We rip through the trees and around corners for a while, enjoying the ride and leaning into corners as best as we can before coming out to an open field, where Laura suggests we try our hand at mushing.
Nervous, I get out of the sled and step on the back, both feet on the breaks. Letting go, I’m afraid of falling off and sending my friends on an unmanned adventure, but Laura assures she is trained to crawl out of the sled and onto the back to put a stop to this. After a full loop around the field, I am exhilarated, but ready to pass on the reins.
We return to base, unsure of how much time has passed, adrenaline still spiking. After taking the harnesses off the dogs, they each get a treat, and soup to hydrate them and arm them up. The soup is a hot water mixture with bits of meat in it, and the dogs love it. We head back to the cabin for hot chocolate and cookies, and to see the amazing photos taken by Peter Sheard.
Everything is said and done in two and a half hours. We were surprised when we got back into the car to head home, looking at the time, we expected it to be late afternoon. It is still beautiful outside, and the rest of the day is ready to be seized.
Parr, Alicia Grills, Crombeen, Sheard, and Bert Verspeelt (who was away that day) make every guest feel right at home and a part of the pack.
Golden Dog Sled Adventures is only partly about dog sledding. The other parts are about the human and dog family. The dogs Parr has brought in to be a part of his team are a perfect mix of athleticism and friendliness.
There are only 16 dogs on the team, and a few of them are older, coming from other dog sled operations. Golden Dog Sled Adventures is kind of like a retirement home for sled dogs. It is a place where they can become a part of a team and socialize before finding their forever homes. Parr brings them in, and sees if they are a good fit for the business. If not, he works to find them the perfect home where they can officially retire.
“The more time I spend here, the more I realize that [Parr] thinks he’s running a dog sled operation that eventually rehomes dogs, but what we’re doing is running a rehoming operation that’s using dog sledding as a way to socialize them,” Sheard said.
Some of the retired dogs have stayed in Golden with families. One retired pup, Gus, works as a trail guide dog in the summers, and enjoys roaming on the farm where he lives now.
“We bring them in, and if they enjoy running and they get along with the team, and if they enjoy socializing, if they are a fit for the business, then they will stay,” Grills says about the dogs they have brought in. “We have had to rehome a few, just because they are either too high energy, or they’re very anxious on meeting the human side of things, so socializing is really hard for them.”
The team ensures the dogs that are rehomed go to the best family possible. These dogs are typically used to spending all of their time outdoors, and will bond with one or two humans.
The rest of the dogs enjoy running each day, and will only do about two runs per day. In perfect conditions, sometimes they will go on a third run, but Parr says that doesn’t happen too often. It is the perfect place for these working dogs to stretch their legs, but also take it easy, and get all the love and attention they deserve.
If you’re looking for adventure, look no further than Golden Dog Sled Adventures. It is the perfect place to experience something completely different, and is a fun activity for all ages. Check out their website at www.goldendogsledadventures.com to learn more about the different trips in the winter, and available summer activities.