Life in a Northern Town

Honest Dogs At The Apostle Islands Sled Dog Races

"Happy Birthday!" he shouted, pointing to a plywood box with holes. A plywood box did not have the impact of lumunaries. "What is it?", I asked. "A dog box." "For what?", I asked. "Dogs." "Huh?" I didn't get it. "We're going to go pick them up tomorrow on the way to your parents' place," Charly said. "I talked to a guy who has six for us to look at. I figure we'll get three." "So this is why you've spent so much time over here," I said. "I thought you were just looking at maps." "Well, some of that too," he smiled, looking over at John, Mary and Emma. The next day I chose five dogs for my own: Shaggy, Nick, Zinia, Glitter and Blizzard. With Smokey, we now had a six dog team.

Julie Buckles, Paddling to Winter

That's how it all started, a bunch of sled dogs for an epic birthday present in 2001— seems like a reasonable way to start a kennel to me. Don't forget, Julie is the woman who decided paddling to the Arctic Ocean in a canoe and spending the winter in a cabin without running water on an island (read all about it here) was a good idea. The leap into dog sledding with a six dog team was a cake walk, kind of. I've heard some of the early Buckles/Ray dog sledding stories and at times, it was more of a cake tornado/earthquake/tsunami but 13 years later, it's still an integral part of their life. The story they started on their way to Wollaston Lake in 1999 continues on near the Sioux River with two kids and a kennel of honest dogs.

The last time I was at Julie's for dinner, I saw these mittens hanging on the hook in the kitchen. Julie got them from their friend John in Wollaston and they were hand embroidered by a Cree woman. Talk about a beautiful tether back to that winter in 1999— when Julie first slipped those mittens on, I bet she never dreamed her fierce and tender-hearted daughter would be wearing them while racing her own team as a ten-year old.

By the time I met Julie in 2011, Glitter was the only girl left from the original team but there were plenty of other dogs up in the kennel: Vader, Holstein, Bisoux, Jacques, Expo, Pronce, Flin and Juliette (the one-eyed thirteen year old wonder dog).

Jackson had a camera to take pictures of the dogs and in between careening down the giant snow-covered mounds on a plastic sled, he snapped a few pictures of Caroline as she took off. 

Vader (the blue-eyed devil) is my favorite honest dog. He's a mixture of Robert Deniro and Hugh Grant— a goofy badass who really, really wants to believe he's the emperor of the universe. Thank God for Pronce (his co-pilot)— he's all Sean Penn (think Fast Times at Ridgemount High) and is content with running next to a wanna be emperor.

My favorite shot of the entire day, Jackson cheering Julie on—pure, sweet love. 

Everyone showed up at the finish line in one piece, relaxed and with smiles on their faces and muzzles.

There is one more day of dog sled races (read Julie's guide to spectating here) and Caroline is racing, alone, tomorrow. Whether she knows it or not, she's following in Julie's footsteps— learning to live without impediment. Life will present all sorts of challenges but Caroline's tether is anchored in the bedrock of family, friends and a team of honest dogs; she'll always find her way home.

And to think it all started in 1999 when Julie and Charly launched Le Strubel (their red canvas canoe) from the Sioux River Beach into Lake Superior. Many thousands of paddle strokes later, they're settled near the beach where they left all those years ago—  a family of four with a kennel full of honest dogs. From here to Wollaston and back again, a perfect circle.