Northland outdoors: Arctic fever, Group trains sled dogs in Minnesota to prepare for trek to Arctic Bay
Woodbury, Minn. - When it's 50 below and you've been leading a team of sled dogs through the Arctic, the snack of choice is a stick of butter. Danish explorer Mille Porsild said she expects to eat a lot of butter during her expedition to Baffin I...
Woodbury, Minn. - When it's 50 below and you've been leading a team of sled dogs through the Arctic, the snack of choice is a stick of butter.
Danish explorer Mille Porsild said she expects to eat a lot of butter during her expedition to Baffin Island this spring.
"You actually get so hungry that eating a stick of butter or eating a piece of jerky with a chunk of butter in between is quite delicious," Porsild said.
Porsild isn't on her high-fat diet yet. For the past few weeks, she has been training her 25 dogs in Woodbury, where the huskies can be seen pulling an ATV along Manning Avenue and around the eastern edge of the Stonemill Farms housing development.
Porsild is program director and expedition leader for GoNorth!, a K-12 program developed by the University of Minnesota. Each year, she explores a different area of the Arctic and shares her experiences and research with millions of students and teachers around the world.
On March 1, Porsild will head to the Nunavut region of Canada for a four-month, 1,800-mile journey that will take her from the south end of Baffin Island to Arctic Bay on its northern tip.
Much of her research will focus on climate change and sustainable development.
For now, she is renting a farmhouse in Afton, and she and a dog trainer, Tony Bylander, of New Richmond, Wis., work with the huskies each day on Jim and Jennifer Gasperini's farm in Woodbury. The Gasperinis got to know Porsild through explorer Will Steger. Jim Gasperini, a local attorney, was Steger's base-camp manager in the Arctic in 1986; Porsild was on Steger's 1992 expedition.
One morning recently, Porsild and Bylander took 13 of the dogs to Woodbury and hooked them up - two by two - behind the lead dog, Disko. When a fight broke out between Good Thunder and Baffin, Porsild growled at them and waded in to separate them.
"We sound tough because we're the alphas," she said. "We want them to know that we don't want any quarrels. They're aggressive animals. We don't breed away from aggression. We actually want that crazy power. It's almost like the crazier they are, the better the sled dogs they are on the real trail."
By March, the dogs must be able to pull sleds weighing 1,400 pounds for 25 miles. Among the heaviest items on board: computer equipment and bags and bags of kibble.
To prepare the dogs for the heavy loads, Bylander said he leaves the ATV in first gear and rarely touches the throttle during training runs.
"They're running against the transmission and with as much weight as possible, and I let them struggle and work themselves out of tough situations," he said.
Last week's frigid temperatures also helped, Porsild said.
"It's good for the dogs," she said. "The conditions are going to be 30, 40, 50 below (zero) where we are going. The best part of the cold snap is that they're pushing in their coats - growing more fur. More than anything, it kicks their metabolism in, so that they start wanting to consume the level of food that we need them to."
The dogs will eat 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day when they are in the Arctic. So will Porsild.
Porsild's daily diet in the Arctic includes a lot of butter, cheese, oatmeal, soups and pasta.
"Your mind gets kind of obsessed with food when you're up there," she said. "It's all very high fat. It's not a diet that I would recommend in general."