In February, when the first of two big snowstorms hit, our family visited Heywood Kennel in Augusta for our inaugural dog sledding adventure. Owner Colby Briggs and his partner Erin Noll have operated the kennels since May 2016 after his parents retired from the business.
Located off a busy road, Heywood is home to a wood-fired warming hut and 30 good-natured sled dogs. The temperature was below 20-degrees on the morning we arrived, and our hosts were kind enough to offer extra snow pants (MP forgot her own) and hand warmers. Once we were ready, Colby warned us that the dogs would be loud when we met them at the kennels and for good reason. After a mild January with little snow, the dogs couldn’t wait to pull a sled.
We walked to a fenced-in area in the backyard where male and female dogs are separated by sides. Unlike furry Alaskan Malamutes, the Alaskan Huskies at Heywood Kennel are small and lean. The dogs stay outside all day and sleep in barrels lined with hay at night. Many of them jumped on top of their barrels and howled or barked as we approached. Colby and Erin quickly prepared the sled, which holds two riders – one child and one adult. DP and CP#1 were the first to get in the sled. The two cuddled up together under blankets dusted with snow while Colby and Erin brought out a team of six happy dogs. We watched as they made quick work of harnessing the dogs. In a matter of minutes, Colby boarded the back of the sled and the team sailed off.
While the first half of our crew was sledding, CP#2 and MP visited with the dogs, who had all quieted down once the sled hit the trail. Erin introduced us to one of the mothers and her pups, who were born in the summer. She told us many of the dogs were named after chili peppers, as Colby has an affinity for hot sauce. MP was particularly fond of a sweet girl named Savina (a devilishly hot Habanero pepper, if you’re curious).
CP#1 and DP returned to us in one piece with red faces and big smiles. While the dogs lapped up water, Erin and Colby switched out the team. CP#2 and MP settled into the sled, ready for our ride. Colby re-boarded the sled and we jetted off to the trail. We talked to Colby about his sled dog experience (he began mushing as a boy), his backcountry adventures and racing in Alaska, where he once met a moose on the course.
We learned a little about dog sledding, too. The team of six is made up of two lead dogs, two swing dogs at the middle and two strong wheel dogs at the back. “Gee” means turn right and “haw” turn left. Colby told us the dogs require little training, as they quickly learn from each other. “When they’re learning, I’ll pair an older, experienced dog with a younger dog,” he told us. “The younger dog picks up pretty quickly.”
As we sailed past tall pines and fields covered in snow, MP asked what Colby liked best about dog sledding. “The bond between me and the dogs,” he said, without skipping a beat. “My house dogs are special, too, but there’s something about being on a team and working together that makes the experience a special one.”
Before we knew it, we were rounding the corner back to the kennel. MP had to agree with Colby. The falling snow and quiet trail made the sled ride magical, but the enthusiasm of the dogs made it an experience to remember. The team’s energy is infectious, and you feel that buzz of good energy every minute you’re on the trail.
Many thanks to Colby for snapping this rare photo of our crew! If you’re interested in learning more about Heywood Kennel Sled Dog Adventures, visit here.
PS: Our wild toboggan ride in Camden.