Winter Getaway – February 1-3, 2015 – Part 1

I am almost two months late with this post and got out of the habit of blogging since late January.  I am going to try to get back into it.  Surprisingly, my two oldest teens both inquired why I had stopped blogging, which means they must have been reading my posts, which is as good a reason as any to continue.

Last year, while I was lying on the couch recuperating from breaking my wrist while ice skating, I had plenty of time to surf the web.  While doing so I came across the 1.5 kilometre long ice trail at Arrowhead Provincial Park, just north of Huntsville.

Michael doesn’t skate.  Megan and Alun are uninterested in being outdoors in the winter.  Actually, Megan and Alun and uninterested in being outside of their bedrooms unless it is absolutely necessary, so they wouldn’t even take me up on my offer to take them along to just hang out at the hotel!

I did some more research to discover other activities to justify the two and a half hour drive to Huntsville and a stay in a hotel.  I discovered that Arrowhead also has a tubing run.   I also discovered a dog sledding business nearby.  The original plan was to leave home after school on Friday, go to Arrowhead on Saturday and dog sled on Sunday, returning home Sunday evening.

However, when I called Arrowhead to ask some questions I discovered that they have become so popular that it could take up to an hour to get into the park on a Saturday and that the skating trail would not open until 3pm.  I hate crowds and waiting, so we postponed our departure until Sunday night.  This suited Trystan and Owen as it now meant that they would miss school.

We departed Sunday after lunch stopping for Tim’s in Orillia and arriving at the hotel at 5pm.  The drive was good all the way, with no snow.  We later discovered that we had driven out of the biggest storm of the winter in Brampton and Monday ended up being a snow day.  Trystan and Owen felt cheated as they then only missed one day of school!

I originally thought I would stay at Deerhurst Inn, however, my brother-in-law suggested the Holiday Inn Express in Huntsville, a place he has stayed on business.  It was about $30 a night cheaper and included breakfast which would have been extra at Deerhurst.  We didn’t have access to Deerhurst’s grounds and activities, but to be perfectly honest, we were already planning to spend a lot of time outdoors and decided we wouldn’t take full advantage of Deerhurst’s amenities.  Trystan and Owen haven’t travelled much and were quite thrilled with the Holiday Inn Express.  It was clean and reasonably priced, with friendly staff, a swimming pool and exercise room.  It has a deal with some local chain restaurants, including East Side Mario’s to provide 10% off to hotel guests.

Right across the street from the hotel was a Walmart, a grocery store, some restaurants and other shops.  The boys wanted to eat at East Side Mario’s, a restaurant with which they were familiar.  I agreed on the condition that we try something local the next night.

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The food was adequate, but the service was poor.  We had a long wait, of about 45 minutes, for our main course and were finally served after a large group, that arrived later than we did.  The same thing happened with dessert.  When I told the waitress to bring the dessert in the next two minutes, or to cancel it and bring over the bill, she instead sent over the manager who apologized and offered us a free dessert on our next visit.  I told her we were from out of town and wouldn’t be back.  I asked her to provide the still-anticipated dessert for free.  Glancing down at the hotel coupon she told me that the computer would only allow one discount per meal.  I hate it when people blame things on computers.  I told her to keep her “free dessert on our next visit” coupon, give us the 10% off and bring the bill.  The dessert arrived shortly thereafter, but not before the staff sang Happy Birthday – twice – to people at the next table.

Whenever I travel I always seem to forget something.  Owen brought only his winter boots so we headed to Walmart after dinner where we bought a pair of Crocs knock-offs for him to wear around the hotel and pool.

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We returned to the hotel for a swim and then retired to the room where the boys watched The Cartoon Network until falling asleep.  We don’t have cable or satellite TV at home so it is a treat to spend the evening watching The Cartoon Network.

We awoke to this lovely view from our hotel room window which only became visible after I wiped off the thick condensation and ice from the window.  It was bitterly cold at -28 degrees Celsius but looked beautiful from inside.

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Breakfast was a faster meal than dinner had been and, for Owen particularly, a much better meal.  He loved the pancake making machine and hot drink station.

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There was a cereal station.

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A sitting area with TV and fireplace was inviting.

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Other drinks, a toaster and breads and hot items were set up on the other side of the room.

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Here’s Owen’s breakfast.  There’s hot chocolate in the coffee cup.  I loved the printing on the cup.  Must.  Have.  Coffee.

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After breakfast Owen wanted to try out the exercise equipment.  We were in no rush because we didn’t have to be at the dog sledding until 1:30.

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We decided to take a drive a see a bit of Huntsville.  There was much more snow in Huntsville than there had been in Brampton when we left.

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Huntsville hosted the G8 Summit in 2010.  However, the G8 has become the G7 again, since Russia annexed Crimea and was suspended from the G8.  I was amused to see the Russian flag had been removed from the flag display at this small park (note the empty flag pole second from the left).

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We ate lunch at the McDonald’s in Walmart.  The boys were quite happy, but since they didn’t have salads, I settled for the new CBO (Chicken Bacon Onion) sandwich.  The sign advertised an artisan bun, however, it was just the typical processed McDonald’s bun with some dried onions on top.

The GPS told me it would take 15 minutes to drive to North Ridge Ranch  dog sledding tours.  I learned that in remote places all the address are not necessarily in the GPS.  It accepted the street number of 1823, but when we got to 800 it told me we were there.  The numbers are quite far apart and the road was packed snow on gravel with hills and twists and turns.  It was almost another 15 minutes by the time we arrived.

I dislike being late and was a bit stressed when we arrived about ten minutes past the start time of 1:30.  North Ridge Ranch is owned by Brad and Leah.  They run two half day tours (approximately 3 hours)  on weekdays and one hour tours on weekends.  Eight dogs are hitched to each sled.  Adult customers are permitted to drive the sled with children sitting.  We had the choice of a 9:30 start of a 1:30 start.  We chose 1:30 so we could have a leisurely morning.  By 1:30 it had warmed up to about -13 degrees Celsius.

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As we arrived, the morning group was just returning.  Apparently, there had been several mishaps – the customers became increasingly nervous and unable to handle the sled after several falls and a dragging incident – and Brad had to spend a great deal of time re-arranging the dogs so he could drive his sled and the sled of one of the customers at the same time.  Unfortunately, this meant he was just returning as we arrived.  He then had to un-harness all of the dogs from the morning run and re-harness fresh dogs for the afternoon run.  He had no one to assist him (we saw Leah with a small baby in the house when we used the bathroom) and by the time he had switched the dogs and instructed us it was 3pm.  There was one other customer who was there with her three year old son, Marshall.  Trystan played with Marshall, I chatted with his mom and Owen alternated playing in the snow, petting the dogs and complaining.    I learned that Marshall and his mom (who’s name I never learned) had been camping in Algonquin Park on the weekend.  Overnight on Saturday the temperature dipped to -36 degrees.  I cannot imagine camping in such conditions.

The dogs were kept in a fenced, wooded area dotted with dog houses.

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Here’s Trystan ready to go.

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We were set up with Brad in the front, with Trystan as a passenger, followed by Owen and me, followed by Marshall and his mom.  Driving a dog sled in like driving a car with the accelerator stuck using the brake as the only method of control.  The brake is a c-shaped piece of metal attached by bungee cords that you stand on.  The ends drag in the snow and slows or stops the dogs depending on how hard you stand on it.  After the instruction, just as we set off, my dogs turned 180 degrees and started off in the wrong direction.  I stomped on the brake to stop the dogs. Brad had to anchor his team and come back to sort things out.  He was impatient and short-tempered with me while trying to get the dogs turned around.  I understand that he had a long, frustrating morning and had just spent an hour getting set up for the afternoon, however, I, the customer who had paid $500 for an afternoon of dog sledding had been very patient with the delay, and I was shocked to be addressed so rudely.  At that point I was having grave misgivings.

Brad got my team turned around and we were off.  I was nervous that I might tip over or fall off, especially on hills, for the first little while, but I soon started getting a feel for the activity and worries, and annoyance at the delay and poor communication, soon gave way to a feeling of freedom and joy.  The dogs absolutely loved what they were doing.  When I would brake to slow them down, they would yip and bark until they could start running again as fast as they could.  Owen also soon became comfortable with the speed and enjoyed the trip.

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It was bitterly cold.  My feet were uncomfortable from the cold at times.  Owen, who was wrapped in a blanket, was colder than I due to his inactivity.  Had we started on time, I don’t think the cold would have been as much of an issue.  We sledded for over an hour, travelling about 20km before stopping for a rest, granola bars and hot chocolate and a visit with the dogs.

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These two dogs ran side by side in my team and were absolutely lovely.  Owen enjoyed playing with them during the rest.

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I asked Brad during the break how the dogs stay fit when there is no snow.  He told me they don’t do much during the summer, but in the fall he trains them by harnessing them to his ATV to run.

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Here I am, with my team, just before setting off on the return trip.

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On the return trip, Brad taught Trystan how to drive the sled.  Trystan is 13 and I knew when I booked the trip, that although I had to pay the adult price for him, he was not guaranteed the opportunity to drive.  They began with both of them standing on the rails and then, once Trystan felt competent and Brad got a feel for his ability, Brad retired to the front of the sled to be a passenger.  Trystan said Brad was a good teacher and patient with him.

It was almost 5:30 by the time we arrived back at the car.  We said a quick goodbye and headed off.  Dog sledding was a delightful adventure which I would definitely do again.  I would probably look into using a different company next time, however, having said that, once we got going it was an excellent experience.   After my return I read the North Ridge Ranch reviews on Tripadvisor.  There were 32 reviews, 26 of which were excellent.  The others mentioned delays, Brad’s temper and poor instruction.  I definitely experienced the first two.  If I had a less easy-going temperament my experience would probably have been ruined before it began.   I would definitely recommend dog sledding, however, I could only recommend North Ridge Ranch with reservations.

We returned to the hotel and jumped into bed for half an hour to warm up and enjoy some more of The Cartoon Network.  Then we went out to dinner at On The Docks Pub.  It was a small place in Huntsville, backing on the water.  The food was excellent and the service was prompt and friendly.

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The boys wanted to swim after dinner but I didn’t really feel completely warmed up from our afternoon outside so we retired to the room to continue watching The Cartoon Network.

All in all it was an extremely enjoyable day.

See our second day here.





About Lisa Stokes

I am a stay-at-home mother of four whose hobbies include photography, quilting and cycling. I have recently started to advocate for better cycling infrastructure in my community. I am the photographer at the Brampton Quilters' Guild.
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3 Responses to Winter Getaway – February 1-3, 2015 – Part 1

  1. Moritz says:

    Such a nice winter experience. Especialy the hotel looks pretty decent. What was the most amazing thing on the trip? 🙂


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