dogsledding and duchesnay

We had our third and final awesome breakfast at Chez Hubert, then said goodbye to the Crying (or possibly Laughing) Dresser and hit the road. Station touristique Duchesnay is about a half-hour from Quebec City, outside of Ste-Catherine-des-Jacques-Cartier, on the Lac St.-Joseph. (Place names here are very big on the saints, also on hyphens.) I've finally learned how to pronounce Duchesnay - doo-sh-nay - and I believe "station touristique" means "resort". It's part of Sepaq, the Quebec provincial park system.

We knew Duchesnay from our trip to the Ice Hotel five years ago, and I was really excited to return on this trip. It's such a beautiful place - a great hotel, great food, lots to do (far more than we avail ourselves of) and so scenic. We got settled in our room, had a quick lunch, put on every layer of clothing we brought and headed down to Aventure Inukshuk, the dogsledding (and snowmobiling) outfit.

Last time we were here, in 2007, we did a one-hour dogsled; this year we booked a two-hour trip. As last time, another couple was also on our trip, so there were three sleds - the guide, us in the middle, and the other couple in the rear. (They were from Belgium, and have had several vacations in Canada.)

We started out with Allan driving and me in the sled, and were supposed to switch halfway through. I don't know what happened, but the guide didn't have us stop and switch for a long time. By the time we did, I ended up driving for about one-third of the time Allan did. It was disappointing, but on the other hand, it was also hard work, and my hands and feet were getting cold, and I'm not sure how much more I could have done.

This course was not only longer than the last one we did, it was also more advanced - more hills and turns. Last time, there was very little work to do for the driver, a very introductory course. This time you really had to drive the sled. Allan had a few incidents with the line going slack and a dog getting tangled, and I took a downhill turn too fast and wiped out. After that, I was probably a bit too cautious in applying the brake, but had no further problems with slack lines or scary curves.

In addition to the more difficult and longer course, the weather was considerably colder now than the last time we were here (-3 C last time, -20 C plus windchill this time). Despite two pairs of socks and boots, and glove liners and gloves, my hands and feet were feeling it. The other couple had rented snowmobiling boots from the dogsledding company, which would have been a good idea. So I was sorry not to have my full hour on the sled, but it might be just as well.

After we returned to the kennel, there was the requisite chocolat in the yurt, heated with a wood stove, and a meet-and-greet with some tiny, one-month-old husky puppies. The puppies are so irresistible, and as part of their early education, they are handled by visitors regularly. I felt a bit bad for their mother, who watches helplessly as her pups are lifted off and away, but I know that's part of her life, too.

Aventure Inukshuk has about 100 dogs, each staked out in front of its little wooden house. We'd like to spend more time with them - we'd like to pet and say hi to each and every one - but that's not part of the program. (We did that in Alaska, and had to drag ourselves away.) We also wondered about the dogs living outside in this extreme cold. They have their little houses for wind-break, and I know how dogs curl up to keep warm. And I know that northern breeds (Huskies, Malamutes, Akitas and similar crosses) love the cold and even sleep in the snow. But still... it is so cold here at night, and the wind can be so fierce. It made us a little sad. The dogs are in great shape, though, and seem very happy. When the sleds appear and the guides go into the kennels to choose dogs for the run, the dogs go wild with joy. It's quite a scene - and very loud!

We've now been dogsledding three times, and every time, I love it more. I think the big five-day dogsledding trip into the wilderness that we've dreamed of is probably no longer in our future. (Years ago, we were set to do that in the Minnesota Boundary Waters Area... when we decided to move to Canada, and cancelled the trip.) But hopefully more short trips like this will be.

Back at the room we were wiped out. Every room in the auberge faces the lake, so we have a beautiful view of snow-covered trees and the frozen lake. The auberge itself and all the rooms are beautiful, designed in earth-tones - rustic elegance. After hot showers and possibly a quick nap, we eventually made our way to dinner. The dining room has a huge stone hearth, a two-story ceiling with a big antler wrought-iron chandelier, and sweeping views of the lake. (The chandeliers are reminiscent of antlers, made of wrought-iron.)

The food is excellent (hello, you have left Ontario, we care about food here...). Something must have gone wrong with the kitchen or the wait staff last night, as the service was, shall we say, interesting. Not quite Fawlty Towers, but not what you'd expect, either. No biggie, stuff happens. (I note things like this (cat allergies, etc.) because this blog is also my travel journal, serving to record my experience. When I began putting my travel journals online, I decided not to change what I would normally write.) After dinner, we pretty much collapsed again. But as Allan noted, at least we made it to 10:00.

On the language discussion (continuing in comments on the preceding posts), the staff here - out in the country, no longer in an urban centre - have more limited English, but are equally nice and gracious. The concierge and front-desk staff are fully bilingual and incredibly helpful. Honestly, I'm thinking that the Canadians who warned us about nasty Quebecers have not been here, and are merely repeating what they've heard other people say, confusing rumour for knowledge.

Now for a breakfast buffet overlooking the lake, and on to Montreal.

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