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Dog Sledding in Wyoming

DAY THREE We spend the night in a yurt, a round, wood-framed tent 30 feet across. As the temperature outdoors plummets into the low teens, a pair of woodstoves inside crackles and roars. A guide cooks up a pot of fettuccine Alfredo, and we all sit around and chat by lamplight until bedtime. Tucked into my sleeping bag on one of the yurt's four bunks, I can see the stars shining in icy brilliance through the skylight.

I wake up to a throbbing cheek and the sound of yapping dogs. The stoves have gone out, and my breath fogs the air. Outside, the dark cone of Lava Mountain looms in the southern sky, swathed in stands of fir and snow-covered meadows. The dogs are dusted with flakes, and so is Aaron, who spent the night in his sleeping bag on the "ice sofa" he carved out of a snowbank, even though there were empty bunks inside.

After two days of immersion training, Aaron says, I'm ready to steer solo. He climbs into the basket and puts his feet up as we set out on our final 10-mile leg. My first few turns are sketchy. Now that I'm straddling both runners I have to shift my weight differently, and before I know it we're heading straight for a pine tree. Aaron sticks a foot out to avert disaster, but I've already remembered that I'm supposed to hop onto the left runner and drag a boot to swerve the sled. The tree whizzes past.

As the miles glide by, my confidence builds. I learn to guide the sled with subtle shifts of my weight, to encourage the dogs with cries of "On up!" By now there's no problem getting them to run. They know the end of the road is near. They take off down a wide straightaway, rearing and plunging like dolphins. Even Rose hurls herself against the tug, slacker no more.

This, I think, is what it's all about: the speed, the teamwork, the uncanny bond of purpose between man and dog, two species united in the pure animal thrill of motion, tearing over the snow through the cold, clear Wyoming air.

Five minutes later I flip the sled. But that's another story.

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