AUGUSTA — Sue Stiefel was wet, her face red with cold, but she couldn’t help beaming. That’s what happens when you check one of your goals off the to-do list.
Stiefel and her husband, Tim Stiefel, of Winthrop, were among those who braved obscene driving conditions during Sunday’s snowstorm to head to the Viles Aboretum to ride in a sled pulled by a team of Alaskan huskies. Tim and Sue, snuggled together in the sled, zipped through heavy bands of falling snow that covered trees and fields.
“I’ve always wanted to do it,” Sue Stiefel said.
The snowstorm, though ideal for huskies and mushers, was far more of a challenge for drivers, forcing aboretum officials to call off the event. But the Stiefels, who arrived early, snuck in a ride after a couple from New Hampshire who drove up from the granite state specifically for a chance to ride in a dog sled.
Kevin Quist and Lindy Howe, owners of Augusta’s Heywood Kennel Dog Sled Adventures, arrived before the event was officially canceled. They hooked up the dog team after speaking to the couple from New Hampshire.
“We didn’t have the heart to say no to them,” Howe said.
Several would-be sledders arrived a few minutes before noon — the advertised start time — only to be told the event had been canceled. The Stiefels, who read about the opportunity in the Kennebec Journal, said they made the drive unsure whether they’d get a ride.
“We took a chance,” Sue Stiefel said.
Though a dog sled ride has been a lifelong goal of Sue Stiefel, the couple has been particularly interested in the sport since watching the Iditarod, Alaska’s famed 1,000-plus mile race.
“We wanted to check it out and see what it’s all about,” Sue Stiefel said.
Turns out they are in good company. Howe and Quist have offered rides at the aboretum twice this winter. The first time, the last weekend in January, it attracted 200 people. Last Wednesday, during school vacation, 137 people showed up.
“That’s during a weekday,” Howe marveled. “The turnout has been tremendous.”
Two more opportunities are scheduled in March, on the 10th and 17th.
Heywood Kennels, which offers rides at its facility off Church Hill Road, raises Alaskan huskies, which are smaller and much more slender and consequently faster than Alaskan malamute huskies traditionally associated with mushing. The team Quist and Howe took to the aboretum on Sunday is headed to Fort Kent for next weekend’s Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races, which includes a 250-mile trek that can be used as a qualifier for the Iditarod. Howe said the team is raring to go.
“They’re beasts,” she said. “They’re so strong.”
Craig Crosby — 621-5642