Two groups of residents from Portage Elora recently returned from the first ever dog-sledding expeditions in partnership with Outward Bound. The gender-specific groups of seven adolescent girls and ten adolescent boys braved rain, snow, and -30°C temperatures at different points of their five-day treks in Algonquin Park.
The groups were each split in two, alternating one day of dog-sledding and one day of snowshoeing, with their equipment strapped to their waists and dragging behind them in sleds. Dog-sledding introduced an important teamwork component, as the teams of two drivers learned that if they did not work together, they would not get very far. The fast-pace excitement of dog-sledding was balanced by more quiet reflection on the snowshoeing days.
Shannon Hartwig, the leader of the Portage Ontario Outward Bound trips, says that metaphors for drug addiction treatment are everywhere on these trips. The cause and effect of living in nature is directly apparent to the residents, who would often initiate their own discussions about life and their treatment process around the campfire.
A highlight for most residents was the opportunity to sleep outside in one of the dog-sleds, rather than in their heated tents. Equipped with the tools to be comfortable, they each felt a great sense of accomplishment of having spent the winter night out in the fresh air under the stars – a once in a lifetime experience!
The additional healing nature of the dogs did not go unmissed. One sled-dog, Chinook, who was not happy to have had to stay behind at one point, was comforted an adolescent boy, who sat with him for an hour and talked to the dog about his fears of relapsing and what he had been learning at Portage.