There aren’t as many women in dog sledding, and there can’t be that many over 60, but in the Fort there’s at least one.
Vera Herman is an active recreational dog musher, at 60 years old, but she doesn’t take the sport lightly.
“This is not a very benign sport,” says Herman.
Going out in sub-zero temperatures, hooking up the dogs, and if it’s really cold, putting booties on them, all with bare hands isn’t easy for a woman with poor circulation.
“I suffer so much,” says Herman “but I still do it.”
She has even been caught and dragged by the snow hook and had a few black eyes thanks to the rigours of the sport.
“If the dogs make a sharp turn, I usually fall off,” says Herman.
But she manages to hold on to her love for the sport anyhow, and still describes her introduction to mushing nostalgically.
Vera and her husband Carl Herman had come to Vanderhoof when Vera got a nursing job in the the town. Originally from eastern Europe, the pair drove to the Fort and saw someone on a dog sled and thought it was “totally romantic” in the way of Jack London books. It evoked the thrilling image of a rugged Canadian north.
When she and her husband were up in the Fort, Craig Houghton took them for their first ever dog sled ride. At first, the romance wasn’t quite apparent.
“I thought I was going to lose my kidneys because it was very bumpy.”
But then they made their way out onto Stuart Lake and the ride smoothed out under a giant starry night and it “just got us right there.”
After that, she and her husband began borrowing dogs from the Houghtons and learning how to manage a sled and the team of dogs.
The couple eventually had two teams of their own, but is now back down to one since Carl doesn’t run dogs himself much anymore.
Vera Herman enjoys the community of dog mushers locally, and says it is very special to meet other mushers when out with your dogs on the trail.
Through the sport she has also connected with a broader musher community from northern B.C. because they all gather for events like the Quesnel to Barkerville Mail Run that happens every year.
Herman has also participated in the local events, like the New Year’s Doggy Doo race on Stuart Lake and the upcoming Caledonia Classic.
After the new year’s race, there is a pot luck gathering and Herman says everyone just gets together and talks dogs, “and we can talk dogs forever.”
But the sport isn’t just a hobby, according to Herman, “it’s an addiction.” She relies on the dogs for unconditional love and it’s “very mutual because we do have lots of fun together.”
The dogs give back to her and she goes out to the dog yards to “recharge” herself, but the sport doesn’t exactly sound relaxing.
You need strength and agility to manage a team from the sled says Herman, and you have to be very alert.
She likes the quiet winter scenery when out with the dogs, but can’t spend too much time looking around.
“In the bush, you can’t take your eyes off them.”
Having the dogs is also a big commitment because they have to be taken care of year round. One thing that Herman enjoys is taking them out on a trap line from the beginning of September until Christmas.
She and her husband help do trail maintenance and the dogs have a chance to run free.
“We like the Fort because we’re outdoorsy and this is the town to be in for that,” says Herman.