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ADVENTURE WEEKEND:  MUSHING IN BAYFIELD – AN INTERVIEW WITH BAYFIELD MUSHERS JOHN AND MARY THIEL – A TWO-PART SERIES

Monday, December 4th, 2017

PART I of II

John and Mary Theil operate Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing in Bayfield, Wisconsin. In addition to caring for 40+ sled dogs, John, Mary, and their team also make fabulous outdoor clothing under the name Wolfsong Outerwear (available at Howl in Bayfield or online). In the summer, their mushing team continues work in another part of their business: Dreamcatcher Sailing. For John and Mary, the variety in these businesses allows them to enjoy the best of what the Bayfield area has to offer, all while raising their family and contributing to a vibrant community.

Want to try your hand at this winter adventure? Find more information about Old Rittenhouse Inn Dogsled Packages.

Dog kisses on a dog sledding adventure

Old Rittenhouse Inn: How did you get into the mushing business initially?

John and Mary: We brought home a Siberian Husky being retired from a racing kennel as a pet and got to know and really like the breed. We then took a ride with a friend who ran dogs, and immediately decided it was something we both wanted to do. We had a small team at first, then two. Every time we took friends or family out with us, they absolutely loved it, so we thought it would be a great experience to share with people as a tour business. Thus, Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing was born.

ORI: Where are your dogs bred?

Thiels: We have a fairly specific bloodline of racing Siberian Huskies descended from Leonard Seppalas famous dogs (heroes of the “serum run” in Alaska). They vary in coat color and appearance, but are consistent in their friendly personalities, even temperament, great athletic ability and build, as well as good coats and paws We’ve developed relationships with a few racers over the years and have obtained dogs from them periodically. Approximately 2/3 of our kennel were bred, born and raised by us, however we do not breed to sell – all of our dogs stay their whole lives in the Wolfsong kennel, living and working together with their siblings.

ORI: We understand you employ a unique system for naming the dogs. How do you decide what to name the dogs?

Thiels: As with many larger kennels, Wolfsong names litters by category so it’s easier to keep track of siblings. Over the years we’ve had the “steak litter” – Porterhouse, T-Bone and Minnie; the “Dr. Seuss litter” – Green Eggs, Sam, Horton, Cindy Lou; the “Norwegian litter” – Lutefisk, Lefse, Sundbakkle (Sunny) and Krumkakke; the “classic country” litter – Waylon, Willie, Johnny Cash, June Carter-Cash, Dolly and Patsy; the “cheap beer litter” – Hamms, Leinie, Blatz, Schlitz, Ol’ Millie … you get the idea! It’s always fun to come up with new ideas for litter names.

dog sledding in Wisconsin

ORI: Do you have a favorite dog?

Thiels: No good parent claims a favorite (right?!), but Waylon is pretty handsome and charming, and a good kisser too, so he always wins people over, and is a crowd favorite. He’s an amazing lead dog too!

ORI: Where does the word ‘mushing’ come from?

Thiels: We have heard it comes from the French “marche” (to walk) which apparently French dog drivers in Northeastern Canada in the 1800s commanded to get their dogs to pull sled full of supplies. No musher we’ve ever met actually uses that command to get their dogs running (except maybe Yukon Cornelius in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer). The dogs love to run so much you don’t really have to say anything to them to get them started, but most mushers say “let’s go” or “hike”!

ORI: What is the ideal temperature for mushing?

Thiels: In order for training runs to start, temperatures must be below 50 degrees. The dogs are probably happiest in winter right around zero degrees, but anything from 20 degrees below zero to 20 degrees above zero is ideal. We always make sure guests are properly outfitted for trips, so everyone stays comfortable and has fun in any sort of weather.

Dog sledding through the snow

ORI: What is the one thing you enjoy most about mushing?

Thiels: The joy and excitement of the dogs is contagious – they absolutely LOVE what they do, and it is impossible not to be happy around that positive energy. One of my (Mary) favorite moments is when, after all the noisy barking and chaos and excitement of hooking up a full team, you pull the release snap and they instantly speed down the trail in silence, with just the sound of their breath and the sled runners on the snow. It’s amazing.

ORI: What kind of feedback do you get from those who have taken day trips with you and your teams?

Thiels: We’ve heard things like “That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done!” or “that was the most fun I’ve ever had in winter!” People are really blown away by the experience. The dogs are much more friendly and social than many people expect, I think, so they are won over by them. The whole experience is really exhilarating.

Check out part 2 of this special interview and join us this winter to try this spectacular adventure for yourself!

ADVENTURE WEEKEND:  MUSHING IN BAYFIELD – AN INTERVIEW WITH BAYFIELD MUSHERS JOHN AND MARY THIEL – A TWO-PART SERIES

Monday, December 4th, 2017

PART II of II

In part one of this interview, the Old Rittenhouse Inn talked with Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing’s John and Mary Thiel about how they got started in mushing and their family of sled dogs. In part II, below, we learn more about how and when to book a mushing adventure and what to expect from the experience.

dogs ready for a dog sledding adventure in Bayfield

ORI: What are the options for taking part in a mushing adventure?

Thiels: All of our trips allow for plenty of hands-on time with the dogs, and are structured so that guests get to know the dogs’ wonderful personalities a bit, learn about what it takes to run sled dogs, from harnessing and hooking up teams to driving a sled to caring for and feeding them after a run, and beyond. Most guests want the full experience of driving a team on their own, but they can also ride in one of our guide sleds if they’re feeling uncertain.

ORI: What kind of preparation to you advise for anyone coming to you for a trip?

Thiels: No experience is necessary. Dressing appropriately in layers is a good start, but we can also help outfit those who need it. Important pieces include base layer (long underwear), one pair of good quality wool socks (layering multiple socks usually results in cold feet), a mid layer of wool or fleece is good, snow pants and a parka/jacket, hat, pack boots. We have special mitts for everyone to use, and well as extra layers and boots for those who need them.

ORI: Is there one mushing adventure memory that stands out the most for you?

Thiels: We’ve been running dogs for over 20 years, and there have been so many great trips over the years. It’s always fun to share in the excitement and see how much other people enjoy the dogs. It’s great to take out families ranging from grandkids to grandparents and have them all take part in the adventure. We celebrated our daughter Emma’s 2nd birthday with cupcakes on the trail, and it was fun to watch her win the Sportsman’s Class in our local Apostle Islands Dogsled Race at age 17 this year.

Pups pulling a dog sledORI: What is the best time (or times) of year to book a mushing adventure?

Thiels: We take reservations at any time of year, so if you have specific dates in mind, book early. Early Fall is when bookings start to ramp up. The holiday week between Christmas and New Year’s fills up fast, as do the holiday weekends in January and February.

ORI: Why should mushing be on someone’s Live It list?

Thiels: There’s really nothing else like it! It’s exhilarating, the dogs are amazing, the trails and scenery are beautiful. A mushing adventure is a great way to get outside and do something fun and active in winter.

ORI: What are the options for trips with Wolfsong?

Thiels: Wolfsong offers two trips daily: a longer trip in the morning that includes a stop midway on the trail for a hot picnic lunch, and a shorter trip in the afternoon without the meal. All of our trips are very hands-on, so guests get to spend a lot of time with the dogs, getting sled instruction, harnessing, hooking up teams, and driving your own sled (or guests can ride in a guide sled if preferred). We also offer overnight winter camping trips at select times during the season. Visit http://www.wolfsongadventures.com for information as well as photos and video.

Dog sledding through BayfieldORI: Is mushing a suitable activity for people of all ages?

Thiels: The short answer: yes! We’ve had families with small children and grandparents come on our trips, and everyone can participate and have a great time. We generally say age 5 is a minimum for kids (and parents) to be able to participate and really enjoy the trip. This of course depends on individual personalities.

ORI: Can Wolfsong accommodate individuals with physical challenges on a mushing adventure?

Thiels: We do our best to accommodate everyone. If we can get guests to the sleds, they can usually sit comfortably, though ultimately, it’s an outdoor adventure in snow, sometimes deep, and it’s approximately 50 yards from the parking area to the kennel/sleds.

John Thiel with one of the pupsORI: What do you love most about Bayfield?

Thiels: We get great lake effect snow here in Bayfield! And there’s lots of public land for trails. There is also an extraordinary mix of people for a small town – many people who live here have made a conscious choice to do so because they love Lake Superior and the environment, the recreational opportunities, and the culture and the community. Most of all, they’re more concerned about quality of life than they are about making lots of money in a bigger city career.

Ready to give this special adventure a try? Join us this winter and book our Wolfsong Mushing Package  which includes the dog sledding adventure of your choice, a trail lunch, $50 towards dinner at the inn and more.

Winter Dog Sled Adventures in Bayfield, WI

Friday, January 16th, 2015

Dog Sled Adventures and Winter Activities in Bayfield, WI

Winter Dog Sled Adventures with Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing

Did you know that you can enjoy a great winter getaway in Bayfield, Wisconsin with a Sled Dog experience provided by our local outfitter, Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing? These hands-on trips include the opportunity to get to know the dogs, harness them up, and drive your own team (or ride along in the “basket” as a passenger if you prefer).

Mushing is an exhilarating adventure, and you’re sure to find some amazing photo opportunities along the trail as well. Do you believe travel is about getting right into the action? Well this is a bit like being shot out of a cannon! If you’ve never been mushing, you should try it.

The mushing experience is a lot more than just a sled dog run through the woods. When you meet your team leader and the sled dogs for the first time, you’ll soon realize this adventure is beyond the ordinary. You will laugh on this day. You may cry. You definitely will grow from the experience, and I daresay it might even change your life in some way.

Take the opportunity to greet each dog and look them in the eye. Each animal has its own personality, as well as a role/function on the sled dog team. As you feed the dogs a pre-run snack of their favorite kibbles (mixed with icy cold water) you’ll sense the excitement building among the dog sled team. Imagine a giant rubber band winding ever tighter, and then poised, waiting, ready to explode like a great bolt of energy, flying through the forest.
Dog Sledding Wisconsin Weekend Getaways
One by one, you help to harness the dogs in their designated spots along the gang line. The dogs yip and pant in anticipation as your team leader makes a thorough check to see that everything is correctly in place. You receive instructions about staying up on the runners, the narrow pieces of wood the sled rides on, which extend behind the basket so the Musher can stand on them.

When all is set, you release your snow hook (a large metal hook you drive into firm snow to anchor your team and sled for short periods of time) and get ready for the ride of your life.   You are off: rocketing through the woods like Bullet Bill in Mario Kart. The best advice: remain calm and hang on!

See, here’s the thing: you don’t really drive a dog sled. Of course there are commands that mushers use to communicate with the team, but you don’t actually “steer” the sled. If you are rigid, or if you try to impose your will on the dogs, they will leave you lying in the snow. (Again, I’m speaking from experience here: I had quite an amazing ‘snow beard’ when I fell off the sled my first time mushing.) The best advice is to relax, trust the dogs, and enjoy the ride.
Sled Dog Tours, Bayfield WI
You will hear the dogs breathing together as they sync up and become a living machine. You hear the swish of the snow under the sled rails, the creaking sounds of the rigging and the sled under strain. Yet somehow, with all these sounds surrounding you, and snow flying up from the trail, it is extremely peaceful and quiet on the back of a dog sled. Personally, I found it to be a  remarkably solitary experience, even within the team setting (we had 3-4 sleds going on each of my trips).

Did I mention that the scenery is breath taking? When close forest trails give way to sun-dappled open fields, full of clean white snow, it’s genuinely breathtaking.
Sled Dog Wisconsin Getaways
When the lead musher yells, “Gee!” and you take a fast right turn, then head into a straightaway you feel the energy of the sled dog team. Your sled goes faster and faster as the icy air flies by and you catch your breath in giant frosty (delicious) gulps as you stand on the sled rails, holding firmly to the handlebow.

Can one Mushing experience possibly be enough? I don’t think so. It is worth every single penny to do this. In fact, I recommend coming up for a long weekend stay to enjoy multiple sled dog runs over the course of a few days/nights. The Adventures in Mushing Long Weekend w/ Night Run package includes two day runs to gain experience, followed by a moon and star-lit Night Run you’ll remember the rest of your life.
Dog Sled Team, Bayfield WI
When you get back to Old Rittenhouse Inn, we’ll have hot cocoa and cookies ready for you to enjoy in your guest room or suite. Perhaps you’d enjoy some wine or dinner. Let our staff take care of all the details so you don’t have to!

Winter only lasts so long, so what are you waiting for? Call us today to reserve your lodging and we’ll help set up the adventure of the year. Call today: 715-779-5111

21 Things to do in Bayfield During the “Quiet Season”

Monday, February 18th, 2013

Apostle Islands and Bayfield Activities - Ice CavesAh, the “Quiet Season.” It’s always one of our favorite times of the year. For the Bayfield visitor, this is a time when you can find everything, or nothing, to keep you busy! Here are 21 suggestions for things to do while you’re here, but the list goes on! You’re sure to discover a few things on your own as well!

Snowshoeing:
you can bring your own, or rent them at Sweet Sailing. There are several amazing trails within walking distance of the Rittenhouse Inn.

XC Skiing: the Jerry Jolly trail is amazing, and can be accessed from Mt. Ashwabay or Star Route. Or, you can ski across frozen Lake Superior to Madeline Island!

Downhill Skiing: Mt. Ashwabay features a chair lift and rope tow servicing 11 runs. This is family skiing at its best, with both gentle runs and more challenging terrain.

Hiking: Several great trails are within blocks of the Inn, including the Brownstone Trail and the Nature Trail.

Snowmobiling: while there aren’t many trail IN Bayfield, there are many miles of trails all around us, and snowmobilers are always welcome at the Rittenhouse Inn!

Take the Ice Road to Madeline Island: drive to the City Beach and you’ll find the start of Wisconsin’s only temporary County Road! The path is well-marked with recycled Christmas trees, and at the end of the road you’ll find beautiful Madeline Island, ready to show her winter splendor!

Visit the Frozen Sea Caves: just 19 miles north of town lies one of the most mystical splendors of Lake Superior: the Sea Caves. Carved into the native brownstone by 10,000 years of wave action, these caves can by kayaked by summer and (when it’s cold enough) hiked by winter. Take the trail from the Apostle Islands Meyers Beach parking lot, but be sure to check conditions!

Snuggle up with a good book: Bring your own, borrow one of ours, visit the Carnegie Library, or one of Bayfield’s bookstores.

Enjoy a warm, bubbly whirlpool:
we provide the bath salts, robes, and snuggly oversized towels!

Have some coffee: at Big Water Coffee Roasters, you’ll find a professional coffee house and bakery plus something more: a quintessential small-town hangout!

Browse the wares at Apostle Islands Booksellers:
they have a great selection of local and regional authors, plus best sellers and popular titles.

Apostle Islands and Bayfield Activities - Dog Sled AdventuresGo Dogsledding: For one of the most exciting adventures of your life, call Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing. Not only will you fly through the woods like a cannon ball (the dogs know the way!) but you’ll also get the full experience of feeding and harnessing the dogs. A true winter rush!

Visit Wolfsong Wear: and shop for the ultimate in cold weather comfort and style. Located across from the Bayfield Inn.

Ice Fishing: Lake Superior is full of massive trout, salmon, pike, and smallmouth bass, plus panfish, perch, and walleye.

Try your luck:
at Legendary Waters Casino, just north of town, you’ll find a wide variety of slots and table games, plus great entertainment.

Have lunch at Maggies:
Here are some of our favorites: flamingo tenders, black ‘n’ blue burger, chicken fajitas, Late Night Special pizza.

Explore the Great Lakes Visitor Center: located where highways 2 and 13 meet, this visitor center offers great information and events year round.

Have a pint o’ Guinness: at the area’s only Irish Pub, the Snug. Located in Washburn, this cozy little pub features great beer on tap, your favorite spirits, and some great fish and pub chips!

Take in a show at Stagenorth: this theater, located in Washburn, features a full bar and almost always has something going on: plays, bands, lectures, open mic nights, etc.

Drop in for a Yoga class at Humblebee: this yoga studio also offers classes ranging from African drumming to Ninjitsu!

Go sledding at Valhalla (Hell Hill): only for the brave! Up Hwy C between Washburn and Cornucopia is a great spot for sledding if you dare… there are actually two hills. The first is a somewhat mild bowl with a fun jump at the bottom. The other is a former ski jump, and is basically straight down! There’s also great snowmobiling and xc ski trails at Valhalla.

Enjoy a 5-Course Dinner at Rittenhouse Inn’s Landmark Restaurant: we don’t like to brag, but Chef Matt Chingo is special! If you are looking for a fantastic meal in a romantic atmosphere, look no further. During the quiet season, we are open for dinner on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights.

Get Married:
Innkeepers Jerry and Mark Phillips are licensed ministers, and the Inn offers special wedding and elopement packages. Contact Events Director Wendy Phillips