Students learn lasting lessons while dogsledding

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February 6, 2014

By Molly Reger '14

CSB/SJU students out on the trail with their team.

CSB senior Molly Reger bonds with one of the dogs.

A group of students discovered both the thrill and labor of dogsledding over winter break. In the process, they learned about teamwork, friendship and the divine.

S. Trish Dick, OSB, led a group of eight CSB/SJU seniors, two alumni and a visiting professor on an eco-spirituality retreat at arctic explorer Paul Schurke's '77 Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge in Ely, Minn. The group spent four days snowshoeing and skiing on the lakes of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, building snow forts and dogsledding.

This year marked Dick's seventh leading the retreat.

"I love taking students to the Boundary Waters. It gives them time to connect with nature, process their college experience and grow closer to God," Dick said. "It's an opportunity for students to reflect and spend time together."

At Wintergreen the dogs come first­ ­­­­­— all 60 of them. Each morning before breakfast, the group fed the dogs and cleaned the kennels.

"The experience with the dogs was more trusting than I thought it would be," CSB senior Kayla Deutz said. "We poured love into the dogs and they returned the favor.  They were great to us and appreciated us spending time with them."

Each dogsled team was composed of five dogs and two people.

"We didn't just ride along on the sleds. We were in charge of the sleds," SJU senior Pat Kunkel said. "It was a little scary because we were in charge of something that we did not know much about."

The first day on the dogsleds the group leisurely floated on trails through the snow-covered pines. Little did they know, that was just a warm-up for what was in store next. The second day on the sleds demanded more muscle as the group broke new trail. This required students to trudge alongside the sleds in knee-deep snow, and maintain the morale by encouraging the dogs.

"We were a team with the dogs. It felt like we were accomplishing our goal together — us and the dogs," CSB senior Maddie Lenker said.

"Dogsledding is sometimes like manual labor. It can be strenuous and challenging but offers the realization of the ability to overcome obstacles," Dick said.

The lodge, located on White Iron Lake, served as home for the group.

"Wintergreen was so accommodating. While we were there we didn't feel like guests, but rather part of their family," Deutz said. "It was great to be a part of Schurke's vision and dream."

One night, the students sat slack-jawed as Schurke regaled them with details of his many adventures.

"Talking with Paul was amazing because he made me feel good about not having a specific plan after graduation," Kunkel said. "He is the epitome of someone who followed their dream. He made a living of doing what he loves."

"Schurke is a big piece of this trip. He is a great model for me and for the students. He has such compassion for the environment and for animals," Dick said.

Last fall, at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., Dick enrolled in a course regarding the connection between humans and animals. Her professor, Pat Hasbach, joined the group on the retreat. On the trip, Hasbach and Dick studied the relationship between the students and the dogs as a research project.

"Hasbach was an integral part of our group. She helped the students connect with nature and the wildness in each of them also," Dick said.

The students said this retreat occurred at an opportune time.

"Being out in nature without any responsibility except taking care of each other and the dogs was a great time to reflect and center myself before my last semester of college," Kunkel said.

"This retreat allowed me to take a step back and realize what is important," Deutz said. "Finding a career is a priority but developing relationships with yourself and others is also a priority. I realized that doing things outside of your comfort zone is a good thing to do. Challenge yourself."