As a life-long learner and adventurer, I have learned how to do things the hard way and my life is all the richer for my adventures and mis-adventures. Most of my 25 years in Alaska have been spent living off-the-grid, without running water and with sled dogs. I’ve lived in wall tents, yurts, cabins erected or built by myself and friends, and hauled water in buckets from creeks as well as in tanks on the back of my truck. I’ve filled the freezer with moose, salmon and berries when possible and met some of the most genuine and REAL people I have ever known.
Alaska is my home and the place that suits me best. My goal when I moved to Alaska was to live simply and self-sufficiently doing something I loved to do.
The early years found me teaching elementary school in the Alaskan Native Athabascan village of Minto, AK situated west of Fairbanks where three rivers meet (Tolovana, Chatanika and the Tanana), and later in the village of Stevens Village another Athabascan Native village on the Yukon River. What a perfect start to my Alaskan life–being invited to participate in the rich culture of those who truly understand what it means to live close to the land. Though I cherish the days I spent in these villages, there was more adventure calling me.
Everything happens for a reason I believe–so when I met some incredible sled dog people who were living a very enviable lifestyle giving dogsled tours, I knew I had found what I needed to keep me happy for a very long time. Except that back then, Alaska had SOME winter tourism and if you found the right niche you might be able to pay your way thru the winter in dogfood (maybe even splurge on a spring dogsled trip!). I still worked many hours per day and sometimes 3 or 4 summer jobs to make it through the summer and get back to the job I loved–sharing my sleddogs with people.
Paws began as a Mushing School, teaching people how to drive their own dogsled with 3 or 4 dogs pulling the sled. When we could talk guests into bigger adventure, we took groups of 2 to 6 people on overnight and multi-day camping adventures. Some of our early favorites were the Yukon Quest trail between Two Rivers, AK and Angel Creek Lodge and Maclaren Lodge on the Denali Hwy. from Paxson, AK. Not only were these gorgeous trails, but the Lodge owners that greeted us at the end of those trails made the trips all the better. The best places to visit have stories. And in all of our trips we left behind more stories… Cheers to Steve Verbanac at Angel Creek Lodge and Alan and Susie Echols at Maclaren Lodge! Thanks for doing what you do.
Success is measured in many ways. Success for Paws for Adventure has been in balancing authenticity with the demand for dogsled tours. Interior Alaska has seen an incredible increase in visitors during our winter aurora and dogsledding season. We know our limits, we know our dogs and we limit our numbers to keep that balance. While day tours drive the industry (short rides mostly), we step outside that box to offer mushing school, overnight and multi-day tours. Not only do our dogs enjoy the change of scenery and longer trails, but our guests get to find a whole other Alaska to explore–the Alaska not many get to see. And honestly, for me, the added adventure of being able to offer the adventurer a new level of accomplishment in dog driving, makes my day. Luckily I am blessed with a very talented crew of dog mushers to help entertain our day tour guests. If you have visited Paws for Adventure, you have surely met Jessica, Chase or Richie, whom all bring their own dogs and have interests of their own in mid and long distance racing as well as touring. There is a wealth of knowledge in this crew and as well as some very talented dogs.
Where to go from here… Ever the adventurer, I will always choose to explore new trails and learn more than I knew yesterday. In 2010 my husband Dave and I snowmachined out to Tolovana Roadhouse (52-trail miles downriver of Nenana, AK–think remote, quiet, wild) to ‘check it out’ as it was for sale. We found that NEXT ADVENTURE–Dave says he was sold when we heard wolves howling across the river. This Alaskan roadhouse is situated on a peninsula that historically saw many adventurous Tanana River travelers. The existing log structure was built by Henry and Ida Martin in 1925 (refurbished in the 1980’s by Doug Bowers) and was most famous for being the first stop in the original Serum Run of 1925 (a dogsled run to deliver diphtheria antitoxin to Nome during the epidemic). See our Tolovana Roadhouse website about Tolovana and its history. We have taken a handful of tours to Tolovana Roadhouse in the past couple of years–it has mostly been a private getaway for us and a place to stop for a rest or warm fire for weary river travelers. In March 2015 and 2017, Tolovana Roadhouse served as a hospitality stop for mushers competing in the Iditarod as low snow conditions in its traditional route (starting in Anchorage) prompted race officials to move the start to Fairbanks.
This year for the first time, we are making it even more accessible by offering 4-day Fly-out trips to Tolovana Roadhouse–adding the adventure of seeing the Alaska wilderness from the sky as well as the ground. Packing in as many adventures as we can–we’re offering this tour as a fly-in/ fly-out or fly-in/ mush out tour. Opportunities will include dogsledding school and overnight camping, snowmachining and ice fishing as well as lots of aurora viewing and Alaskan style meals in the rustic off-the-grid lodge. This tour is a culmination of our many years of experience in backcountry travel with people and sled dogs Dave and I can’t wait to share it.