On Trail in Minnesota

Interview with Paul Schurke - Part III
  |  Gorp.com
A Wintergreen team beside the Viking Glacier on Ellesmere, the Arctic's most mountainous island.
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GORP: Do you have any favorites among your dogs?

P.S.: Yep. My all-time favorite dog is Snow White, from my original team. She's been with me everywhere—to the Pole three of five times. Snow White is extraordinarily affectionate, has a vibrant personality, and is extremely tuned in to me. It feels like we have a real working relationship. She's my Arctic partner. It's almost as if she has a sixth sense about such things as whether the ice is safe to travel on. She's pushing ten, so soon she'll have to stop pulling and run around base being a doggie diplomat soon.

GORP: Do your clients find that being out on trail is how they imagined it to be, or are they totally surprised?

P.S.: Most people find that it's a far more comprehensive experience than they anticipate. None have been around sled dogs; many have never even been around snow. Most people are totally taken with the dogs. They realize that all dogs have their quirks and foibles and most are endearing characters. We also try to share seminars on issues of environmental importance with our guests, things like natural history and winter ecology. Hopefully they come away with a packaged understanding of the winter environment in general. People generally walk away with a pretty full plate.

GORP: Do you have a mentor?

P.S.: Will Steger. He's truly an iconoclast. He just plain thinks different and he has from Day One. He built his own world, let me in it, and showed me the ropes. I'm very grateful for that.

GORP: What is the funniest encounter with an animal you've had?

P.S.: There is a funny picture in the lodge where one of the dog teams had gotten away from somebody and we found them circled around a hole in the ice. There was an otter in the hole and it was visibly defending its territory. The dogs were yipping and barking, immensely curious, and the otter was yipping and barking right back—they were nose to nose.

GORP: What are your plans for future expeditions?

P.S.: I'm still extremely fond of the Arctic and enjoy getting my Arctic fix, but the trips are short. I actually don't have any interest in doing long-haul expeditions anymore. You can never replicate your firsts. When you've done a few firsts, the euphoria is wonderful, but there's only one first time. I have found in the years since that I'm able to recapture the firsts in a way with these groups of amateur adventurers. It is as gratifying and rewarding for them, so I get to relive that same enjoyment I had.

P.S.: There's lots left to explore. There are all kinds of ways to look at a place with a fresh eye. Like up in the Arctic, finding that the ice core dates back hundreds of thousands of years. There is so much more to learn and discover out there. You don't have to be a biologist or an archaeologist to have a real affinity for a place. Amateurs with curiosity and a few skills can bring back discoveries that launch volumes.

GORP: What do you think about the boom in the interest in adventure travel and all the commercialization that's gone with it?

P.S.: Like many of us in this business, I worry about the safety. If any major accident happened, it's going to take a toll on all of us. I consider the things we do far less dangerous than spelunking, mountain climbing, or stunt kayaking. In all the years of doing this, we have never had a significant accident. Our biggest single hedge is that we travel in large groups, with the staff helping guests take inventory every 15 minutes. But there are still reasonable grounds for apprehension.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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