Acorn’s Advice: Exercise is important for dogs and humans

Hello. This is Acorn, reporting this week’s Notes from the Trail to you. I am a veteran sled dog. I am 12 years old and I have raced on Frank Moe’s dogsled team for most of my life. I am a lead dog, which means I am very smart. I know all the commands. Sometimes Dave and Amy tell me that I seem to know what they are thinking. What can I say? I’m a smart dog. I am a healthy dog too. That is what I am going to tell you about this week: fitness and exercise.

Did you know that sled dogs are very fit athletes? Training is important for us. Sled dogs who race need to train even more than we are right now. When I would race, we ran long distances pulling a light sled on a groomed trail. Sled dog race training is kind of like a person training for a marathon. When traveling with Dave and Amy, we pull heavier toboggans in deep snow for shorter distances. This is similar to a person lifting weights.

Do you think that you are as fit as a sled dog? Why or why not?

Share your answer!

People need to exercise just like us sled dogs need to exercise. You probably don’t need to pull a sled for miles and miles to exercise though. Maybe you walk to school or ride your bike or play soccer? Whatever form of exercise you do, I hope you do it for at least an hour every day.

Exercise helps dogs and people stay healthy and strong. There are three main elements of fitness: endurance, strength and flexibility. Below are some examples of the different forms of fitness.

1. Endurance for dogs would be running in the Iditarod or Beargrease races. Endurance for people would be running a marathon or even running away from the kid who’s “it” in a game of tag.

2. Strength for dogs is pulling a heavy sled in deep snow. Strength for people is crossing the monkey bars on the playground.

3. Flexibility for dogs is using our hind leg to scratch our ear. Flexibility for people is bending down to tie your shoes.

Can you come up with your own endurance, strength, and flexibility activities?

Share your answer!

The CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends that people get at least 1 hour of aerobic exercise every day. Tank, Tina and I often exercise for 4 to 8 hours each day. Dave and Amy do too, with skis on their feet.

How much exercise do you get on an average day?

Share your answer!

Here is a project you can do as a class: Record the amount of exercise you get each day for a week. Then post the results below to let me know how much exercise students in your class get. Since I am a dog, I would also like to know what the most common forms of exercise are for you and your classmates.

Share your answer!


Exercise is an important part of our lives, for both dogs and people. I hope that you enjoy exercising as much as us sled dogs do. I also hope that you can exercise for at least 1 hour every day!

Student Response Worksheets




Day 138: Hegman Lake Pictographs

The mile and a half long portage from Angleworm Lake to Tease Lake was untracked and hard to follow. Heavy, knee deep snow and numerous downed trees slowed our progress. At times it was hard to find the trail. When we were halfway across, the rain started in earnest. We were wet, but since we were working hard it was easy to stay warm.

We were headed to North Hegman Lake to see several pictographs. Long ago, someone painted several symbols on the granite cliff face. A person standing with outstretched arms, a moose, and another animal are clearly visible. There are other marks near this main set of images. The artist used a special pigment that bonded to the rock.

I have visited the North Hegman Lake pictographs many times, but I am always struck by how sharp they are. The red is so vibrant, I can imagine the artist snowshoeing down the lake hours before we arrived. What was their life like? Why were they moved to paint the rocks?

I imagine North Hegman Lake has remained largely the same since people left these markings on the cliff face long ago. The beauty of the Wilderness is that hundreds of years from now people will continue to paddle, ski, and snowshoe to the north end of this lake to stare up at the rocks with the same sense of wonder that Amy and I felt today.

Daily Data

Days spent in the Wilderness: 138
High Temperature: 36 F
Low Temperature: 24 F
Miles Traveled: 9
Number of Portages: 3
Number of Lakes visited:4
Animals Encountered:
Raven 2
Red Squirrel 3
Gray Jay 1

Day 135: Our new tent mate

Amy and I have a new tent-mate. Acorn has a small sore on the tip of her tail. We think her daughter Tina may have bit it. They usually get along wonderfully and even groom each other sometimes, so it seems odd that Tina would have nipped at her mom, but we are unsure what else could have caused the injury. Regardless of the cause, the warmth of the tent will help her tail heal. Acorn has proven to be a well-mannered guest and spends most of her time sitting or laying on her sleeping pad. When we are cooking, there is lots of sniffing and curiosity. Some intense staring might be categorized as begging if we were sitting at a dinning room table, but we aren’t, so it is cute rather than annoying. She has certainly proven to be the best behaved sled dog we have ever had in our tent. Days spent in the Wilderness: 134 High Temperature: 24 F Low Temperature: -10 F Miles Traveled: 1 Number of Portages: 0 Number of Lakes visited: 1 Animals Encountered: Pileated Woodpecker 1 Raven 2 Red squirrels 1

Day 134: Icy fun in the Wilderness

The ice is burping and groaning as the temperature drops. With luck the cold night air will freeze up some of the slush that remains hidden under innocent looking pockets of snow, waiting surprise us.

We had a wonderful run today, visiting 3 new lakes: Mudhole, Thunder, and Beartrap. We often found ourselves racing across large icy patches, which were covered in deep snow just a few days ago. A snow storm last week weighted down the ice and caused water to seep up through cracks. In many places the overflow was so deep it inundated large patches of snow, which formed glare ice once the temperature dropped.

Most of the slush has frozen up thankfully, but we did hit several big pockets that covered our skis and boots with ice. It looks bad, but our feet stayed warm and dry all day.

“To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.” – Aldo Leopold

Daily Data

Days spent in the Wilderness: 134
High Temperature: 16 F Low Temperature: 3 F Miles Traveled: 9 Number of Portages: 8 Number of Lakes visited: 5 Animals Encountered: Ravens 4 Red squirrels 1

Day 133: Breakfast Outside

It is hard to believe that it is February. Our winter in the Wilderness is quickly passing. Our bodies have become used to the cold and on “warm” days we find ourselves taking our time as we set up camp and choosing to eat our breakfast outside our tent.

We hope to still have several months of winter ahead, but like the groundhog, we have been lingering in the sun more and more, enjoying the extra rays that arrive with each passing day.

Daily Data

Days spent in the Wilderness: 133
High Temperature: 25 F
Low Temperature: 6 F
Miles Traveled: 9
Number of Portages: 4
Number of Lakes visited: 5

Animals Encountered:
Ravens 3
Red squirrels 2 Canada jay 1

Following Animal Tracks in the Boundary Waters

Amy skijors down Angleworm Lake with Tank and Acorn following otter tracks.

Amy skijors down Angleworm Lake with Tank and Acorn following otter tracks.

Students voted last week to decide who should write our Notes from the Trail. Together you decided that we should take turns. The dogs should write some and the humans should write some. Since Tina wrote last week’s Notes from the Trail, it is the humans’ job this week. This is Dave and this week’s Notes from the Trail focuses on animal tracks.

You can imagine how an otter was moving when it made this set of tracks.

You can imagine how an otter was moving when it made this set of tracks.


Over the last week we have ventured deep into the snowy wilderness. We have encountered lots of tracks in the snow, but it has been many days since we have seen the tracks of other humans, or other sled dogs. The tracks that we have encountered were left by the animals that live in this vast wilderness. We don’t see many animals in the winter, but the tracks they leave in the snow help us understand who we are sharing the winter woods with. Their tracks can also help us understand what habitats they prefer and what they are up to.

Have you ever been to a wild place where you and your family or friends were the only people there? What was it like, or what do you think it would be like?

Share your answer!


A river otter runs a few steps before sliding on its belly.

Several days ago Amy, Tina, Tank, Acorn, and I set off to explore Angleworm Lake. Angleworm is a long skinny lake with large white pines and red pines towering above it. It is a beautiful lake and as we skijored down the lake, the dogs were excited to follow otter tracks. River otters are common here and we often see their tracks. Otters are a member of the weasel family and they have a long skinny body and short legs. Otter tracks are easy to identify because otters run for a few feet and then slide on their bellies, run for a few feet and slide on their bellies. The dogs love to follow the otter tracks. Sometimes the otter tracks disappear into holes in the ice. Otters love to eat crayfish, mussels, and other aquatic animals. We often see otter tracks, and if we are really lucky we see otters, near rapids or open water. Otters need places where they can get into the water even in the middle of winter to search for food.

What is the most interesting animal track you have seen?

Share your answer!

A pack of wolves watch us as we travel past them on Basswood Lake.

A pack of wolves watch us as we travel past them on Basswood Lake.

We have also seen a lot of wolf tracks this winter and last week we were even lucky enough to see a pack of wolves. We were dogsledding across a large lake and started seeing a lot of wolf tracks. Then Amy spotted a pack of wolves in the distance. We were able to identify five wolves. Most of them were laying or sitting in the snow and they did not seem bothered by our presence. They were a long ways away, but normally when we encounter wolves they run away. It was interesting to watch them go about their business. We continued to see lots of wolf tracks for several hours. Wolf tracks look a lot like the track of a large dog.

You can see how big a wolf track is compared to Amy's hand.

You can see how big a wolf track is compared to Amy’s hand.



wolf pack

These are not the same wolves we saw, but here you can see a closeup of a wolf pack.

We also see many other types of tracks. Snowshoe hare tracks are common on the portages and in alder thickets. Sometimes we even see wing prints where a raven or owl swooped down to pick something up out of the snow. Owls can sense mice and other rodents running around under the snow and will swoop down and punch through the deep snow to grab a meal.

What types of animal tracks do you see in your neighborhood? Do you see them in the snow, mud, sand, or on a different surface?

Share your answer!

There is always something new for us to see and learn out here in the winter woods and the dogs are always using their noses to investigate as well. I wish they would tell us what they are smelling.

Keep Exploring!

Student Response Worksheets





How should we make our trail in deep snow?

Snow has been falling for the past few days. Seeing the wilderness blanketed in three inches of new snow is beautiful, but it will make traveling more difficult. The snow is deep on the portage trails. The sled dogs work a lot harder if they have to wade through deep snow. We need your help to decide how we should travel across the portage trails.

We could ski in front of the dogs. The skis make a skinny trail that the dogs could follow. Dave and I tend to move faster on skis. We could snowshoe in front of the dogs. Snowshoes make a wider trail for the dogs, but walking on snowshoes is slower than skiing. One more option is to keep letting the dogs run ahead on the portage trails. If we choose this option, the dogs will be working harder and we probably need to travel shorter distances each day. Which option do you think is the best?

How do you identify bird calls?

Sometimes we hear birds, but we don’t see them. It might dark out, like when we heard an owl hooting near our camp a few days ago. The birds might be in the trees, hidden behind a tangle of branches. Most of the birds we tell you about are birds that we have actually seen and been able to identify based on how they look. We would like to figure out how to identify birds based on the sounds that the make. How can we learn how to identify bird calls? What resources are available to help identify the birds? Do you know what birds are in your neighborhood? Can you tell the different types of birds in your neighborhood based on the sounds they make?

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Day 127: Enjoying a beautiful sunrise in the Wilderness

It was a pretty typical morning. The alarm went off at 6:30 from deep inside Amy’s sleeping bag. I crawled out of my bag, carefully placed firewood into the stove, lit a piece of birch bark, and placed the dog food pot and our pot of water on top of the wood stove. After 20 minutes the tent warmed up to a comfortable temperature and Amy emerged from her sleeping bag, uncovering her lovely smile from layers of insulation and we prepared to go out and check on the dogs.

Tank and Tina whined softly, as they usually do, when we start talking in the morning. Tina sounds like a high pitched Wookiee when she is ready for breakfast or is excited about something, which is pretty much all the time. After checking on the dogs we ladled their bowls full of soupy breakfast as the dogs pranced, hopped, and howled with excitement.

As we walked out onto the lake to open our water hole, the sun lit up the clouds. A stiff wind kept us from lingering long, but any hassles associated with hauling water during our last 127 days in the Wilderness were wiped away in that moment.

The wind blew hard and it snowed all day. We spent the day around camp, cutting and splitting firewood, fixing broken equipment, and writing in our journals. Today the sun is out and we look forward to harnessing up the dogs and going for a run.

Daily Data

Days spent in the Wilderness: 127
High Temperature: 26 F
Low Temperature: 19 F
Miles Traveled: 0
Number of Portages: 0
Number of Lakes visited: 1
Animals Encountered:
Raven 2

Day 126: Skijoring Past Towering Pines on Angleworm Lake

Today we skijored down Angleworm Lake. Snow covered pines towered above the steep slopes all around us. I had forgotten what a beautiful lake Angleworm is. This was another day spent following otter tracks instead of human tracks. It is silent here except for the swish of our skis, the occasional bird passing by and the saw slicing rhythmically through firewood during our evening chores.

The dogs are bedded down now, tired after a long run. With bellies full of food, they are resting now and we will all be ready to run again tomorrow. Due to deep snow and lots of downed trees and alder on the portages we were not able to make it to North Hegman Lake today. With a trail set, we hope to make all the way there tomorrow. There is a beautiful set of pictographs on North Hegman Lake, which we are hoping to visit.

“Few are altogether deaf to the preaching of pine trees. Their sermons on the mountains go to our hearts; and if people in general could be got into the woods, even for once, to hear the trees speak for themselves, all difficulties in the way of forest preservation would vanish.” – John Muir

Daily Data

Days spent in the Wilderness: 126
High Temperature: 21 F
Low Temperature: 11 F
Miles Traveled: 13
Number of Portages: 6
Number of Lakes visited: 4
Animals Encountered:
Pileated woodpecker 1
Raven 3
Barred owl 1 (heard it last night)

We also saw wolf tracks, otter tracks, and fox tracks.