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Local hikers embark on dogsled adventure

Published: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 2:35 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 9:52 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Photo provided)
Jennifer Gaidjunas, of Tower Lakes, drove a team of Alaskan Husky sled dogs in upper Michigan. "I can't stop talking about it," she said. "It was such an amazing experience."
Caption
(Photo provided)
Cathy Barulic of Royal Palm Beach, Fla. (left) displayed her adventurous spirit with Donna Settle of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. and Jennifer Gaidjunas of Tower Lakes, Ill. (right) on a snowy trail at Tahquamenon Falls in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

BARRINGTON – Local hike director Carol Ruhter has just returned from the coldest trip of her life – a weekend of dog sledding in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

“It was beautiful,” Ruhter said, reminiscing at the “whoosh” of noise that came from the sleds as dozens of trained Alaskan Huskies took off into the wilderness. The dogs barked in harmonious unison.

Ruhter, a mother of two, began coordinating nature adventures in 1996 after moving to Barrington with her husband several years prior. Ruhter said she was born with a desire to be outside and knew other women had to have felt the same way she did.

“I think it started when I was 5 years old,” Ruhter said. “Other girls were playing with dolls and I was giving tours of our De Kalb area farm to pretend visitors. I just had this desire to treat others to nature.”

In addition to leading local hikes five days per week, Ruhter has established her own adventure business – Trailbound Trips. Ruhter now has a group of about 800 clients, or “wild women” as she calls them, who wander the nation together.

Trailbound Trips offers one-day, weekend and weeklong trips to any woman 18 or older. Participants travel to Blue Ridge Waterfalls, N.C.; Superior Hiking Trail, Minn.; Devil’s Lake, Wis.; and most recently, Newberry “Moose Capital” Mich.

Thirty-one women between the ages of about 30 and 70 departed from Palatine on Feb. 26 by motor coach for a four-night trip up north. The women spent their days hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and dog sledding.

This was Ruhter’s third dog sledding trip. Wind chills dipped to 30 degrees below zero at night.

Ironically, women traveled from 70-degree Florida for the trip north.

“There’s no bad weather, just bad clothes,” Ruhter joked.

Tower Lakes resident Jennifer Gaidjunas attended the trip for her second year in a row, bringing along her sister from West Palm Beach, Fla.

Gaidjunas said the activity guides were very knowledgeable and despite the cold, everyone had a blast.

“We managed just fine,” Gaidjunas said. “Lots of layers, foot warmers, hand warmers – I look forward to winter because it’s my favorite season to hike.”

Gaidjunas said that being around other women who enjoy nature, and laughter, has made a world of difference in her life.

“Carol is the most positive person I know,” Gaidjunas said. “She has a contagious energy and she’s in great shape. It baffles me at times. I don’t know how she does it all.”

Ruhter is already busy planning next winter’s trip north. She said her inspiration comes from seeing women develop a feeling of empowerment.

“Women will come home from these trips and be more confident in their everyday life,” Ruhter said. “If they can dog sled in negative wind chills, they can do anything.”

Ruhter said the most beautiful physical aspect of the trip was the 50-foot ice falls in Tahquamenon Falls State Park – 52,000 acres of Upper Peninsula wilderness with an 89-mile river and large waterfalls.

“It’s just the whole experience of the snow falling and the sounds of stillness – the beauty of the chilly air,” Ruhter said.

Many of the women keep in touch throughout the remainder of the year, Ruhter said, some taking more trips together in the spring.

The trip north was $850, including lodging, activities, meals and travel.

Gaidjunas added that she too has made some great friends through these trips.

“I can’t stop talking about Michigan,” Gaidjunas said. “It sounds crazy to me that I drove a team of sled dogs. Plus, I met women of all different backgrounds, ages and physical abilities. We had a great time together and no matter our backgrounds, we all now have something in common – our love of nature.”

If you go:

What: Nature trips

When: Year-round

Where: North Carolina, Virginia, Minnesota, Washington, Michigan, Wisconsin, Northern Illinois and more

Cost: Varies

Information: Visit www.trailboundtrips.com or call Carol Ruhter at 847-381-9374 for information.

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