North Shore bed and sled business puts women first – Duluth News Tribune

HOVLAND — Snow sprinkles over a chorus of barking dogs sounding in deep howls and high-pitched staccatos. They’re harnessed and dressed, a sled trailing behind them.

“They can get tired of the trails once in a while, so we have to mix it up — sing show tunes, or ‘We Are the Champions’ to get them motivated,” Linda Newman said.

Points Unknown is Newman’s Hovland-based, off-grid business specializing in dog sledding, paddling and hiking excursions, as well as lifestyle immersion programs and lodging.

At Points Unknown

Points Unknown client Jennifer Bergman rides in a dog sled driven by Kenna Conley.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

Her offerings range from an hour-and-a-half introductory day for families, to four-day women’s adventures learning how to mush.

In June, Newman also launched the Zoongoshkiniigikwe program, where Grand Portage girls 12 and older are immersed in this off-grid lifestyle.

“One of my passions is empowering women, especially young girls,” Newman said.

At Points Unknown.

Points Unknown handler Kenna Conley watches as Barb O’Brian gets to know one of Linda Newman’s sled dogs.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

Dog sledding was mainly a male-dominated sport, said Jennifer Fraser, of Hackensack, Minnesota. Newman wants to give women the opportunity to see that you don’t need to run a race or train for the Iditarod to do this.

Fraser met Newman during the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ “Becoming an Outdoors Woman” program, and is a repeat visitor for Newman’s adventures.

By the end of the four days during her first excursion, Fraser’s group led a dog team around the loop solo. “’It’s your turn. If you’re not back in an hour, I’ll come looking for you,’” Fraser recalled Newman saying. “To go flying through the woods with this team of dogs all by yourself, and knowing she had confidence that each of us was able to do this – it was so thrilling.”

At Points Unknown

Points Unknown clients Jennifer Bergman, left, and Barb O’Brian watch as Kenna Conley shows how a dog harness is placed on a dog. Bergman and O’Brian later helped harness the dogs that pulled them on a sled ride.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

Newman provides a very safe and comfortable environment to learn how to work with the dogs, Fraser added. That’s by design.

Newman’s intro to dog sledding was “terrifying,” Fraser said.

The dogs were really aggressive, and along with concerns about learning how to mush, Newman also worried about the dogs’ safety.

“It was not a gentle introduction. It was frightening,” she said. “I vowed I’d never wanted anybody to learn that way.”

At Points Unknown.

Points Unknown owner Linda Newman pets Nick while talking with a visitor.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

Newman participated in the DNR’s “Becoming an Outdoors Woman” program, and later became a volunteer instructor, so she could share the dogs and teach people how to sled in a gentle and supportive environment.

She started building her business in 2012, and it’s evolved into offering her handmade beeswax candles and off-grid lodging in a four-bed, full-kitchenette guest suite and a two-bed cabin.

At Points Unknown.

Linda Newman walks to one of the cabins at Points Unknown on.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

Newman had to close the business for four months during the shutdown, and staffing was troublesome. When COVID hit, she couldn’t care for the number of dogs she had solo, so she put several up for adoption.

The guest suite was considered essential, which helped, but Newman eventually took on dog sponsors, a common practice for racing teams.

“I just never had to because these guys, they work for their living basically,” Newman said, adding she no longer needs them.

Former dog sponsor Barb O’Brien, of South Haven, Minnesota, stayed in the guest suite with a friend before their recent sledding adventure.

At Points Unknown

Points Unknown handler Annabelle Anderson watches as Barb O’Brian harnesses a sled dog.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

She said she has known Newman for several years, but this is the first time she’s done something like this.

“If I were 15-20 years younger, I might’ve done that,” said O’Brien, 65, of the women’s adventures.

After her excursion, she said it met all of her expectations. You have the opportunity as much as you want, and they’re with you every step.

“The power of women working with women is amazing. It always has been,” she added.

At Points Unknown.

Barb O’Brian records her dog sled ride as Annabelle Anderson shouts a command to the team.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

During a News Tribune visit, Newman released three 10-week-old puppies to socialize for the first time with Dolce, an adult dog. The three scampered out, running, rolling and jumping on Dolce while leaving a trail of yellow spots behind them.

Her 25 Hedlund huskies are spread across four fenced-in play areas. Engraved wood cookies bear their names: Oken, Shale, Nukka.

While several awaited their run, two rested in an enclosed, heated porch: one on a round fluffy bed, and another in a cushioned kennel.

Annabelle Anderson smiles with sled dog Shale.

Annabelle Anderson

Contributed / Annabelle Anderson

There’s a lot of efficient and direct problem solving on the Points Unknown team, said guide Annabelle Anderson.

The safety of the dogs is priority no. 1. The guides have special protocols for every scenario, and they’re trained to assess a situation before it happens, which keeps challenges and chaos to a minimum.

“Linda is one of the best teachers I’ve ever had,” Anderson said. “These Hedlund huskies have changed my life and continue to change the way I see the world.”

Newman knelt on the snow, petting her dog, Kinnikinnick — Nick for short — who placed his pink-booted paw on Newman’s. He then licked her glove and raised his snout for a nose touch.

Asked about the business name, Newman said it’s not just geographical. It’s about points unknown within yourself.

“We try to help people discover that, and by ‘we,’ I mean the dogs. I’m mainly a conduit for people who come out. You can learn an awful lot about yourself from the dogs if you actually listen,” she said.

At Points Unknown.

Solar panels sit on top of the main building at Points Unknown, which is located off the grid several miles outside Hovland.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

At Points Unknown.

The sign at the entrance to Points Unknown.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

At Points Unknown.

In addition to Points Unknown, Linda Newman owns Scent from Nature, making and selling beeswax candles.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

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