ERROL, N.H. — It was obvious, as Lulu Wang reached down to pat the husky beside her on frozen Umbagog Lake, that the emergency room resident, who has lived on three continents, felt perfectly at home with a pack of sled dogs in this remote mountain region just beyond western Maine.

Wang and her boyfriend, Tim McDonald, came to the 8,000-acre lake on the New Hampshire border last week for a wilderness sled dog trip and a break from their busy Boston lives.

On a sled pulled by six Yukon huskies, with another half-dozen dogs pulling another sled behind them, they crossed the frozen water to a site surrounded by Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge land for a campfire lunch – as far as Wang knew.

McDonald, 33, and Wang, 29, met three years ago outside Boston, where they both had gone to school and stayed to start their careers. She was with a group of friends at a coffee shop in Cambridge when they ran into McDonald, who knew some of the same people as she did. After they left, they each immediately texted their mutual friend, Alister Martin, to tell him how much they liked the other, and to see if he thought the feeling might be mutual.

“Typical guy, Alister took a screenshot of my text and sent it to Tim,” Wang said.

Their intentions out in the open, they started dating and saw each other nearly every day for three months. That’s when McDonald had to leave for California, where he spends part of the year for his job as a researcher for a government-funded think tank with offices in Santa Monica and Boston, while working on his doctorate in public policy.

Wang, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, followed medical school with a Harvard-affiliated residency as an emergency room doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which she’ll finish in the next year.

But being a little smart and passionate about their work aren’t the only qualities the two share. They both have a deep love for the outdoors, particularly time spent in the mountains, and a fondness for animals. A dog-sled trip was an ideal getaway.

McDonald grew up with dogs in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. Wang has never had a dog, but always wanted one. When she was a child, her parents moved frequently after coming to the United States from England, where the family first landed after leaving Hefei, China, so her father could get a doctorate in physics to pursue better jobs and a better life for his family in the U.S. They eventually settled in Irvine, California.

After Wang ended up on the East Coast, it was her boyfriend’s commitment on the other side of the country that made them question whether the relationship could work. But both their families told them, if what they shared was real, it would.

“My father would bike an hour between villages to see my mother after they met in China,” Wang said. “They understood.”

Three years later, Wang said, her parents were right. She and McDonald had been talking about getting married. McDonald even asked her where they should get engaged.

“I told him I didn’t want it in a public place, like a restaurant. I didn’t want it on a jumbotron,” Wang said.

She prefers simpler surroundings.

The night before their dog-sled trip they stayed in Berlin, New Hampshire, then drove up Thursday morning to Mahoosuc Guide Service in Newry, Maine, where a fresh snowfall was waiting, as was Master Maine Guide Polly Mahoney, a musher of 39 years who once lived with sled dogs in the bush in the Yukon Territory. At the lodge, they told Mahoney how, when they move to Washington, D.C., next year, where Wang has a job at a hospital waiting, they want to get a German shepherd.

As Mahoney chose which dogs from her kennel of 32 huskies would join them on the trip, she decided one named Teslin should be there because he looked like a German shepherd.

“A lot of my huskies are brown and black, and people think they are German shepherds, but they’re not,” Mahoney said.

Teslin would make a nice photo, she thought. Plus, she said, he’s the perfect dog in many ways – honest, hardworking, smart, affectionate.

The dogs on a trip can make a big difference, like the one that saved Mahoney’s life by insisting they not continue across a frozen lake near Rangeley. She later learned the lake had an open spring hole that the dog smelled. They’re remarkably intuitive, she said.

After driving the dogs to the remote campsite, with McDonald beside her and Wang tucked in the sled in the front, Mahoney quickly unhooked the dogs and settled them on hay in the woods. As assistant guide John Chapman gathered kindling, Mahoney set out a meal of bagels, cheese, pea soup, yogurt pretzels and black tea.

She warmed the soup in a pot over a fire as the group sat on cushions around it, sharing stories from their lives with the dogs scattered around them.

As soon as everyone finished eating, Mahoney stood up and said it was time to hook the dogs back to the sleds, but first McDonald wanted one more photo in front of the backdrop of unspoiled wilderness.

Mahoney suggested they have a dog with them, so she got Teslin up from his spot in the snow and sat him down next to Wang. Chapman stood back to photograph the couple, but Teslin refused to look forward.

Wang bent over and talked softly to the dog as she held his head, asking him to turn it toward the camera. But this best-of-all sled dogs kept looking away, as if he knew something else was about to happen.

As Wang bent over the dog, McDonald stepped in front of her and said, “Lulu, I have another Christmas present for you.”

He planted one knee in the snow, holding a box he’d pulled from his coat pocket that he then held out to Wang.

“The love of my life,” he said, “will you marry me?”

Wang stood up and looked up at the sky in surprise, while a smile spread across her face. “Yes,” she said and held out her hand.

Sitting between them, Teslin looked up at McDonald, slowly placed a paw on his bent knee and left it there, as he slid the ring on her finger.

 

filed under: