From Real Estate to Off-Grid with Sled Dogs: Inside the journey of Linda Newman, a woman who defied the odds to run with wolves
By Rising McDowell
“I want people to learn something about themselves, and find the ‘points unknown’ within themselves.” -Linda Newman of Points Unknown
This past winter I took up a mushing internship because I wanted to learn to run sled dogs. The special connection between man and dog has enchanted me since I was a girl with posters of sled dogs on her bedroom walls.
After an introduction to sled dogs last year, I decided to go all in this winter and I chose Points Unknown because of the stunning care and thoughtfulness I sensed in the owner. Within exchanging just a couple emails, I knew I had found something special. Someone special.
Six months later I can attest to that first impression. Linda Newman is the embodiment of an empowered woman and entrepreneur—ethical, compassionate, brave and unstoppable. Her creativity and drive have made the improbable completely possible, and she’s far from over.
Rising McDowell, for The Shakti Journal: Can you tell us about the businesses you have created from doing what you love?
Linda Newman: I have an educational dog sledding adventure business called Points Unknown, as well as a pure beeswax candle crafting business called Scent From Nature. Both are based out of my off-grid homestead in the remote woods of Minnesota’s Arrowhead region. Dogs and honey bees are passions and combining the two is total bliss.
With Points Unknown I offer various adventures where my guides and I take people out on the trail with our dogs, as well as Multi-Day Women’s Adventures and Day in the Life Adventures where we teach guests how to run the sled themselves. We also do kennel tours where guests can see how we work with and train the dogs, and meet all 30 of them. All of our guests are taught how to properly interact with sled dogs, and how to be safe around the animals and on the trail.
Recently I’ve started offering Lifestyle Immersions where people can come experience my off-gird lifestyle and work with me in my beeswax candle studio. I used to manage the Minnesota Honey Producers State Fair Booth, but it took too much of my off-season time and kept me from expanding my home-based businesses. The bottom line is that I want to fully support myself with my own businesses, so I’ve given up the State Fair Booth even though it was quite a major part of my income.
SJ: It sounds like you’ve put together so many moving parts to make your businesses work, and risked financial stability by leaving the State Fair Booth. With the expenses of caring for 30 animals, has it been scary committing to supporting yourself from your businesses alone?
LN: My businesses aren’t just business, they are my lifestyle. Every single decision I make somehow involves the dogs and I’ve actually had to create my other businesses to support the sled dog business, because it barely covers costs. It is truly a passion. So I’ve created a Guest Suite in my house, started offering Canicross Hiking (partner hiking with dogs using applied training), and Points Unknown is now expanding to offer Mindful Paddle & Hiking Guide Services in summer months with various canoe adventures including multi-day trips for women.
What I’ve learned is that you just have to do it. Don’t overthink it. Of course one must have a plan in place, so put it in place and then take steps forward even if you aren’t completely ready. You’re never completely ready. Things have been difficult and frustrating at times, but I couldn’t see my life being any other way. Building a good network has helped with my confidence.
SJ: Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur? What were your first steps in the world of business?
LN: I have always been an entrepreneur from the time I ran a vegetable stand on the highway as a kid to the businesses I have now. But in 6th grade I discovered the trumpet and this is all I did up until my 2nd year in college. At that point I had planned to be a professional trumpet player until my obsession with trumpet burned me out and forced me to take a second look at my direction. One must have balance to remain healthy, and I didn’t have it at all.
Since one of my first jobs was a disc jockey at a local radio station, I decided to go broadcasting school. Then at the age of 19 I realized I could live free if I managed the apartment building where I lived, and that led to me going to school to be a real estate agent.
With that, I despised having to interact with all these people who I felt were wasting my time by not instantly buying the houses I was showing them. (Turns out, I wasn’t exactly a “people person” after all.) I then discovered real estate appraising and realized I could wander beautiful houses on my own and work from home doing research later. This was my life for 23 years.
While I was appraising I missed music, so I started an LLC (Blue Shadow Enterprises) that was intended to be a music management business. It was awful because dealing with my clients was like babysitting children— they wouldn’t show up to their gigs, were always late, etc. So I stopped managing musicians and kept the LLC, which is now what my candle business is under.
SJ: What about Points Unknown? How did you go from real estate to working with sled dogs? Appraising real estate is such a different life from living in the remote woods with 30 dogs and a candle workshop.
LN: I had found another working dog, Australian Shepherds, some years back and that was the beginning of a profound life-long connection with dogs for me. Then I met my first husband; he had sled dogs and I started to keep my own dogs too.
As I was getting into mushing, the real estate world was changing in ways I didn’t agree with. They started increasing regulations on appraisers when they really should have been regulating the brokers. The pressure to do dishonest things was always lurking in the business and I was never willing to compromise my values.
Around that time I saw an article about a lodge nearby that had just stopped renting dogs for the dog sledding tours they had been offering for years. They were looking for someone to bid for a new contract. I looked at that and thought, “Hey, I can do that.” So I submitted a proposal and it was accepted.
That’s when I gave up my own appraisal business to work for another appraisal company so I could get the winters off. At this point I had ten of my own dogs, and I moved up by the lodge with my dogs for the winter and developed different sled dog programs for them with the tours and adventures I designed. That winter I tripled their dog sledding revenue.
SJ: Wow, that is so kick-ass! It’s amazing how you were able to weave winter mushing into your otherwise “normal” life at the time. So what happened after that?
LN: Well, they liked me so much I signed a 3-year contract with them. Then I got an email saying that the man who I signed the contract with was leaving, and that his dad was taking over.
I was being told by him to do things that were illegal, like cutting trails in protected areas and taking risks that weren’t safe for the customers or the dogs. I didn’t like that, he didn’t like me, and so thankfully he bought me out. That’s when I discovered the Sate Fair Booth contract that helped support me without the lodge.
When I met my second husband who fell right into my lifestyle, we went together in the same direction. I cashed out everything I had to move to this land where Points Unknown is now. I chose this spot because of the dogs— being able to run them right out of the back door was extremely appealing.
It was completely raw land at the start, so trees had to be cleared, the ground leveled and a septic system installed. I designed the house and the kennel complexes and was the general contractor in the building of the house and all the various components of the property. Then the dynamic of the marriage changed drastically and we parted ways. Suddenly I found myself living the passions that I had worked so hard to attain, alone.
SJ: What challenges did you face in going from having a partner to being solo? Was there an “ah-ha” moment in becoming a single woman living a rugged off-grid lifestyle?
LN: Having to take on a lifestyle that was built for two led to many things I had only a passing knowledge of becoming 100% my responsibility. I call that learning period shortly after the separation ‘the winter of the machines.’ I had to learn how to run, work and maintain all the machines that are involved in living in the remote woods where we get easily over 150 inches of snowfall each winter and temps down to -40F.
I think my biggest “ah-ha” moment was that I can do it. Did I like it all of the time? No. But I was able to create a network along the way—towing company, diesel mechanic, auto mechanic, friends, family, excellent workers, interns and volunteers—to help me get through. I had no idea what to expect and I had to let go of the outcome completely, because there was no other choice. I just took one step forward at a time. It was challenging, frightening and downright exhausting, but now I know what needs to be set in place for next winter and much of the fear is gone.
SJ: Tell us more about your work with women. You mentioned Women’s Adventures with Points Unknown. What led you to work with and teach women?
LN: In my first marriage I felt “thrown to the dogs”, so to speak. His style with the dogs was so chaotic and I quickly realized that the dogs didn’t hold the same value to him as they did to me. I learned how to mush in an awful environment, having to manage highly aggressive dogs amidst absolute chaos. There was no fun involved, only terror.
With years of verbal and emotional abuse in that relationship, I lost myself completely. How does a strong, independent and successful woman remain in that type of a relationship? There are so many factors to it, but at the end of the day sometimes it just happens. Eventually I realized things had to change. That relationship inspired me to want to empower women with knowledge and to be a conduit for their personal growth.
Rising McDowell for The Shakti Journal: Sometimes those who have walked through fire come out with the most amazing resiliency, and you are definitely one of those people. The way you share your gifts through your work is remarkable.
Linda Newman of Points Unknown: I want people to learn something about themselves, and find the ‘points unknown’ within themselves. The Women’s Adventures mean so much to me because I get to break down the daunting challenge of running these powerful dogs to someone who’s never done it before, and watch as the lightbulb goes off and they are able to put into practice everything we teach.
When you work with a few people over several days, you develop such a full connection as you get to know them and see their progress. I really enjoy getting to watch how that all unfolds, see their confidence grow and be witness to women learning about themselves and feeling empowered.