Mush!

Trip Start Dec 16, 2001
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Trip End Ongoing


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Monday, December 8, 2003

Lapland is amazing.

That about sums it up. But much more can be said here, however I fear I will not do it justice. I hope that I can convey even a small sense of how much this place meant to me.

Helsinki was nice. A few photogenic buildings, lots of coffee shops and all the decorations/lights up for Xmas. Its a little bit pricey and can easily be explored in about a day and a half....its not very big! Hiring a bike is the easiest way to get around. They also have trams, a street like Bourke St Mall(complete with Myer like store and Xmas windows) and a building painted like Flinders St Station....a little bit of Melbourne! Wonder which was first?? Temp was about 2 degrees (celcius)and no snow...I expected colder actually and...but no worries, would soon find a use for the thermals!

Getting to Lapland isn't too hard, catch a domestic flight and then a bus which travels at 100km/hr along the iced over roads....me hoping fervantly that the driver is very good at his job! As it turns out that is just the way everyone drives in Lapland with one local telling us, "the drivers cannot stop so we must get across road quickly"... Later in the week I was in a car with a Finnish friend who had to brake suddenly, it's all about controlled sliding apparently and went fairly smoothly so no probs! Apparently there are over 2000 altercations between reindeer and cars every year.

......and now I want to get to the good stuff......my huskie trek!!!
I'm not sure who was more excited on the first day, me or the dogs! Four dogs tied to a sled, which is in turn tied a tree and the whole kit under tension. A quick yank on the rope and we are off!
The first few kms were hard work, trying to keep upright and my foot on brake that digs into the snow and ice...it wasn't proving to be very useful! Finally we break out of the trees onto a frozen lake and the dogs can just go!
Huskie sledding has minimal controls. Direction changes rely on verbal commands and anyone with a dog knows that this can be sporadic at times. Stopping is a state of mind, the thought exists in your head, the dogs only perceive the sled being a little harder to pull!

There were 6 teams on this hike and the pace varied. Partly this is due to what they were carrying, how many dogs on the team and the rest is just down to how fit they are. My 'dream team' had it pretty easy as I had minimal luggage and haven't become much bigger since any of you last saw me! So I spent a lot of time on the brakes. In contrast Jen, with ony 3 dogs, had PLENTY of time to devise methods to keep her team 'motivated'! I should have seen the glint in her eye as she eyed off my dogs...!

There's not a lot of daylight to be had in Deceember in the Artic circle, but this is more than compensated for by the colors that grace the sky. All around us is a pine forest, snow and crisp clean air. The clouds take on the spectrum of the rainbow across their surfaces. The light varies from a blue haze in the morning as the light relects off the snow, to brilliant oranges and red hues across the horizon. Later in the week the sun would break over the horizon for the last time until next January, a day marked by near constant sunrise-sunset for 4 hours. This is the world in which we get to scoot along, 16 little padding sounds and the scrap of the sled.
I tried very hard to get some good pics, but my dogs thwarted many attempts! The challenge for them is to dislodge you and then keep running, and if the unwary budding photographer is occupied with 2 hands on the camera then a sudden burst of speed is the name of the game! The trick was to keep one eye on the lead dogs and if they turn to check what you are doing, then make sure that at least one hand is on that sled!

There are wilderness huts scattered througout the north of Finland that are provided for the use of anyone. The rule is the most tired person has the right to the hut. So if an exhausted travller gets to a hut at 10 at night, and no room is available, then the more rested must vacate the hut. The quality varies, some are just a hearth and firewood stacked outside. Ours was virtual luxury in comparison...no running water and toilets little more than a hole in the ground covered over by a pine shack, but a wood fired sauna, ice hole cut into the lake and basic lights. The hiking finishes at 3pm and we had covered about 25km. The dogs are anchored to a chain in the snow and left to dig themselves holes for the night. Special care is taken to make sure the 'no more puppies are made'!!!

Later in the evening we all agree to take the plunge into the ice-hole and so with a little towel and good set of boots (creates and interesting image!) we head down to the lake, and a 1m square hole but through the ice. Andy took the first plunge and then it was on. The sensation as you get out is one of....relief...and a tingling across the skin. Suprisingly the -10 conditions out didn't seem so bad now with just a towel and boots. The sauna felt fantastic afterwards!

The next day a crime is discovered! Some dog rustlin' has been going on!! The dream team is broken up and 'fat-boy' and 'old-boy' have appeared in my lines! Few were the times that their lines wer taut. My lead dogs did their best, but it is hard when the talent and has been put back in the draft.
The teams were much closer in pace so at least everyone were in sight of each other from then on! What follows is more amazing scenery and lunch over a warm fires with sizzling reindeer.

After a fantastic trip with the dogs I trade in my team for a ski-doo. Let the speed trials begin! Things begin sedately, with a night hike up above the hills above Muoino. The chance eventually arose to to open up the throttle on the lakes and now the adrenaline goes! Top speed we reached was 100km/hr on the larger of the lakes, the sideways sliding brings a flutter to the heart! My face was ached and I am sure that anyone looking at me then would have seen a frozen manic grin, a mixture as I squint against the cold and smile from ear to ear!
It was not until the late in the week that I finally saw the northern lights. Stopping the ski-doos, we turned the engines off and sat in the darkness as the lights flowed across the night sky above.
A day of skiing on empty slopes at Levi and another riding Icelandic ponies in -15 degrees topped off the week. My toes went numb for a brief period on the horse ride, and a painful sensation hit as the circulation returned later. They were still tingling hours later.

Its not the thrill of individual activities that made this holiday. The sense of peace and the overwhelming beauty of the landscape will remain very prominent with me for a long time.
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