Mush!

Trip Start Feb 08, 2009
1
5
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Trip End Feb 16, 2009


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Flag of Finland  , Lapponia,
Thursday, February 12, 2009

I dress in several layers of clothes.  Thermal long johns and a long-sleeved thermal top, and a pair of thin socks.  Then a pair of tracksuit bottoms, a t-shirt and a fleece sweater, and thick socks.  Then salopettes and a ski-jacket, topped off with a hat and a pair of thick ski-gloves.  By the time I lace up my boots, I've worked up a bit of a sweat in the overheated cabin (Finns love their central heating, and indoors is usually around 28C).  Rachel is working a new hat today, as with seven hats for a week-long holiday, she is already a day behind in her headwear schedule.

Stepping outside, the layers are immediately worth the added discomfort, as the thermometer on the veranda reads -15C and the air shimmers with diamond dust snow.  We walk across the villlage to the Holiday Club hotel to meet our group, as today we're going to husky farm for some dog-sledding.  After checking in with the guide, we're sent to the kit room, where our outer layers are swapped for red all-in-one snowsuits (where luckily one fits 6'6" tall Guy), and we're given boots, mittens and balaclavas.

We rejoin the group in time to board a bus, which takes us on the short trip to the husky farm.  As we get off the bus, we're greeted by the sound of hundreds of baying huskies, swiftly followed by the smell of hundreds of baying huskies.  We're shown the sleds that we'll be using, with particular emphasis on the brake, taught a few hand signals and introduced to the dogs.  I learn that the name 'husky' doesn't usually refer to any specific breed of dog, but is a generic name for any sled-dog.  The ones which people tend to think of as huskies are Siberian Huskies or Alaskan Malamutes, but the dogs harnessed to my sled resemble everything from a white Alsation to a long-legged Beagle at the front.  Most have the ice-blue eyes which they are famous for, and howl with excitement at the thought of running with us.

Paul takes first duty as the driver, so I arrange the reindeer hide in the sled and sit inches behind the bum of the last dog, which takes the opportunity to have a poo while he waits.  Luckily, we're quickly untied from the rail and follow lead dog team out onto the trail.  The sled crunches through the powder snow and the dog's traces rattle and creak.  A guide follows up and down the line of the sleds on a snowmobile, checking everyone is managing their dogs.  He manages to be in just the right place at the right time as a Japanese man stumbles and loses grip of his sled, the dogs leaving him behind in the snow.

As we stop and wait for him to be reunited with his sled, our dogs strain on their traces, pulling hard against the brake.  The lead dog leapt up in the air several times, jolting the sled forward each time, raring to be running again.  Soon enough, we're off again, and it is a glorious day with blue skies and sunshine, although the cold is biting and I have to keep wriggling my toes to keep them from becoming numb.

Halfway round our route, drivers and riders swap places, and now I'm in control of the sled.  As we wait to re-start, our lead dog tries his jumping trick again, creeping forward a few feet with each tug on the traces.  I hear a thump and a loud panting sound, and find the nose of the lead dog from the sled behind sniffing around my ankles after tugging forwards his sled in the same way.  We set off again, and I call a few encouraging words to my dogs, "mush!" and "hi-ya!", not that they paid any attention to me.

Guiding the sled isn't as easy as it seems to the passenger, as you have to move your weight to steer and keep control of the speed on bends to stop the sled from tipping.  I get distracted by several reindeer that break out of the forest and across our path, and tilt precariously on a sharp turn.  And when I jump off the sled to run up a hill, I'm almost left behind when the dogs reach the flat.  All too soon we're back in sight of the farm and being welcomed home by the yowls of the dogs that were left behind. 

Our dogs are caught up by the kennelhand, and led back to the rail where they started from, all the time singing to their handlers.  They start snapping up snow and licking their paws to cool down after their excercise, then rubbing their bellies into the snow and panting hard.  Paul and I on the other hand, wait for the others to arrive back, then headed into a cabin where a log fire roared in the middle of the room for hot, wood-smoke scented coffee and pastries.
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