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Tim
Tim

Day 6: Husky Sledding

So far this surprise (for me!) holiday has been perfect. We're in the Arctic Circle, we're isolated in sub-zero temperatures and snow a metre deep, and we've been travelling through the wilderness on snowshoes. Today held for us something to complete the adventure; being pulled by a team of huskies. I couldn't wait.

The same couldn't be said for Clare, who holds a lifetime's phobia of wolves. It turns out that I was lucky that this adventure had even been booked; it resulted from my inadventently intoxicating Clare with a roast dinner a couple of months back, after which she decided she would start 2016 by being brave, and so booked our sledding adventure for January the 1st. Prior to our being collected at 12:40 today, she had plenty of time to rue the decision.

I'm glad that she chose to come anyway, in defiance of the little voice in her head telling her that we were going to end up limbless. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Our bus collected a few more people from different hotels and then took us on the 35km journey through wonderful untouched snow to the farm. We were greeted by a native, who was going to talk us through the various hand signals we would need to use whilst travelling in convoy! That made it extra special, to have a genuine Sami standing front of us. And then he started speaking: "My name's Ben and I'm English." First thought: "Bah!" Second thought: "How did a boy from England land this gig?!"

Ben spent a good ten minutes explaining how the passenger should sit safely, how the driver should stand and so on. And then he added that the dogs were about to come in from their current run and would be so excited at the prospect of going out again that they wouldn't be much good for a play just yet. So he offered us an early play with the puppies instead. They usually have about 20 in a given year. This year there were 12. I got to meet the largest of the bunch, the four-month-old Hannibal:

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Lovely boy! And not long after that, the sledding teams arrived and we got to kit up. This is Clare's view with our team of six ready to go:

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They were super keen to get going and as soon as I took my foot off the brake and gave them the command, off they sped:

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The views were spectacular as we went:

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We stopped periodically to make sure that everybody had caught up:

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Number 5 in our team really disliked stopping, though. Every time we did, she would try to jerk us forward. She didn't have to hang around too long before she got the command to pull and we sped off again:

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This was clearly hard work; the journey was going to be about 10km all in, so the dogs needed to grab a mouthful of snow as refeshment every now and again. Number 3 was clearly finding it to be tiring and frequently mouthed at the snow whilst in motion, and the other dogs all took the opportunity to cool off at our periodic breaks:

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It was clear that the dogs absolutely loved pulling. I had thoughts earlier that the activity might be exploitative but nothing could be further from the truth. Number 5 had already indicated at every stop that she disliked standing around. Later on, number 4, the largest in our team, almost single-handedly restarted us at every stop! (I should add that all the dogs have their own names, but since I didn't know ours, I refer to them by number in which they were ordered. They were also all "good girls", even though I suspect 3 and 4 were males really.)

Every now and again numbers 3 and 4 looked over their shoulders at me. Ben had informed us earlier that they might do this when they were lagging in order to ask us why we weren't pulling our weight and contributing to the team effort. So every now and again I found myself pushing along with a foot or even, when there was an uphill climb, jumping off the foot panels and pushing the sled with them. The dogs considered me part of the team!

Night descended out of nowhere, as it's wont to do in this part of the world at this time of day (about 3pm):

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Fortunately, the dogs know exactly what they're doing and soon lights appeared in the distance:

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We were back home and once the sled was secure, I finally got to meet my team! Number 4 was the keenest to have a big cuddle. Number 5 wasn't particularly interested at all, no doubt wondering when she would next be allowed out for a run. And then we got to sit in a lavvu, a traditional Sami tent, in which a fire was burning and we were offered warm berry juice and gingerbread:

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The guide at this stage was a young Japanese girl, who explained that the company was formed in the early 2000s and started with 12 dogs, rising to 150 currently. She also pointed out that today was too warm for the dogs at only minus 7, and that they are happiest at minus 20, and so took it slow today! During the six-month winter season the dogs can run up to 2000km, so they certainly earn their six-month summer holiday. And then, with a few minutes left until our bus arrived, we visited the puppies again and I got to catch up with my little friend, Hannibal:

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And that was that! A wonderful day out and true Arctic experience. These doggies were absolutely tame, brought up with human contact from the day they were born, and absolutely adored pulling the sleds. They really were spectacular. And so we boarded the bus and headed on the 30-minute journey home. Clare and I were dropped off at roadside in order to spare the driver the difficulties in conducting a u-turn in front of a hotel. I took a single step and got a quick reminder that we really were in the Arctic:

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We headed off to get food, having skipped lunch, and were very surprised to see that our regular restaurant was full, as was the next one we tried. Not to worry; we were next to the supermarket and so picked up some provisions, and on the walk home Clare uttered some words which revealed that she too was pleased at how the day had turned out: "When we come back next year ..."




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