Northern Finland is cold…I don’t mean all the time but when winter sets in, it sets in with a vengeance.
The area we’d visited was close to the Russian border, how close I’m unsure as there wasn’t a border as such just somewhere towards the middle of a frozen lake lay the international boundary.
It was quite a desolate place but beautiful all the same. Unspoilt by mass tourism it was probably the closest you could get to experiencing the loneliness of the Arctic without actually visiting the North Pole ( I guess parts of Alaska are very similar). Actually technically speaking we were in the Arctic as the airport we’d flown into itself lay just on the Arctic Circle and we were a hundred miles or so North from there.
I had dreamt of ‘Mushing’ with a team of huskies for years and it was this night that my dream would come to fruition – one element crossed off my personal large Bucket List.
We had chosen to go Mushing at night. It was actually hard to say it was night as it never really became day…winter above the Arctic Circle is just different shades of dark, but there is one thing it most definitely was – it was very cold.
This cold wasn’t really felt due to the layers of thermal clothing I was wearing including not just one but two thermal balaclavas, this of course combined with excitement was counteracting any physical feelings I had.
We approached the sled…the team of seven dogs already attached via their harnesses were literally straining at the leash, in fact the sled brakes alone weren’t enough to hold back the power of the team so the sled was also tied to a truck !
And the noise…baying, howling almost primordial echoing around the forest. The dogs were desperate to run, they were calling out to do so.
I stood on the footplates and the sled was untied…even with the brakes on the sled started to move such was the pure energy being transmitted back down the gang lines from the dogs.
And then I released the brake and the sled shot forwards…
Nothing had prepared me for the adrenaline rush as we shot down the forest path, snow covered pine trees passing seemingly inches past my face. We passed through the forest in a blur of motion. I would have like to have said it was dogs and man in harmony but I was hanging on for grim death, not so much for me as falling off would have only seen me land in the snow which I’m sure would have cushioned my fall. No I was more concerned with my wife and son who were cocooned under Reindeer Skin blankets riding in the sled itself – to think of them being pulled along at such a pace without anyone to help steer was unthinkable.
One moment saw me stray slightly from the trail and immediately I sank up to my thigh in the deep snow. This twisted the sled but I hung on grimly until the dogs had dragged me bodily back onto the straight and narrow.
I wasn’t just along for the ride though…as the trail climbed hills I had to assist the dogs by effectively scootering along with my feet ensuring the team didn’t stall in it’s forward movement and then on the downhill stretches I had to use the ice brakes to stop the sled catching up with the dogs.
This requires more energy than I have given the impression of and whilst it was actually exhilarating it was physically exhausting at the same time.
And so eventually we reached the trail end and stopped – the dogs caught their breath even though I’m sure they could have gone on for miles and miles.
It was at this time that I too paused for breath and wondered why everything looked so unfocussed – why I was also having trouble taking in air.
I said it was cold – how cold was it…well it was so cold my breath had actually frozen in between the two layers of my balaclava creating a lump of ice that I was trying to breath through and whatsmore the reason everything looked so surreal and blurry was my tears had actually frozen over my eyes giving me the sensation of looking at the world through cataracts.
They measured the ambient temperature at -47 Degrees Celsius which not accounting for windchill whilst moving on the sled is still pretty cold from anyone’s viewpoint.
It was unbelievably wonderful, it was a dream come true but that was also how cold it was !