I have several friends – dog fanciers who are able to throw themselves even on somebody else’s dogs, scratch them behind the ears and under the jawlines, talk to them and caress them as if they were small kids. I can’t do that. I like animals, I do not have anything against dogs but I can’t caress them. I just respect them. This might be the reason why the four-hour-husky-safari was my biggest Lappish adventure.
First they again put large blue and black overalls on us.
We were also given boots and thermal gloves. Instead of helmets we put fur hats “ushanka” on our heads.
The dogs were already waiting, some of them welcomed us with their loud barking. They say a husky is a friendly, very intelligent and quick learning, kind, devoted and persevering dog. Phew, so what to be afraid of?
A couple from Australia also went on this expedition. Our guide was an American cowboy (I was asking myself where all the Finns were? Till that day I had met only two, one of which was Santa Claus! 🙂 ). The Australian lady sat comfortably in the sledge covered with a reindeer fur. There were six dogs in their team and only five in my team of dogs. A short training followed. Actually, the most important part was the brake between the skis in the back of the sleigh.
I firmly caught hold of the sleigh backrest with both my hands and stepped on the brake with my whole weight. The dogs were already impatient. The moment our guide gave us the last instruction I moved my feet from the brake onto the skis. A strong tug followed. No wonder that some people flip over at this moment. Although you expect the tug you are surprised by the power of the dogs. But no time to think about it, the dogs started running as if they were crazy and they were running and running…
From time to time we made a short stop. Not because of us, but because of the dogs. All the time we had to keep standing on the brake. Otherwise the huskies would run and fly somewhere to the North Pole. After one hour our guide suggested for me and the Australian lady to make an exchange. I have to say I was happy to sit down on the fur and let the dogs be driving me. The sleigh creaked, snow was flying away from the dogs heels and at last I could take some pictures.
But about twenty minutes later the Australian lady changed her mind. I had to return to the standing position. An hour later I felt already tired from this ride through the Lappish tundra. I have problems with my right heel. We were asked to help dogs uphills the same way you ride a scooter. Doing this my heel hurt even more. In addition, the overall was huge like a spacesuit, my tights under it were falling down all the time. I had to hold the sleigh backrest with both my hands. In some curves I held it even convulsively because the empty sleigh was unstable. All the time the sleigh was taking me to the left side and I was afraid I would hit a tree. The American cowboy tried to persuade me that the dogs knew where and how they should run but I did not believe him very much. At least five times I passed a tree on the left side of the track very closely and what’s more in full career I had to avoid some tree branches. In one curve the sleigh flew into a deep furrow made by somebody else. Twisted in an unnatural angle I tried to hold the sleigh but I did not manage. I dropped it and fell down on my knees. The dogs stopped immediately. I just jumped on and we could ride again.
It was a beautiful day. For us people. Not for the dogs. Temperatures between -15 and -30°C are the most suitable for them. It was -5°C only, so it was hot for them. During every stop they rolled in snow and even ate snow. Their almond eyes narrowed into small lines and sometimes they pulled their faces in funny grimaces.
Occasionally the dogs entangled themselves, our guide had to help them.
Some dogs could not enjoy calm moments at all. They barked during every stop as if they would like to bark out their lungs. Our guide told us they were not angry but I am not sure. I do not understand dog language, especially if they bark in Finnish. There are so many double letters in Finnish that I think the dogs were howling like this: hhaaääuu… 🙂
Only once we made a normal break when the cowboy tied the sleigh to a tree so it was not necessary to stand on the brake. At last we could enjoy the nice day. Snow was glittering in the sun. I cannot imagine that the people who live in Lapland cannot see the sun for several long months. Sami people are happy when it starts to snow because the white snow makes the winter and darkness lighter. And when the sun appears again over the horizon they hold different festivals.
The sun is very often depicted on Sami shamanistic ceremonial drums made of reindeer hide. Sacrifices were made to the sun for revitalizing all creation. An old Sami proverb says: “Do not look at the sun too long because the sun will punish you.”
At the moment I wanted to take a picture of the landscape sunk in the sun my left leg got stuck in deep snow. All my dogs were immediately at my side. I do not know if they wanted to help or to trample me deeper into the snow. I could not get out from this snowy trap by myself, the American cowboy came to pull me out. The dogs were still sniffing the hole made by my leg.
One of the dogs used the break to come closer to me. Even when I am not able to fondle a dog, it was not possible to resist his bright-blue eyes…
They start to train huskies when they are two years old. The dogs stop running with ten. After that they can work just like babysitters for puppies because they are already tired and crazy (the word used by our guide).
We were approaching the last part of our expedition with the steepest hill. The guide frightened me. When the dogs tugged my sleigh at the beginning of the steep slope I missed the brake in panic and stepped on snow. I knew immediately I had made a mistake. I dropped the sleigh and fell down. This time the dogs did not stop, the empty sleigh was chasing them so they kept running and running. The cowboy jumped on the snowmobile and rushed after them. He managed to stop them. He told me that a lot of people fall down on that hill, nevertheless, my Australian colleagues managed it without any accident. I apologized to the dogs and jumped again on the sleigh although I was already really tired. Some minutes later I could see the farm already. They were expecting a large group of tourists, all the dogs were yoked.
I braked but my dogs used all of their power to pull the sleigh to the first pair of the dogs who were waiting for the other tourists. I do not know if my dogs were happy or desperate but they threw themselves onto the other huskies. All men from the farm had to come to separate them. I jumped off the sleigh and was really happy that I had survived this exciting adventure. I looked at my pack of huskies – they looked as if they were ready to run some more kilometers. I just smiled and started to sing with the Rolling Stones:
Walking the dog
I’m just walking the dog
If you don’t know how to do it
I’ll show you how to walk the dog…
We entered a tent – a Lappish teepee where we were served our lunch. A fish soup again but it could not be compared to the one we had eaten the day before. No fish pieces, just potatoes and some carrots. However, I liked the warm drink, I called it tea, but our guide told us it was not a tea, it was a juice made from Lappish forest fruits. Ashes from the fire in the middle of the teepee were slowly falling down into the soup and drinks. Suddenly a concert started. The tourist group had just arrived and all dogs welcomed them with barking. Can you imagine eighty dogs barking???
The food was served in typical Lappish bowls. The original vessels are made from birch wood. I mean from trees which had survived the crackling frost and were mellowed by the midnight sun in the summer and the Northern lights in the winter. “Kuksa” cups are made in different sizes. Local people wear such small cups hanging on leather strings so they have them at hand. They drink both coffee and spirits from them…