My unlikely riding partner is a thick set man with a full head of curly hair, he is Anti from Rome, Italy. Anti is all togged up in a jump suite and me in my sculpting gear. I have done this once before and remember that you can get pretty cold, especially whilst sat as a passenger on the sled. But in this case, I was going to get a go at driving.
Our guide shipped us into the middle of nowhere, snow blanketing the ground and bending the trees, a mixture of whites and greys with a pink tint in the sky of the early morning. And then the barking.
“They know that they are going to run.” This was our guide Ula, a round faced Finn, quite plump but as I would learn exceptionally fit. The barking grew even more intense as we approached, Ula then stopped us at a rickety looking sled on the path way. “I will show you how to use the sled here so that you can here what I’m saying.” This was a good call as an eruption of howling filed the crystal air. “To turn the sled lean from side to side like with skis. The most important thing is that for the first 500 meters to use the break as the dogs really want to run, they will calm down after a while. And if you stop do not take your foot of the break as the dogs will just leave you.” Stranded in the arctic tundra with an Italian, I think we would have managed somehow.
We walked to the dogs who greeted us with joyous barks, “they are very friendly, you can stroke them if you like.” I took the queue and went to greet each of my faithful companions so long as I stayed on the sled. These are very handsome dogs, real huskies with their blue eyes, but they wanted to get going and were not so interested in my greetings, so before we knew it we were on the sled, Anti ready to drive first and the dogs bouncing all over the place ready to run, tugging on the reigns, urging the brake to be released.
And released it was, we shifted like a bullet out of a barrel but with total silence; dogs do not bark when they run, but they do like to shit a lot and have seemingly mastered it on the move, some dragging their bums on the floor to help things along, occasionally taking in a gulp of snow to quench their thirst or cool down.
After we took a corner and then fell off the sled it seemed a good time for me to have a go. The dogs do not like to stop and are so eager to move, ready to leave you stranded. I wonder how far they would run without us. After Anti had safely got himself seated I took my foot off the break and we sped forward with silent speed again, it is the opposite to motor travel, the faster you go the more quiet it is. Occasionally you need to take your weight off the sled and run to help the dogs up a hill, and then hold on tight when you go down it at speed, taking care to learn into the corners and shout “Mush! Good dogs now and again.” I’m not sure you had to say that but I enjoyed it anyway. Once past the hills we were on the flats again where you could take in the glorious scenery and contemplate that right now it is just us and the dogs and the crunching of snow under the sled. The smell of poo was a little distracting.
We travelled 20km in total and warmed up with a hot drink in the tepee by the fire, the smoke spiraling upwards. Here I saw an old dog come out of the shadows who had a rather regal manner about her and natural authority. She strode up to me, pelt black and white, blue eyes looking straight at me. She was the Alpha female Nina, head of all the dogs and I think Ula’s favourite, a companion of 12 years and still sometimes running, but only with Ula.