Pros : The
sense of peace and the overwhelming beauty of the landscape.
December 8th, 2003.
Lapland is amazing.
That about sums it up. But much more can be said here, however I
fear I will not do it justice. I hope that I can convey even a small
sense of how much this place meant to me.
Helsinki was nice. A few photogenic buildings, lots of coffee shops
and all the decorations/lights up for Xmas. Its a little bit pricey
and can easily be explored in about a day and a half....its not
very big! Hiring a bike is the easiest way to get around. They also
have trams, a street like Bourke St Mall(complete with Myer like
store and Xmas windows) and a building painted like Flinders St
Station....a little bit of Melbourne! Wonder which was first?? Temp
was about 2 degrees (celcius)and no snow...I expected colder actually
and...but no worries, would soon find a use for the thermals!
Getting to Lapland isn't too hard, catch a domestic flight and then
a bus which travels at 100km/hr along the iced over roads....me
hoping fervantly that the driver is very good at his job! As it
turns out that is just the way everyone drives in Lapland with one
local telling us, "the drivers cannot stop so we must get across
road quickly"... Later in the week I was in a car with a Finnish
friend who had to brake suddenly, it's all about controlled sliding
apparently and went fairly smoothly so no probs! Apparently there
are over 2000 altercations between reindeer and cars every year.
......and now I want to get to the good stuff......my huskie trek!!!
I'm not sure who was more excited on the first day, me or the dogs!
Four dogs tied to a sled, which is in turn tied a tree and the whole
kit under tension. A quick yank on the rope and we are off!
The first few kms were hard work, trying to keep upright and my
foot on brake that digs into the snow and ice...it wasn't proving
to be very useful! Finally we break out of the trees onto a frozen
lake and the dogs can just go!
Huskie sledding has minimal controls. Direction changes rely on
verbal commands and anyone with a dog knows that this can be sporadic
at times. Stopping is a state of mind, the thought exists in your
head, the dogs only perceive the sled being a little harder to pull!
There were 6 teams on this hike and the pace varied. Partly this
is due to what they were carrying, how many dogs on the team and
the rest is just down to how fit they are. My 'dream team' had it
pretty easy as I had minimal luggage and haven't become much bigger
since any of you last saw me! So I spent a lot of time on the brakes.
In contrast Jen, with ony 3 dogs, had PLENTY of time to devise methods
to keep her team 'motivated'! I should have seen the glint in her
eye as she eyed off my dogs...!
There's not a lot of daylight to be had in Deceember in the Artic
circle, but this is more than compensated for by the colors that
grace the sky. All around us is a pine forest, snow and crisp clean
air. The clouds take on the spectrum of the rainbow across their
surfaces. The light varies from a blue haze in the morning as the
light relects off the snow, to brilliant oranges and red hues across
the horizon. Later in the week the sun would break over the horizon
for the last time until next January, a day marked by near constant
sunrise-sunset for 4 hours. This is the world in which we get to
scoot along, 16 little padding sounds and the scrap of the sled.
I tried very hard to get some good pics, but my dogs thwarted many
attempts! The challenge for them is to dislodge you and then keep
running, and if the unwary budding photographer is occupied with
2 hands on the camera then a sudden burst of speed is the name of
the game! The trick was to keep one eye on the lead dogs and if
they turn to check what you are doing, then make sure that at least
one hand is on that sled!
There are wilderness huts scattered througout the north of Finland
that are provided for the use of anyone. The rule is the most tired
person has the right to the hut. So if an exhausted travller gets
to a hut at 10 at night, and no room is available, then the more
rested must vacate the hut. The quality varies, some are just a
hearth and firewood stacked outside. Ours was virtual luxury in
comparison...no running water and toilets little more than a hole
in the ground covered over by a pine shack, but a wood fired sauna,
ice hole cut into the lake and basic lights. The hiking finishes
at 3pm and we had covered about 25km. The dogs are anchored to a
chain in the snow and left to dig themselves holes for the night.
Special care is taken to make sure the 'no more puppies are made'!!!
Later in the evening we all agree to take the plunge into the ice-hole
and so with a little towel and good set of boots (creates and interesting
image!) we head down to the lake, and a 1m square hole but through
the ice. Andy took the first plunge and then it was on. The sensation
as you get out is one of....relief...and a tingling across the skin.
Suprisingly the -10 conditions out didn't seem so bad now with just
a towel and boots. The sauna felt fantastic afterwards!
The next day a crime is discovered! Some dog rustlin' has been going
on!! The dream team is broken up and 'fat-boy' and 'old-boy' have
appeared in my lines! Few were the times that their lines wer taut.
My lead dogs did their best, but it is hard when the talent and
has been put back in the draft.
The teams were much closer in pace so at least everyone were in
sight of each other from then on! What follows is more amazing scenery
and lunch over a warm fires with sizzling reindeer.
After a fantastic trip with the dogs I trade in my team for a ski-doo.
Let the speed trials begin! Things begin sedately, with a night
hike up above the hills above Muoino. The chance eventually arose
to to open up the throttle on the lakes and now the adrenaline goes!
Top speed we reached was 100km/hr on the larger of the lakes, the
sideways sliding brings a flutter to the heart! My face was ached
and I am sure that anyone looking at me then would have seen a frozen
manic grin, a mixture as I squint against the cold and smile from
ear to ear!
It was not until the late in the week that I finally saw the northern
lights. Stopping the ski-doos, we turned the engines off and sat
in the darkness as the lights flowed across the night sky above.
A day of skiing on empty slopes at Levi and another riding Icelandic
ponies in -15 degrees topped off the week. My toes went numb for
a brief period on the horse ride, and a painful sensation hit as
the circulation returned later. They were still tingling hours later.
Its not the thrill of individual activities that made this holiday.
The sense of peace and the overwhelming beauty of the landscape
will remain very prominent with me for a long time.