With two nights of aurora outings done, I was through with the planned activities for this trip and I had another whole day in town. So I walked into the nearest travel agent’s office and booked myself on a husky tour. I mean, having come so far, there’s no point not doing it, right?
The next morning at ten I was ready for my husky adventure. This, as advertised, involved a drive to a husky farm, a ride on a husky sledge, the obligatory hot drink with snack, and then the drive back to town. About three hours. There was another couple with me. I found out later that they were Finns who had been living in Spain for the last ten years.
The drive out was straightforward and not very long. At the husky farm, we stopped first in the “equipment room,” where my shoes were given one disdainful glance and a better pair produced. The other couple were given boots as well, so I was happy not to be the only one to be rebooted. I declined the offer of the jumpsuit. It wasn’t very cold anyway. I did take a pair of mittens, but they were so warm that my hands were sweating in no time.
I don’t know what exactly I’d expected of a husky farm. What I got was a large open area with fenced enclosures. Each enclosure held multiple dogs and each dog had a tiny kennel which they could sit inside, on top of, or near. They couldn’t go far, because they were chained. When I was there, they were all outside their kennels, prancing around in the snow. A few sat on top of their homes. They looked happy and full of energy, but I didn’t like seeing them chained. There were 250 dogs there, so how else do you keep them under control?
Huskies aren’t as big as I’d expected and they aren’t all silver. There were plenty of huskies who looked just like regular dogs, long haired street dogs, even. One looked remarkably like a golden retriever. They looked heavy, but the guide said it was all hair; their weight was around 20-25 kilos, he said.
Two sleds were ready for us. I was offered the option of a sled to myself, which I would have to drive, or of sitting in a sled while the guide drove. It was tempting to let the guide do the work while I sat in comfort, but then, where’s the fun in that? So I chose to drive, although I must confess I was a little worried. It didn’t look that easy. The dogs looked big, strong, and very eager.
Then we were given a long list of instructions which made it sound even more intimidating.
Then we met the dogs. Don’t socialise with them too much, our guide told us, because they’re eager to be off. And they were! The guide was on a snowmobile, which is basically a motorcycle for the snow, and when the snowmobile took off, so did the dogs. If you were lucky, they took you along. If you weren’t, you were left in the snow and the dogs and the sled were a rapidly receding speck in the distance.
The sled is equipped with only a brake, no accelerator. The dogs don’t need any accelerating, I can tell you. Brakes, yes, they need brakes alright. The brake is basically a toothed metal plate that you stand on and it digs into the snow and creates significant friction, depending on your weight. It doesn’t help to be a featherweight. Luckily, that’s one thing I can’t be accused of, though the guide did make certain disparaging remarks along those lines.
Anyway, I was still getting my hands, feet, and head sorted out when the snowmobile took off with a whoosh and the huskies took off just as fast, resisting my attempts to moderate their speed and sort out at least my feet, which were supposed to be on the rails on either side of the brake thingy. It would have been exhilarating if it weren’t so disorienting. What was I supposed to be doing – focusing on my hands, my feet, the dogs, or worrying about where exactly the sled was headed at this breakneck pace? Of course, almost all the instructions we’d been given had gone clean out of my head as soon as the dogs got going. They rushed pell mell around curves and down slopes and I admired the sight of their backsides, which, amazingly, began to pop out poop and kept up that performance for quite a bit of the way. That was one benefit of driving, it kept you a couple of steps further back and so less likely to be hit with flying dogshit.
Once I’d got used to the pace, I began to enjoy the ride. I enjoyed watching the landscape rush past, the trees, the snow, the shoulder of the path we were driving along, now climbing perilously up and now, oh, shit! Apparently, sleds don’t do well on the shoulder. The sled toppled and I thought it best to hop off, even if it meant I landed on my butt in the snow, which was wonderfully soft and bruised nothing except my ego. The huskies kept right on running, oblivious to the fate of their passenger or indeed, even to the presence or absence of said passenger.
I dusted myself off and started trudging behind them, wondering what would happen next. Nothing much, it turned out. The snowmobile had stopped the huskies before they ran all the way home. The guide came back looking for me, and of course the sled that had been behind me overtook me, thankfully without knocking me down. I didn’t get a dressing down from the guide, though I didn’t get much sympathy either. What I did get was reassurance that the dogs were alright (but of course; they weren’t the ones who got flung into the snow at 90 kmph)and further reassurance that someone falls off every day (so don’t go around thinking that you’re special).
And then, of course, I got back on. The guide told me that if it happened again, I was to put all my weight on the higher side. That advice might have been useful earlier. Or, it might not. I probably wouldn’t have remembered it until after I fell off. Now that I knew, I became much more aware of what I was doing, in fact, I actually started doing something. I paid more attention to the path and the turns and tried to adjust my weight and balance. The guide also unhitched one of the dogs, so she was running alongside the team but not pulling. So I had only four dogs to balance with my meager weight. Even so, using the brake to get them to slow down and stop was no easy task. At least they didn’t drag the sled onto the shoulder again after that. At one point, we went over a bump and I hung on for dear life and even earned a thumbs up from the guide who was cruising along sedately on his snowmobile, looking back to catch all the fun.
We did a 13 km run which seemed to go on forever. When we got back to the husky farm, the guide hopped off his snowmobile and hopped on to my sled with me! Apparently, I was to stand on one ski, while he directed the dogs with the brake and the other ski. Interesting.
Afterwards, we got to thank our dog teams. I was told the names of each of them, which I promptly forgot. Mine was an all-girls team. We went to a shed where we got our hot drinks, snack, and some information about the dogs. We were introduced to two-week-old puppies, one of which was placed in my arms where it quickly went to sleep.
And then it was lunch time for the dogs, so we were booted out quickly, because when there’s food around, it gets top priority!
Overall, it was a thrilling and amazing experience and if you’re ever in husky land, I highly recommend it. Don’t worry, only one person falls off each day.