I hope you enjoyed reading part 1 of my Arctic adventure from the journal I did while I was away. Now it is time for part 2 of my adventure. When I was at home thinking about this Arctic adventure trip and the long hours of sledding it would entail, I wondered where my head would take me. I find that when I am out on a run I have all sorts of meandering thoughts and often end up problem solving an issue while I am running along. Then, when I am at home, I am almost always thinking what is the next thing that needs to be done for the day, there is so much going on. I feel like I am lurching from one task to another. So far on this trip I had been surprised by the fact that my head just seemed to be emptying itself. I was happy for it to be empty and “just be”. Of course this was punctuated by bouts of panic as I battled to keep the sled upright as it hit a boulder, or as I was thrown off it! Otherwise it seemed that dog sledding might be my meditation. I was happy just being in nature, no other thoughts drifting through my head, with plenty of time to admire the view of the Arctic wilderness, or try and sink as far into my clothes as possible to keep warm!
I am surrounded by nature in its purest, rawest, and wildest form. It is stunningly beautiful but would be very unforgiving if you were not prepared properly, or looking after yourself in the right way. You are away from civilisation up here in the Arctic mountains. The dogs are a pure delight as well. Raring to go from the moment those harnesses are clipped onto the front of the sleds, right up until the end of the route. Whether that be a gentle flat couple of hours, or 7 hours involving a heap of steep climbs. Then, at the end of the day, when you stake them out and take them off the sled, they immediately curl into a tight ball and fall asleep. They are very loving and like nothing better than a snuggly cuddle. They all have absolutely gorgeous individual personalities and I was getting to know them so well, and their lovely little quirky behaviours.
Bloody hell I hurt today!! It was my shoulders and triceps mainly, but my arms in general and my abs. This Arctic adventure was giving me a serious workout! I could hardly cough it hurt so much. I think it has a lot to do with how tight I am hanging on in there. There had been fresh snow fall overnight, and the sun was trying to shine through the cloud cover. I seem to be getting the hang of the morning routine quite well now. I have no issues doing the poo clearance, paw care, harnesses, and clipping in of the dogs. However, my hands do suffer while I am doing this. I have to take regular pauses during the paw care as my hands freeze, so they are extremely painful. So I have been putting my gloves back on, taking a break, and just letting it take as long as it takes.
When we set out today, I seem to have put on a ton of weight overnight, as instead of zipping along as usual, the dogs were really struggling to pull my sled today. I was having to kick continuously, whether we were going up, down, or along, and I was getting very knackered. The guides saw me struggling, and decided to add a sixth dog onto the front of my sledge. However, I was still really slow. I was taken up to the front behind the boss’ own sled to see if that made any difference to my own dogs’ horse power. About 5 minutes after, I looked down and I could see the plastic runner on the bottom of one of the wooden runners was kinked and coming off. My poor dogs had really been struggling pulling against a sled that was breaking. We had to take an enforced break while my sledge was fixed by the guides thinking on their feet in the middle of nowhere. They did a fab job. When we set off again I was back to having to brake again the whole time! So, the sixth dog was taken back off again, and the equilibrium was all finally restored. I felt so bad for my poor dogs though, working for those few hours against my defective sled.
The rest of the day was very long, but fairly uneventful, and I enjoyed gliding along on the snow and just taking in the views. When we stopped for the day, we went into our routine with the dogs and putting the tents up. Although I could wrestle my tent on my own into the upright position, I did really struggle with the pegs. There is permafrost on the ground so the tent pegs do not go very far in, and they go in at a very shallow angle. However, I didn’t seem to have the strength to manage this to secure the tent enough, so I needed to borrow a man’s muscle power so my tent was secure! Once we had our camp up and running, the boss guide built us a campfire and produced some hot-dogs and marshmallows, which certainly boosted morale after a long day. We all enjoyed the treats and chatting over the fire, rather than retreating to our own tents in a bid to try and keep warm. It was very cosy to spend this time together.
I had received some voicemails on whats app that I found once we made camp and I had unpacked my phone. They were from the children and brought a few tears to my eyes. It was really amazing to hear their little voices and what they had been up to. The best bit being I could replay the messages as often as I wanted to hear their sweet little voices….which became a lot over the next few days. Dadda had sent me the best present that I could have ever wished for during my Arctic adventure.
Today I woke up to ice on the inside of the tent, so once I started cooking on the stove, it started snowing inside my tent!! I had my own little indoor microclimate. The temperature had really fallen overnight. We went through our morning routine, and then were under way for the day. There were a few people starting to struggle now. This Arctic adventure takes you far out of your comfort zone, but some people more than others, and I have nothing but admiration for them coping with what was thrown at them. Whether it be injuries picked up en route making driving the sleds harder or decreasing confidence, or the fact they had never wild camped before. They were not only managing it, but in the depths of an Arctic winter too. However, it takes its toll the more days you go on through the trip. It is a very mentally and physically demanding activity. You are not merely hitching a lift with the dogs pulling you. When all is going well, you still need to be on the look out for the next booby trap in the landscape that can have you thrown off. When you are going uphill or over ground that is harder work for the dogs you need to help them by either kicking, or running and pushing the sled. Then there is all the work to be done with the dogs and camping once you reach your spot for the night, and then again in the morning when you get up. Add to this you are doing it all clothed in Arctic outdoor clothing, boots, and gloves which are more of a hindrance than a help…although completely necessary. I found today’s lower temperatures, strong winds, and sideways snow a great test of my resilience. I lost the feeling in my fingers and toes really badly today. I bounced off my sled again today as well, plus the person’s sled behind me careered into my left calf, which required a minute or two to recover from afterwards. It was a tough day all round.
Today was fairly uneventful, which was perfect! We sledged for only around four hours, but there was a reason for that. Tomorrow we would have a really early start for the last day of sledding on our Arctic adventure, and a long day as well. Everything seemed to go without a hitch in the main. We all set up camp on a beautiful ridge with stunning panoramic views. I was early into the sleeping bag (around 20.30) to try and get some sleep before we were up the next day. I went to bed wearing everything I could as I was really feeling the cold.
The final day of our Arctic adventure and I was not sure I was ready to finish yet. We got up at 03.00 to do the long 7 hours back down to our transport that would pick us up. Today’s route would take us through the coldest weather yet. We had sun, winds, and white outs. We should travel from Sweden into Finland, before returning to Norway. We saw lots of reindeer, but unfortunately it was far too cold for me to risk getting my fingers out to take a photo of them. When I was getting the dogs ready for the day I made sure I had lots of cuddles with them, as we had been warned that once we stopped at the transport, the dogs would be loaded onto the mobile kennel as quickly as possible to get them safely away from the road. Then off we went on the final sledge of our Arctic adventure. The Arctic tundra was looking so beautiful this morning in the wild cold weather, with the mountains looming huge and imposing. I was even more determined to savour every moment, with it being the last day. I perhaps didn’t savour what would be my last two falls though, which happened in very quick succession. I had always been quite fast on the sled throughout the whole Arctic adventure, apart from when the sled broke. However, the dog food in my sled was eaten up yesterday evening, so now I had 15kg less in my sledge and we were racing!! We had a lot of steep climbs throughout the day, which enabled others to work up a bit of body warmth (but was rather exhausting), however I was even braking uphill!! Eventually a dog was taken off my sled, and so I finished the week with only 4!!
After 7 long hours of dog sledding, we finally emerged where the transport was waiting. It was time for an emotional goodbye to our four legged friends, as they were loaded up to head home for a well earned rest. For us it was time to hop on the mini bus and head off for a night in a hotel to clean up and sleep, before heading home on our flights the next day. I was very excited at the prospect of a shower after a week of no washing, not to mention I would be able to sit on a normal toilet. Once I had showered, I did contemplate having a nap, after all we had got up at 3am. However, I decided to head off into Tromsø to explore and look around, and make use of my time there. I also found a very cosy bar to sit and enjoy a quiet glass of red wine, before some of my newly made friends (of the 2 legged variety, not the four legged) joined me. We also went and enjoyed a meal out together in the evening with our lovely guides too.
This adventure had been everything I had hoped it would be, and much much more. It had pushed me out of my comfort zone on so many levels:
- I had travelled alone.
- I had faced the winter in the Arctic and wild camped in it.
- I had learnt to dog sled and take care of my own team of doggies.
- I had managed to put up and take down a tent, and everything else in camp on my own.
- I had not been anywhere near my husband and children, and for periods of days had no contact at all with them.
- I had explored a city on my own and had the courage to have and enjoy a drink out on my own, in my own company.
It was a blooming tough challenge mentally and physically, but an Arctic adventure that has shown me that I still have what it takes to get on with life in adverse conditions. I would not hesitate do it all over again. The raw beauty of the Arctic mountains, the wilderness, and being so immersed in nature is something I will never ever forget. I have definitely left a piece of my heart up there, and I cannot wait to return in the early autumn, to hike the trails this time…..watch this space!!!