The dogs are barking excitedly and incessantly... We've been warned not to try to stroke them or talk to them for now - they know there is a run coming up and they're excited! They want to run not have further delays. There will be the chance to thank them at the end of the run when they are slightly less energetic.
The controls are explained and while it sounds simple enough, a husky sledge is something most of us have not tried before. My wife is going to take first dibs at driving, and as her helpless passenger I'm probably just as (slightly) nervous. And then we're off and almost immediately the dogs fall silent and concentrate on running.
There is no real steering involved - they simply follow the lead sledge - but you do need to brake occasionally to stop an over enthusiastic team trying to overtake the one in front. The air is cold and the landscape is white and vast, with the horizons bounded by snow covered trees. It's a magical experience, even when one of your six dogs decides to have a poo and sort of squats while running along! The romance is temporarily shattered by such mundane concerns, but it quickly reforms once these matters are dealt with.
This was our first visit to the north of Finland and once again Travel With Jules had come up trumps. The Wilderness Hotel Inari is sat at the side of Lake Inari; well I say 'lake' but it's almost a small sea. We were told it's about 90 kilometres long so there is a lot to see.
As well as the dog sledding, our trip included ice fishing, snowmobiling by day and night, and a snowshoe excursion. Our lakeside aurora cabin had one side where the roof is heated glass so you have an uninterrupted view of the night sky - wonderful for when the Northern Lights show up. This is, of course, not guaranteed and sadly our four night visit was rewarded with cloudy skies each night. However, unless you are totally fixated on seeing the Lights, there is more than enough to do and see to reward a visitor. And the lack of lights merely means we will have to return!
The ice fishing is more fun than it sounds as you get to drill through around half a metre of ice just to reach the water. This may sound a lot, but in the Ice Age Finland was apparently covered by around two to three kilometres of ice. So much ice, that even 12,000 years later the land is still rising up by a few millimetres each year as it recovers from all that weight sitting on it. The snowmobiles are as fun as you would imagine, but in case you are nervous they are very easy to control and limited to around 40 kph. The only people who may struggle a little are long term bikers who often try to steer the machine by leaning it. This doesn't work too well! The snowshoe excursion takes you into the forests and is another magical time; we were rewarded by seeing a couple of reindeer who were just wandering through.
It's worth remembering that all the reindeer actually belong to someone, even though they are semi-wild. The native peoples of this area (the Sami) have herded the reindeer for a long time now. In this case, 'herded' used to mean that they followed the herds in a semi-nomadic existence. They are more likely to be based in villages these days, but will still round up the reindeer twice a year, no matter how far they've wandered, in order to count the herds and to cull some for food, clothing and occasionally because they are too old or sick.
Husky sledges may be fun, but they are not native to the area. Reindeer provide a slower pulling service, but they are what the Sami used. Getting there quickly wasn't the point - getting there eventually was absolutely fine, and the reindeer are much easier to tend to on the trail. For starters, they will find their own food!
Thanks Jules and Mags for another great trip.
Rod and Sam
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