Arctic Adventure (4)

February 8, 2009

Dog-sledding in Årrenjarka

Dog-sledding in Årrenjarka

Sunday, we got up extremely early in the morning – it seemed especially early since some of us didn’t hit the sack until 3am. After five gallons of coffee and a few slices of toast we walked to the lodge to meet the dog-musher Tor-Henrik. There was a miscommunication about where to meet so we spent an hour or so looking for Tor-Henrik and then suiting up – he didn’t think we had warm enough boots for several hours in the minus 28 degree weather. We also helped Tor-Henrik harness his dogs. To be honest, I helped very little here compared to the others. I’m not a fan of smelly, hysterical Alaskan Huskies. Although they were cute and friendly – they were also jumping all over us as we tried to put on their special harnesses and attach them to the sled. One of them escaped and tore off down the hill with half his harness dragging behind him in the snow. This created an uproar in the already chaotic dog pens. Since the other members of his sled team egged him on he spent the next fifteen minutes racing up and down at break-neck speed between the pens barking his head off. Finally, we caught him, attached him to his spot on the line and piled onto the inadequate-looking sled. Incredibly, all four of us fit. Mushing the excited dogs, we slid quickly down a shallow hill, weaving in between pine and birch trees, and made our way towards the lake. Once we were onto the lake, we picked up speed, following the carefully-maintained snowmobile tracks. Here, we noticed the over-powering smell of dog farts. One of us mentioned this, and Tor-Henrik related a story about how he had recently seen a Canadian film where an Inuit musher claimed there was nothing better in life than racing along on your sled with poisonous clouds of dog fart blowing in your face…. Twenty minutes of dog farting later we found a nice little spot on the side of another lake and made a fire for fika. Tor-Henrik brought along a large thermos of hot water for tea and coffee and some warm cinnamon rolls. We cleared a space to build our fire and collected dry wood and bark from fallen branches. It was surprisingly easy to make the fire – no gasoline-drenched starter log was necessary like we use at home. With the toasty fire going strong, Tor-Henrik spread out some reindeer pelts and we huddled around the flames, quietly sipping hot tea and munching cinnamon rolls. I took my boots off and singed my socks – burning the soles of my feet a little bit. A small black spider crawled out from under the snow beside our campfire and warmed himself at the edge before wandering away. We all noted how green the moss and leaves under the melted snow was. We also found out that Tor-Henrik is a Sami archeologist. He only does the dog-mushing to make a living. He joiked his song for us on the ride back to Årrenjarka. While we enjoyed our fika a couple of the younger dogs had chewed their harnesses. The same dog that escaped when we were preparing the sled – Chalmo (I know this is the wrong spelling but can’t find the correct one – it means four eyes in northern Sami) – had chewed off half his harness. It completely screwed him up for the ride back since only half his body was attached to the tether. He kept turning around and looking back at us like “Shit, I’m not cut out for this dog-sledding scene.” Despite the general atmosphere of cold and fatigue, we helped Tor-Henrik detach the dogs from the sled upon our return. Then, he drove us back to the lodge to return our special Arctic boots…. The remainder of our evening was pretty mellow. We made dinner and I performed Harry Savage’s 50 Arctic flares, using 50 tea lights instead, on the lake. Magnus and Suzanne were my enrapt audience – we also taped it for posterity.

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