Pekka, who looked after the husky rides at the Wilderness Hotel informed us on the first day that his huskies at Nellim had caught some kind of flu. He looked decidedly concerned and so it was no surprise to us when it was announced that there will be no Husky rides the next day. However, not wanting to disappoint those who had signed up, the wonderful people at the hotel made alternative arrangements for all of us instead. We were going to go by bus to Ivalo where we could go on a Husky ride with another company!
This was great news and after a bus ride which seemed shorter than we thought, we arrived at a building which looked like hotel with a large compound next to it. And in the compound there were all these sleds lined up with six huskies to each. And boy, these huskies were serious about getting started. They were constantly barking. Tugging and pulling at their harnesses as if saying, “Come on . . let’s go!!” If the sleds weren’t anchored to the ice, they would have gone (with or without passengers).
Now if you imagined sleds to be wooden contraptions that looked like they were built in the 19th century, you are absolutely right. These things were as basic as you can get. Almost like a wooden basket on skis and the only thing they gave you to keep warm when you are seated is a leather hide. There is no steering but you do have a foot brake. This is simply a horizontal metal blade that digs into the snow when you step on it.
So with two to each sled, and some very basic instructions about keeping some distance in front of you to the next sled, we were ready. Of course throughout this time, the barking was almost deafening with the dogs keen to get go. It was liked the only thing they had been looking forward to the whole morning. Just as we were all getting used to our own sleds, the call went out and we saw the first sled in front of us take off like a rocket! One after another, sleds took off with the huskies pulling and running ahead. The convoy was quite a sight and then it was our turn. With a huge tug, our huskies leapt forward, turning our stationary sled into a breathtaking ride through the snow.
The ride was thrilling. Following the trail through bushes and shrubbery at first, we did all we could not to slam on the foot brake but just let the dogs do their thing. As there is absolutely zero steering involved, all you can do is to control how fast you are going. And the huskies are serious about pulling once they are on the move. They certainly do not stop at all. In fact, they even do their “business’ on the run. (And we are not talking about just taking a pee.) I bet you are asking how. How is that possible. Seeing is believing is all I can say here.
At the start, they do tell you to move your weight from side to side to counter the sled from tipping over when you go over some bumps but we didn’t encounter much of them on our trip at all. It was pretty smooth going. But you do have to stop the dogs from overtaking other sleds. They try to do that at every opportunity and at times I wish we could just let them go for it. Once when we were free running on the frozen Inari river, the guides called a stop for some reason but the dogs had other ideas. And because we couldn’t dig the anchor into the frozen ice, the dogs kept pulling.
Very quickly, we had sleds getting all jumbled up, coming alongside one another, losing our convoy formation. The guide then tried to stop one by throwing his bodyweight onto it but then another sled would slide right past. In the end, he just gave up and got back on his snowmobile. Whatever plans he had, the huskies over ruled them.
After almost an hour, the trail took us off the river and back into the shrubbery where we came to a clearing with a tepee in the middle. Here, like it was in the plan all along, the huskies and sleds all came to a stop. Whilst the dogs had a rest, we had morning tea over a fire like they always do out here. It was quite a welcome stop as no matter how fun it was, sledding on the ice was cold. And when you are seated with the wind in your face, it can get bitterly cold. We had brought heat packs with us but even then they were not enough. Nothing beats just warming ourselves up around the open fire and having a hot drink (usually berry juice)
Once everyone had warmed up, it was time to get back into our sleds again. We figured it was time to head back so basically going back the same way we came. However, we were wrong. Instead, we went a different way through the wooded forest and we were sure our guide lost his way. Of course, he never said anything the whole time but when you have to stop sometimes with no trail in front of you and then turning the sled around and going back the other way, you know something is wrong. There were other guides in the convoy and one wonders why the other guides didn’t correct him quickly enough but just tagged along.
We just went on and on and Peter who was seated this time round was so cold that he reckoned he lost all feeling in his toes. It was like all ten toes took a holiday and went off to the Bahamas. So on one of our stops where we slowed down (presumably looking to find a way through some snowy thicket), we quickly swapped so he could just run behind the sled to warm up. This was fortunate as the path our guide was leading us on involved some pretty hilly terrain. By now, even the huskies were getting tired and no longer being able to pull as strongly. Once the climb was so steep that both of us jumped off and help pushed the sled uphill together with the huskies! You can just imagine how lost we were!
We simply had no idea where we were other than we were getting really tired and cold. Nothing looked familiar at all. By this time, through some changes, we were the leading sled and kept following our guide in front of us. We just hoped that everyone else kept up. Then suddenly, through the bushes, we saw our bus on the road! We had returned via a COMPLETELY different route. We had to guide our huskies pass our bus, across the road and back into the compound. Then we couldn’t get back to the warmth of our bus fast enough!
The bus driver (an Inari Sami local) told us to take off our boots otherwise they will act in reverse keeping our feet cold. Peter went further and took his socks off as well. He was quite happy sitting there rubbing his bare feet to get the blood going. I reckon it was 15-20 minutes before I started getting feeling in my toes again. Boy, defrosting and frostbite suddenly took on a whole new meaning. Our Husky ride turned out to be a 4 hour session in the end (instead of 2).