From the notebook:
“Thankfully a short day today — the wind was howling and blowing up snow. Though, at first, it was on our backs this didn’t seem to last and soon the wind was side-on. The dogs love the cold, but they struggle to run against the wind.
Most of the terrain today was flat, across vast frozen lakes — and visibility was limited to a couple of sleds in front.
It wasn’t too challenging, which was good — but with nothing to see, the day also wasn’t much fun.
One of my rear dogs broke their neck line and wasn’t pulling properly, plus the sled always seemed to be swinging out to one side.
As we left the lake, buildings came into sight and the wind dropped. Suddenly, it was a nice day — and part of me wanted to continue in this good weather like yesterday for another few hours.
Tomorrow, we start early to avoid getting caught in the big race — and I’m a little nervous about how technically difficult it will be. If nothing else, at least it will be the last day. Go carefully, go slow — and enjoy it.”
As the notebook says, we woke up to a howling wind on the fifth day. It wasn’t snowing, and it probably wouldn’t even be that cold — if it wasn’t blowing a gale. We had a very slow start to the day, in the hope that the wind might die down or drop altogether, and there wasn’t a long distance to cover. In the end, it became clear the wind wasn’t going to go anywhere — so it would have to be us that made the first move.
And after all, wasn’t it this kind of thing we’d come to the Arctic Circle for? We’d had blizzards and we’d had blue skies and sunshine — now we were going to have icy Arctic winds. I’d said many times before I went away that the cold was the least thing I was worried about, since we’d be kitted out with cold weather gear. Now it was the time for this gear to earn its keep.
The Arctic suit was zipped all the way to the top, the full face balaclava was pulled all the way down and tucked inside the suit, the snow goggles covered the only part of my face that the balaclava didn’t, and my hood was pulled up over to the top. Once my rocket dogs were patted and told what clever, strong dogs they were and fastened onto their lines (by this time I had grown very fond of my team of dogs), I had two pairs of gloves to protect my hands.
Most of this day is just a white blur to me now, much as it was at the time. Because the wind was whipping up the snow so much, the conditions were almost a total white-out so there was no scenery to admire, and no real way of knowing how much lay ahead.
When I mention in my notebook about it being easy terrain, the connection seems obvious to me now. The weather conditions were bad because we were low down, the terrain was easy because we were following the Jiesjokka River and across frozen lakes.
The cold and the wind wasn’t too disheartening — after all, it wasn’t hard work so I had to work harder to keep warm. Sometimes I’d get off and run behind the sled, pushing it in front of me, just to help the dogs out in the wind and to do something to get my blood pumping. Other times, I’d hold on tight to the back of the sled and do squat reps to make sure blood was flowing to my feet and toes. As I say, there wasn’t much to look at so we had to make our own entertainment sometimes.
Lake Jiesjokka is apparently the biggest lake in the Finnmark area, although it was often hard to tell when one lake ended or another began. Sometimes it wasn’t immediately obvious you were sledding across a lake until you noticed the ice under your foot brake, or the lack of vegetation.
When we crossed the lake, the buildings of the Jotka mountain lodge came into view and the wind disappeared completely. With the sun shining down on us and the chance to breathe a little, I didn’t want to stop — it didn’t feel like we had been going that long, I wasn’t tired or hungry, and I was enjoying it too much.
This was the last evening before our final day of sledding, a day that had been described as “the most technical section as we sled through narrow trails downhill through dense woodland, and you will put into practice all that you have learned over the last few days”. This had be worried. I’d just about mastered the art of not falling off the sled, was I supposed to have learned some skills like how to turn the sled when going downhill along narrow, winding trails? I had visions of being dragged behind my sled all the way down a mountain. I told the group leader later that evening I was worried about it, but he reassured me that it wasn’t actually that bad.
But to add to my slight unease was the knowledge that we had to set off especially early the next morning, because the route we were taking was also the route that the famous Finnmarksløpet covered — except that they were coming from the opposite direction. If we weren’t out of the way by the time the race came up the mountain, there would be big trouble. So — no pressure.
That afternoon/evening was the last night we were going to have with our dogs on the trail, so I took the opportunity to get some photographs with my dogs — and especially my favourite dog, Anneka, who was especially affectionate and loved attention.