Going to the Dogs

Never agree to be the last sledge out.

They don't tell you this when you sign up for a day driving a team of Siberian huskies.  Huskies are wonderful animals, huge amounts of energy, astonishing stamina and a nature that is remarkably forgiving of the novice sledge driver.  What they don't have is patience.

I was deep in the Finnish wilderness close to the Arctic Circle at a dog farm run by Marika and Lauri Sassali. "I wasn't allowed a dog when I was a boy, so now I've got 60 of them."

The sledges are tied to trees along a lane beside the farm.  Marika, "It's better if she does this, the dogs listen to her" says Lauri, works her way along the sledges attaching a team of dogs to each.  The mushers don't know what's going to happen next, but the dogs do. Their excitement builds. They know they're about to spend the next few hours doing what huskies were bred to do -  running in the snow. 

Once all the teams are harnessed, the farm hand releases the front sledge with Lauri driving. The sledge tears off down the lane, round the corner and disappears from view.  This is too much for the next dog team, they want to go too. They get released. Then sledges three, four and five.  Suddenly my rope is released. The sledge surges forward. I'm standing on the brake and hanging on but we're going faster and faster.  My only printable thought. "No wonder Amundsen got to the Pole first."

After a few minutes my dogs get sight of the teams ahead, and relax from their frantic chase into a long distance trot.

After each stop during the day, my dogs see their companions head off first and they want to go too. Each time, I'm desperately standing on the brake until the sledge ahead is far enough away to give me some running space.

And every now and again when we're running I step back on the brake to let the other sledges pull away into the distance. Confident that my team are going to see this as a challenge and, when I release the brake, put in that extra turn of speed that gives me that little extra adrenalin kick.

As I said, never agree to be last out. You might find that it's addictive.

No comments: