Husky dogs are dogs which look more like wolfs than dogs. They are found in extreme cold regions of the world and are very very strong. Husky racing or Dog mushing is one of the most popular sports in the lappish regions of Norway, Sweden and Finland. The races range from 300 kms to 1000 kms and can stretch onto several weeks.
A husky sled is a wooden sled (kinda like Santa’s sled, only smaller) fitted with skis underneath, a driver standing behind the sled, tied behind a team of about 6 to 14 husky dogs. The sled itself can be can used to carry a passenger or luggage in the snow. The husky teams are well trained and can run long distances dragging a lot of weight behind them.
We had the good fortune of meeting one such dedicated husky racer, Dag Broch. He has his own farm, Tana Husky in the village of Tana Bru in northern Norway. His farm has about 42 dogs, each with his own kennel and name and Dag can recognise and talk to each one of them! And they all respond to him eagerly. 🙂 Its an amazing relationship.
Dag had arranged a nice wild husky ride for us with one of his guides, Francesca. There were two sleds, one for her and one for us. I should probably mention that I was shocked at the thought of riding the sled ourselves. I always assumed we would be sitting enjoying the view while an experienced guide would be doing all the hard work for us 😀 Nope! We were given the 10 minute crash course on dog mushing, after which I decided to be the passenger for the first half of the ride and we were on our way!
I was nicely bundled up inside the sled and Shilp was driving the sled behind Francesca. What we had was the most thrilling experience of our life! Let me try to paint a word picture.
You are being pulled along into the forest by 6 freakishly strong husky dogs (bear in mind, I am afraid of even normal dogs). The only means of control you have is standing on a metal claw which will go into the snow and make the sled too heavy for the dogs to pull making them stop (braking mechanism) – temporarily. The whole time you want to stop, you have to keep standing on the ‘brake’ and the dogs will keep barking and trying to pull you ahead. If the driver falls (which is quite easy to do for anyone who is not used to it), there is no way for the passenger to brake, which means the dogs will run away with your passenger! And the road and snow are so treacherous, that it is completely possible for you to do everything right and still overturn the sled.
Do you still wanna do this?! (Yes! You do! You will have the time of your life!)
So the most important instruction given to the driver was that when you fall (inevitably), do not leet go of the sled, hang onto it with your hands and let yourself get dragged behind. This will make the sled too heavy for the dogs to pull and they will stop (They are trained that way). And it happened. Some 10 mins into the ride, Shilp fell and the sled stopped and I was blissfully unaware of everything. He started shouting for Francesca to come back. She was a good 200 meters away and walking back in snow takes time. I was assuming he was tired and wanted a break when I jokingly asked him, “Did you fall or something?”. “Yes” came the feeble answer because holding onto the sled was taking all his strength, just so the dogs don’t run away with me! I hurriedly got up and stood on the brakes so that the poor guy could leave the sled and relax (face down in the snow) and then scolded him for not telling me sooner!
So, that happened! And then I volunteered to drive the empty sled while Shilp walked behind me relaxing his muscles and catching a break. We were going uphill at this point. Ten minutes into my “drive” was when my muscles gave out and I asked Francesca if we could go back. “We can’t turn back now, Its a one way ride” came back the answer followed by a lot of pep talk about how we were doing really well and the uphill is almost over and the beautiful part is coming! Well, all I can say is, she wasn’t lying about the beautiful part!
It was breath-taking. I know i probably overuse the phrase, but it was! And I don’t have any pictures of it! Remember when i got up to help Shilp when he fell? I very nicely wrapped the camera in the blankets that were on me so that it doesnt fall while i was driving. When i unwrapped it, the whole thing was frozen. The temperatore difference (inside the blanket and outside) caused the vapor to freeze on the lens cover. So, short of trying to paint what i saw, there is no way for me to share the entire view from the top of the Fell. But I think everyone should go there and experience this for themselves.
Coming back was easier and faster and scarier (the sled tilted in dangerous angles and only barely managed to not topple over). Back at the farm, Dag was waiting for us with hot chocolate, cookies and a fire and the many many stories of the dogs and the races and the farm and his life. He also told us that the trip we just had was at least 15-20 kms long and made us feel good about ourselves :D. He told us then, it was his dream to finish the 1000 km race with his dogs and this year in March, he managed to finally complete the race! Kudos!
In case you are wondering, I did not dare to drive again after the 10 minutes uphill stint. The credits go to Shilp for driving the whole thing with spirits high and coming back with all 10 fingers and toes intact!
Fun Fact: The husky dogs are trained to do their “morning routine” on their morning run, so watch out for flying feces! 😀