Life in Lapland can be challenging, especially if you leave the comfort of your life in the city to set off for a three-day adventurous husky safari in the wilderness in -25 degrees.
We gathered in Helsinki eleven people with seven different nationalities with one goal, to live for four days in the wilderness of Finnish Lapland and travel with the husky dogs, hoping to realize our common dream to see Aurora Borealis, change our lives and expand our comfort zones experiencing this ultimate adventure!
We thought that we had all the information needed on what to expect and how to prepare ourselves for this trip, but no one could imagine what was coming.
We left Ivalo airport where we landed and settled in our cozy chalets in Ukonjärven Holiday Village near Ivalo city for the night. The night passed by enjoying the sauna, the warmth and an abundant dinner with traditionally cooked Finish stew and onion soup, much-needed after a long day of traveling. That was the last luxury we savored. We were already mesmerized by the landscape, frozen dense forests, and lakes and absolute silence.
The next day dawned with blazing sun and much excitement for our upcoming husky safari adventure. Our taxi picked us up and drove us to Extreme Huskies Kennel where Ossi was waiting to welcome us. And indeed, what a welcome that was! More than a hundred husky dogs were barking all together saying “hello” in their own unique way.
I could never have imagined how strong the body had to be to withstand these weather circumstances of intense cold and how much stronger it could become in only three days spent outdoors, moving actively, feeling alive.
After picking up our equipment, overalls, boots, socks, hats, and gloves we set off for our adventure. The start was not exactly what we hoped for. Our companions, the dogs were racing dogs and each sled was pulled by four dogs, a number that seemed to us like few in the beginning, but little did we know. These Huskies were raised to be strong, fast and thrive in this environment, though, to us they seemed small and thin, they were muscular and it was difficult to stop them from moving forward sometimes, even when we were pushing on the break. We learned by experience that they absolutely never stop, even if the sled in front of you had stopped. If you were not concentrated enough to stop your sled, they would find a way to run over the sled in front of them… So there was no space for us to absentminded. Within the first fifteen minutes of our trip some of us we were almost falling off the sleds as we were using muscles that had not been used for quite some time. I could never have imagined that my hands were so weak and that my thumb was such useful finger when it came to sled riding. Without it, it would be impossible to stay on the sled.
But, as they say, by trial and error comes knowledge, so after the first half hour, we slowly started finding our way in the Lappish wilderness, connecting with our dogs, feeling more comfortable on the sled and enjoying a good ride, appreciating the miracle of our bodies.
My team was composed by of Vitor, Amp, Knate, Finish race dog champions of both the current and the previous year, and Torn, “the intelligent”. Each dog had its own unique character. All were extremely fast, so you can imagine the ride!
Everything around me looked like a dream but at the same time was so real. The vast open white spaces while crossing over big frozen lakes with our sledges, the dense pure forests covered in snow, the shimmering snow under the blazing sun, the howling of the dogs during our stops, their silence during the ride, the deep vast quiet of pure nature, the calm and warm natures of the Finnish people, the reindeer and so much more. Words cannot describe what makes Lapland such a dream destination.
We arrived at the isolated cabin deep in the forest where we would spend 2 nights. It had been a long day, a ride of over thirty kilometers with sleds and dogs. For those who want a taste of how people used to live in the past when there was no electricity, heating or running water, this would be an excellent opportunity.
But first things first, before feeding ourselves we had to cook and feed those on who our survival in these weather conditions depended on, the dogs To do this we needed water, but from where? There were a river few meters from the cabin, frozen and still, everything covered in white. Our task was to open a hole in the frozen river using only a big manual drill, a difficult task since the ice was more than a meter deep. After this, we had to fill in buckets with water using a scoop, many buckets…. We needed water not only to prepare the meal for the dogs, but also to drink and cook for ourselves, wash and, of course, to heat the sauna! But what do the dogs eat? Good question. They eat frozen meat after it has been defrosted by boiling it in water, mixed with dry food and water. So basically they eat meat soup.
We decided to split into teams. Some people were exacting water from the river and transferring it to the places where it was needed, others were heating the water, cutting the frozen meat with an ax and preparing it for the dogs, some people were feeding the dogs. Nico, who was volunteering at the farm, prepared the meal for the team and heated up the cabin so that it would be warm and we could relax. And finally, some people were heating up the sauna. To survive in Lapland teamwork, bonding and trust are essential; it compels you to put your ego aside.
The next day, quite spontaneously, we decided to take a break from riding the dogs and to enjoy a long walk with our snowshoes through the forest instead. All this after giving breakfast to the dogs first; water with just a taste of meat so they would have something to wait for until dinner! The day was excellent for a walk as the sky was clear blue and the sun was shining! It was such an amazing feeling to walk through the woods and feel the warmth of the sun on your face, enjoying the silence and nature, taking time for yourself to reflect and listen to your inner voice, connect deeper with this feeling of “I am”, disconnect from everything else.
For lunch, we camped outside next to a big frozen lake where we built an open fire. The feast began by grilling sausages on a stick and enjoying a homemade blueberry pie, baked by Sinnie! We also got the chance to have our first snowmobile driving lesson or hitchhike on the lake – there were many passing snowmobiles that could give you a lift back to the camp fire if you had walked too far away.
It was time to head back to the cabin and start preparing ourselves for the visit of the Finnish Shaman. But after we had fed the dogs, do not ever forget the dogs! There is a tradition in Shamanism in Northern Finland and the ceremony called “kamlani”, took place outside. A big fire was burning, animal’ skins were put around in a circle for us to be able to sit on the snow, and the path leading to the fire was lit by many candles. There was sacredness in the pure Lappish air. The Finnish Shaman presented himself, explaining his traditions, and took us on a trip to the underworld by beating his curved drum, painted with symbols.
On our last day we went through the same familiar routine we had all grown to love, breakfast for the dogs, breakfast for the people, preparing the sleds for the trip back! Today we had to cover more than thirty kilometers. The route, planned carefully by Carry and Ossi, was beyond our expectations! We arrived at the kennel happy, bonded and strong.
If you asked me what present I took back home from this experience in Lapland my answer would be… Long serpentine roads along the dense fir forest, delicious silence and the sound of the dogs’ feet on the snow. A stronger and more alive body accompanied by inner stability and confidence, the love and openness of my fellow travelers and of the Lappish people and the sweet memory of the soft touch of Aurora Borealis!
Until the next time, be in stillness!