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Dog sled tour in Finland


Dog sled tour in Finland


From January 2nd to 9th, 2010 I visited the Eräkeskus Wilderness Lodge & Husky Farm. This is very quiet in the natural paradise of North Karelia, not far from the border with Russia. Together with 4 other travelers I was picked up at Joensuu Airport and driven to the lodge. That was waiting here  The lodge team looked up to us and we were warmly welcomed. Another traveler had already arrived in the afternoon and so our group of 6 women was now complete. At dinner everyone was able to get to know each other and then the guides gave initial information about the program for the following days. Another Finnish beer by the fireplace and then everyone went to bed full of anticipation for the coming day.


January 3rd: Immediately after breakfast, our 6-person group was divided into two 3-person groups, because in Eräkeskus the maximum group size is 4 sleds per guide. While one group was being kitted out in thermal clothing, the other was already being introduced to the art of “mushing,” as driving a dog sled is called. Then we were ready to start the first training tour. Wrapped up tightly, the thermometer still showed -27 °C, we harnessed the dogs and off we went into the white winter world. Do you know how -27°C feels on your skin when you are out on a dog sled? I can tell you, it feels like -43 °C! So my fingers and toes got cold after a while, despite 3 pairs of gloves and 4 pairs of socks. With a bit of movement they got warm again, but after the successful first tour I was looking forward to the warming sauna in the evening. But the sauna had to wait a while, because after each tour the first task is to look after the dogs. They are given a meat soup as a reward for their great work before being unharnessed and taken back to their kennels. Then we got a hot soup, which we also deserved. After the soothing sauna and a relaxing tea time, where the experiences of the first day were exchanged, there was a delicious dinner and then everyone fell tired and happy into their beds.


January 4:  On the second training tour we already knew what to expect and so the excitement wasn't that big anymore. The weather was also kind to us, - 18 °C feels much warmer, and so we enjoyed the sled tour to the fullest.  In the evening, everyone was very proud that they had already implemented what they had learned the day before.

January 5th: Due to the weather report it was decided to take the day off today. So everyone could organize the day themselves. For me, that meant feeding the dogs at 9 a.m. because I wanted to take every opportunity to see the dogs and learn more about them. I was impressed by the obedience of the dogs, who waited in front of the filled food bowl until their name was called and the bowl pushed towards you. For the morning I and 3 of my travel partners had planned to go to the village of Nurmijärvi, 3 km away, on cross-country skis. No sooner said than done and after a short briefing we set off. House dog Chippo was our voluntary companion and happily hopped in front of us as if to say, "Come on, why are you so slow?" After this excursion, relaxation was the order of the day, soup, sauna, tea, nice conversations, dinner, playing cards.


January 6th: The big day with departure for our hut tour. At breakfast everyone was already a little excited. Then the sleds were packed, because after all we had to bring food for the dogs and for us, as well as sleeping bags and our own backpacks. I got an additional dog as backup for the upcoming adventure.  So my team was complete: Arpat and Ruija were my two leaders. These run at the front and are responsible for keeping the sled on the trail. Flash ran in the second row and Mimmi and Coolman as wheel dogs at the back or directly in front of the sled. The Wheeldogs don't have to do anything other than pull and they do it with incredible energy and an almost inexhaustible enthusiasm. One speaks of the “will to pull” with the sled dogs. So the will to pull is in these athletes' genes. Our path led us through snow-covered forests, quite challenging terrain for dog sledding beginners. Again and again we had to help the dogs on climbs and push the sled vigorously. On descents, on the other hand, you brake so as not to lose control of the sled or even run over the dogs. Exhausted but happy we reached the first wilderness hut in the afternoon. First, the sleds were tied to trees and the dogs unharnessed. Then our 4-legged friends got their deserved reward - frozen meatballs. Since there is no electricity or running water in the hut, the next task was to fetch water. But unfortunately we had to find out that the pump at the well was frozen, so we couldn't get any water out of here. Luckily there was a lot of snow and so we were busy melting snow for the next few hours. The tasks were distributed - make a fire, fetch snow, melt snow on the gas stove. The first melted snow was then used for the dog soup, because the huskies need a lot of liquid and energy-rich food. Then we got hot water for tea too. After some time, the sauna was heated and we  were able to relax our strained muscles in the heat. However, the sauna session was quite adventurous, as there was no light there, just a few tea lights and everything was full of steam due to the beautiful wood stove. Especially those who wear glasses could hardly see anything. To wash, we mixed the boiling hot water in the sauna with snow. With a bucket, a bowl and a clever pouring technique, I managed to have a soothing shower. Freshly cleaned up, we sat down at the dining table. For dinner we had delicious spaghetti. After such an eventful day, the can of beer you brought with you tastes particularly good. Around 10 p.m. the dogs were fed again. Everyone ate their meal greedily, a good sign, because a dog that eats feels good. Then it was bedtime and we settled into our sleeping bags. Simone's 2 house dogs, who accompanied us freely throughout the tour, and one of the dogs from her team were also allowed to sleep with us. In Eräkeskus every dog has its job and these two are “pillow warmers”. 4 people and 3 dogs  So shared a double loft bed tonight. Nobody had to freeze.


January 7th: The next morning we were woken up by a particularly beautiful “ringing tone”, namely the howling of 29 dogs. Almost at the same time they started their song, das  do it about 2 times a day and it sounds beautiful to me. Here you can still clearly see the relationship with the wolf. Again, the tasks were divided. I volunteered to dog feed, as always, while the others prefer that  “Human breakfast” prepared. Unfortunately, the weather forecast was wrong. Instead of the announced -15 °C, the thermometer showed a good -30 °C. We decided to only do a short tour today and drive directly to the next wilderness hut and spend a comfortable afternoon in a hut there. So we only drove about 1 hour with a wonderfully clear sky but icy air to the next hut. Once there, our dogs got their reward snack again. Then we laid out extra straw for the dogs as beds so that they don't freeze in this freezing cold. The water pump was not frozen here and so the further procedure of getting the water and boiling it went much faster than the day before. Since we now had a lot of time, we enjoyed a relaxed sauna session and even dared to go out into the snow for a moment. But really only for a short time, because feet in particular start to hurt as soon as you step on the icy snow. So rather quickly back into the warm sauna. Here you could endure it well at around 70 degrees. In the evening we cooked spaetzle and sliced meat with porcini mushrooms together, very tasty! After a can of beer and a round of card games, the dogs got their evening meal again  and then it was off to the bunk.


January 8th: Is this really the last day on the dog sled? This prospect saddened me somewhat. Luckily we had a bit warmer temperatures today and were able to do a longer tour that was canceled yesterday. With clear skies and sunshine, we glided over frozen lakes and marveled at great views over the snowy landscape of Karelia from the hills. I enjoyed every minute! In the afternoon we reached Eräkeskus. Our dogs were praised enthusiastically and got a decent meat soup. Then they all came back to their kennels and  could look forward to a quiet weekend. Arpat, Ruija, Flash, Mimmi and Coolman - you were great, thank you very much for your contagious enthusiasm, your beguiling husky smile, your trust and your affection, I would have loved to take you all home with me! After all the dogs were taken care of and our things stowed away, we met for a strengthening soup and coffee/tea. The other group had arrived half an hour earlier and were already seated at the table. Everyone excitedly told about the adventures of the last few days. All were safe except for a few bruises and had a lot of fun on the tour. After the sauna and dinner we sat comfortably together by the fireplace and let the evening fade away.


January 9: Departure day. I would like to stay. Here in the cosy, small lodge in the middle of the wide, quiet landscape of Finnish Karelia we were far away from the usual life in civilization, time had no meaning during the last few days and yet it went by much too quickly. After a warm farewell from the whole team, we took the minibus to the airport in Joensuu. During the drive, the weather showed itself from its most beautiful side and so the last photos of the white landscape glittering in the sunlight were shot out of the car window. Then it was “Hei hei!” see you next time!

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