The next few days were spend doing nothing much and hanging out with the dogs. Some feeding, some removal of excrements, but mostly sitting there and hugging and petting them.
And always trying to remember that, when a dog came up close and personal, that they were all very friendly dogs and didn't really want to bite off your nose - appearances notwithstanding.
They just wanted to lick it.
Or push you aside for a better photo opportunity.
It sometimes got slightly irritating when one of the 'Russian river' dogs (usually Baikal or Valday) wanted your attention. They hadn't learned yet not to use their mouth to interact with clients, so when they felt that you didn't pet them enough, they sometimes grabbed your arm with their teeth to pull you towards them. All very friendly and careful. Clearly grabbing with no intent on biting. But if you are sitting there with only a t-shirt on (as it sometimes happened) and a large dog has your arm between its teeth, it takes some effort to remember that this is meant affectionately. (None of us had any problems with that, but if people aren't accustomed to these dogs, they might overreact.)
By the way, the 'look how cool I am' dog below is Albus, who hadn't been with us on the trip.
Constanze, Catte and Kenneth also went to see the horses and shovel snow.
A lot of snow.
While we had been away, one of the horses had been in a corner of the enclosure and tried to walk across the snow. As the snow was soft and rotten here as well, the horse was sinking deeply into the snow, panicked and refused to move. So they shoveled a path for the horse, so it could walk back to the stables and then shoveled some more to provide some more room for it to walk around outside.
We also unloaded the trailer, sorted the gear, hung up the harnesses and dog jackets to dry.
And settled in a kind of domestic normality, having breakfast with a dog (Oboy) around the house and going 'walkies' later.
But then there was a bit of good weather news.
There would be a bit of a cold phase during the next weekend.
Not very cold (about -5°C at night), but better than what we had all week.
And the best weather situation was, ironically, right where we were.
So the whole idea of driving up far north to get colder weather and better snow conditions, while having been a sensible plan, turned ad absurdum by the actual weather situation we had.
Which suited us well.
So we didn't have to put everything in (dogs) and on (equipment) the trailer again and drive a few hundred kilometers, but could start right out of the dog yard.
As we had only three days available, the new plan was simple this time - we would go to Viktoriakyrkan on the first day, do a day trip from there on the second day and then either drive back or to some place where we could be picked up with a trailer on the last day.
That had quite a large number of advantages.
As Kenneth and Catte have control of the cabin at Viktoriakyrkan (some sort of deal that they can use it in exchange for maintaining it), we didn't need to do any reservations. And there are dog houses at the cabin, so we didn't need to worry about dogs sleeping in wet snow. So no need to bring straw, hay or wood wool with is. And, as the houses would protect the dogs, no need of bringing dog jackets along either.
And the place is accessible by road. So if we got stuck there for some reason, it would be easy to go there with the trailer and bring us back. (Unlike, for example, if we had gone to the cabin at Tärna Lake, which has no road access.)
There was only one (very minor) problem - a small side road in Umnäs that we needed to cross. It was (as it is standard in Sweden) well cleaned of snow and there was a little trench along its side without any snow. While certainly do-able in a dog sled, there was a good chance that someone might lose control of the sled and fall over. (Especially, as that was about 200 meters from the exit of the dog yard - a place where the dogs would still be over-eager to run and the team would be hard to control.)
So Constanze and I went out for some more snow shoveling to make a little 'snow ramp' on both sides of the road, making the trail easier for the next day.
And then, after about a week of sitting around, we were dogsledding again.
We went for an early start (and managed to leave the dog yard at 05:30) to make the best of the cold conditions and be at our destination before the snow would be all soft and soggy again.
It was a fun ride - the sleds were light and the trails, well, solid.
Quite solid, actually.
While the surface looked like regular snow, it was snow that had partly thawed and frozen over. It felt more like running on ice than like running on snow. That was most noticeable when getting in and out of old snowmobile tracks. Usually there's a soft transition and the sled stays stable, but this time it felt more like driving in and out of a trench. (Note how the dogs and the sled leave no impression on the snow when they leave the snowmobile trail.)
It is a bit hard on the dogs' paws, but it was a lot better than the soft snow that we had before. And while there is a lot of friction between the sled runners and this kind of frozen-over snow (it's like pulling the sled over sandpaper), the sleds were light and still easier to pull than when sinking into deep snow.
So we were happy to be out on the trail again. And the dogs were too.
The teams had changed quite a bit from the first days.
While Kenneth was still suffering a bit from the cold he caught on the previous trip, Catte had gotten sick now as well and preferred to stay at home and get better, instead of being out on a tour.
So with only three dog sledding teams (Kenneth's, Constanze's and mine), we could leave some dogs behind and take only the 'elite dogs'.
I had still Yoda, Strider and Gran in my team (so Gran and Strider were still the two dogs that had been on my team on every trip), but Fergus and Harry were out and replaced by Tall and Robert.
I was a bit disappointed not to have Harry in my team (he was great in pulling and the most enthusiastic dog in my team during rest days), but the youngest dogs deserved a break after doing so well on their first season. (Though we kept all four of the 'Russian rivers' dogs with us, as they were a bit older.)
Interestingly, I got Robert in my team.
While there is no 'fixed' position for any dog and they get swapped around in the team (and also between teams - I had started the first two days of the tour with Krom in my team, but as I was lagging behind, Kenneth exchanged Krom with Järn from his team to speed me up a bit), in most cases Catte has Robert as her lead dogs (the same way that Kenneth likes Idun to run in lead for him).
So I was wondering what it would be like to have one of the 'preferred leaders' in my team of 'elite dogs' (a wording that became somewhat of a catchphrase).
In short - worrying.
In the end it's more about what you like, what you are accustomed to and what you can handle than the skill of the dog.
I am sure that Robert is the perfect lead dog for Catte (who knows what she's doing). But the problem with an experienced lead dog is that it assumes that you are an experienced driver.
Which I'm not.
My team was running third in line and Robert clearly didn't like following the other teams.
Presumably partly to have a better view of the trail ahead. And partly because running on the undisturbed snow surface was easier on the paws than running on the frozen snowmobile trails.
Which probably wouldn't have bothered Catte. But for me being beside the trail meant that I was passing trees and snowmobile trail markers a lot closer than I was comfortable with.
So it wasn't long until I moved Robert into second row and move Krom to lead. Everything was working well for me again. (Even though I lost my nice Ro-Ro-Ro mnemonic for my leads - the Rohan-Robert-Row.)
It's really down to personal preferences. Last year I had Snövit and Loke as my lead dogs for a while and my notebook was later full of remarks how much I disliked that (until I switched some dogs around and everything was to my liking again). So while I was running with Robert and Rohan in lead (and not being happy about this, despite Robert being an experienced lead dog), Constanze was having Snövit and Loke as her leads and perfectly happy with them, praising them as a great lead team to have. So it goes.
In any case, Snövit and Loke were well matched as lead dogs. I got a short video sequence from them (converted to animated GIF) that shows how well the two run in sync.
If synchronous dog running ever becomes a sport (as unlikely as that is), the two of them would be prime competitors.
In any case, we had a good run - one of the fastest ever between Umnäs and Viktoriakyrkan. Not so much due to any particular skills of ours, but more since we didn't have much weight in the sleds. (Usually they do that tour on the first day of longer tours, so the sleds are loaded with food and gear for at least a couple of days.)
And while partly thawed and frozen-over snow does not make good trails, it does provide a shiny and glittery surface that really looks 'sparkly' in the sun (even though it isn't that noticeable in the pictures) and makes the scenery look even more impressive than it already is.
As we had started early and had been moving fast, we arrived at Viktoriakyrkan around 09:30. By then the effects of the warmth and the sunshine were already obvious and the snow became quite soft and boot-trapping again.
The dogs liked, in theory, that they had nice houses to relax in. But as the houses had been placed on the snow much earlier that season, the snow under the houses had deteriorated as well and many dogs got a bit of a nasty surprise when they tried to enter their dog houses, only to find that it fell over.
So the dogs had a valid reason to complain.
Fortunately that was easily fixed by taking the houses, putting them upright and pressing them down on the snow, so all 'legs' of the houses would stand on the solid ground below.
The only issue was the house that Neon had. It looked quite all right and we started to wonder why Neon was the only dog sleeping outside. At first we put that down to "Well, some dogs like different things." (like the one dog that did at first prefer to lie on snow instead of hay). It took a day until we noticed that her house was quite wobbly and it shifted when Neon tried to enter it, so she considered it unsafe and preferred to stay outside. Quickly resolved by sitting on top of the dog house and pushing it down onto solid ground.
But a clear sign that we needed to pay more attention to what the dogs were doing and wondering why they were acting unexpectedly.
Another lection learned was that it's better to fetch water early in the day.
While the cabin in Viktoriakyrkan has electrical power, there is no running water, so the water is fetched from a hole in the lake.
Walking on the lake was no problem, but walking with full water buckets from the shore up to the cabin was. If you are carrying a bucket or two of ice cold water, you don't want to sink half a meter into the snow and pour the water all over yourself.
So we were very careful with fetching water at noon, trying to follow, as much as possible, the trail that others had been using that season, as there was more compact snow under the loose snow. And the other two days we made sure to fetch water early in the morning, where everything was still frozen and solid.
Not much to do in the afternoon, so we were sitting around and enjoying the sun. And had an early dinner later.
Next day we went up early (but not quite as early as the previous day, so we started at 07:30) to do a quick day tour. We knew that around noon the trails were likely to be bad again, so the goal was to be back by then.
The place we headed for is one that even Kenneth doesn't get to see that often - a mountain plateau with fantastic views of the scenery all around. (It's not as if it is hard to reach or access is restricted. It's just that most tours heading on from Viktoriakyrkan are bound for Tärna Lake or Ammarnäs and it's a detour from both routes.)
The route up the mountain has a bit of everything - some driving along a lake to get going, followed by a forest trail and then opening up to the treeless 'top of the world' mountain plateau with superb views all around.
Note the interesting paw pattern in the image below.
We had stopped for a moment, when we were going in a bit of a left curve.
While running, the dogs follow the sled in front (which was mine) - you can see my sled marks if you look carefully. But while standing, the dogs pay attention to Kenneth, whose sled was a bit to the left. So instead of staying where they stopped, they all shuffled over to the left to have a better view of what Kenneth was doing.
Driving up to that mountain plateau was easy and fun, especially for me, since about the only things in my sled were sandwiches and cameras, so I was traveling light.
Although that wasn't quite as much fun when we were heading back down
again, since an empty sled bounces around quite a bit and, to my surprise,
is harder to slow down. (I had assumed that it would be easier
to brake the sled on downhill passages, as you only need to counteract
the pull of the dogs and not the inertia of a heavy sled as well.
It seems like the inertia of the sled doesn't have that much of
an effect. What has an effect is the weight of the sled on the
ground. Partly because it increases drag and also because it supports
braking. If the sled is light, pushing the brake down is as likely to
push the sled up as it is to drive the brake spikes into the snow.
While I don't have any objective data on this, it felt
harder to slow down the sled downhill than it had before. But then,
it might also have been the power pull of the 'elite dogs' in front
of my sled.
The effect of the lighter sled was also noticeable as I was the only one who fell of the sled that day. When we in one of the frozen snowmobile tracks, my sled started bouncing around and at one point fell over. It was easy to get it back up and move on (the snow was solid enough to stand there and throw it upright again). I asked Constanze, who was behind me at that point and had intentionally put a bag of dry dog food into her sled to make it heavier, later whether there had been anything tricky with the trail, but there wasn't anything. Just the sled bouncing around a bit too much. (Usually, if the driver in front of you falls, you pay very close attention to that part of the trail to avoid having the same problem. So while there might have been some trick of the trail that I didn't notice, Constanze would have looked closely and seen it. But she stated that she was a bit confused why I did fall, as there was no reason at all for it.)
Going downhill on iced-over snow, especially in the forest area with the smaller trails was exciting and challenging (Constanze mentioned that it felt like this was some sort of test), but we managed to do that without any problems (making the one pointless fall earlier on feel even more embarrassing). We were back at the cabin in Viktoriakyrkan around 10:00.
The sun was shining and it was quite warm, so it was a good opportunity to turn the sleds into ad-hoc deck chairs and lounge in the sun for most of the afternoon.
In the meantime, some of the (Russian Rivers) dogs got bored again and started eating their accommodation.
In the evening then the discussion - what would we do on the last day?
The logistically easiest thing to do would be to drive back to the dog kennel.
But, technically, that would also be the most difficult thing to do.
There's a long, steep, windy passage down to one of the lakes on the way.
We had gone up that way when going to Viktoriakyrkan, of course. But the question Kenneth was asking - would we dare to go down that way as well?
Steep, curvy, icy, with lots of things to hit on the way down.
An alternative would have been to go somewhere else - for example along the lake for a bit and then across some hills to a spot near a road. Pretty much the same route we had taken two years earlier, but approaching it from Viktoriakyrkan instead of coming from Tärna Lake. As far as the dog sledding itself went, it would be a lot easier (a flat lake, a bit uphill and then a mostly flat plateau), but it would require Catte to drive there with the trailer and pick us, the dogs, and the sleds up.
Following a short discussion, we decided to drive right to the kennel.
To a certain extent, the downhill trail we did that day had been a kind of test. And both of us (I'm talking about Constanze and me here - there was obviously never any question on whether Kenneth could do it) managed to get down that trail without any serious problems (my fall had happened before we came to the forest area). Getting down the trail from the mountain plateau gave at least an indication that we might be capable of handling it. The trail the next day would be a bit harder to do, but not extremely so.
Or, the way Kenneth put it, "At least you are not complete beginners anymore."
But then again, that was all the useful advice he could give us for the next day. Asked for hints how to deal with the trail the following day, he responded: "Just don't fall." (Which had always been our plan anyway...)
When we got started the next morning (at 07:00), we were a bit nervous and glad that we made the first 100 meters without a problem. There was a tricky part on the short bit from the cabin to the lake. One of the trees that you had to drive around had no snow around it. So if you weren't careful, the sled would tip and crash right into the tree. We hadn't known about it the previous day and we both managed to drive past it without a problem. But both of us had also noticed that this was a difficult spot and we were lucky that we hadn't run into problems.
Now that we knew that it was there, it was worrying us. Partly, because it is sometimes easier if you just react and not try to overthink it in advance. But also because we knew that more difficult things were to come and it if we ran into problems that early, on a spot that we had both managed without a hitch, it didn't bode well for the rest of the day.
But we did manage to pass that again without problems, so our first worry of the day was over.
We then had a bit of normal uphill trail and some flat-ish bits before we came to the section we all had been worrying about.
It was quite an exciting run and by far the most difficult thing I have ever done on a dog sled. At some points, I have no idea how I had not crashed the sled into something. But we managed to get down to the next lake.
What a wild ride!
In the final bits of that section, I wasn't looking ahead anymore, but only reacting to what was right there and hoping that Constanze hadn't crashed in front of me.
I had been standing on my brake as hard as I could, but we were still going at a lot of speed - all the time.
Towards the end, I did notice that there was a short section with no snow at all.
As you shouldn't use the brake in such a section (as it could snag in some exposed root or something) that meant going even faster. And when the sled was on a bit of snow again and I could step back onto the brake, I noticed that there was another bit of snowless surface right in front of me - we were crossing a road.
So the only thing to do was hope for the best (that there's no car approaching, that the sled will not fall over into the ditch on the other side of the road, that there's nobody already lying there).
It all worked well and only a short bit later we were back on a lake and the difficult part was behind us.
The lake gave us a chance to relax a bit.
Which we needed.
I hadn't noticed how hard I had been holding on to the sled, but when I took my left hand from the handle bar, I found that I was unable to turn my wrist. I had been grabbing the handle bar so hard, that my muscles had just. Nothing serious - after a couple of minutes, I could move my hand normally again - but I was surprised by it, as I hadn't been aware of holding on so tightly at all.
After that, the rest seemed easy.
I was a bit surprised by that.
We had done the same route the previous year under very different snow conditions and I did recall that the section leading to the final lake was the one I found most difficult to handle (while I didn't remember the part that we had just done as problematic).
So when we went down to the final lake, I was waiting for the difficult bits to come, but then I was on the lake without any issues at all.
The part after that was easy to do - across the lake, around the church and up to the kennel. (There was only a minor worry of "don't screw this up now!". After going without problems through some really tricky bits, it would be too embarrassing to make some stupid driving error on the last few meters. But we all managed to get back into the dog yard without a hitch.)
And that was the end of the dogsledding for that tour.
While we originally had vastly different plans, they didn't work out. And instead of having ten days of sledding "up north", we ended up with two days of sledding there and three more (a week later) on "home turf".
But the interesting thing was that nobody really minded. It was clear to everyone that, at every point during the trip, the current plan was the one most likely to succeed. There weren't any decisions that could have been made better with the knowledge available at that time. And everyone was pragmatic enough to realize that.
So there was always a positive "well, that wasn't working - what will we do next?" attitude. And we all knew that we had been hoping for a different trip, but nobody was grumpy about not getting it. (Or, to pointlessly quote some song lyrics, "You take the good, you take the bad, you take it all, and that is all you get.")
After getting back, we had the rest of the day to play some more with the dogs and to leave one of the guest houses.
Catte and Kenneth were going down to Stockholm two days later for a short 'end of season' vacation and to celebrate Kenneth's birthday and the 'dog sitter' would arrive with the plane later that day (if I remember correctly, one of their clients who was retired and didn't mind spending a week hanging around the dogs and caring for them).
It didn't quite happen that way.
When the plane was trying to land in Hemavan (or a bit earlier when going for the landing at Vilhelmina), the pilot notice that the landing gear wouldn't come out.
So after some thought, they decided to turn around and go back to Stockholm.
Partly, because that airport is better equipped for emergencies (the best Hemavan has to offer is the "Surface Friction Tester" car) and, a bit more somber, there are also more and better hospitals to deal with the aftermath if something does go wrong.
In the end, they managed to land more or less normally, but it must have been a bit unnerving during the flight back to Stockholm to know that the primary reason for going there was the better chance to survive the expected crash landing.
But that was the reason why the 'dog sitter' didn't arrive as expected and would come with the afternoon flight the next day. (At least I hope he did. If he was scheduled for the evening flight, he would have been in for another unpleasant surprise, although one that wasn't quite as bad as what he had been through.)
Next day, it was time to leave.
In the morning, the first thing was to get rid of the beard and return to looking like a civilized person again.
(Well, not quite true on two counts. Even without beard, I don't look that civilized. And the first thing to do in the morning was to say "Hello!" to Idun, who was my 'house dog' at that time.)
I went to say good-bye to the dogs in the dog yard and finally gave them my 'departure present' - a bagful of pig ears.
I had bought pig ears for all the dogs as a 'Thank You' after the tour and it seemed proper to do it again. And, coincidentally, they had exactly 44 pig ears available at the local mini market, suitable for the 44 dogs that Kenneth and Catte have. (I don't think that supermarket stacking algorithms are sufficiently sophisticated yet to figure out that I bought pig ears for the dogs last year and that I would do it again this year. And ensure that exactly the right number for the dogs were in stock. But I would advise the supermarket in Slussfors to stock up on pig ears next March...)
Here are some statistics from the dogsledding parts of the trip.
|Date||From||To||Start||End||Time||Pause||Moving||Distance||Avg.||Mov.Avg.||Min Alt||Max Alt||Total Ascent||Total Descent|
Note: I've split the second day of the trip in two individual sections, going from Vounatjviken to the place where we waited for the snowmobiles and from there to Årrenjarka. The two parts were too different to give any meaningful data when put together.
And here is the GPS trail from the tour on a satellite map (and also here as a KML file to download and watch in Google Earth).
|Drive to Tjärnberg|
|Drive Årrenjarka to Jokkmokk|
|Drive to pick up food at Björkudden|
|Drive back to dog kennel|
|Drive to and from airport|
All there was left to do was to get to Hemavan, spend the night there and fly out early next morning.
Our flight was at 06:00 and it's about an hour drive from Umnäs to Hemavan. If we had stayed in Umnäs, then Kenneth or Catte would have needed to get up around 04:00 to drive us up to Hemavan.(And they would be driving to Stockholm the same day. So besides driving us 80 km up to Hemavan and back again, that would be followed by another 900 km of driving down to Stockholm.) Instead of going to Hemavan in the morning, Constanze and I had booked rooms in a hotel in Hemavan. So we were free to go to Hemavan on the previous day at any time that was convenient (and it was convenient, as Kenneth wanted to go to Hemavan anyway for a haircut - originally on the previous day, but that was rescheduled) and then get up early and walk over to the airport for the 06:00 flight.
If that would have happened.
I went to bed early (as I had a 06:00 flight to catch and a lot to do the next day), only to be woken around 23:00 by someone knocking at my hotel room door.
It turned out to be someone from the airport.
Due to the weather conditions, the evening plane from Stockholm hadn't managed to get to Hemavan, but was re-routed to Lycksele, about 250 km away.
So it would not be leaving from Hemavan airport the next morning, but from Lycksele instead.
And to get to Lycksele, we would need to take a bus, which was leaving from Hemavan airport at 03:00...
So, in a sense, it was lucky that we were staying in the hotel in Hemavan. If we had remained in Umnäs instead, they would have had no way of notifying us. So we would likely have arrived at the airport at 05:00, only to find that there wouldn't be any flight and the bus had left hours ago.
But at least the people at the airport had figured that many passenger of the early flight were likely to be staying in local hotels and then around to notify them.
So we had a nice, though unexpected, bus tour in the morning before the flight back to Stockholm.
We never managed to find out why we had to go to Lycksele.
Even if the plane hadn't been able to go to Hemavan in the evening, it would have made more sense to fly it from Lycksele to Hemavan in the morning and have the passengers board there (even if that had meant 45 minutes delay, if they weren't allowed to leave Lycksele earlier due to noise restriction rules), as, unlike busses, planes are really good in getting from one airport to another quickly.
Or, if they didn't want to bother to fly to Hemavan to save money, why they didn't drive us with the bus to Vilhelmina. It is a shorter distance to drive there than to Lycksele and the plane was making a stop in Vilhelmina anyway, so why not give the passengers another hour of sleep and then drive them there?
But, ultimately, it didn't matter. We made it to Stockholm. And got even free sandwiches from NextJet during the flight, which is as common an occurrence as, let's say, winning the lottery. Ok, the prizes are smaller. (After all, it's just a sandwich. And a free coffee.) But the odds are similar. (I was getting sarcastic again - a clear sign that the vacation was nearing its end and we were starting to get back to civilized life.)
Addendum: Two weeks later NextJet declared bankruptcy. In a rather abrupt move, they declared bankruptcy and stopped operating flights on the afternoon of the same day. Though it presumably wasn't the cost of giving the passengers their sandwiches for free that drove them into bankruptcy.
At Stockholm airport it was time to say good-bye to Constanze again. She was heading back to the UK and I was heading to the car rental station to pick up a car and go to two odd places to spend a night in.
And that part of the vacation is covered here.
If you don't care what happened next, then click here to go back to other travels