On our recent trip to Norway, just down the road from our cabin was a farm that offered dog sled rides. It’s a family run business called Northern Light Dog Adventure and it seems that most of their business is from people bussed in from Tromso. They managed to book us on short notice and at 9am, the five of us arrived for our ride.
At least, I thought we were going for a ride. It wasn’t until we were all suited up and I was being given 30 seconds of instruction to “never, ever, let go of the handle–no matter what” and how to use the brake (a metal bracket that you stepped on–sometimes with both feet!) that I realised I was about to drive a dogsled.
Our guide walked me, Kate and the kids over to the dogs which were all barking with wild enthusiasm. The kids were seated in the sled to be driven by our guide and Kate sat in the sled I would be driving–the idea being that Kate and I would swap at the halfway point.
Before we set off the guide told me that the first couple hundred meters would be the most difficult, but that once I made it past that things would get easier. With that he instructed me to stand on the brake and he untied the sled from its tree anchor. It was difficult to keep the team of six dogs from moving the sled even with my feet on the brake. Even before our guide had his sled untied and ready to go, my team of dog was already inching up to his heels.
The immediate acceleration from the dogs was exhilarating. We took off down a narrow track of snow and within 30 seconds we were diving down steep drops and winding around corners. I had to keep the brake on hard enough with one foot to prevent the dogs from driving right into our guide while simultaneously trying to mimic his movements as he shifted his weight from side to side compensating for turns and the banking of the track.
We were surprised to find out first hand that the dogs peed and pooped while running (and nearly constantly throughout the journey). And they don’t stop to do it. When they pee, they lift one hind leg and quickly hop on the other. When they poop their hind legs take a wide stance and they hop from leg to leg. It’s an impressive, but odorous, accomplishment.
Once we had cleared the treacherous beginning of our journey, I began to get a little more comfortable driving the sled. But it was an experience that I found similar to motorcycling. I was intently focused on one thing: don’t crash. And although I had a death grip on the sled handle and the endeavour is stressful, it’s also meditative because everything else is tuned out. We drove for about 25-30 minutes through open fields of snow, between trees, over a little creek.
Once we stopped the dogs went absolutely crazy playing in the snow. They all started rolling around in the snow and we all got out for a break. Fiona was uncomfortable with her brother and sister and chose to come back and ride with Kate, who had decided not to drive the sled on the way back. James and Caroline took the opportunity to roll in the snow with the dogs. The dogs were incredibly gentle with our children.
The ride back was uneventful, but still required the same peaceful concentration. We could hear only the running of the dogs while we looked out across the serene beauty of the snowy fields and the mountains beyond. l that we could hear was the running of the dogs and sled When I got off I immediately felt where my shoulders and back would be sore from the tension of holding on.
Our hosts took us into a lavvu (a traditional Sami tent with a chimney) with a fire in the middle for some hot chocolate and homemade cake. I asked the guide how often people tipped over the sled and he replied “all the time–you were very good.” I’m glad he didn’t tell me that at the outset.
If you find yourself in or around Tromso, I highly recommend a dog sled ride (or drive, as the case may be) at Northern Light Dog Adventure. Just remember–never, ever, let go of the handle!