Sat 17 to Wed 21 Jan.
Saturday 17th January. The last couple of days have been really warm. Yesterday was only -3 and today is -5. Apparently it’s a big day today, we’re sled training and for this Daz has to sacrifice his day off. Erkki is supposed to pick us up at 0950hrs but he’s late. This is unusual, it turns out a lorry driver took out a power cable at the hotel Inari and he had to help with the paperwork. We go to the farm along with the 2 Dutch clients for the day. They’re doing the the ‘long run’ and in addition to their team another two teams have been prepped. One for me and Daz, the other for Rob and Maria. Erkki leads on the skidoo with Lukas on the back then the clients, Rob and Maria and us at the back. Daz is driving first so I stand at the front of the team and when we’re ready pick up the anchor and run to the sled and get in, pulling the reindeer skin on top of me. It’s comfortable and interesting to see the world from this level, my eyes are slightly higher than the dogs’ backs. Coolio except when they poop. Who would have thought they’d shit on the run??? Except Torre whose back legs think they’re squatting for a poo but whose front are dragged on by the rest of the team. Anyway it’s lovely to sit in the sled and watch the poo world go by. Unfortunately, Rob and Maria seem to be having problems and we keep gaining on them, it looks as if one of the dogs has got a broken harness and is not able to pull as efficiently . We’re supposed to keep a certain distance so we keep having to brake. We’re all brought to a halt by Erkki and we swap drivers. He spends some time with Maria and Rob and we later find out that Saki’s harness is indeed broken so they’ve only got 5 dogs pulling. For the last part of the route we go through the forest along an undulating single track. This is much nicer than going across the flat lake although the scenery on the lake is lovely. We haven’t been here before and it’s very pretty but the snow is really thick and our team are tired now and falling further behind the others. We try running on the uphills and other difficult parts to help them out. We get the teams in and find out we’ve got 2 more clients so we need a team for them. Daz goes home with Satu when she drops the over clients off, after all this is his day off!! He’ll be back at the apartment now, hopefully getting the washing done and going to a WiFi location to published the previous days blog… Well it is his day off!. So that’s 13 days we’ve worked and I’ve had 2 days off and Daz a day and a halfish. It’s worse than an operational tour!!!!!
Sunday 18th January
Still warm. -6 although chillier stood out on the lake with the wind whipping straight at us. 5 Japanese clients today for an early long run… Daz is on Lavuu duty today. Normally after the clients come back in they spend some time taking pictures of themselves with the dog teams and get shown around the farm, especially the Chinese and Japanese but today 3 of the ladies are bitterly cold even wrapped up in all their winter gear (mind you the one wearing the avian flu mask was chancing it!) so they are sent straight up to the Lavuu to warm themselves on Daz’s hot sausage… to explain, this is German bratwurst cooked on the open campfire in the Lavuu to warm people up along with Daz’s hot juice … never mind!!! Daz and I are on nights for the next two days, so I hope my kindle battery holds out, otherwise Daz will be begging me to play ‘bananagrams’ or some card game!! It’s going to be busy tomorrow, we have clients for 9am, 11am and 1 pm but these timings are farsical: remember when you had CO’s (Commanding Officer to you civvies- just checked, I can still say that for another 12 days) Inspection and it was due at 9am but by the time adjutant, then Squadron boss, then squadron 2i\c, then troop staffie had factored in their pre inspection checks, you ended being ready at 7am for a 9am event. Well his place runs in a similar fashion; our bosses only care that everything’s ready but don’t give a damn if we’ve been ready ages… after all we’re free labour.
Before retiring for the evening (crawling, knackered into one of the doss bags we share with all the other workawayers with only a clean pillowcase as protection from who knows what!) Daz and I go for a walk in the dark night, there’s no moon, but the sky is clear and the constellations are out to see, I must learn a few more than ‘Orion’s belt’ and ‘the plough’. We walk down onto the lake and out a while, stopping and checking the sky for shooting stars (1-0 to Daz !!) and Aurora Borealis (0-0). The quiet is amazing, and it is at times like this that this experience is at its most surreal; walking under the night sky, nobody else for miles around, the untouched snow in the woods and on the lake at least 2 foot deep, and it was only 19 days ago that we left Hampshire and all our friends behind. I don’t think in our wildest dreams we imagined anything so amazing. With no cloud cover its getting colder again and we are soon off adventuring into deepening snow as we head back around towards the forest trail and the farm.
Monday 19th January.
So early start today. Lukas lights the fires and we start dog feeding at 0730hrs. Well that’s supposed to be the start time but of course Daz is raring to go and is too impatient to wait for Lukas so by the time he joins us we’ve already done some cages. After feeding and poo pick up, there’s time for a brew and to find out which dogs are running and we’ve now got Maria and Rob to help us (although this should have been his first day off!). So we get 4 teams ready and we have some reserves if we need them because these teams might have to run 3 times. 3 of the substitutes are the older pups; Grey, Lumi and Beige. Daz and I are dreading this because getting collars and harnesses on these guys can be a nightmare and even worse trying to keep them on and stopping the pups’ constant writhing and attempts to get free. It all goes fairly smoothly except for the following: Alaska spend his whole time waiting on the sled line either dry humping or humping his partner Aussi(she’s a girl) but this doesn’t stop when the sled is moving so the horny sod is returned to his kennel
Just as the last tour goes out Klovni attacks Alpha, his jaws clamped round Alpha’s jaw. There is blood. Initially Klovni is sent to the holding line as the instigator until Lukas sees that Alpha’s paw is hurt and bleeding, so he returns to his kennel: and finally the 3 pups are put in line, but actually apart from Grey weasingly out of his collar the new boys do really well. By the time the 3 sessions had finished and everything packed away we were all pretty pooped. Time for a late lunch and then a dash to get the horse shit picked up before the light went completely. Remarkable event today: Lukas saw the sun. He hasn’t seen it since the beginning of December and because of the hills round the farm it takes several extra days to spot it. For tonights tea in the cabin Daz cooks baked potatoes in the fire wrapped in some tinfoil. With a few condiments and a homemade peppered cream and ham sauce they are lovely, steaming in their skins as we break them open and devour them!
Tuesday 20th January.
Another early start. 7 clients for a 9am long run. Maria is day farming but has horse clients so horse Satu needs help. And we have Sarah. A new girl. She’s Danish. We prep 4 teams for dog sledding and I’m driving one sled because there’s only 7 clients. The temperature has dropped significantly and it’s -24. Everyone’s asking if I have enough to wear. I’m nervous. Scared I’ll mess this up for the dogs and the clients and also because driving or riding in a sled is pretty static and in these temperatures that’s going to be cold! So we’re off. No big drama until we stop and I struggle to keep the brake on enough to stop the dogs surging forward (apparently I don’t weight enough to use the brake effectively, yippee!). We swap and the client drives and enjoys it but she soon gets tired at the long stops too because the dogs are still surging forward, wanting to keep going as we struggle to keep the sled braked (the brake is a metal bar you stand on with 2 anchor like appendages that get driven into the snow underneath it). So I drive the final stretch through the woods and nearly capsize ( I know this is a sailing term but it fits the bill) the sled. Really not good with a client. We take a left hand corner but the sled goes up quite a steep right bank and I end up running as the sled drops back to the flat and then jumping back on to the skids. And whilst the dogs aren’t going that fast, this all seems pretty quick and scary to me!!! Glad I was at the back and maybe nobody saw! We get back and unlike the clients, who are also all half frozen and get to toddle off to the warmth of the Lavuu I now have to assist with getting the dogs back to their kennels and cleaning and resetting the sleds; mind you, a few runs behind the still madly pulling dogs to their kennels and I am warm again!
Finally I get a moment of peace as we all retreat to the cabin and the warmth of the log burner, kettles on the stove and hot cups of tea all around. It’s a bit of a squeeze with Daz, me, Maria, Sarah, Horse Satu and Lukas all sat around the table reaching for bread, butter, coffee, jam, cheese, tea, hot lemon and cake but we all have a good laugh, all speaking in English or accented English in the main. Horse Satu is now used to Daz’s daily question of “How are you?” And has realised it doesn’t actually mean he is interested in her well being but that it is a general greeting the English use, and although not annoying is finding it tiresome having to tell him daily that she is fine, we all have a laugh at her expense. It’s great that all the people here are good humoured and we are always chatting away about this that and the zodiac (Lukas believes he is an expert and readily reads from his ‘expert’ book about all our traits, appearances and whether we should be together!). Soon though its back out into the cold, horse poo waits for no volunteer! Later Daz takes me to the woodshed for a quickie… lesson in log splitting and actually I find it invigorating smashing the axe through the old wood and soon get into a rhythm; log on, swing engaged, ordnance delivered on target, smash! Two more faggots for the fire!
About 3pm, I am called away by horse Satu to help Sarah with a horse riding tour. We have 2 clients, mounted on Rangwald and Sninni waiting for their horse tour that neither Sarah or I have done before. We have Horse Satu’s instructions and off we go. When we return we realise we’ve been abandoned. Me, Daz and Sarah are left with 2 horse clients, we have no idea what we are supposed to do with them or when they will get picked up. Lukas and Maria have gone early to town and Horse Satu is still away sorting out the equipment she needs for a sleigh ride she is running later. We have been left holding the fort. Daz ensures there is a fire in the Lavuu to keep the 2 horse clients warm. But after a while and Daz already having used up all his small talk on the two Taiwanese ladies we are still none the wiser!! Slight dilemma but fortunately before it becomes too uncomfortable Erkki arrives to whisk them away. Mind you he forgot the milk he promised and stocks are low, so there could be a tea crisis soon! That leaves Daz, me and Sarah to do the dog feed. It goes smoothly with no escapees or trouble. It’s been a long grueling day in low temperatures for Sarah the new girl, with a shed load of information to try and imprint onto her frazzled memory and she has more to come as she will soon be off to town to assist horse Satu on the sleigh run up to the wilderness church! Hope it all doesn’t scare her off!
Wednesday 21st January
-25 today. Daz did the late horse feed last night as I snuggled in the smelly sleeping bag and gets a text from Lukas saying today we’re not needed until 8am. A slow start after the last few days. We do have clients for around 11am and just need to prepare 3 teams. No real dramas today apart from my 2nd stint in wood chopping ends in bloodshed. I’d chopped the big logs and had started on the kindling but had left 2 pieces of wood on the chopping block and when I hit one the other ricocheted off it straight into my face/nose!!!!! Daz kept asking what was wrong but I couldn’t speak for the pain and then my nose started bleeding. The blood looked really impressive on the crisp white snow but I amin too much pain to notice… fortunately Daz took photos of it so I can reminisce later!
During team preparation we went to get the 3 pups – Grey, Lumi and Beige. Unfortunately when Rob came into the cage he didn’t shut the door and Grey escaped, leaving us holding two wildly jealous dogs as he runs off after it down towards the lake! Later Rolfe who’d been taken from his team to make room for one of the pups got so pissed off being on the holding line that he managed to escape by braking a shackle and came running down to the sled teams. Fortunately he’s not a trouble maker and he trotted towards me and I took him back to the holding line. Daz is driving today – he has Beige (the pup) running next to Belle his mum. He has a number of dramas on his sled ride – but I’ll let him tell the story. He came back frozen and he’d only been out 30 minutes. His ear had frostnip and lost the skin.
Daz- so as Hels said I was driving and assisting one of the clients today, this happens when there is an odd number. I had a nervous young Taiwanese lady and she took first stint in the sled and would get a go later in the trip at driving. So Beige the pup is only about 8 months old and this is only his second go at being on a sled line, and as we all know pups are still full of the joy and playfulness of youth, this does not help as he is constantly trying to get his running partner, Belle, to play with him. Not too much of a problem whilst we are waiting for the off as Belle just puts him in his place, i.e. on his back in a submissive position. However during the run he was constantly running into her shoulder and pushing at her, so much so that twice we are sent off into soft snow on the sled, all the time I am cajoling them to behave whilst trying to steer the unsteerable sled back onto the track and placating the even more nervous client that this was all run of the mill! Anyway, we get to the turn around point and she takes over driving, giggling nervously, but she needn’t have worried as with such a superb dog musher as her partner we only had one further incident that I had to sort (the 2 front dogs circling onto the back 2!) before we were hurtling back to the farm. On a really positive note, I saw the sun today for the first time in 20 days, wow that was nice, but as soon as we went back into the shadow of the surrounding hills the cold bit deep again…hence the frostnip earlobe, it must have come uncovered on the ride! Must sort my hands out too, Hels complains they are like icicles!
A great event today – Erkki is taking us home early. We’re back in the apartment by 3pm – what a treat. Horse Satu who has really been feeling the cold today discovers she has frost nip on 2 toes on each foot. It looks bad and she goes into the bathroom (with under floor heating) to let them warm. Whilst she is warming up we go to laundry and then as we have to wait for the wash cycle to finish we go to the Hotel Kultahovi as we have heard they have a nice bar. It does indeed, with a healthy selection of warm alcoholic drinks to warm the cockles! They have a lovely fire pit too and a web cam showing the night sky so you can’t miss the Northern Lights should they appear, and fortunately soon after they are out in all their glory and we trundle outside with all the Chinese and Japanese camera happy snappers to watch them down out of the hotels illumination by the river. Blimey,they might be nice, but its freezing, back to the bar and the lovely fire we race! The rest of the evening is spent cooking some pasta amatriciana, playing cards and looking forward to our day off tomorrow… But there will be a calamitous event next morning, tune in next time to find out what happened!