December 20, 2015
We did get a glimpse at the Aurora Borealis last night, but it was just a glimpse. The clouds parted just enough for us to say we saw it, nothing more. Not ones to give up easily, we’ve booked an evening dog sledding experience with Lyngsfjord Adventures. I am adamant about choosing a company that allows participants to mush. We are going to be driven to Vass valley, which is an hour and a half or so away from Tromso. If the Northern Lights are to be seen, this is as good a place as any.The husband cannot understand why wouldn’t all companies allow let you do it, if one company does.RP is desperately trying to reconcile us. What is mushing? I’ll come to that soon.
We meet the bus at the 5:00 p.m. outside the Ishavshotel. There’s not a star to be seen in the skies. It is pointless going chasing the lights today. As we take our seats, we silently hope the clouds decide to take a break and we see more action than we’ve paid for. When we reach Camp Tomak, where we are given thermal suits and boots. Our bus load is split into smaller groups and assigned guides. Our guides lead us past the kennels to the sleds. Here we are given a short briefing on how to mush or drive the dog sleds. Each sled is to pulled by a team of five huskies. Each sled is to have one driver and one passenger, with opportunity to switch places half way. The instructions are very simple, press down on the break to slow or stop and lift the break to go. Sometime when you come to a complete stop, you need to give the sled a slight push or pump the ground like you are on a skateboard or a scooter to let the dogs know it’s time to go. The sled has no reins and there’s no way for us to direct the dogs left or right. Our guide assures us that’s not needed because the dogs are all trained to follow the lead team and she would be guiding that team.
Our guide is assigned us, and a group of six women. It turns out only one of those six wanted to be a musher, the rest were happy to be passengers. Our guide asks if one of us would be willing to mush for one them. The husband gallantly volunteers, leaving RP once again as my partner. Once the ladies have all been found mushers in other teams, we set off. Our guide is in the lead, followed by the husband and we are in the rear. RP is mushing first. I have never been sledding and don’t know anything about sled construction, but a dog sled seems more suited for carrying cargo than passengers. There’s no seat belt or bar in front to hold on to. I’m nervous at first, but our guide sets a very easy pace and I quickly settle down.
As we make our way through the valley, the only word that comes to my mind is dilfareb. I don’t know if this word even has an English equivalent. Literally translated it means something that can trick the heart and make you fall in love – truly, madly, deeply. Alluring, enticing, mesmerizing would all come close enough, but none would completely capture the essence of the word. Mountains rise gracefully from the valley floor and ring it like indulgent big brothers. The white landscape is broken only by sled tracks. Had there been a moon, the light would have transformed this seemingly ordinary scene into something ethereal – pure, unattainable and worthy of worship. The kind of scene that would want make you throw back you head and howl like the lone wolf, perhaps with the lone wolf.
At mid point we take a short break, set off again. This time I am mushing. This is not hard at all. My dogs are rearing to go, but the husband’s team is too slow for us. My dogs are soon at his feet and I’m getting dirty looks. I keep one foot on the break to keep my team the stipulated three meters behind his. Sometimes we stop. The snow deep and is starting to ice. Breaking is easy enough, but lifting the break pedal out is harder. I get off the sled, to give it a little push. The dogs are quick to pick up the signal and go dashing through the snow.Then next thing, RP is shouting for me to break, “Vidya, break. BREAK!!”The dogs are at the husband’s heels now and he’s yelling too,”STOP! BREAK!!” How could I? They didn’t know it, but I wasn’t even on the sled. The dogs took off without me. Our guide hears the commotion and races to the rescue. She stops her team, topples her sled over and runs towards us through knee high snow. The lead pair of my team by now are getting into a fight with the rear pair of the husband’s team. She grabs the dogs by the mussel and smacks them into obedience.
All mushers have been given headlamps. Later RP tells me, he didn’t realize I was not on the sled, since he could still see the light from the headlamp. Ofcourse he could! I was still behind him, just not no the sled! I’m back on the sled and the remainder our 15 km round trip is smooth. The dogs now look back to me before they start running instead of depending on my signal. What is more, the guide even finds the lens cover we had dropped somewhere in the snow. We end the night with hot chocolate and a hot stew in a lavvu (Sami tent). We didn’t see the Aurora Borealis, but we did get more adventure than we signed up for.