My Arctic Adventures
My Arctic Adventures
When David won an auction to go dog-sledding in the Arctic Circle in March 2013, quite simply, I thought he was mad!
He came back full of tales of his adventures - extreme temperatures, dog sledding, northern lights, reindeer pasta and poo trees! Little did I know that an idea was forming in his mind to throw me in at the cold end! Over the next few months, he kept dropping hints that an Arctic adventure would be a great experience for Access Point’s senior team. Each time he mentioned it, I poo-poo’d the idea as the very thought of living without electricity and water terrified me. And did I mention that I’m allergic to dogs?
After we launched Project Evolution in July 2013, David became more serious in his attempts to convince me that the Arctic would be fantastic for the senior team, a great reward for all our hard work. I knew then that it was a ‘done deal’.
I soon got used to the thought of a wilderness lodge in the middle of nowhere in the freezing cold, wearing thermals and probably smelling a bit by the end of it, but, every time I thought about being near the dogs, I broke out in a cold sweat.
I’d previously suffered welt marks and swollen eyes when I’d been in contact with friends’ dogs and really didn’t fancy that happening in an extreme environment.
David, as expected, had an answer! I was to be dosed up on knock-out antihistamines! Ok, sorted! I really threw myself into Arctic preparations. All layered up and supplying Shewees for the ladies! I didn’t really give the dogs another thought except for bartering with Amanda about harnessing them up for me!
We arrived at Kiruna Airport to the news that we were to be transported to Mushers Lodge by dog sled! We went into a hut to get all togged up with warm outer layers, hats and boots. When we all came out – strongly resembling Michelin men – we were greeting by a wall of sound – two dozen dogs howling in unison! I knew then that I wasn’t just allergic to dogs; I was also really scared of them. I avoided going near any on the way to the sled and ignored those that came running towards me.
After a scrumptious dinner of moose mince chilli and rice at Mushers Lodge, Gaynor ran through the itinerary for the next few days. It was obvious that I wasn’t going to be able to avoid the dogs all week so I thought I’d best confess my fears! It was the best decision I could have made.
Louis, a volunteer from the UK, took me under his wing. I arranged to meet him to visit the kennels. Once we got outside, the noise was deafening. The dogs were all running up and down their pens, trying to catch the attention of the other team members.
Louis said, “Just think of the dogs as children.They are all at nursery and they want to come out and play! They are just being friendly.”
Now that sounds like simple advice but it really worked!
Over the next 30 minutes or so, I visited each of the kennels, gradually working up the courage to pet the dogs through their feeding hatches. I went to bed that night feeling much more confident than I would otherwise have been.
The next day, Gaynor and Louis harnessed my dogs for me as it involved getting a bit too up close and personal for me! Standing with the dogs between your legs whilst you lift their legs into the harnesses. The dogs clamour for your attention whilst waiting to set off, jumping up and wanting to be stroked. A particular favourite was Grony, also known as Houdini. I couldn’t help but tickle his ears!
For the next couple of hours, I got used to guiding the sled and chatting to the dogs.
When we arrived at Camp Vakkarajaarvi, our wilderness lodge, I was really chuffed that I unharnessed all my own dogs and put them in their kennels.
I was even fine when Grony slipped his collar and ended up in our lodge whilst we were settling in!
My dogs, Grony, Sonnie, Slash & Nina For our next trip out, I harnessed all the dogs and felt confident lifting their legs up and moving them into place. Even when I had to keep chasing Grony when he slipped his collar, I was fine.
Final proof of my new found dog handling skills came on our last sled ride. Jacquie made the schoolgirl error of taking her hands off the handlebars to sort her hat out. The dogs surged forward and she slipped off the soft brake. I heard Jacquie shout and looked behind me only to see her team of dogs running towards my sled. As they came alongside, I reached down and grabbed their reins, stopping them in their tracks!
I don’t think I will ever be known as a 'Dog Whisperer' but the moral of my tale is to face your fears head on and don’t let them hold you back.
I'm abseiling down a 100m gorge in May...Did I tell you I was scared of heights!?
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