We arrived in Tromso! After getting up at 3am to get to Heathrow airport for 4:20, we finally got to Tromso in the early afternoon. Then it was a short mini-bus trip to the Villmarkssenter (everyone should go there for a mini-expedition, it's incredible). The place really was amazing, all you could see were dogs! They were kept in these little huts (see left) in their sledding pairs, and they were all ridiculously friendly. On the first day we got some of our kit to sleep in in the Lavo where we slept on reindeer skins with a roaring fire (these were almost like a teepee - see the photo below - a massive shout out to Angie who took a lot of these photos too, I'm so gutted that I lost my camera for ages, but hers are a thousand times better than I could have taken, so there's a bonus!) .
|Little did I know at this point that these two would be my back dogs - Martin and Jeff!|
|Inside the Lavo |
We started sledding!!! First up, a long mini-bus drive from the Villmarkssenter to where we began our expedition. The dogs were loaded up in a huge truck with the sleds on the top, which really did look very impressive! The views on the drive were just amazing - they certainly started the nerves at what we were about to do! The picture to the left is a view from the petrol station on the side of the road - beats the view from our local at home any day.
When we finally got to our starting point, our sleds were lined up in order (see below) and we met our dogs for the first time. I had an adorable team of five: Latte, Mocha, Ekspresso, Martin (my dad's name! it was fate!) and Jeff. Straight away we started as we meant to go on, doing everything ourselves, from loading the sleds to harnessing the dogs up. As soon as this was done they were pulling to go!!
Although we only did a short distance on the first day, I think this was the hardest one for me. I started off with a rickety racing sled, which I just couldn't get my balance on. After falling off a ridiculous amount of times in quick succession I was just about ready to give up and go home thinking that I just couldn't do this, when one of our guides Tore said to me quite simply 'there is no such thing as can't', plonked me back on the sled, and kept on going! As this was coming from a man who had last year lost pretty much all of his fingers to frostbite, but still sledded like a champion, you knew that it was true. I must say, what he said was just perfect, as if I had given up, I don't think I'd ever have forgiven myself! Soon after my epic falling session we stopped off for our first night of camping. Before this, there were some duties to be done - the dogs had to be put on their stake out (a long metal line tied each end to a strong tree so stop the dogs running off - the photo above was the dogs on the first stake out of the trip), fed, the camp itself had to be built and our dinner had to be cooked, without any help at all! After this, we settled down to get some sleep before our next day of sledding...
|My sled full of bits and bobs|
This day was pretty bleak with sledding. And I did fall off AGAIN! This time was a little worse, as it was on a vertical drop which ended in me smashing my face and hands (having seen a doctor at home, it's just tendon damage, so will take a couple more weeks to heal!) and blubbing like a baby, how embarrassing! I soldiered on though, and we reached our next campsite at around 2:30pm. As this was completely flat, this time Tamsin dug us a toilet (to preserve dignity, y'know) which I will always love her for! That's the one part of being in the wilderness I do not appreciate at all! My job was essentially to hop in and see if it was deep enough, which some people did take photos of ha, but I am NOT USING IT as some others have suggested!! This was also the first night we had to dig our stake out in, as there were no trees to attach it to. This meant digging a hip height hole into the snow to drop a wooden board in - which had the stake out end wrapped around it - as this was the only way to secure the dogs. Digging it out in the morning was not fun! I did try and help, but as you can probably tell from the photos, am a pretty crap digger.
After sledding today we arrived at the fishing village!! This was the only day of the entire trip where I didn't come crashing off my sled (woohoo!) and it was a really stunning day of sledding.
Our hardest day of sledding. We did 65km, and it really was tough going. At first it was relatively flat and so easy sledding, but after a quick five minute break we had to cut through a small village, and that was just so difficult. I fell off around three times, and almost everyone came off at least once! At the end of a day that must have involved around 6-7 hours of sledding it was difficult to say the least. At one point I let go of my sled, having tipped over sideways (sled included) and the dogs just kept running, meaning I had to sprint after them which wasn't so great!! At another point I fell off again and my sled ran over my own dogs (not hurting any of them, thank god, but I still felt pretty terrible!). This was a completely new route which a Global Adventure group had never been taken on before, and the guides did in fact say that they would not be using this again, as it was too difficult for beginners. Something to be proud of I suppose, as we managed it! On this day my dogs were also changed, so I said farewell to my middle dog Ekspresso and welcome two new ones - I wasn't too sure of their names but I nicknamed them Beast and Licky! You can meet them in the photos below!! We were very glad to get to the camp and get it set up on this night, ready to sleep for the next day..
|Our guides showing us where we had come on the map|
|Me looking knackered after such a long day!|
|From the left: Latte, Mocha, Beast, Licky, Jeff and Martin|
Another long day today! Not quite as far to go as the previous day, but as our second to last day we still had a fair amount of distance to cover. Today the sledding was absolutely beautiful - people were saying it looked like Narnia, not the Arctic! It was still snowing today (as it had been for the past two days) but that didn't dampen our spirits as we headed for what was to be our final campsite through amazing pine forests and over rocky downhill tracks.
|That's me at the front!|
Tonight we had the most amazing surprise, as we ended up at a Sami village, where a Sami lady invited us in and had cooked us dinner - what an angel! It was such an amazing surprise, it really felt like we were getting towards the end of the trip now. She taught us a little about Sami culture, how they follow the reindeer, the way they dress in reindeer skins and even how they mark the reindeer as their own - something which I had never known before but loved hearing about!
|As there were no tracks to follow, the first team of dogs had to be pulled through the snow in the direction we needed to go, so that the rest of the dogs would then follow.|
|The Sami village|
|Britt-Marie (sorry if that's spelt wrong) - the Sami lady who cooked us dinner|
|A traditional Sami meal - Reindeer of course!|
|Inside the Sami house|
|Me putting Beast onto the stake out for the final time! You had to carry the dogs by their collars to move them - they were too strong with all 4 paws on the floor!|
|Me and Tamsin putting up our tent for the final time|
Our final day! Almost finished! Today we had a small amount of sledding, and then we loaded up the kit for the final time and returned to a hotel in Tromso. Although it stopped snowing today, because of so much snow-fall in the previous days the ground was pure slush, which made sledding very difficult as the runners kept sinking into one side, meaning you would have to lean to the other to try and stop your sled falling over! I, obviously, wasn't so great at this, and fell off a couple of times! In the end I got pulled up the front behind the guides (felt like a naughty school girl being pulled to the front of assembly, ha) after which no falling off until we reached the Villmarkssenter bus that marked the end of our amazing journey.
|Me on the sled - no hands!|
|Some of Britt-Marie's reindeer|
|A VERY cute husky puppy at the Sami village we ended at!|
|The dogs being put away for the final time. I'm the one in purple, saying farewell to Martin and Jeff. I so did not want to leave them!!|
A quick dash around Tromso to get some goodies for my parents, and then home. And I have never been so glad to walk through the front door! This really was the most amazing experience I have had so far in life, and probably will stay one of, if not the, most incredible things I will ever do.
As it stands, I have raised £4010 for the RedCross by completing this expedition. Although this does mean I have reached my personal target, any extra money will mean a little bit of extra help for someone somewhere, so please please do keep the donations coming in! Thank you so much for everyone who has read this blog / helped me to achieve this / donated, this would have been pointless without your help. Thanks for reading! xxx