Husky sledding in the Arctic goes down as the purist, most life affirming, soul satisfying combinations of passions rolled into one titanic experience that any dog lover could have.
I know dogs, I know dogs well, I know all kinds of dogs, I know dogs alone, in pairs and in packs, Ive run with them all, old and young, for years, dogs love to run and I know why (see running with wolves part 1). Yesterday they embraced my company….yet again unconditionally….although this time I was not the pack leader. From this angle I saw through a different lens, they exposed their infra structure, their vunerable underbellies, their magical sense of eachothers strengths and weaknesess, precise timing, speed, intuitive reactions, convincingly infinite power combined with a spirit that seemed impossible to dilute.
I was just a bystander, someone to provide reason to charge like a well oiled machine powered by redbull through the Arctic, a resistive force to load the sleigh down. 5 dogs pull a wooden sleigh carrying up to 2 humans, one stands and “drives” the other sits. The Sami will tell you shifting your weight from one foot to the other whilst standing on the back of the sleigh will steer it. This is not true. The dogs are finely tuned to eachother and have done this a bazillion time before thus despite which way you lean they will drive you the way they know or want. Invariabley this can cause some confusion at the human end, it would seem processing instruction from human to dog is not something I am used to being challeneged on. However once I gave over to it I had the full richness of the experience. Being driven by the dogs was blissful. The serenity, power, concentration, hard breathing, warm exhalation vapour trails streaming from their mouths, frost forming on their whiskers and eyebrows, tails straight out behind them as they pull and pull and pull hard every single paw revolution being important as it cycles through and presses the earth and rebounds with elastic recoil over and over. Their bodies contort with the force they generate against the harnesses in a bid to tug harder and drive forwards with more acceleration. The pursuit for speed is relentless, even after 90mins they were wild with anticipation for the chance of more running.
They are lashed in an X formation, the Sami ties an old dog with a young one at the front and back of the pack. The middle warrior seemed the steady one, a little grouchy, but as much of a workhorse as the others. At the front were the smart strong dogs, leading the way, stopping first, intuitively leading us all despite my initial protestations. The rear two were pure energy balls, leaping a foot in the air and yapping the minute we stopped, their bodies were almost entirely bent as the speed their back legs were driving us forward was faster than the harness allowed their front legs and thus the entire pack to travel at….yet the never once eased up, its almost as if they didnt mind being practically folded in half for the slight glint of hope that the pace may increase whereby they would be perfectly placed to take up the slack and power forward at a pace that was much more preferable!
They were small, all of the dogs, but hard, at a guess not much more than 5% body fat and ranged in colour….I fell in love with the black and brown young one at the back of our pack, who I struggled to not cuddle back when he jumped up at me and rested his head in the crook of my arm. His ears were folded forwards and he drove like a beast, character over brimming….id have given him my last rolo but the Sami seemed very strict;)