The Arctic is kind of this imaginary place, one that most people have fantasized about with some romantic ideas of a far-away, white, northerly place. Unlike Antarctica, its not really one place, but pieces of Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska, Canada and Greenland. Instead of being a place in itself, you tend to dream of some icy, person-less, non-place with a few snow-covered pine trees or glacier-topped mountains. Or maybe its a sea filled with icebergs and polar bears. But you always imagine it to look like the middle of nowhere, yet somewhere bright and white that you can still visualize. However, at 70°N in Norway, there´s actually a lot of people and Norwegian places, but ones that you cant really see in January since its perpetually dark. The sun wasnt going to rise until January 15, but its a misconception that its always night, since the skies do lighten up just barely enough for you to make out the treetops and snowcovered hills around you.
Somehow I still dont feel like I really saw Tromso or Kirkenes, since it was never bright enough to take a decent photo outside or get a lasting impression of my surroundings. I never really figured out when it was brightest, because it was always pitch black again before I knew it, and I started to have sun-ray withdrawls in the -10°C winter wonderland. It was too cold to really stay out exploring for long, but I loved the feeling of walking on dry, crunchy snow… until you hit a patch covering black ice and nearly broke your tailbone. My nose was always the first to freeze, but I didn´t break my tailbone, so it was all good in the Norwegian arctic.
Me and Mike Reiter spent 3 days near the tri-border area of Norway, Finland and Russia, the only place in the world where 3 time zones meet. We went dog-sledding with some huskies along the Norwegian-Russian border, and that basically meant we were given a sled, some rope, and 6 dogs to just go at it. I felt like they didn´t prepare us well enough, or teach us how to do it, but you basically just had to hang on and stay on. The crazy thing about dog-sledding is that the dogs will always continue pulling you forward, even if they need to take a dump – they run with their front two legs and let the other dogs drag their squatted back feet while they let out some stinky little brown lumps that slide under your sled milliseconds later. Our sled followed the guide sled, so the only thing we had to learn how to do was stop the sled – there´s an anchor we could push down into the snow with one foot, causing enough resistance into the snow that the dogs couldnt keep pulling us forward. As soon as you lift your foot, you´re off again, at an alarmingly fast speed, propelled by the fast and sudden jerk of 6 dogs scrambling forward. They’ll howl if you hold them back too long, and jump up and down in their harnesses to display their impatience. We displayed our sheer happiness and overwhelming joy by singing Aladdin´s ‘A Whole New World´at the top of our lungs as the sled slid through the dark and snowy plains. Maybe Russia heard us.
The other dogs in the yard will also howl as we ride away, wishing they could come along for the ride. They love the work they do, and also the touchy attention they get from being chosen as a sled-dog. When we visited the others in their pens, they were so affectionate, and some would even beg for the attention by faking injuries. One dog pretended her front-right foot was sore, then we walked over to check on her, she switched the limp to her back-left foot, before giving up on her games and jumping around all happily at our arrival.
In Kirkenes, me and Mike stayed at the Snowhotel, which is made out of “snice,” a mixture of snow and ice. Its kept at a temperature of -4°C, and contains 20 private rooms, with 2-5 beds in each and a personal theme carved into the wall. The rooms are designated randomly, and we lucked out with the polar bear room. We spent most of the cold night frolicking under the polar bears, and around the ice-statues and the ice-bar, taking way too many photos and even catching a glimpse of the northern lights. By the time we checked out, we had already made plans for our next arctic-rendez-vous to be at the ice hotel in Sweden, and we´ll definitely be dog-sledding every time we find some huskies, rope and a sled.
Photo Credits (C) Mike Reiter