Tuesday 31 May 2011

Instead of Sitting at my Desk I'd Rather Be... Exploring Iceland

Although we’ve talked about visiting Iceland for a while, it was only reading Alastair Humphreys blog followed by watching Julia Bradbury on the BBC, that made us realise what a fabulous and exciting place Iceland really is!

Instead of sitting here this morning at my desk I’d love to be on the Laugavagur trail, spending days walking through land that’s straight out of Lord of the Rings. Feeling dwarfed by mountains and crossing ice cold rivers. Even battling the famous, unpredictable weather, feeling the wind and rain on my face. Arriving at the huts at the end of the days walk to warm up and be safe from the storms.  

It would be great to see the famous volcano Eyjafjallajokull, to see and walk on land that is only years if not months old, land that has been created in our lifetime, not millions of years ago.

And after the walk, exploring the glaciers and ice climbing on the largest glacier in Europe- Vatnajokull …. Boat rides to watch the glaciers calve off into the ocean, seeing whales and dolphins playing in their natural habitat and experiencing hot springs and geysers.

And the midnight sun, never fully setting so partying in Reykjavik can last all night long.

Friday 27 May 2011

Top 5 Books That Inspire…

I have a real hunger for a good book, and I measure a good book as to whether or not it makes me stay up late in bed reading, makes me sit in the bath until the water goes cold or I use every opportunity to pick it up and get a few paragraphs in.

As an aspiring traveller/ adventurer that is currently desk bound I find books a great way to escape. I love nothing more than reading about travel to amazing places or people pushing themselves to the limit and feel inspired to get out there… even if it’s often only an hour or two’s ride on my bike most of the time!

So here are my top 5 books that not only help me retreat from the daily grind but inspire me to get there and do something…

  1. Holding On- Jo Gambi
The story of a couple who give up their jobs and sell their house after Rob’s second bout of cancer to travel the world, climb the seven summits and ski to both the poles. An amazing feat in the face of uncertainty as to whether the cancer will return. Jo Gambi’s writing makes you feel as though you are there and the fact they are both ‘normal’ working people makes me realise that there is more in each of us than we think.

  1. French Revolutions- Tim Moore
An hilarious book about a journalist who does very little cycling, but decides to cycle the route of the Tour de France taking only 3 weeks longer than the pro’s. A few facts and figures about the actual tour history are mixed in with his continuously funny and sometime toe curling embarrassing story- especially his attempt at the legendary Mont Ventoux. Even with the saddle sores, overdosing on hayfever pills and bonks once I’ve read this I want to get on my bike and peddle through France!

  1. The Man Who Cycled the World- Mark Beaumont
While French Revolutions pips Marks book to the number 2 spot for its hilarity, The Man Who Cycled World is truly inspiring through the countries he visits, the loneliness on the road and the fact that he breaks the record by 81 days! While FR makes me want to cycle France, this book makes me want to explore the world!

  1. Riding the Magic Carpet- Tom Anderson
Whilst I’m no where near good enough (or brave enough!) to surf the places described in this book, I have always wanted to see legendary surf spots like J-Bay pumping and to travel to the more exotic like the islands off Indonesia just to experience the thrill. The story is about a guy named Tom who’s childhood dream is to surf J-Bay and how he uses trips to practise and make sure that when he gets there he can ride it as good as he can.

And number 5... is Ben's entry..!

Although this book isn’t an “adventure” book as such and more of a tragedy and how Aron had to make the ultimate decision – life or death, it still made me want to get out there and discover new places.   In the 127 hours it took him to make the decision to amputate his arm he reflects on all his various adventures he went on – from his first ski trip, to hiking in waist-deep snow trying to get away from a bear stalking him, to setting himself the “14000’s challenge”, to when he decided to change his plans at the last minute to solo navigate a very unused part of Blue John Canyon un Utah…

Monday 23 May 2011

Instead of Sitting at my desk I’d rather be… Hiking the Karhunkierros Trail

Fresh air, pine trees and perfectly clear streams and lakes, the Karhunkierros (or ‘Bear Trail’) starts just below the Arctic Circle in Finland and heads South through Lapland to Ruka, through 80km of pristine wilderness.

I’d love to be waking to feel that sharp, cool damp air in my lungs of a forest awakening after a deep winter. Crisp late spring mornings and warm sunny afternoons. The simple life of walking with just a backpack and sleeping bag and food supplies to last the walk, no time to keep, not even full darkness with the Midnight Sun.

Staying overnight at the huts along the way, where everything is provided- even an axe to chop wood and pans to cook dinner. Evenings by the campfire and morning dips in the chilly waters that can be drunk from whenever needed without the need of boiling and purifying.

It would be great to be enjoying the stillness and calm, nothing but the sound of the wind in the trees, the bird song and flowing waters- no cars, no ringing phones, no emails.

And the best thing is… this time next year we’ll only be a few weeks away from being there!!! 

Thursday 19 May 2011

Sponsorship Link for the ITEX Walk

As mentioned in our previous post, on the 18th June at 3am we will set off walking around the Island of Jersey on a 48 miles ‘trek’ around the coast.

Sarah’s personal goal is to reach Grosnez, 30 miles from the start, but she will be doing her all the reach the finish line or as far as her “granny knees” get her J

Ben is aiming big and reaching for the full 48 miles, probably around 17 hours of walking.

In doing the walk we are raising money for 3 Jersey based charities- The Abbeyfield Jersey Society, Age Concern and Silkworth Lodge.

So if you would like to sponsor us here’s the link…

You will need our walker numbers 59 for Sarah and 58 for Ben plus our surname ‘Meyer’.
Unfortunately you can’t wait to see if we finish or how far we get as for some reason all sponsorship has to be paid before the walk so you’ll just have to trust we make it (to the start line at 3am that is)!

On the day we will hopefully have GPS tracking and will be tweeting as we go, so keep an eye out on here for updates or on twitter ‘MeyerAdventures’ before and during the walk.

Thank you!

Monday 16 May 2011

Instead of Sitting at my Desk I'd Rather Be...

... on Everest with AlanArnette… or at least at Everest Basecamp.

Imagine the sights and smells of the chaotic Kathmandu, the white knuckle ride of the flight to Lukla and then days of trekking through the Khumbu valley, surrounded by the highest mountains on the planet, staying in tea houses, watching the yaks on the trail and the rope bridges across the rivers.

I’ve read so much about the climbing Everest, Bear Grylls Facing up, Into Thin Air and Jo Gambi's Holding On aswell as eagerly follow blogs and Twitter updates every year. I almost feel like I know the route from Lukla, to Namache Bazzar and Dingboche and of that first view of the mountain. I wonder what the feeling is when those that are attempting to stand on the summit see her wind torn peak with that famous plume of snow created by the jet stream winds racing across it.

I imagine seeing the Icefall for the first time and the Basecamp ‘village,’ and being part of the excitement and nerves of those going higher even if this was my final destination.

Of course I’d love to experience the climb through the icefall, to see the magnificent Western Cwn, to struggle up the Lhotse Face and enter the Death Zone… but I know that this is a long way off if ever, I wonder if I’d ever have the strength and bravery to face what the climbers face on a daily basis on the mountain.

So for now I’ll sit at my desk and have a little daydream. I wonder about the sights and sounds that Alan has experienced so far as he trekked into Basecamp then higher as prepared for his summit bid and think maybe someday I’ll experience them too… 

Saturday 14 May 2011

The ITEX Walk is Go!!!

After our Finland write up we promised to let you know what our next adventure or challenge was going to be. There has been a little bit of a delay while my knee gets checked out and I’m pleased (?!) to say our next challenge will be…

The walk is a gruelling 48 miles round the coast of the Island, taking in flat expanses of sandy beaches, the notorious ‘ups and downs’ of the North Coast cliff path and a few boring road bits (that are mainly covered in darkness)

So at 3am (yep that’s AM) on Saturday 18th June we’ll be lacing up our hiking boots and setting out from Elizabeth Harbour.

Now those super athletic types out there are probably going- “so what- 48 miles pah that’s nothing” but let’s put a little perspective in here. 48 miles is almost 2 marathons, it’s not all on nice flat, smooth tarmac and some of those climbs out of the bays on the North Coast are killers! Also, the furthest either of have walked in one go (so far…) is 20 miles on the North Coast, the actual walk is more than double that and remember we have to start at 3AM!!!

Ok, so training so far… we started our walking training back in January on a misty New Years Day with a casual 8 miles wander through St Peter’s Valley and since then miles, and blisters, have been increasing weekly.

Unfortunately, the week after returning from our Finland trip, my knee which I have injured several times snowboarding and cycling, began causing great pain so I have been forced to reduce mileage. Ben however has carried on and last week completed the 20 miles of North Coast that I previously did in the 2009 North Coast Challenge.

After a visit to a specialist it seems I have done some rather long lasting damage to the cartilage and whilst it is painful and makes horrible cracking noises, the good news is in the short term I can’t do more damage although I will more than likely be going into surgery later this year to help reduce the pain. So several ibuprofens and a whole load of will power will at least see me as far as I can go… and I’m still dreaming it may be the end?!

Realistically though I will be going for as far as I can get, if that’s the end then fantastic but on average only 50% of starters complete the walk, the objective is not necessarily to finish it but to reach your own personal goal. So there will probably be a stage in the walk where you’ll find me curled up on a path/ beach/ roadside, shovelling in chocolate and crying for my mum...

Of course we will also be raising money for 3 local charities. Since the start of the walk in 1991, £1559.234 has been raised. This year we will be walking for The Abbeyfield Jersey Society, Age Concern and Silkworth Lodge. We will have a link on our blog soon if anyone reading would like to donate!

I’m pretty sure though that as long as he doesn’t suffer from heatstroke J (see JOGLE blog) Ben will be in that 50%, once he has a goal set that’s it. He’s also looking really strong and while I finished the North Coast the other year a gibbering wreck craving burgers Ben looked like he’d just had a stroll around the park!

So, instead of boring everyone with trip by trip training stories here’s a summary of the stats so far… (based on Sarah’s heart rate monitor)

150+ Miles

55 Hours and 15 minutes

25400 Calories (= a lot of chocolate cake)

We will now be keeping up to date with our training- Saturday is going to be a 20 miler including cliff paths and a 5 mile beach. We have been told that the long flat beach at 3/4 of the way around is a real mental battle with many people dropping out at the end, so we're going to walk it again and try to break the boredom!

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Has the Internet Destroyed the Pleasure of Travel?

Paul Theroux in Dark Star Safari states

“But photography spoiling the visual pleasure of places is nothing compared to the way the internet and our age of information have destroyed the pleasure of discovery in travel.”

But is this really so? Being able to look at a place, a view or a landmark before travelling surely helps build the anticipation?

Before our recent trip to Finland, I checked the Ruka Webcams daily for amount of snow falling/ melting and the feeling I had when I saw that red and white stripy tower that I had viewed so much on the web cams I believe it was all that more exciting having seen the transformation from a snow-less autumn to mid winter darkness to the current blue skies and sunshine.

Also, is an image or a description on the Internet ever going to give that same feeling as when you are there in the flesh? The answer is no, as it’s not only sight but all the other senses that come into play, the sounds and smells, the warmth of the sun or the bitter chill of the wind.

And if we move onto traveller reviews and descriptions of places, yes sites like TripAdvisor may make us more careful when booking if there are constantly bad reviews, so some of the ‘adventure’ may have been taken out of travel for those who read and believe, but so many reviews are subjective and often a 1 star “Worst holiday of my life” review is followed by a 5 star “Absolutely magical- couldn’t have been better.” How can one persons experience ever be the same as the next persons? To me a great holiday is a tent in a field spending my time walking, cycling and climbing while many people I know find the thought of that a nightmare and for them beer and bars in Tenerife or a 5 star hotel in Dubai, doing nothing but ordering cocktails by the pool is perfection.

I have tried to think of the negative aspects of the Internet and travel.

There are some areas of the world that were once remote and seldom visited which have now turned into tourist hotspots full of tacky souvenirs. Is the Internet responsible for this? In some ways yes, now when we see a beautiful place we pick up our smartphone, take a photo and send it to hundreds of people through social media, email and review sites. But years ago this was still happening- ok at a slower pace as you’d get home, have your film developed, show it to you friends who’d then discuss it with theirs and maybe someone would write a book about it encouraging  travellers and tourists to visit.

Take Provence in the south of France, once a quiet, sleepy region of the South of France, with hot summers and cheap property. Long before the Internet boom, Provence had been turned into a British/ American/ Parisian summer holiday home, with tennis courts slowly outnumbering grape vines (according to Peter Mayle, A Year in Provence)

But the plus side, in some places, is the great benefit tourism has on an area. The Khumbu region of Nepal now receives thousands of trekkers and climbers each year and numbers are growing. Whilst there is the argument that the region has ‘lost its soul’ it has also benefited from schools and hospitals. Of course this has been happening since the time of Hillary and Tensing, so long before the Internet, but with information easily accessible on the Internet about these projects awareness and donations are enabling them to build and grow.

So the question goes out to you, has the Internet destroyed the pleasure of travel? I’m looking forward to receiving your thoughts!

Monday 9 May 2011

Meeting Bear Grylls

You could actually feel the excitement build as we waited for Bear to arrive, ears strained for the sound the helicopter… and that was just the adults never mind the hundreds of children!

As a volunteer Media Development Manager for the Jersey Scouts Association I was lucky to be part of the Island Activity Day for 395 Beavers, Cubs Scouts and Explorers and Bear Grylls was the guest of honour. He is currently trying to see as many Scout Groups in the UK as possible as part of his Chief Scout duties and this weekend it was the turn of the South West and Islands of Jersey and Guernsey.

Known for eating snakes and being trapped in caves, on desert islands or volcanoes, Bear was also the youngest Brit, in 1998 to summit Everest ('Facing Up' is his brilliant book about the expedition- mine is now sporting it’s very own Bear ‘print’ J )

Many of his shelter building and campfire making skills used in Born Survivor, he learnt the basics of when he was a Scout and his love of the outdoors, the unknown and adventure made him the ideal candidate for the Chief Scout role.

He’s obviously a great role model and respected by the Scouts, with many of them extremely shy around him, although others had no problem asking for autographs and photos! Only having 30 minutes with us in Jersey meant it was a quick tour of each of the activities, yet he still took time to speak to a little girl who had her arm in a sling after an assault course accident as well as cooking marshmallows joining in a game of tug of war and Zorbing with his son Marmaduke.

His 30 minutes stretched to 45 as he tried to meet as many young (and not so young!) people as possible but it was soon time for him to be whisked away to another Scout Group in the South West of England.

Friday 6 May 2011

Instead of Sitting at my Desk I'd Rather Be...

There are so many exciting places in the world that we’d love to see, experience and immerse ourselves in, yet at present in is necessary to spend most of our lives sat at a desk in front of a computer screen, merely dreaming of these places while we pay our bills and try to save for our next holiday.

On my desk I have a postcard of a perfect wave breaking at J-Bay in South Africa, in my desk draw I have a crumpled map of the Tour d’Afrique and my PC wall paper is usually an image of our most recent trip (currently husky sledding in Finland) all of which daily remind me the reason I am sat here, but sometimes make me question why am I not out there, doing these things already.

So each week myself and/or Ben are going to start a write up of ‘Instead of sitting at my desk I’d rather be…’ to assist with our daydreams, and who knows might even give us some new ideas for the day we can swap our office chair for an airline seat and our suits and shirts for a pair of shorts and hiking boots.

The first I’d rather be… has to be the Tour d’Afrique, as after 4 months on the road/ sand/ muddy paths of Africa the riders will reach Cape Town on the 14th May.

The Tour ‘Afrique was first brought into our lives back in 2008 while searching for bike rides in South Africa before a trip out there. I am came across 2 great blogs Cycling the Road Less Travelled and The Planet D and I was hooked, following their highs and lows from Cairo to Cape Town.

We started making plans in the hope that this would happen in 2012 but as is often the case finance and life got in the way. Yet it is still something we dream of. Can you imagine 4 months of seeing, smelling and tasting the sights and sounds of Africa from top to bottom.

So while I sit here at my desk, I think of the strong, brave and lucky riders currently pedalling their way through South Africa and think “I’d rather be there…” who knows, maybe one day!

Thursday 5 May 2011

Final Day & Final Thoughts on Finland

The weather this morning reflected our feelings, grey, windy and pretty miserable!

After ‘The Last Breakfast’ we packed up, paid the bill then it was one final walk to Myllykoski rapids and Mill.

As soon as we set off I could feel tears sting my eyes and my throat ached, I just hoped I could keep it together! At the mill, Eki made us make a snowball, he explained how we would through it into the river, it would melt into water, flow through Russia into the White Sea, before being taken back into the clouds and falling back to earth again, maybe as snow one day. He told us that as we threw it into the river to think of our own journey at Basecamp, how a week before we had started out at the Mill on our snowshoes and how we end it here and to think of if, when and how we might return to Basecamp.

We threw the snowballs, then it was time for hugs and goodbyes and it was at that point I could hold it together no longer and the tears flowed.

Final Group Picture by the Mill

The week spent at Basecamp seemed to open something inside me, I pushed myself at some points to the limits at other times I felt a still, calm quietness. I felt content and happy everyday, even when I was nervous like before the snowmobiling I did it and realised a little a bit of fear is good, it makes the adrenalin flower better!

It was a great feeling to finish each day tired, not a run down feeling from sat in front of a computer all day, but of hard work, fresh air and of being healthy and wanting to do more not veg out in front of the TV.

We both seemed to have had a realisation that we want to get out there and to enjoy the outdoors, to enjoy peace and quiet and just ‘being’. So with this is mind… keep reading for the next adventure!

If you’ve enjoyed reading about our Finland trip- we’d definitely recommend going and experiencing it for yourself! Have a look at the trip here on the Exodus website.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Day Six- Snowshoeing and More Ice-Climbing

Our last full day at Basecamp and in Finland, really don’t want to leave!

Today we took the optional activity of the Castle Rocks snowshoe. This is a four hour walk into the Oulanka National Park and into a restricted area that is home to some flora not found anywhere else in the world.

After a little bit of snow yesterday afternoon we actually woke up without any sun for the first time all week and had cloud all day!

It was good fun to be out as a (nearly) entire group again. We snowshoed part of the Little Bear Trail before heading ‘off piste’ into some thicker snow and really making use of the snowshoes.

After a few hours of walking we reached Castle Rocks, a huge cliff that the river has eroded either side but left standing as its made of a harder rock type than the surrounding rocks. The photo below shows how high it is, look very, very closely at the base and you’ll see our group!

Castle Rocks

Getting close to the rapids and the frozen waterfall was fantastic, Eki explained all the rapid grading that they white water raft down in summer. He also explained how the frozen waterfall is the biggest rapid, a grade 6 that they don’t raft around, and is the only one that freezes. The spray thrown up from the rapid freezes making it freeze from the outside, leaving the water running underneath.

Jyrävä frozen waterfall

Next to the falls was a near vertical climb up, thankfully the snowshoes gripped and there was a rope to help haul up, it would have been a wet and cold landing should anyone have slipped!

Once again it was the silence that was outstanding and there was really no-one else around as we were off the main trail.

Following a big lunch of Lasagne and Teemu’s special blueberry and balsamic dipping sauce, we elected to do an extra ice-climbing session .

This time it was just me and Ben with Salla, one of the trainees and Eki. We asked to learn more about the equipment and skills rather than just climbing.

Unfortunately, following the long ski and walk yesterday and this morning I had no strength left and ended up slipping and leaving my glove hanging from the ice-axe strap! On my last attempt I made it half way up the wall before slipping and it was me that was left hanging by my wrists on my ice axe that I had managed to wedge quite firmly into the wall!

Ben of course managed to fly up the wall like Spiderman! One of the extra skills we were learning was the belay each other. When Ben was climbing I was fine , however as soon as he put his weight on the rope to abseil back down I ended up flying off my feet and having visions of him plummeting to he ground, while I shot to the top of the wall… it would have been the only time I reached the top this time! I finally managed to get myself stabilised and brought Ben safely back down.

A hot tub and sauna eased some of the aches and pains we had acquired over the week before wrapping up warm for dinner in the woods. As a special last meal we had reindeer, mashed potato and lingonberry jam, which I have to say beat the same dish we had in Ruka hands down! There was also the fact we were sat under lean-to shelters, in the wood around an open fire while the snow gently fluttered down, all adding to the experience.

Dessert turned into a bit of a Ready, Steady Cook with us all having to make our own pancakes on the open fire and there was a little bit of competition on who was the best ‘tosser’ J

Back at Basecamp the team surprised Adam for his 40th brithday with one of the loveliest cakes I have ever tasted (mom your's is still the best - BM J).  It was a cream and strawberry sponge with loads of chocolate!

Finally Eki showed us a beautiful slideshow of Basecamp in summer and autumn, sealing the decision that we will definitely be back again!

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Day Five- Cross Country Skiing and Pieni Karhunkierros Trail

Another free day but this time spent at Basecamp. There was an optional full day husky ride, but at £250 each we had to decide to forgo that one L

Instead, 5 of us headed out on skis aiming rather ambitiously for a village 8km away along the lake and to the second lake me and Ben skied to a few days previous and into the forest we had looked at wanting to go further but not having time to before.

We skied out in blue skies and sunshine, with me struggling to keep up at the back, especially when I kept getting distracted by animal spoor and wondering what animal had made them. The rest of the group would ski off a little into the distance then wait for me to catch up, but with the track twisting and turning often I felt I was the only person around for miles. It felt like Narnia and soon whilst by myself I started to imagine bears hiding in the woods watching as I skied past, so when a lump of ice fell off a tree and landed behind me, I suddenly found pace I didn’t know I had! There were quite a lot of up hill sections that involved the ‘little jog’ steps or walking up in a back to front snowplough, but most of it was flat.  

After an hour and 45 minutes we stopped in an open space surrounded by small fir trees and watched snowmobiles fly along on the horizon. After a quick drink and a snack it was time to head back for lunch. Suddenly, the uphills we had ‘jogged’ up became down hills and what ensued was something similar to a comedy sketch with legs, skis and poles ending in most directions other than the tracks. While the men continued to fly, slide and fall down hills, the girls had the sense to take off the skis- it was a lot easier on foot!

The afternoon saw me and Ben don our snowshoes and head out on the 10km Little Bears Trail or ‘Pieni Karhunkierros’ in Finnish. A beautiful walk through the Oulanka National Park, following a well marked path. Most of the trail followed the Kitka River whilst other parts went through the forest. After an hours walk we came to a frozen waterfall, with one of the many overnight huts that are scattered throughout the Finnish National Parks looking out onto it. They are well stocked huts with bunks to sleep on, a fire place or gas stove to cook, a wood stove inside to keep warm and a stack of firewood and cooking pans and utensils- I would have looked to have stayed in one, especially this one at Siilastupa…

During the entire 3 ½ hour walk we saw one group of people at the start and one group at the finish. The silence was magnificent and with the wind picking up all we could hear was it rustling though the tree tops, the crunch of snow under our boots and the occasional creak and groan of one of the for trees bending in the wind.

The walk was great, but after the ski and the 252 steps (or ice chute as it had become!) we climbed at one point on the walk, a hot chocolate and a bar of very good Finnish chocolate was a fitting reward- apparently we had done the longest day of activity ever known at Basecamp.

No Northern Lights watching tonight as whilst walking the clouds had come over and by the end of the walk light flakes of snow started drifting down.

Monday 2 May 2011

Day Four- Snowmobiling & Free Day in Ruka

We transferred through to Ruka today for a free day in which we chose to do the optional activity of snowmobiling with Northern Light Safaries. I was pretty nervous about getting on the back of Ben's snowmobile- they are like jet skis but for snow and the last time I was on the back of a jet ski I ended up being thrown off at speed and skimming along the sea like a stone!

Anyway, we got kitted up in overalls and helmets and drove down to a frozen lake to a practice track around some cones. It felt like Ben thought he was on a motorbike, and I was sure we were going to tip over at any moment. I attempted to drive… well I got on drove for about a second then decided being a terrified passenger was better than being a terrified driver… so off we went.

Once I’d got over the fear of Ben rolling the machine, it was actually great fun. Speeding along the groomed snowmobile tracks, across roads and through woodland. There were some fairly steep uphills that were fun, trying to hold onto Ben’s waist in mitts and keep a good grip whilst trying to stand and lean forward so I didn’t fall off the back, but thankfully I held on!

Other parts were flat ride roads across plains where Ben held back from the person in front, then without warning (usually as I relaxed my grip around him) suddenly pulled the throttle and we were off- with me half screaming half laughing. For Ben it was like having a really cool boy’s toy and he loved it.

At the half way point we stopped at a cute little mountain hut for coffee and enjoyed sitting in the sun. It was like an Lapland playground for children with mini snowmobiles on a track, a kids husky sled ride and reindeer sleigh rides as well as a toboggan run.

Soon it was back off towards Ruka and Ben really seemed to let rip at every opportunity, creating more screams and giggles from the back seat J Especially when we got back to the lake and hit 70kph - which sounded good until the guide admitted he’d hot 100kph! The weirdest thing was going to fill up with petrol, obviously normal for snowmobiles to pull up at the petrol pumps to fill up in Finland, but for us ‘Southerners’ it was quite unique!

Back in Ruka, we had hoped to spend the afternoon snowboarding. The runs looked short but good fun with nicely groomed snow and no queues for the lift, but we got back so late we didn’t have time and instead had lunch of sauté reindeer with mashed potato and lingonberry jam whilst overlooking the ski runs at Restaurant Piste.

A bit of gift shopping and a few beers watching a Finnish band sing English songs, including ‘Summer of 69’ and it was off back to Basecamp.

After dinner a few of us wrapped up warm and headed down to the lake to take photo’s of the amazingly starry night sky. A light cloud cover meant the photo’s didn’t take, but to the eye there were still thousands and millions of stars. I stood hoping for the Northern Lights to show, but again no such luck L

Sunday 1 May 2011

Day Three- Husky Sledding and Some More Cross Country Skiing

Wow- this was the best day- ever!

Just driving to the Husky’s was beautiful, ice roads and snow everywhere with blue skies and sunshine again.

As we drove in a forest we suddenly came to a sled across the road and then saw the huskies in the forest, some tied to trees others already hitched to the sleds. The noise from them howling and barking was amazing as we got out of the minibus and filled me with exciting and little bit of fear.

A real ‘Viking’ looking man introduced himself to us as Lauri from Kota-Huskies and gave a brief demonstration- brake, corner and if you fall, let go- and that was it, off to meet our teams.

The dogs looked really quite fierce at first and then noise they were making sounded like they’d have a hand off, but as soon as I held a hand out to the leader of my team, they whined and stretched their head out for a good tickle and ended up being as soft as a Labrador!

Ben and me were at the back of the group, I had a great team of 4 and once the 2 leaders stopped scrapping with each other and slipping their collars we were off. I was thankful I had followed the advice of Lauri and kept my foot hard on the brake as that initial pull could really have you off backwards.

The first 15 minutes for me was a bit of a white knuckle ride, not sure how stable the sled was, how the dogs were going to react and whether I was going to fall.

Ben on the other hand felt it was more of a marathon. While he had a larger team of 6, it later transpired that 5 of them were females, with one of them being 12 years old and about to go into retirement- and after pulling Ben around, retirement possibly came sooner than she thought J Anyway, the upshot was that any sort of uphill had Ben pushing and running behind the sled to help the dogs. At one point he had slowed down so much the dogs laid down and started rolling in the snow, thinking he had put the brake on! The good side to this was he had plenty of time to get photo’s like this…

After a short photo op in the forest we emerged out into the beautiful place in the above photo. Rolling white snow, baby fir trees and the bluest sky I have ever seen. As it was slightly up hill the pace slowed and we got to look back, over the forest and in the distance to the frozen lake Kitka and hills on the horizon. The silence was unbelievable, just the padding of paws on snow and the swoosh of the sled rails following.

I can honestly say I have never felt so happy as I did in that moment and tears streamed down my cheeks, almost in disbelief at the setting I found myself in!

Once back at their makeshift camp we sat around a fire waiting for the second group to arrive and learnt how Kota-Huskies, treat all of their dogs like family. They have 50 of them and know each one by name. The puppies are allowed to play until 1 year old before starting training and they are allowed to run and pull sleds until the dog decides it no-longer wants to, usually about 12- 13 years old. They also only breed as many puppies as they need as they would never sell their dogs in case they went to bad homes. As if to prove how well looked after, one decided it wanted a cuddle and hopped up onto the snow bench between me and Ben.

Back at Basecamp, finally having dragged ourselves away from the dogs, we decided to take the skis out and head off around the lake. Past the village and around the back of the school house, brought us to a road to cross. Picking the trail up again we skied to another small collection of houses and a café before coming out onto a second lake and skiing into the middle. Again, it was the absolute silence that really struck and the expanse of deep, flat perfect snow either side of the perfectly groomed ski tracks.

Again a sauna was had to relieve stiff muscles before a dinner of Elk meatloaf and some more Bear Beer!