Saturday, 7 February 2015
Today was the day Zali had been looking forward to since we first talked about going to Norway.
After about two minutes of instructions incorporating the following ground rules…1) 'NEVER let go of the sled', '2) Don't tail-gate', 3) Don't drive the dogs shoulder to shoulder (as the dogs get tangled). Then we had a quick introduction to the steering (there was none), and braking (there were two footbrakes - one of which was like an anchor in the snow whist the other was more like a speed reducer than a complete-stopper).
And then we were off. The expert leader was first, an english couple had the 2nd team (with the lady driving and her husband sitting), then was me with Zali, followed by Jon and Jett.
And when I say 'off', I mean OFF, it was like going from 0 to 100 in 1 second while trying to balance on skis without bindings. The moment the sled in front of you went, your own dogs could not be stopped unless you put all your weight full force on the equivalent of the anchor and leant backwards. Cornering was fun, you had to lean against the corner to stop the sled tipping over and when you added soft or slushy snow and lumps and bumps into the equation, it was crazy. Completely crazy. The dogs just wanted to run. In fact they wanted to race. I was constantly on the brake to stop them speeding past the sled in front.
After about 10 minutes the dogs settled down a bit and we all relaxed a little. In fact so much that the lady driving the sled in front of me took a corner a bit fast and ploughed into the bumpy soft snow, unceremoniously tipping her sled (and her husband) onto it's side. For a few moments the dogs sped on with the lady running pathetically behind it, but then either the dogs felt the tipped sled, or the expert driver of the first sled may have called them to stop I'm not sure which. In any case I dug into my brakes so my team didn't run over the sled of fools in front of me. The leader gave the lady a bit of a serve for not controlling her team and then helped her right the sled and her disgruntled husband. The leader was more of a dog person than a tourist guide !
Anyway while we were stopped I took the camera from Zali and turned to take a photo of Jon and Jett from the front. So I had one hand on the sled, one on the camera, and all my weight on the brake. Just as I held up the camera the lady in front got her sled going again which in turn caused my team to surge forward. Suddenly I was falling backwards off the sled (and the brake), while the camera was heading into orbit. Prioritising the sled ahead of my camera I lunged for the sled handrail -by some miracle I just managed to grab it and drag myself on board as it took of and as I heard the soft 'plonk' of the camera returning to earth behind me. What a chump's mistake - not seeing that the dogs were about to go I was totally caught out. Luckily Jon witnessed all of this just as his team started to move after mine and amazingly my camera wasn't trampled by his six dogs and then the remaining parts crushed under his sled. Instead, in a manoeuvre which would have made grandfather proud, he directed Jett to lean over the side of his sled as they went past and pluck it up out of the snow while he counterbalanced the sled on the other side. It was like a boaty plucking his favourite hat up out of the water with a boat hook. I was just able to glance back and see them do it as my sled skidded away (thankfully with me on it). Phew. Not only was I saved the humiliation of my team of dogs overtaking the leader without me on board (thus breaking ground-rule number one), but I also didn't have to admit that I only had one hand on the handlebars and we didn't have to go back for my camera.
And also if I hadn't managed to just grab the sled as it scootered away, I wonder how long it would have taken Zali to realise she was driverless… "mum, we're going a bit fast props we should slow down"… "mum?".. "MUM???" ..
After we finished we were treated to a fireplace, a warm drink and a debrief with the other team. It was lovely. So much fun.