On the 18th of March International Mountain Leader Jeffry Oonk and WTA’s guide Evy Kumpen started their journey on the Vitabandet. A stretch of 1300 km from Grövelsjön in the middle of Sweden all the way op to Sweden’s northernmost point, Treriksröset. In their last blog, you can read about their adventures in the beginning of their expedition. In the meantime, they, and the sixteen dogs, returned safely back home. With wonderful stories, even though not all went as they had planned. Underneath, Evy wrote about the second part of their adventure.
Sweden's mountain range: a overwhelming beautiful land.
A wild land, seemingly untouched by man. Covered by vast and endless forests that rise against the faraway hills. It is overlooked by majestic mountains, which rise into a sky painted by the gods' hands.
But it is also horrific: the same mountains are unwelcoming, hostile almost as the wind tries to sweep you right off from the trail, shooting ice pins at your eyes, the dogs’ eyes. When the snow and the wind are mixing up so intensely, you have no clue about where you are, be it up or down, left or right and it's such a white infinity -while holding to the sled to not be blown off - that you hardly see your wheel dogs.
Travelling here means facing the cold, long trails. But you get to see millions of stars in the utterly dark night.
Travelling this land means waking up every morning to find your sleeping bag the warmest and coziest spot there possibly is (especially surrounded by 9 or 10 dogs) - only to know your pants and boots are stiff frozen in exactly the shape you put them down yesterday. But you got to get up, to make some miles and see another horizon, to discover the place where you will spend the next night.
Travelling this land, changed definitions.
It changed my definition of dogsledding. You don't just 'drive dogs'.
It is just you out there, you and the dogs, and you become 'us', you become one.
It's a perfect symbiosis, the trust is going both ways. They trust you to guide them, feed them, take care of them, love them. And you trust them, to guide you, get you through this barren land. Often, I had the feeling, they are just as curious as us, to see what's over the next hill. That they love to explore the new trails and always, always (how absolutely stunning is that?) always have the enormous will to GO.
Since the beginning of this expedition, we caught "spring" weather.
Traditionally, the Sami people know eight seasons. One of them is Spring Winter (gidádálvve) and is enjoyed by many people. The rays of the sun start to get warm but the snow is still good for sledding, skiing and snowmobiling. We have the feeling we missed this season. Maybe because we drove 1300 kms south, but even the locals say it. Suddenly, it became spring. In spring (gidá) the snow starts to melt and the rivers and creeks start to flow again, they wake up. The snow around the roots of the spruces is melted away, so the trees wake up as well. This means, for us who want to cover a lot of miles on the trail, just trouble.
Let me get you an image.The snow gets so soft it doesn't hold the dogs anymore. Not like soft, deep snow where they need to swim a bit. It's more treacherous, the frozen hard top layer holding them for a split second after which they break through with one or two legs. On the trails is a rotten mass that holds the sled back as if it was pulled through sticky honey. It's full of water, so when the nights are colder is turns out be rock hard in the morning, with razor sharp edges to it. It was for us impossible to choose a good travel time; too hard trails in the night and too soft trails in the day.
Being depending on the dogfood you take (and, albeit of less great importance, human food) we had no choice but to cover at least some mileage every day.
Continuing the story
After writing our last blog we took two days of rest. This really benefited the dogs, most of the dogs' stiffness seemed to have disappeared. Except for Hanna, who kept limping and showing signs of a shoulder injury. She's luckily small so fits in the sled without too much disturbance, but she is NOT happy with this really, really silly arrangement. (That's what Hanna said).
We started to use booties on all of the feet, 16 x 4 = 64 of at least 1 minute per paw, so count an extra half hour per person before we get started in the morning.
And so it went, with great ups and great downs. The last evening, we stopped earlier than planned, because three dogs were not running as they should; something was wrong. We decided to get a good night's rest, but the beautifully morning sun showed us that Nallo, Singi and Hanna needed more rest. Hanna was actually our biggest concern. Even after a week riding in the sled, there were no signs of healing at all. With two more dogs limping and conditions not getting any better, we were just afraid the dogs wouldn't heal up at all.
It was an amazing beautiful morning. A gentle sun shining on a small layer of fresh snow. The log-cabin we found for the night came out of a fairytale. The roof was low and overgrown with trees and ancient mosses, a big open fire place in the middle of this 120-year-old place. A sadness touched our hearts knowing the journey would find its end here. Here in Umnäs, after almost 800 km on the trails, over half of the complete journey to Treriksröset. But a gratefulness for this experience filled us as well, happiness for the way we have behind us - two people, 16 dogs, 19 days and one expedition to never forget!
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