Sweden - Dog Sledding North of the Artic Circle

by Kimp 16. February 2013 01:08
 
Disclaimer:
Some of the pictures didn't come out very well. I had my camera on Manual focus for a few shots, then got distracted and didn't put it back in Full Auto. I eventually figured it out. Also, going between extreme cold and warm fogged up the lens and I didn't realize that for a while either.
 
Philosophy:
No matter where I've lived in the Northern Hemisphere, every February, there's an entire week of the most bitter cold I've ever felt. The days have been getting longer and the sun has been getting hotter for two months, yet it just keeps getting colder outside. When I hit that week, I just want to pack my bags and head for the tropics. The problem with that is: when I get back, it still feels cold.
This year, I decided to try something different. I figured if I went into the extreme cold, instead of the tropics, when I got back, it would feel warm. So I headed up North of the Arctic Circle in the middle of February. Now that I'm back, I can attest to the fact that, that was "a good idea gone bad".  I concluded that when I go from hot to cold, it feels just as cold as when I go from colder to cold. It's just plain cold and that's all there is to it. Anything less then the Spring that I've been anticipating since winter started, just doesn't cut it.
 
Arctic Circle:
When standing directly on the arctic circle at the winter solstice (shortest day of the year), we're guaranteed to have 24 hours of darkness from midnight to midnight, for exactly one day. Polar night is the term for that. When standing directly on the arctic circle at the summer solstice (longest day of the year), we're guaranteed to have 24 hours of sunlight from midnight to midnight, for exactly one day. Midnight Sun is the term for that. The farther north of the Arctic Circle, the larger the number of polar nights and midnight suns.
Night time is kind of deceiving in the polar region. The snow is very white and pollution free, so it reflects any light that is hitting the Earth.  When the sky is clear and the moon is out, we can see pretty good at night.
 
Laplands:
The land mass in Sweden and Finland above the Arctic circle is known as the laplands. The indigenous people of Scandanavia and Russia are called Sami and the laps are the tribe of Sami's that inhabited Sweden (Finland was once part of Sweden). That's were the Laplands got their name.
 
Lapp's are nomadic people, who did and who still do, follow the reindeer herds as they migrate to different areas. The reindeer are their sole source of subsistence. They hunt it and use every part of it. Lapps do not have horses, they tamed a few reindeer and they use them for transportation. Reindeer also haul goods from place to place in sleds that they pull. In fact, one can take a trip with the Lapp's all of the way across Sweden in a sled pulled by reindeer. It takes 8 days and we sleep in tents.
 
This is the only place in the world where that is done, so I know Santa Claus lives somewhere in Lapland. Plus elves deliver the Christmas toy's via sled in Scandinavia. Santa, the elves and the workshop all must be somewhere in Lapland. 
 
Aurora Borealis:
Lapland is the best place in the world to see the aurora borealis. A mountain range in the northern part of Lapland makes it difficult for the clouds in the prevailing wind to make it into the Laplands, so there are many cloud free nights. The aurora kind of looks Alien in nature. As a result, there are lots of people who believe in Alien's in Lapland. A young Swedish women told me, "When you see the aurora borealis, make sure that you don't say 'Bleep Bleep'.". She said 'Bleep Bleep' in a high pitch with a very serious look on her face. I started to laugh as she went on to explain, "Cause if you do, you will be sucked right up into the alien spaceship". Whoa!!! Can we go over that again, I sure don't want to get sucked up into an alien spaceship.
Funny, I never would have even thought of saying 'Bleep Bleep', until after she told me that. I wander why the pilot didn't announce that as the plane landed. I mean, what if I got off the plane, saw one right away, said 'Bleep Bleep', got sucked up into the stratosphere and became some Aliens sex slave. I'm pretty sure, I'd had a bulletproof lawsuit against the airline, over that.
The aurora borealis comes from a weakness in the Sun's magnetic field, that lets lots of radiation escape. The sun is very fluid and its magnetic fields are constantly in movement. Every once in a while a big weak place is exposed and radiation spews from it. That's the single ingredient needed for a great aurora experience.
 
Solar radiation hits the earth all over, but since the atmosphere is weakest at the poles, it makes it into the earths upper atmosphere where the radiation interacts with the atmospheric gases and turns into visible light. The colors can vary depending on which molecules they interact with, but green (oxygen) seems to be the predominate color in lapland.
 
The intensity of these solar flares vary from year to year and there is a 20 year cycle of activity that repeats. This year is a peak year, which means 20 years ago was a peak year and the next peek will be in 20 more years. Another major factor is that the weak spot on the sun has to be pointed directly towards the earth as the sun rotates, if it isn't then some of the radiation will completely miss the earth.  It takes 3 days for light from the sun to reach the earth. Science will tell you three days in advance if you have a good change of seeing a really good one.
 
It takes about 8 days for the sun to rotate one time, so 8 days from the last good sighting, there is a good chance for another good sighting. I missed one of the best in the last 20 years by about 3 days. also on the day I was leaving the weak spot was rotating back around and just after I left, it was expected to be even better then the last one. When I was there, cloud cover was pretty heavy much of the time, which would have obstructed it from view (it happens above the clouds). It would have really sucked, if I was there on the right day and all I saw was clouds, knowing it was awesome right above them.
My history:
My grandfather on my mom's side emigrated from Sweden when he was very young. All he knew of his ancestor's was that they were Swedish, but his family name was Ostling, which translates to person from the East. The only thing East of Sweden in those days was Russia (Finland was part of Sweden at that time), which leaves me skeptical. Assuming some of his ancestors came from elsewhere in Europe, person from the East could have referred to somewhere in Asia, but I sure don't look anything like any of the Asians that I know.
 
If my grandfather's ancestor's really were from Sweden, then there's a chance that I am a direct decedent of Santa Claus. So I wanted to see if I could find him and get a DNA sample.
 
Trip Preparation:
My plan was simple. I was going to fly to Lapland with one of my recent Christmas gifts. Give a good whiff of the scent that was on it, to the lead sled dog . And he should take me right to the workshop. This plan was so simple and elegant, how could it possibly fail. It was borderline Genius.
 
I spent quite a bit of time preparing for this trip. A full month of acclimating myself to the cold,  in the rare event that I ended up stuck outside for a whole night. Acclimation only takes two weeks, but I wanted to get used to being pretty cold. As long as we stay dry, our body can easily handle cold temperatures. Acclimation just trains our mind not to fear cold. Once acclimated I can walk in 40 degree F (5 C) wearing shorts and a t-shirt . I can still feel the cold, but since my body doesn't go into shock over it, the cold is easy to tolerate.
 
Memoir's:
When I was a kid, I often sleep in an unheated attic room in Northern Ohio, where I could see my breath as I exhaled at night. That was by choice. I had a heated room down stairs in the house. I just liked it because it was a large open space and very private. Also, the heat in the room downstairs was debatable. My mother has always been very frugal and she kept the heat at 65 during the day and turned it down below 55 at night (in the downstairs). My mother is very proud that her electric and heating bills which are always the lowest of anyone she ever compares them with.
 
I never felt cold during the night, but in the morning when I got up and my bare feet hit the small throw rug that was next to my bed, that's when the cold would hit me. From the bed to the stairs was 30 feet of freezing cold linoleum. That was like running across an ice pond in bare feet. I didn't wear sock's because the floor was to slippery with socks on, and I ran the risk of wiping out into the wall, while trying to round the U-turn corner at full speed, to head down the stairs. Even if I navigated the corner in socks at high speed, I still ran the risk of the double whammy. There was door at the bottom of the very smooth and polished wooden stairs. One slip coming down the stairs and not only did I bust my ass, but I slammed straight into the very solid wooden door at the bottom.
The best guide in all of Lapland:
Someone had pointed me in the direction of an old dude in Lapland, whom they said, was the best guide in all of Lapland. He was expensive, but I ponied up and hired him, sight unseen, on the spot, way before I got up there. I meet him for the first time, the day before I went dog sledding out into the open and vast wilderness. I had pictured some big burly, hardy lumberjack, like Paul Bunyan with blonde hair. The guy I meet, looked like a slim hippie from the 60's, who hadn't quire grown to full height. He was sporting slightly kept hair and an unkept beard. His personally carried him as someone who was tough as nails, but really fascinating and easy to talk with. He had a swagger that was kind of like a short, slim Buffalo Bill Cody. He had on a pair of the most awesome snow pants I'd ever seen. They were finally crafted, very smooth, tanned leather with American Indian like frays in the outer most seams. The Frays were about 2 inches long and angled instead of hanging straight down. They kind of looked like cowboy chaps, but were full pants that were big enough to go over other pants. On him, they looked pretty bad ass. If I were a fashion designer, a variation of those would be in my line.
I hung out with him for a while the day before. He talked a lot about dog sled racing over the years and how he got to where he is today. I shared quite a few laughs with him, but I don't think he owned a smile. He said, his business was doing great this year and he had way more opportunity, then time on his hands. In his speech, I could see the signs, of a man, who had worked very hard this season. As we parted, he was stressing over whether or not to enter a 3000 km (1800 mi) Dog sled race. Those long races are arduous and very expensive. Driving hard for 20 hours a day and sleeping less than four. A person has to win the race, just to break even on expenses. The full entrance fee was due by midnight, so he had to pay or pass, and it was looking to me like he was probably going to pass. I hope he paid, cause I could also tell that he was the type to regret passing, at a later time.  I couldn't wait for the the next day, to find out.
 
Anna and North Pole expedition:
The next day I was picked up in a van and dropped off at a different location. An amazing house on a hill overlooking the Torne river. Wild Bills residence I presumed. Stepping inside, I meet a very kind, warm and beautiful women in her mid thirties, who introduced herself as Anna. Surmising that was Wild Bill's wife, I gave a kind smile and thought, "Man, Wild Bill sure is a sly old dog. I wish I had one tenth of his swagger."
 
Shortly thereafter,  a very health and happy man in his mid Thirties appears with a few young kids in toe and kisses Anna right on the lips. He smiles and he turns to me with a big smile and introduces himself as my guide. It took me about a half of a second to figure out that Wild Bill had betrayed me. He took my money and sold me to another guide for a piece of the pie. At the end of the day, Wild Bill is a shrewd businessman. I was probably the only person he had that day, so rather then bust ass and make a meager profit, he could pawn me off to someone who had more people and probably make the same or more profit.
 
I fought to suppress the bitterness that was quickly taking over my sole, until I got to know this jovial sole. Good thing I did. He turned out to be full of energy and was very accomplished for this young age. Around him, where pictures of him, Anna and some of his dogs on a North Pole expedition. That takes a hearty person, with a lot of money and a lot of guts. Usually they helicopter to around 2 degrees from the Pole in April, then sled the rest of the way. They have to carry all of their supplies with them and sleep in tents for about 2 weeks. And they still run the chance of getting stuck in a storm that could be -80F. At that temperature, urine freezes before it hits the ground, and your exhale crystallizes into ice crystals that quickly fall and collect on your sleve. I was feeling pretty comfortable in his presence.
 
Marc:
Another dude who was with us, was a brilliant college student, enrolled in a civil engineering program at the University of Calgary in Alberta Canada. I 'm pretty sure Marc is one of the top in his class and also received very strong evaluations from his professors. This dude was awarded a one year Internship at Asea Brown Boveri in Switzerland. That's the biggest Engineering Company in the world. Not only that, but he got to go to their coveted Switzerland lab. And get this, his field of study was civil engineering, but they awarded him an internship in Electrical Engineering. No doubt in my mind, that they want to recruit him, and if he puts a few years in there, he can pretty much write his own ticket after that. Swiss ABB on an engineers resume is like having a royal straight flush in poker.
 
All that going for him, and yet he was as humble as they come. I had to coax all of that out of him over the coarse of 24 hours. I made sure he stayed humble too. "Hey Marc! Just as soon as you're done shoveling that dog shit and dumping it over there, we can hook these dogs up and get out on the open trail."
 
Sled Dogs:
Most sled dogs are Huskies. There are many pure Huskie breeds, but the pure breeds are all big and slow. They're more suited for carrying heavy loads and moving at a slow pace. They have all of the attributes, of a semi truck. Alaskan natives mixed Huskies with other breeds to create the Alaskan Huskie. It has a double coat, so the dog can easily withstand the bitter cold, but its much lighter. Its legs are longer and its butt is rounder. All of those traits, result in a speed that is about twice as fast as pure breed Huskies and gives them high endurance qualities as well. The fastest sled dogs are breed from beagles, but Beagles only have one coat of fur, so handlers need to put coats on them as soon as they stop pulling. Still, Beagles are only about 5 percent faster then Alaskan Huskies.
 
All sled dogs have one trait in common. They love to air it out and run. The urge to run is very strong. Taking too long to hook all of them up and get on the trail, gets them really antsy and tense. To the point that one of them will do something to piss another one off, then they start fighting.  The huskies picked up on subtle clues that I was about to get on the trail (like putting on my jacket, just before stepping on the sled), then they start barking hysterically. It's like they are saying, "Dude, come'on, what the hell's taking so long. Lets go!!!"
 
The front dog (sometimes two in tandem) is called the lead dog. He's the smartest one and is usually calm and reserved, plus the other dogs trust where he's taking them. The dogs directly behind the lead dog(s) are called swing dogs. They're smart as well and are put there by the trainer, in hopes that they will gain some experience and become good lead dogs one day. The dogs closest to the sled are called wheel dogs. They're the strongest and usually biggest dogs. Not only do they pull the sled forward, but they also need to turn the sled when cornering. All of the other dogs are called team dogs.
 
There are only four commands, but you really only need to know two of them.
Forget about mush, that's a silly movie only command. To start the dog's you yell "Hike", just like in American Football. But really they're going to take off without a command. GEE (that's with a hard G, like the first part of go and the last part of whee) to turn right. Haw (like the sound of a crow only with an H) to turn left. Whoa is to stop, but they really don't listen to that one (maybe the lead dog does, but they rest just keep pulling). You need to hit the serious brake if you want to stop.
 
Really though, dogs respond to the pitch and not words. Hike is the highest pitch, Gee is a little lower, Haw is still lower and Whoa is the lowest. I truely believe that  can yell anything, you just need to yell in the right pitch.
 
Before hooking up the sled up, it needs to be preped. The last thing North Pole wants is a sled taking off without a human at the helm. The sleds that we used were very light. They had kind of a small storage compartment. Just enough for a small pack and a few provisions. And we always leave enough empty room in the storage compartment to carry one of the dogs, should they get injured on the trip.
 
The sled has two brakes and two anchors. The most sturdy Anchor is a one inch thick rope (called a snub line) that is tied around a sturdy tree. Just make a slip knot in it, so it can be quickly released, whilst standing on the sled runners. Just let the rope drop to the ground and drag. We are going to be going too fast to coil it up and secure it. Especially when the dogs are fresh.
 
The other anchor is a metal u-shaped ice clamp that digs about 4 inches into the ice when my 250 pounds steps on it. It's  used, in addition to the tree. Or for a short stop, when a tree isn't around. The dogs are more interested in cooling off then running when stopped during a run, so there isn't a need for as much force to keep them from running.
 
The normal Sled brake is kind of like a brush. It's between the runners in the back and stepping on it, slows the sled down a little. The brush bristles are not strong enough to stop, it's just for slowing down. It's like a car brake, a little weight and it slows a little, more weight slows it more. Normally this brake just rides on top of the snow/ice when no weight is on it. However,when in new snow, it kind of digs into the new snow and slows us down. So there's a small rope loop on it, that can be attached to the top of the sled which picks it all of the way off of the ground.
 
The other brake consists of two, two inch long metal spikes on a spring loaded bar. Normally this bar is held by the spring, and is several inches off of the ground. Putting weight on it, digs the spikes into the ground. This will bring the sled to a stop much faster then the brush brake.
 
After tying my sled to a nice tree and burying the ice anchor into the ground, I was ready to hook up my dogs.
 
My dogs:
North Pole dude says, "I have a race coming up in a week and my best race dog kind of gets bored just sitting around, so I'd like you to take him out. It looks like you'd give him a good workout." I'm pretty sure that was a reference to my weight. Which I translated into: yea he'll get a great workout hauling your big ass around. Them's fight'in words, but at this point, I was more concerned that his prized dog was going to get hurt and I was going to get stuck with the bill.
 
"Are your sure? Cause I'm not sure I'm ready to handle that.", I said in a concerned tone.
 
North Pole grins and says, "Wild Bill gave you an endorsement. That's good enough for me. I'm sure you can handle it."
 
Gee, I guess betrayal wasn't enough, now Wild Bill's trying to kill me.
 
The four dogs that I had were named William, Utter, Otter and Tyson. Its important to remember their names, because that's how dogs know they are being acknowledged for their hard work. They want to please me, and hearing their names when I'm happy, lets them know that they're pleasing me.
 
However, to remember their personalities, I needed to give them nick names. A nickname is always a personality trait. It's awarded by someone else as a code word to describe the biggest personality trait.
 
The personalities of my dogs:
William was the first dog I hooked up. I nicknamed William, Lieutenant JG (junior grade). William was a smart dog, but also a lead dog in field training. He was lacking street sense and street discipline. In the US Navy, a person in the Naval Academy is called a Midshipman. As soon as they graduate from the Academy, they are promoted to the rank of Ensign. An Ensign probably did very well in school and they're disciplined, but they lack street smarts. The rank of Lieutenant JG is given to an Ensign after they are fully qualified. They have all of the signatures in their book that proves they have learned something in the field. They still lack street sense, but for some reason, that rank usually goes straight to their head. What they haven't learned yet, is that it's best to yield to someone with a lot of street sense. They usually end up getting their ass handed to them (in a political manner) by a chief (blue collar supervisor) a few times, after giving a direction that is detrimental to work being done. When JG's prove that they've learned that lesson, they get promoted to Lieutenant.
 
William had some smarts and lots of potential, but he was full of unharnessed energy and was be-bopping all over the place. Most lead dogs are reserved and stay put. Staying put is important in a lead dog, because I don't want to have to untangle the lines while I'm trying to hook up the other dogs. I was quick to regret making that rookie mistake.
 
Utter's nickname of Chief came quickly. In the US Navy a chief is a seasoned Blue Collar supervisor, who pretty much runs all of the real work that gets done. They have the street smarts and can handle any situation they're in. When an officer really wants to get some work done, they usually consult the chief.
 
Utter fit this perfectly. He guided me directly to the correct position, sat down and let me round up Lieutenant JG so I could tether them together. He then kept JG anchored in place, while I tended to the other dogs.
 
Next I hooked up Tyson. Tyson didn't show his personality as first, so his nickname came later. Tyson was much bigger then the other dogs. He was muscular, but very laid back. If dogs wrestled, Tyson would be in the ring. He had that kind of size and muscle, but his demeanor has very kind. I thought Tyson was a pretty good name, cause he kind of reminded me of Iron Mike Tyson. Bit I had to coax Tyson to the front of the sled. He was acting sluggish and I was wondering if he was going to run or not.
 
I had saved Otter for last. He earned the instant nickname of race dog. Race dog had some insane muscle definition. That dog was ripped. He looked, like someone had carved a statue of a very athletic dog, out of Marble. And it came to life. I had to grab race dogs collar with two hands, cause it was immediately evident that one was just not going to hold him. We cleared the pens gate, and was ready to take off at full speed. He's like, "Hell, I don't need any dogs helping me, nor a sled.  Just hang on tight. I'll take you all of the way there. Myself."
 
In nothing flat, my ass is on the ground, my legs were fully extended, and I was back peddling as hard and quick as I could. He's still not slowing down much. The only reason he slowed down, was because my grip on his collar, was choking him. He figured out, if he wanted to breathe, then he needed to follow my lead. I wheeled Race Dog into position and hooked him up. Then, after I let go of his collar, he started choking even harder. What a faker, it was obvious to me. He was trying to make me feel bad.
 
While race dog was recovering and I was resting, I walked over to North Pole and inquired about Tyson. North Pole say's "Once that sled gets in motion, you don't have to worry about Tyson pulling. That dog has more work ethic then any dog I've ever seen. Damn, I wish I could breed that work ethic. Tyson's a machine, he never quits.". Henceforth, I crisoned Tyson with the nickname: "The Machine".
 
Chicken Fat:
Earlier, North Pole had told me, that he just got done feeding the dog's some high quality chicken fat. He exclaimed that chicken fat is a source of very high energy to sled dogs.
 
By this time, they're all hyped up and ready to take off, plus they know this is the last run of the day. After this run, it's supper time. The dogs see me heading towards the back of the sled and start barking at a frantic pace, which gets faster and faster the closer I get. I put both feet on the rungs, they hear me step on the spike brake, see me pull the ice anchor out of the ground and secure it to the sled. Now they're starting to jump up and down. I pull the slip knot out with my right hand, and let the one inch rope hit the ground with a smack.  They hear that and immediately start jerking the sled forward. They're jerking so hard, the ice brake is loosing traction and the sled is jumping forward.
 
The Run:
I grab on tight with both hands and let the spike brake disengage from the ice.  I didn't even need a command to start. As soon at the spike break released, that sled took off like a dragster pulling a wheelie out of the traps at the drag strip. I nearly fell off of the back.
 
The dog's are a drugged out on chicken fat, their legs are fresh and they've been anticipating this run for a while. North Pole's house is on a hill and out of the gates, we are headed down the hill, on a trail that looks like ski jump. But when you get to the bottom there is a 90 degree right as the path heads down the frozen river. It's dark out, my eyes haven't full adjusted, it's hard to see, and I'm still trying to get a feel for what I'm doing.
 
We're going really fast by the time we got to the bottom. The dogs took a sharp right and the sled turned with the dog's, but my big momentum kept going straight. It was like being on the end of a whip lash. The sled was sliding sideways, which wasn't to bad, until I hit the hard snow ridge that borders the sides of the trial. The edges of the trail make a natural ramp caused by sleds passing other sleds. I went airborne. With me and the sled in the air, pulling the sled got a lot easier and the dogs picked up speed. God must have helped me stick the landing, which was anything but graceful.
 
Going down a frozen lake with fresh dogs is like riding a jet ski. Hit a bump, spend some time in the air, then touch down and repeat. I was convinced that the dogs were keeping me in the air, because it was easier to pull that way.
 
We went down the lake for a while then headed up into a fairly dense forest. There was a path through it, but it was pretty tight and in the dark some smaller branches were smacking me in the face. I wasn't paying any attention to looking at the small branches, I was concentrating more on looking for the low hanging large limbs that could decapitate me. Dogs are like horses. They'll go under any limb that their head fits under without even considering that the rider might not be able to contort enough to get under it. My ass was sitting in the snow between the two back runners to get under some limbs.
 
Letting go isn't an option. If I let go, the dogs will run even faster without my heavy weight on the sled, and in less then a minute it will just be me and pitch blackness. The moon would be my only companion, until the abominable snow man finds me and makes me his mate.
 
Got a peek at the Aurora:
We ran through the woods for a quite a while, then went up a steep hill. When we got to the top of the hill, I could see the Aurora kind of breaking through gaps in the thick clouds. The dogs were slowing down, so I stepped on the ice brake and stopped to observe for a few minutes. I got my camera out while the dogs were rolling in the snow to try to cool off. After a short while, I decided it would be a crappy picture, so I just left my camera around my neck.
 
We took off again and I could tell that the dogs were fresh from resting. I didn't think about it at the time, but we had rested on the top of a hill. The next section was straight down the hill and back onto the frozen river. We were hauling ass at full speed down the river again, when JG suddenly takes a sharp right turn, but there wasn't any path there. He had turned right into the deep fresh show. Wow, he's either following Santa's scent or he saw a rabbit run across the trail and took off after it. With the thick clouds, it was so dark out and I couldn't see much at all.
 
It was like; one minute I'm going full speed down the German sled autobahn in my Beamer, and the next I'm four wheeling in a race truck through Baja. Them dogs just keep churning as hard as they could. "The Machine" was digging in and doing much more then his share of the pulling. The dogs didn't even give a damn that their head was all of the way under the snow. They looked like dolphins. Running under the snow and then jumping up, just long enough to get their head above it, take a breath, then go back down, and start pulling again.
 
Quick Snow:
The term for this, is "making your own path". The sled has a flat bottom, so it rides right on top of the snow. I picked the brush brake up off of the snow, secured it to the sled and only had to help the dogs a little in the deepest parts. I was a little reluctant to step off the runners, because a few day's before, I had stepped off of a path, and sank chest deep in the fluff. In one tenth of a second, my nipples were even with the top of the snow, while I was standing erect. The only way for me to get out, was to twist and roll, until my body worked its way out of the hole. Then I had to roll, until I got back onto the path were I could finally get enough solid footing to stand. That's what I call "quick snow".
 
I gingerly tested the snow depth and discovered that this snow was only about knee deep. So, with a death grip on the sled, I took both feet off of the runners at planted them on the ground. Big mistake!!! The sled took off and to keep up with it, I had to pick my knees up to my chest while running as fast as I could. God must have guided one of my feet back onto one of the runners in between strides. After catching my breath, I just used one foot to help.  Kind of like hoping with only one foot hitting the ground.
 
It had looked to me like the sled was kind of going in a zigzag pattern. Like JG and chief were arguing over which way to go. Finally chief took control and we starting going around a mountain to the other side. I started praying to God to please make the sun rise 10 hours early, just this one time. I was promising, that if he did, I would be a faithful follower of the word for the rest of my life.  About that time, I could see what looked like a camp, just up ahead.
 
I've heard, that guys who have run the Ididarod, have been so tired, that they hallucinate. Just, ask any distance sledder, how many grey elephants he's seen North of the Arctic circle. He'll give you a solid number, without even having to think about it.
 
Santa's Camp:
Sure enough, it was a camp. When we finally stopped, the dogs were diving back into the snow to try to cool down. I praised all of them, then tended to their health. After that, I took a quick look around. A little investigation and I was thinking, those dogs were great. This might actually be Santa's camp, but it was deserted. Inside one of the cabins, I found some pictures. One was of a big fat jovial guy, with a full head of white hair and a long white beard with a grin from ear to ear. It looked like he was on a tropical beach and all he was wearing, was a bright red speedo. I turned the photo over and written on the back was, "Ho Ho Ho, February 2012, St Tropez, Caribbean Islands". Damn it, he had done the smart thing, and headed to the tropics.
 
I sure hope Santa boarded all of his reindeer at a good reindeer kennel before he left. Cause, someone had slaughtered all of the reindeer that were around here. There was nothing outside, except a bunch of reindeer pelts. I didn't see any with a red nose, so I'm hoping that Rudolph had escaped the massacre. If he didn't, I'm sure JG will step up to the plate and guide Santa's sleigh, next Christmas. Lieutenant JG had seen all of those pelts and he was already working on rewriting the lyrics of "Rudolph, the red nosed reindeer". How does, "JG, the red eyed Husky", sound.
 
Lucky for me, Santa had left behind his Swedish cook. One of the best host's I've ever had. The first words I heard was, "Would you like a cold beer?". "Absolutely" escaped my lips, along with my next exhale. The host headed outside and said, "I'll show where there are, then I'm going to check on the Sauna, it should be good an hot by now."
 
Santa's beer cooler:
I was taken to the edge of a small stream. The water runs kind of fast through there, so it's always unfrozen under the ice. Near the edge was a hole in the ice. I was told that the beer was resting on the bottom. It was dark and I couldn't see anything in the water. So I just suck my hand in it, until my elbow was under water. My arm just about went numb while I was searching a beer. I pulled my arm back out and all I had was a wet and very cold empty hand.
 
The cook, laughs and says, "Dude, if you want a beer, you need to get a lot more aggressive then that. They're in the deep part, where it's really cold. Trust me, they're down there and you can reach them.".  This sure smelled like a set up to me. I was pretty sure, I was going to reach way down and the cook was going to push me in. Then the next scene was going to be me chasing the cook all of the way to the sauna.
 
I wasn't scared of falling in, because I've fallen through ice before, into waist deep water. I remember it being difficult to climb back out, because there aren't any handles on the the ice and it kept breaking as I was climbing out. I would start to get up on the ice, it would break, and I would be right back in it again. I learned to kept breaking it towards the land. Ice is always deepest near the edge of land.  Eventually, I was able to climb out. I then had to walk half of a mile in the snow to get inside. No other problems, except lots of shivering on the walk. I remember that it was very hard to get the cold wet pants off, because my legs were violently shaking. After I soaked in warm warm water for a while, I had a full recovery. If it ever happens again, I think I'll just soak in warm water with my pants on and take them off after I've warmed up.
 
I laid down on the bank of the stream and stuck my arm all of the way in, until my armpit was wet. I moved my arm around frantically trying to keep it warm, until it hit something that felt like a bottle. I pulled it out and sure enough it was an ice cold beer. After running through the snow with the dogs, that beer was the perfect temperature. Santa has the best beer cooler in the world. Now, that's my kind of ice fishing.
 
Nearly everything at Santa's camp runs on wood. Wood heat for the cabins, wood heat for the hot water and wood heat for the sauna. Most light is by candle. There are a few 12 Volt lights that run from a tractor battery and there is a small gas generator for recharging the battery's. Candlelight and wood heat sure makes makes for a nice, cozy existence. Santa lives a pretty excellent life.
 
Santa's Sauna:
There isn't any running water, All of our water is directly from the quickly running stream next to the camp. The water heater is inside of the Sauna. It's kind of a double whammy. The water heater heats the sauna and the sauna heats the water. After fetching the water from the stream with a bucket, we put some water in the water heater and leave the rest in a bucket next to it. The floor of the sauna is slightly sloped towards the middle. Cutting directly through the middle of the floor is a 1/2" wide space that acts as a drain.
 
When we are ready to take a shower, we mix some the hot and cold water together, until it's a temperature that we like, then we just put the bucket over your head and get wet. We leave your bath products in the Sauna, while we are relaxing before our shower. I gotta tell you, once you've had a shower in a sauna with sauna hot shampoo and sauna hot soap, you're spoiled for life. There isn't any cold draft at all, just warmth everywhere.  After the sauna shower, we lightly towel off, put nothing but our boots on and step outside in the snow to cool off on our way back to your cabin.
Once in the cabin, I got dressed for dinner and stated the wood burner, so it would be nice and toasty at bed time. Then I went inside to read, drink some beer and wait on supper.
 
Santa eats pretty good:
Santa has an excellent cook.
Both dinner and breakfast were 5 star. I can see how he easily maintains his weight.
 
The appetizer was new potatoes stuffed with crab meat salad. A traditional Swedish salad (used with meat dishes), which is sugar, water, vinegar, salt and pepper with tossed cucumbers and onion slices, then garnished with parsley
Swedish Salmon Soup - A cream base, salmon, potatoes, onion, dill and parsley.
Fresh fish (the kind with the head and skin still on it - just the way I love it) seasoned and cooked over an open flame.
A variety of breads. Swedish Rye and unlevin bread is fairly popular in this region.
Swedish mashed potatoes - These are cooked potatoes that are run through a hand press. On the plate it looks exactly like rice, but its mashed potatoes.
White wine with the meal
Desert was Swedish cookies (like a molasses cookie with lots of ginger and cinnamon in it) and very strong Swedish coffee.
 
Breakfast is:
Lingonberry juice (most popular) and lots of other very tasty berry juices. Would also be real berries when in season.
A variety of breads. Swedish Rye and unlevin bread is fairly popular in this region.
Kalles Swedish caviar in a tube - it takes like very sweet fish and goes good with either bread or eggs. I put it on top of my hard boiled eggs and that seemed like a great combination to me.
Swedish pancakes. These are pretty high in cholesterol. Lots of fresh cow milk, lots of butter, lots of eggs, mixed with some flour and baking soda. They are much thicker then most other pancakes.
Swedish sausage (probably reindeer sausage).
And very strong Swedish coffee.
 
Dinner with Marc:
Marc and I had supper by candlelight next to a nice, hot wood burner.
Marc was about 10 years more mature then his chronological age, but I could still see the youth in him come out every once in a while. Because of the age difference, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to connect with Marc on any topics, but he was very interesting and conversation just seemed to flow. We shared a common thirst for both experiences and education.
 
Many years ago, I had worked with three civil engineers for about a year. I was working on computer aided design automation functions that tied into differential GPS.
GPS was the vision of Howard Hughes, but the technical details were figured out by Roger Easton in the 1950's. The problem with regular GPS is that the satellites are 12,000 miles out in space and are in motion, so they kind of drift off course from time to time and need to be corrected. Their orbits are never perfect. On Earth, we can get an idea of where we are, but it could be off by by as much as half of a football field. With differential GPS, we set up some fixed points on the earth, so we can calculate how far the Satellites are from a perfect orbit. I know exactly where the fixed point is and I also know where the satellites are telling me it is. I can use that difference to correct the misinformation that the GPS satellites are giving me.  With differential GPS, the accuracy can be dialed into about one fourth of an inch. That's the kind of accuracy that civil engineer's need.
 
A mistake in civil engineer is likely to be huge. Every time we drive over a bridge, or through a tunnel, or the flood rains start coming, many lives are counting on the civil engineers who built those systems. Marc, has never been in the field, so he didn't know what differental GPS was, but he told me that race analysts use that type of GPS at race tracks, to track the exact position's of race cars. They can watch a race without the use of any fixed cameras. The analysts can effectively see any part of the race, by just using the positional information and projecting a fake car onto the screen.
 
The token Asian:
Marc was a member of the University of Calgary's Motorcycle Engined Race Car Engineering Team. That's an engineering competition, where each team is given a set of rule's and a set of challenges. They design and build their cars, then meet somewhere to compete. I asked Marc, if it was like in horse racing, where the jockey is always like 80 pounds. Marc said the driver has to be a member of the engineering team, then he went on to say that the only challenge where weight is a factor, is the acceleration challenge. That statement was followed that up with, "Yea, every single team recruits the tiniest token Asian girl that they can find for the acceleration challenge.".
 
Seemed like only thirty minutes had gone by. I looked at my watch and 3 hours had gone by. Headed back to by cabin and by then, it was about 80 degrees inside. Nice and comfy, I turned in for the night. Woke up at around 2 A.M. My body had already processed all of the beer and wine in me, and my bladder was so full that my back teeth were floating. The cabin was a little on the cool side. I put my boots on, went outside in just my boxers and boots to get some more firewood. Got the fire blazing, then headed to a place called the pee tree in my boxers and boots.
 
Every camp site has a place called the pee tree where guys full of beer and wine go to hang out. It needs to be a designated place, at the edge of the camp, away from where the people are. That's called camp etiquette. The pee tree at Santa's camp wasn't really a tree, it was just a small opening near the far edge of camp. About a half of a football field from my cabin.
 
The real Aurora:
As I am trekking to the pee tree in my boxers and boots, I'm admiring a fairly clear sky with lots of stars. The clouds had cleared and it had dropped to about -30F (0C). As I got away from the cabins, I could see much more of the sky and there was kind of a large grey haze off in the distance. Just after I opened my body drain and let the processed beer start flowing, this cloud starts to turn green. I'm thinking, wow that's really weird. Then the green stuff starts moving so it is more green in parts of it. Holy smoke's, that's the Aurora Borealis. Damn it, my camera's back in the cabin.
 
Seemed like 10 minutes before I stopped peeing. During that time, I was dying to try out the 'Bleep Bleep' I was told about, but I chickened out. I quickly ran back and got my camera, which I had already packed away for the night. When I got back it was almost over. I did manage to get a few shots off before it disappeared. Then, I hung around for a few more minutes to see if some more activity was going to follow. But it didn't, so I went back in and back to sleep.
 
The next day we went on a day light ride. The sky was clear, the sun was very bright and it felt good to be able to see my surroundings. It's very beautiful up there. Lots of pine forest, some rolling hills and some pretty big mountains. At one point, I saw a very tiny one man helicopter in the air. I asked someone later and was told that the Sami use that to find the reindeer herds. Their ancestor's used to have to trek through the wood's in search of them. Sounds like they live rather primitively, but still embrace technology for the sake on convenience. 

 

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