FINNMARKSLOPET – The European Iditarod
Alaska and races such as Idiatarod and Yukon Quest appear in the
dreams of those who fell in love with mushing. These people can
be found all over the world. Look at the internet and you will find
people who organize sled dog races and are happily pulled by their
dogs in the most exotic places of the world. Mushers live in my
country – the Czech Republic, Europe - too. As time went, I became
one of them.
The symptoms are almost the same. The childhood goes from Jack London´s
books to the first sled dog bought by the novice, followed by another
one and more and more. Then you move to John Balzar´s and Gary Pulsen´s
books and go to bed with a neverchanging dream – to stand at the
starting line of the most famous races of all one day…
Somebody´s dreams remain dreams, somebody else can try to fulfill
those dreams. It depends on how far one wants to get a what he or
she can or is ready to sacrifice.
We have our Czech Alaska in Orlicke mountains. Many Europian mushers
come here to live their dreams for a while. A 222 km and 333 km
long race called Sedivackuv long (www.czechlongtrail.com) gives
everyone a chance to check his abilities and live the dream with
only a few dogs. This race can ignite a desire to go futher… and
that is what happened to me.
It´s no problem these days to travel the world via internet and
it´s impossible to miss Skandinavia on the virtual tour. It is a
fantastic part of the world with its´northern part called Laponsko
“made” for dog sledding and long distance racing. Norwegian north
part Finnmark is home to the nothernmost race in the world: Finnmarkslopet
500 km and 1000 km. Finnmarkslopet 1000 km has been starting and
finishing in Alta at the beginning of March for the last 25 years
and is also the longest European race. This race attracted my attention
a long time ago and for many years I followed it´s course and results
on the races´web pages www.finnmarkslopet.no.
Last winter was dreadfull in the Czech Republic. While having almost
no snow to run on, most mushers sat at home watching big races on
the internet and exchanging desperate jokes on internet discussions,
I suddenly thought: Why am I not there? That day I undusted my childhood
dream and started working on it.
With such decision also came a mountain of work to get everything
ready for my journey to the North.
A very important moment for me was getting in touch with Johanne
Sundby, an amazing siberian husky musher from Norway. She found
me somewhere on the internet, contacted me and offered her help.
Our discussions followed by my visit to a seminar in Hadakal sled
dog club and support from other Norwegian mushers Geir Wiik and
Hans-Christian Orjeatad suddenly made my plan look much more realistic.
I also had a great dog meat supply from VOM og hundemat during my
stay in Norway.
I got a lot of support from my old friends at home and also from
the Czech dog sled eguipment producers ManMat, ZeroDC and a sled
maker Franta Chlan. Devold CZ and SirJoseph helped me with clothing…
many thanks to all of them.
The training itself started in August last year. The peak of our
preparation in the Czech Republic was taking a part in Sedivackuv
long at the end of January. We set on out journey to Norways at
the beginning of February. The journey to Alta was 3500 km on the
Everything felt strange in Alta and we felt like total strangers
there. Everything was different, unfamiliar and we didn´t know a
soul. I quickly found new friends: Arnt and Hege, Linn, Paul, Knut
and also the famous Norwegian musher Roger Dahl, nicknamed Mr. Finnmarkslopet
in Norway. He taught me a lot of almost life-saving things and about
feeding the dogs during the race.
We arrived to Alta one month before the race, so we had enough
time to acclimatize. Training in the Czech Republic is mostly about
zigzagging forest trails, passing houses, crossing roads, bending
our dogs in sharp turns. And there was Norway… A vast flat plateau,
where you see neither its end nor its beginning, just blue colour.
People as well as dogs have to get used to it.
The time was ticking and our Day D was getting closer and closer…
We get to the start as the very first. An unimaginable mummery
breaks out. The time flies and everything is getting inevitably
close and real. I have butterflies in my stomach and my whole body
trembles with an inner feeling of desperation. I do all I have to
do on an auto-pilot. I am putting on the dogs´ harnesses, their
booties, and we begin to harness the sled. Finally the helpers in
their yellow waistcoats come and lead us to the starting line. The
starting corridor is full of lined up dogsleds as every minute one
competitor after another crosses the starting line. The air vibrates
with maddening noise of barking dogs, loud music and the speaker’s
stream of words from the loud speakers topped up with a ramble from
a passing helicopter… And here I am at the start. I feel a heartbreaking
cry of desperation deep inside my soul… The last minute before the
start... And here comes THREE, TWO, ONE and GO!!! The dogs shoot
out as bullets and we are almost flying through the corridor surrounded
by hundreds of people. Everyone shouts and waves. It is mad. I wave
too and my heart is beating as strong as a bell. Going through the
start here is the ultimate life experience!
It is all quiet at last. The trail goes on a frozen river, on and
on. How long is five hundred kilometers? No, I must not think like
that!!! We are heading to Jotka now. It is 53 km and another 88
km to Skoganvaare. Then to Levajok, Karasjok, Jergul, Jotka, Alta.
It will be 500 km when we come back to Alta…
It starts to get dark at about 6PM. A vast blueish slightly undulating
plain is all I can see as far as I can see. As the daylight fades
I see nothing else but the yellow beam of my headlamp and my dogs´
I sit in a snow hole and the dogs are having a rest. It´s dark
all around me. Just a thought: Is it possible to give up the race
here? There are no roads here. I learnt at the pre-start seminar
that they start looking for a lost competitor 24 hours after the
last contact. The thought of waiting here for a day before somebody
rescues me makes me get the dogs up and off we go again.
We are still going inside of a black tunnel. Good that I have the
GPS with the trail marked. I can clearly see my position, the display
also shows me various little lakes and streams… In reality I see
none of it. All I can feel is a deep powdery snow crushing under
I make the dogs beds from straw at the check points. I prepare
drinks for the dogs and make their hot main course. In a moment
they snuggle down into the straw and I massage them. I dress each
dog into a warm outfit so their muscles could have a rest as well.
No one protests. I wrap them all into blankets and then no one turns
a hair and sleeps.
I wake up after three hours of sleep and it´s morning already.
I see that we are neither first not last. It freezes, the temperature
is below zero, the sun is shining and the right positive thoughts
are taking over my mind. It is only 88 km, just over the hill, so
we should be there in a while.
The truth is somehow different. The trail starts to rise steeply
along a side of the mountains and a strong wind starts blowing.
I put my glasses on and tighten all the covers around my face and
head. Running through such wind is not new for me, I am not afraid
of it and I know that the dogs do not mind it either. It is important
to follow the navigation poles and not to let the dogs be blown
away from the trail. We get over the hill and no one’s footsteps
are to be seen in the deep snow. We must find our way forward by
ourselves again. The poles only show the direction but do not say
where the hard and ridden trail is. When the leader dogs step off
the trail, they sink up to their ears into a deep snow. I take over
the leadership and pull the dogs myself. They don’t want to go any
further. Their only wish is to dig a den in the snow and wait for
somebody else to go first… Luckily we come across a ski doo scooter
trail and go on!
It gets warmer to only minus 1C. The temperature dropped down to
minus 43,6C in 2006. I am gratefull for gentle minus 1C.
We set on our way at 1AM. The trail rises to an upper plateau and
here comes the dawn. Everything seems to be in a blue haze. The
miniature birches peep out from the haze. There are only various
shades of white and blue in front of us. I can’t tell where the
horizon blends with the sky. It is like a white-blue marinade. I
watch the never-changing countryside around me.
Dogs, that are cared for properly, get through this race easily
and without big problems. Problems stick with the humans. It is
them who don´t finish the race. It is mainly the people who cannot
persuade their minds anymore that the end comes soon.
We relax for nine hours. Surprisingly the dogs are in a very good
shape. They eat, drink and set on the trail with at least some enthusiasm.
The temperature is dropping again. We feel a hard trail under our
feet for the first time during the whole race. We have run in “snow-sand”
untill now. We are back in the darkness again. A light aurora borealis
can be seen in the distance.
We come to a place where we turned around during training just behind
a huge lake. My leader Becky and I remember this place very well.
I know that we are going up a little hill now and then down and
down to a lake. And there will be Jotka. We know our way from Jotka…
I know I can´t stop because I would not make the dogs get up anymore.
We have to go and finish it…
I feel dizzy from a lack of sleep and tiredness. I have been riding
all night and it´s getting bright now. I am standing on the sled
tightened to it to make sure that I don´t fall off. I still have
to keep an eye on the dogs. When I concentrate and focus my eyes
only into one place I almost fall unconscious. What do I do now?
I can´t I stop and sleep here, such a short way to the finish!!
I put my hand into a pocket and fill my mouth with everything I
can find in a subconscious movement. It works!!! When the mouth
moves, the eyes do not shut!!! I keep stuffing myself with chocolate,
dry fruit and glucose tablets till I am wide awake.
I can see a shimmering cloud over Alta as the sun rises. We still
have about 40km to go. We are going slightly up among trees, not
just on the vast plains and I can see the first log cabins. Go on,
we must not stop!
We are coming to a river and we already know it here. We pass the
Ice Hotel, Rodger’s place where I used to collect stones… Who is
it peering at us from behind that bush? There are two elks standing
there staring at us. It is so close now…
…I can see the finishing line! We are here at last… It is such an
incredible relieve. This really is the end. How many kilometres
have we done? 500? Not possible!!! We have done it!!!
The dogs are lying down getting their much deserved snacks. I accept
congratulations, it is too early and everyone is sleepy. Next time
I will get the timing right!
Me and my pure breed siberian husky team have done: altogether
501km in 57h 39min. We spent 33h 58min resting. Our total time:
3days 20hours 06min.
32 mushers out of 58 (from 10 European countries) entering the race
finshed it. Our team came 24th. I started with eight dogs and finished
the race with all of them! I brought them up since they were puppies
and six of them come from my own breed.
No one is interested if you have pure-breed dogs or not in this
race. Everyone starts together. But people know… Just finishing
the race is credited by respectable breeders. The teams of pure
breeds seem to be rather unique, something like a memory of the
good old times. No one who breeds Alaskans can understand how others
can race with Siberian Huskies or Malamutes. I think that this sport
is about dogs, but most of all it is about people who love a care
for the dogs. And even “better” dogs don´t help some people…
Personally I am very proud to finish the race and would like to
pay a compliment to all siberian huskies. The fantastic and wonderful
animals that can captivate your heart and change your life for good.
Finnmarkslopet is a fantastic, perfectly organised race that everone
in Norway is very proud of. This race could become the European
Long Distance Championship one day. It is destined to it for its´
beautifull trails and accesibility from all European destinations.
You can easily fall in love with the race and the northern trails
as well as to long to come back here. I know I left a bit of my
heart in Norway a I wish to return.
I would like to try the 1000 km race next year. I know that only
one competitor can finish first and it surely won´t be me. I also
know that everyone who enters the race collects the main trophy:
unforgetable memories. No one can ever take these memories away
from you. It is important to have dreams a live a life that fulfills
these dreams. Or at least little bits of them.
What I know for sure is that just to stand on the starting line
with my 14 dogs side by side with the best mushers in the world
will be a great honour for me!!!
Jana Henychova, www.huskies.cz