HUSKIES.CZ, Jana Henychová, Horní Maxov 176, Josefův Důl, 468 44, CZ, tel.: +420 724 045 565, e-mail:

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 ( 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
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 road.

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´ butts rocking.

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 my feet.

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,


2005 Created by Jana Henychová