The winter 2016 I made my debut in the Open Class of the races. I participated in the Open-class in The Pasvik-Trail.
Thursday March 31.st was the start of the Pasvik Trail. A race I have described as the most beautiful race in Norway. At this time of year the spring has begun, and at this latitude, 69° North, it is only dark for about 8 hours at night. The race runs in he narrow piece of land stretching south from the city Kirkenes. Kirkenes is about as far North-east as you can get in Norway.
This year the early spring with above-zero temperatures from mid March made some difficulties for the organizers of the race. Warm temperatures in the days before the race took away a lot of the snow, and some of the small riverst were already opening, and there were also floodings on some of the marches the race vas supposed to cross.
Because of this the race was cut with about 40 km on the first stage to avoid the worst areas, and it was considered to cancel the whole race due to safety for both dogs and mushers.
The starting day of the race it was a bit colder and the forecast shanged to colder for the next days so the decition was to run the race.
As you will see reading this , the number 8 was a number that would follow me through the race.
Of my 13 racedogs, only Mokke had to stay home. 12 racedogs were in shape and ready, so I started with Mie and Lisa as leaders. Then followed Søte, Uxi, Kiara, Emma, Nanoq, Niva, Koia, Ginkgo, Diko and Buster.
I was team number 8. 14 teams started the Open Class, and 18 teams started the Limited class with 8 dogs. It was an open start. All teams had the same time-window to start in. Start when ready! I started at 18:11. The day was Thursday March 31.st
The start at Svanvik. 12 happy dogs, dressed up for the race.
The first meters of the race was crazy! With 12 eager dogs on the now frozen and icy snow it was more power than you can imagine. On top of that the sled is a light, flexible one with far less balance than the good wooden sleds I use for training. After a few hundred meters with both legs on the brake I went through 3, 90° turns. The last one through an open gate where I had to flip the sled on the side and hit the pole with the ski’s instead of crashing into it, while hanging by my arms to the sled becouse it went to fast to run myself!
I was glad to get away from fields and roads and into the wild where I could finally relax.
The snow was getting more icy as the temperature dropped. It was only about -3° but the trail was rock hard. I was able to keep the speed low enough becouse I knew running to fast would make the dogs more likely to be injured.
On the trail, just after start and just when the sun sets. Not the best snow-conditions…
The firs 69 km to the first Checkpoint Vaggatem is in the lowlands in the Pasvik.Valley. At some places you are only a few meters away from Russia. The border follow the main river in the valley, and you are on that river sometimes.
About half way on this stage, and just when it started to get dark I had to stop! In front of me, down on a small river I could hear a lot of dogs barking, and people shouting and sounding more than stressed. I was glad for all the hours I spent training my dogs to be relexed and listen to me. I was also able to stop a team coming from behind. After about 5 minutes I heard that the teams down by the little creek called Sametielva (elv = river) was getting away, and went down there myself. My leaders Lisa and Mie was smart enough to not jump into the water, but instead followed the land, and then an icy part across the river, without me or the dogs getting wet.
Buster was crasy all the way. Barking and actually working to hard, something that would give him a bit trouble later in the race…
The last 20 km to the Checkpoint is running on a lake. It was black ice all over, but we managed to get over along the trail. On these conditions I was glad the dogs never turned left, as the left bank of that lake is Russia… A fox or a hare to the left would have been interesting…
At 22:34 I entered the Checkpoint Vaggatem. The teams trying to win this race would only stay a few hours here to try to get to Checkpoint 2 at Neiden before the heat of the sun starts to slow down the dogs. I did this race to get through, giving the dogs a nice trip. I gave the dogs a 6 hour rest to recover completely. The last years I had a lot of bad luck in my races and felt that I needed to do it safe and smooth to get the confidence back.
At 4:36 on Friday April 1.st I went out of Vaggatem in the dusk. The first daylight came during the next 2 hours and it was about -5°C. Perfect! All 12 dogs were in good shape and happy to start again. It was still icy and once again on the lake, meters away from the border Mie stopped! The ice was making sounds becouse of the low temeratures and she was scared of that. I shanged leader and went on. After a few more stops we finally entered the forrest and terrain both me and the dogs like better. Steep uphills and bumpy tracs. Now the trail turned west and at this point Norway is only 9,5 km wide between Russia and Finland. Soon I was getting higher and up to the border that we follow for about 70 of the 90 km on this stage.
Going North in the sunrise. Along the border to Finland.
A bit later on the stage.
It was a beatuiful cool morning. The view up here is fantastic. In the north you see the hills on the coast, you see the whole valley both on the Norwgian and Russian side of the border. In the east you see far into the Cola-peninsula in Russia, you can see the Khibiny-mountains as far as 220 km away. In the southwest you see far into Finland.
As the morning went warmer I didn’t have to use the brake so much anymore. The last 20 km to Neiden was nice. Warm sun and good snow to run on. I don’t think I lost very much time starting later since the trail all the way to Neiden was very good. With more speed I would have to brake a bit more to keep the speed low.
15 km before Checkpoint Neiden, In a short but steep downhill Nanoq jumped out of the trail and stretched a muscle in his axle. Not a very serious Injury but I knew he woold follow the last stage from the car, with my exelent handler and fantastic girlfriend Ann-Heidi.
I arrived Checkpoint Neiden at 10:36.
We stayed there for the rest of the mandatory rest we had to use, and stayed for 6 h, 38min.
The dogs resting at Checkpoint Neiden. Dry straw underneath, they didn’t want the blankets as it was pretty warm that day.
Nanoq, Ginkgo and Koia relaxing in the sun
At 17:14 I left Neiden and headed for the last 88 km to the Finish line at Svanvik. The place we started from about 24 hours earlier. The team was now reduced to 8 dogs. I knew Nanoq had to go to the car with his shoulder. In addition Buster, as mentioned earlier worked to hard in the beginning. He overstressed his hind legs and I had to leave him. Diko went out with a sore wrist, and so did Uxi. Uxi could have made it, but with enough dogs I didn’t want to take any chances with her. Buster and Diko were running closest to the sled. Two very strong boys. Part of the reason they went out is probably becouse they got a lot of stress from the sled sliding around. This is not a problem in normal dry snow conditions.
The veterinarians at this race was wery competent! Probably the best average in a race ever. Becouse of the conditions a lot of teams retired before the start, and as a result, the veterinarians had much time for each team. They were all very experienced and I can truly say that I have never learned that much in 2 days.
The first kilometers was slow becouse of the heat, but as the sun set it soon went colder. Two teams I had around me soon dissapeared behind when we came to our favorite terrain, the steep uphills. We passed some interesting places whith big open areas without any snow, except a thin line where the trail was prepared weeks earlier. Compact snow melts slower. It was hard work keeping the sled on the 50 cm wide, and 20 cm high line of snow I had to follow. Sometimes the dogs preferred to run on the grass, and I had to run beside the sled keeping one ski on the snow.
I had a bit trouble on some lakes with the ice cracking as it once again went colder. But in total this stage went well. It went dark, both me and the dogs enjoyed it, and after the endless snowcovered wetlands the last part we reached the goal at 23:17 on Friday, April 1.st. It was 29 hours and 6 minutes after starting, with a total of 12 h. 40 minutes of rest.
I had numer 8. Ended up in 8.th position, finnishing the race with 8 of the 12 dogs I started with. 3 teams had to quit the race, and 11 finishing.
The 4 dogs that went out with injuries were all well with a few days of rest. Only Buster was ordered to rest for 3 weeks in order to heal completely. Those muscle problems are serious if you keep running the dog. It was a hard race for them all, running on rock hard trails almost all the way. Imagine yourself training 6 months running on a beach, and then do a marathon on the street.
They all wore booties (socks) all the way to prevent cuts and cracs and I think I was one of the only teams without any such injuries.
Good booties from my sponsor Troll made sure of that. Thank You!
A big thank you to the dogs that really love the job and sport they do, and also seems to love me. A big thank you to my girlfriend Ann-Heidi, who did a fantastic job as a handler.
And at last, Thank you to all my fantastic guests that come here for dogsledding, making it possible for me to afford going to a race like this.