The winter 2016 I made my debut in the Open Class. 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.
Pasvik Traill is the last of the longer competitions in Norway, with 300 km. This is considered a shorter race, as the longest in Europe, the open class of Finnmarksløpet is 1200 km, and the longest in the world, Iditarod in Alaska is 1800 km.
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 rivers were already opening, and there were also floodings on some of the terrain 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 dogs were ready to rock & roll.
I started with Mie 7 (years), Lisa 9 as leaders. Then followed Søte 7, Uxi 7, Kiara 7, Emma, 7 Nanoq 6, Niva 7, Koia 7, Ginkgo 7, Diko 6 and Buster 7. An experienced team, as prime competition age is 3-8 years of age. However, 1,5 year is the lowest age, and there are senior dogs at the age of 11 who still go strong, but racing at this age you can compare to the few superhumans still doing marathons at the age of 75…
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 on 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 frozen and icy snow was more power than you can imagine. On top of that the sled is a light, flexible one, with far less balance than the 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 because it went to fast to run myself!
I was happy 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°C, but the trail was rock hard. I was able to keep the speed low enough as I knew running to fast would make the dogs more likely to get this small muscle problems that may take them out of the race.
We call it to drop a dog. It is never big issues. Dropped dogs will be examined by the race veterinarians, who have a unique competense on dogs, as they actually check every single dog several times during a race like this. Then my support team (Wife) will make the dog have a good time, resting in the car the rest of the way.
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 the ice 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 (now a happy family dog, retired) 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 from freezing more from 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 we got higher and up to the border to Finland witch 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 at that time fantastic girlfriend Ann-Heidi, now my wife. Nanoq is a dog who is born here at Team Lyngen, the brother of Diko, the brown and white dogs with blue eyes. A good friend got him as a puppy, and this year we tried to let him be a full time sleddog, to see if a Urban-Husky can become a racedog. That showed to be possible. He was nothing short of the rest of the team.
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, his father 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 to Ann-Heidi. 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. They were dropped as they got a lot of stress from the sled sliding around on the icy conditions. This is normally not a problem in normal dry snow conditions.
The veterinarians at this race was wery competent! Probably the best average in a race ever. Because of the conditions a lot of teams retired even before the start, and as a result, the veterinarians had much more time for each team. They were all very experienced and I can truly say that I have never learned this much in 2 days.
The first kilometers of the last stage was slow because of the heat, but as the sun set it went colder. Two teams near me soon dissapeared behind when we came to our favorite terrain, the steep uphills.
We passed some interesting places. Large 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 wish I had a picture of this, but the priority was on the sled.
I had a bit of trouble on some lakes with the ice cracking and squeeking as it once again went colder. But in total this stage went well. It went dark, both me and the dogs enjoyed it.
It is in moments like this, at the end of a race, you realise how much the dogs enjoy this challenge. They are athletes, and even though they are tired after something like this, you can still see the energy and happiness they share while running. This is what they were born to do, and I think the curiosity for seeing what is behind the next hill and corner is something both me and them share.
After the endless snowcovered wetlands the last part, we reached the goal at 23:17 on Friday, April 1.st.
29 hours and 6 minutes after starting, with a total of 12 h. 40 minutes of rest. In this race we had 12 hours of mandatory rest, and then minutes added to allign the difference in starting time. Both running, and resting are included in the total time.
I had startnumber 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 finished.
The 4 dogs that went out with injuries were all well after a few days of rest. Only Buster was ordered to rest for 3 weeks in order to heal completely. Those muscle problems can get 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 road…
They all wore booties (socks) all the way to prevent cuts and cracs on the paws, and I think we were one of the only teams without any such injuries.
Good booties from our sponsor Troll Dogfood and Gear 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 to Ann-Heidi, who did a fantastic job in her debut as a handler. It is very important to know that your support team works. That they are good drivers who bring the supplies to the next checkpoint on the terrible roads in this region, that they take well care of dropped dogs, and after several days of travelling in a stinky car, with dogs everywhere, and with low chances of getting a shower or enough sleep and regular meals, still keep the smile and spirit up. Another reason why I am so happy she said yes to marry me 🙂
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, and for the interest of learning more about our sport. Maybe after learning about it, you can help correcting some myths and mistakes told about dogsledding and long distance racing.