20 February 2018


Syötteen ladut johdattavat hiihtäjän haltijapuiden valtakuntaan. 

Trees stand like wizards, who are gathered here for some kind of holy meeting. Their gigantic figures reach above our heads. I can almost hear them whispering ancient secrets and see them moving from side to side.

We ski. The track bends around the snowy skirts going deeper in to the winter land. The trees never end; there are thousands and thousands of them in this national park. It is a treasure of old forest and big hills. 

Saavumme Ahmavaaran kämpälle. 

With the last shades of the daylight we come to Ahmavaara cabin. Silent. No-one else is here.
I feed the dogs and make a bed for them. My husband gets the fire going. We walk a steep path to a brook, and take some water. It is clear and ice cold.

On the other side of the brook there is a sauna. We just have to heat it. Can you imagine, what it feels like to sit in the hot steam and wash yourself with warm water, after skiing a day in the snow?
In the cabin I cook first hot chocholate for us and then some pasta with smoked salmon and blue cheese.
Miilu ja Mora nauttivat ruuasta.

A couple of steps on the ladders takes us to bed up in the second half of the cabin. What a good thing to crawl in to sleeping bag and just sleep.

In the morning there will be more of the same: climbing up to hill Ahmavaara and a tower there, then skiing around all these forests and swamps and finaly back to the car. Totally it will be something like 30 km. Not in many places you are allowed to use skiing tracks like this with your dogs!This is what I call a perfect weekend.

Here is a film from this trip: Skiing in Syöte

Läksimme matkaan perjantai-iltana Luontokeskukselta. 
Hiihdimme ensin Toraslammelle. 
Ihailimme siellä auringonlaskua. 
Tupa jäi tyhjäksi, kun jatkoimme matkaa. 

Illan hämärtyessä puut muuttuivat yhä maagisemmiksi. 

Mutkitteleva latu nousi kohti Ahmavaaraa. 

Ahmavaaran tuvalla nautimme saunasta, ruuasta ja unesta. 
Lauantai-aamuna läksimme nousemaan Ahmavaaran näkötornille. 

Pilvisestä säästä huolimatta maisema oli näkemisen arvoinen. 
Kiersimme Ahmavaaran takaa Latvalammin suolle. 
Pidimme lounastauon Ylpiätuvalla. 
Aina on vaikea lähteä pois erämaasta. 

22 January 2018

Paljakka-Ukkohalla 2018

I have just done my first mid distance race that had 60-70 km in one day. I made it to the finish line with dogs in good shape. I should be happy and proud, but that is not all I feel.

During the race, trying to pedal and run all those uphills, I watched my little team go slower and slower in the soft snow. I realized how little I know about racing. Going slow in the soft snow would be normal and when trekking, but this is supposed to be a race. I thought I had trained my team to climb faster. How do the winners do it? How do they build more speed in their team?

My team did have some speed. As soon as we reached the good and hard part of the trail, they started galloping. And so they did for the first and the last 10 km of the race. So I know they had it in them, but they just could not keep it up all the time.

I know this race would hardly be one leg in a long race, but still it made me  understand what the mental side of the sport means. "Trust yourself". "Trust your dogs". "Run your own race." Amanda Brooks repeats old musher wisdom after her first Copper Basin 300, and boy should I listen to her! (You can read her story here: smokinacekennels/copperbasin300)

Well, even if I read the article after my race, during it I did all I could to make it go well. I helped my dogs. I stopped once to change the leader and once to give snacks.  Both times it was a right call, giving us more speed. I encouraged my dogs with my voice, and on the most boring parts of the trail in the dark, I sang happy songs to keep their spirits up.

Doing all this, we came eighth - an hour behind the winners. It is a lot and it isn't. My dogs came to finish with no problems, no upset tummies or anything. Given a harder track, they would maybe have been able to gallop more and go faster. Maybe. Or maybe this was just the best time my team could do with my kind of training.

"The only pressure you have is the pressure you put on yourself." Well, I admid I had hoped to be a little bit faster and maybe a little bit higher in the results. Now I realize I don't have the experience one needs for that - not yet. And I'm not sure if I ever will. They say age is only a number, and I'm happy about my heath, but when you are almost 50, you have to admit you probably don't have the same amount of active years ahead of you as someone who is 30.

I used to have horses when I was younger. Learning about horses and riding,  I remember at one point been thinking people should not ride horses, because it's not good for either of them or their physiology. With sled dogs, I'm coming close to that point now. The more you know about dog training and dog care, the more it raises questions. Questions about their well-being, health and the whole meaning of this sport. With horses,  it didn't stop me riding, but it made me have only one horse. Honestly, I did not have time or resources to keep more in good health, both physically and mentally.

With sled dogs - we'll see. I only have eight dogs as it is. Facing these thoughts probably does not set me towards bigger teams or longer races. On the other hand,  three of my dogs are still puppies. They are the best ones I have had, and I really want to see and enjoy future with them. "Run with no regrets" says Amanda. Yes, and run with gratitude, say I.

I want to feel happy when I run my team. In a way, mushing should always feel like a miracle, which it is. Only a few people on earth can drive their own dog team in the wintry forest - for most of the people it is only a dream, that never comes true. And most of all, I want to appreciate the companionship of my dogs and take good care of them at home, on a trek and in a race. 

Start/ Finish Paljakka.
Lähtö ja maali oli Paljakan hiihtokeskuksessa. 

Musher meeting in Safari Pub on Friday evening.
Ajajien kokous pidettiin perjantai-iltana.

Saturday morning, my team at start.
Lähtö lauantaiaamuna, Mora ja Piitu keulassa, Diesel ja Igor pyörinä. 

Off we go! Picture Sari Kinnunen.
Matkaan! Kuva Sari Kinnunen. 
The finest part of the trail.
Reitin hienointa osaa. 
Scenery from Paljakka Nature Park.
Maisema Paljakan huipulta. 
And all those trees...
Ja ne kaikki tykkypuut...
Checkpoint Ukkohalla 
What a pleasure to sleep in the car! Autossa oli hyvä nukkua. 
4-hour rest. Neljän tunnin tauolla koirat nukkuivat kärrissä. 
The other half of race in the dark. Paluumatka pimeässä. 
Finish! Done it! Maalissa omilla jaloilla. 
Hill climbing, hard working, never ending Mora. - kullanarvoinen johtaja.
Young and eager, crazy galloping Igor - uskomaton  voimanpesä laukkaaja.
So small, so cute, so tough - Piitu -Pieni, suloinen ja yllättävän kova kisoissa. 
Trotting engine made super kind-Diesel- maailman kiltein ravikone. 
Recovery drinks, some food, and then home.
Palautusjuomaa, ruokaa ja sitten kotiin. 
Hän auttaa vaikka ei itse tykkää kilpailuista. 
Puppywalks are the best.
Pentujen kanssa ulkoilu on ihan parasta!
Future leaders - Nallo, Sinni, Alma - Tulevaisuuden toivot.
Just like her dad Igor- Alma on kuin ilmetty isänsä. 

11 January 2018

Behind the Scenes - Getting to the Starting Line

Päivä kilpailuissa on jäävuoren huippu. Suurin työ tehdään kotona. 

Tomorrow I am going to a mid distance sled dog race. Driving the race is a top of an iceberg. Here I want to tell some of the things that have to happen behind the scenes, before my team can reach the starting line. 

DOG TRAINING starts early in autumn. First intervals with ATW, then longer runs with sledge, hill climbing and so on. A combination of long slow runs and short fast ones - hoping  to find a mixture that would magically turn in to speed and endurance on the race. 

Uusi jarrumatto ja koko perheen voimin remontoitu reki. 

GEAR: A few weeks before the race we fixed my lighter sledge. I had all my family involved in it. My son made new gang lines for my dogs. My husband made a new kind of brakes (to go by the rules) and we changed the runners. Then I had to go and drive it, to see how it works.  I think the sledge is better than before. I hope I can drive it so that we stay intact on the race. 
Ensin lumityöt ja sitten traileria korjaamaan.  

Making the trailer ready was an other long night or two in the garage for my poor husband. You know how the electricity of the lights can sometimes be tricky. Not to even mention maintaining the kennel and the cars - and all this in between the 'normal' job and a huge amount of snow ploughing. 

Treenin jälkeen ohjelmassa on palautusjuomaa ja hierontaa.
(Valitettavasti vain koirille. Ei minulle :))

DOG CARE: When the training gets harder,  I start giving small recovery drinks  to my dogs after training.  I also add a bit of oil to dog food in the evening. A week or two before the race I start giving extra drinks during the day to make sure they stay hydrated. I also massage my dogs and take them to short walks, so that they can stretch and run free in the snow. All this means I spend more and more of the day in the dog yard, and my son has to wash all the dishes. 

Entäs sitten kun luottojohtaja alkaa ontumaan vähän ennen kisaa? 

DEALING WITH WORRIES: At the moment I have only 5 adult dogs. I try to keep them all in good shape, but two of them, Miilu and Mora, are getting old. And it doesn't come alone. Just before Xmas Miilu started limping her right front leg after longer runs. It seem there is something wrong with the biceps, probably the string. After some painkillers and a 10 day rest the limping was gone, and she could do short loops with no problems. Still I don't think I can take Miilu to my team. And that was the only thing I was sure of! I thought that Miilu will lead my racing team. She has always been the strongest, but of course now she has had a rough year bringing up the puppies. Well, lucky for me, all my dogs do run in the lead. But now I have to take to the team one dog that is not very good at pulling in the uphills. 

Koirien viereen pakataan ruuat, siivousvälineet, takit tossut ja steikit.

PACKING: A few days before the race I start packing. Fist cleaning and then packing the dog boxes in the trailer. Dog food, jackets, stake outs, leashes and shovels go in there. Then the sledge, and all the mandatory equipment in it. Tonight I cleaned the car and packed it tt with all the stuff we need to sleep in it: mattresses, sleeping backs, cookers, water, some porridge and coffee for the morning. 

Yövymme autossa. Patjat ja makuupussit valmiina. 

THE TRAVELING DAY is tomorrow. After work I grab the clothes, papers,  maps, loaded lamps and phones, put the dogs in the trailer and then we go. It is only a couple of hours drive to Paljakka, where we first have to stretch and care the dogs and then go to the musher meeting is at nine o'clock in the evening. And then, hopefully, on Saturday morning, me and my little four-dog team will stand on the starting line. 

Robur Sprintin lähdössä 2017, Make handlerina,

MENTAL ASPECT: Is all this worth it? UItimately, I guess, it all comes to this: Why do I go to the race? They say there some compete to win themselves and some compete to win. I'd like to think there is something in between, and that is where I stand: I compete to be a better musher  - mainly wiser than I was before, but also a little bit better in the results. I compete because I believe, in life you should reach for the things you dream of, and work to make them happen. Standing in the starting line is a small miracle. and a team work that makes me feel grateful.  

05 January 2018

Polar night skiing trip

Joulukuisen hiihtoretken tunnelmia. 

What would be better than to ski in December? The forest is silent, covered in snow. It is never dark. Everything is blue, only the hue changes from morning to day and from evening to night.

I did a skiing trip to a cabin with my husband and our dogs. We started from home, putting our skies on in the front of the house. Both Miilu and Mora were running around us and wagging their tails. They have done this so many times and pulled us with skies on all our major treks. Now they will soon be eight years old. I feel so lucky we got puppies from Miilu last summer.
Ensin soiden halki. 

Anyway, now we have our backpacks on, connect the dogs to the belt and go. No pulkka or ahkio this time - for only one night at a cabin we can pack very light.

First we follow our dog trails through the swamps. It feels so good to be on the move, to ski after a week at work. The short daylight is almost gone, but we don't put on our headlights. It is better to let your eyes adjust, because then you can see the nature around you. I love all the snow. This year there is much more of it than normally in December. The trees look like gnomes or goblins. I feel like saying ''Good evening'' to them.
Sitten mäntymetsään.

After the swamps we find an old snow scooter track we can follow through the pine forest and then to the cabin. It is a ten kilometer ski all together. My dog Miilu is eager to move fast. She whines when I stop to take pictures or to say something to my husband, who skies behind me with Mora.

Other than that, there are no sound, no wind, no life, nothing. Everything is sleeping safe under the snow. If this doesn't make you feel calm, I don't know what does. For me it is like walking at the same time bot inside and outside my mind - the more dark it is, the more the borders between those two realities disappear.

Ja 10 km:n hiihdon jälkeen yöksi mökille. 

The dark blue of the sky has blended in the blue of the ground, when we reach the cabin. It is time to put the headlight on and start making fire, dinner and sauna.

Watch a film from this trip

Saunomista ja kokkaamista parhaassa seurassa.