22 January 2018

Thoughts after 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.

27 October 2017

Changing season - Hossa

In Hossa National Park there is a 14 km walk called Kokalmuksen kierros. I made an overnight trip there with my husband last weekend.

We started from Hossalaislammit where we left our car. The weather was sunny, cold and calm. It made lake Pitkä-Hoilua look like mirror.

First part of the path is easy. You can even push a baby tram or a wheel chair to Muikkupuro laavu. It sits between two lakes by an extremely beautiful brook - No wonder it is a popular place! There was a family there with fatbikes. We went on.

All the time the path follows the shores  taking us around the lakes, which all seem to have sandy shores on this area. My favourite part was Hoiluansärkkä, where we walked on a very narrow cape, lakes on both side.

We spend the night on a laavu (an open hut) in Lipposensalmi. The lake shore was quiet and still. We cooked dinner on fire. We saw the stars come out and felt the air getting colder and colder.

It was just perfect - like the last night of autumn or first night of winter. And I was lucky enough to spend it outside!

In the morning the shores of the lakes were frozen and the sun was shining. Porridge, berrysoup, coffee, bread and tuna for breakfast and then it was an easy and happy 4-5 km walk back to the car, following the other side of the lakes.


16 July 2017

Ounastunturit - I walk alone

Reissun huippuhetki Vuontiskeron päällä 

I walked three days alone in Lapland. I started my walk in Hetta and ended it in Vuontisjärvi, making a total of 45 km on the Ounastunturi-hills.

SATURDAY 8.7.2017 From Hetta to Sioskuru

On saturday I first drove my family to Näkkälä. They started paddling down river Näkkälä with their canoe. I drove our car to Hetta, so that they can take it from there after their adventure on the river. It was easy to find the starting point of my trek: There was a sign from the village road to the small harbour. There you can phone a man, who comes and for a fee of 10 € takes you over the lake. There I stood then, on my own, the path ahead of me.
Venekyyti Hetasta Ounasjärven yli.

It took me one and half hours to walk to the first cabin, which stands on the foot of the first high hill. Just before the cabin the forest opens so that you can see the hills. I saw there was still snow on Pyhäkero. I took a small break on the cabin, during which I saw a couple of people coming  down from the hills. I had a snack and filled my water bottles - there was a well by the cabin. And then I started climbing.
Parin tunnin kävelyn jälkeen Pyhäkero tulee näkyviin. 

As soon as I reached the treeline, I knew this walk had been a very good idea. No mosquitoes, not any people - just the wind and and the scenery growing blue to the horizon. I felt I am at home.
Pyhäkeron rinteeltä avautuvat maisemat kohti Hetan kirkonkylää. 

Lake Pyhäjärvi between the two tops of the hill looked like a miracle, or like a man-made pool making you think how does the water stay up here. From the lake there is a short walk to the top of Pyhäkero, which is a very stony place. The snow and the cloudy skies added to the feeling and made it look rough.
Pyhäjärvi lähellä taivasta. 

Seuraava kohde: Pyhäkeron huippu. 

From the top I could see the path going slowly down and then, after about five kilometres, to disappear in to a small valley. There should be Sioskuru-cabin, where I was going to spend my first night. It  was almost six o'clock already, but it looked very possible to reach the cabin early enough. On the way there I felt relieved. If I had been nervous about my 'survival' here alone, now I knew there was nothing to worry about. My backpack was heavy but not too heavy for me to carry and the path was marked and easy to find. Other than that, I was not afraid of the weather or the mountains - my only concern was the people. I wished there would not bee too much of them. At least in autumn this is a popular route to hike.

Polku johtaa alas Pyhäkerolta, kohti Sioskurua

On Sioskuru cabin there was three other groups staying overnight: A couple, a family and two girls. Only the girls wanted to sleep in the cabin. Somebody had been warming the stove and it was really hot in the cabin. The others put up their tents. I did not have a tent with me, only a  simple waterproof fabric in case on emergency. So, after eating dinner, I decided to sleep on the porch. In the evening there was some mosquitoes, but then the wind started blowing a little, and it was perfect. It was magical to listen to the songs of a nearby brook and a bluethroat mixing together all night long. I slept like a baby.

Sioskurun kämppä. takana Pyhäkero. 

SUNDAY 9.7.2017 From Sioskuru to Hannukuru

In the morning the sun was shining. It was going to be a warm day. From the map I knew it should be quite an easy day. I would walk 15 km like every day, but it would all be on the plateau, before diving down to Pahakuru-canyon and Hannukuru-cabin.
Toinen päivä, onnellinen kävelijä tunturipaljakalla.

 I decided to spend as much of the day up in the hills as possible. And so I did. I enjoyed the treeless scenery, stopped often to take pictures, climbed on Tappuri-hill to eat lunch and watched the snowy Outtakka-top turn as I slowly passed it during the day.
Lounastauko Tappurin rinteellä. 

I came to Pahakuru-cabin at about one. I was alone, so I decided to stay a few hours there before going down the the valley. From this cabin there is one of the best views to the Pallastunturi-hills. I saw the three first of them in the horizon and and thought it will be a though day tomorrow walking over them.
Pallastunturit näkyvät Pahakurun tuvalta. 

I went to get water from a fountain in the bottom of the Pahakuru-canyon. The canyon is not deep, but it still is somehow scary place, because you can see how the earth has moved an collapsed when the canyon has been born thousands of years ago. It felt good to find the fountain. The water was crystal clear and ice-cold. I filled my pot and my two bottles and went to the cabin to cook some tea.

When I was ready, I started descenting to Hannukuru-valley. I was afraid there would be a lot of people and a lot of mosquitoes in the valley. But I was wrong! There was hardly any. In stead there was something I did not expect to see in Lapland Hills: a grove with flowers and all.
Kurun pohjalta löytyy lehto.

It was only one hours walk to the Hannukuru cabin. And what a cabin it is! There is a wilderness cabin, a rental cabin, a pond, a sauna, a well and many fireplaces on the area. And no-one else, except that one family in the other room. We warmed the sauna together and then took turns to bathe. It felt so good to wash my hair with warm water and to swim in the pond.
Kivipolku johtaa Hannukurun saunalta Haukkalammen rantaan.

Walking from to the sauna,  I saw a snake on the path. It was a big adder. I later read that Hannukuru is the northern-most place where adders can be seen in Finland.

So, it was peaceful and relaxing night alone in the cabin, and that was good for the last and the hardest day of my walk was still ahead of me.

MONDAY 10.7.2017 From Hannukuru to Vuontisjärvi

I had my alarm set on seven, but I woke up ten to. I cooked porridge and tea for breakfast. Like every morning, I emptied and packed my bag. I realized it was a bit easier to pack it, because there was not much food left. I started walking at eight. I thought it is best to start early, and to have time to rest after every hill, if needed.
Repun räjäytyskuvassa kaikki varusteeni. 

Climbing up from Hannukuru-canyon, I did not expect good views. I thought the first hill, Suastunturi, might even have trees on top of it. But it didn't. It was open and lovely, almost like a picnic field. I saw a family of raven and tried to talk with them. The sun was shining, the wind was blowing and I was in a very good spirit.

Lumikero nähtynä Suastunturin päältä.

After the top the path dives down to the forest and to the very root of the hill. There is a small hut and a brook. You have to boil the water before drinking. I boiled and drank a lot of water. I was feeling thirsty, and that is not good. I filled my bottles with boiled water and cooled them in the brook, to take them with me to the next hills. I took my shoes of and checked my feet. I ate my last piece of bread with a little tin of tuna. It tasted good.

Second hill, Lumikero, was much bigger. The path just went up and up and up. Like often in these hills, when you think you see the top, it is not true - that is just the shoulder of the hill. Climbing a long time is not a bad thing. It made both my body and my brains work in different way. I had time to think about my life and to see it from a larger perspective. Let's just say, that when I finally reached the top, I felt grateful - in more ways than one.

Lumikeron huipulla otin yhden kiven kasasta pois. 

Lumikero-top is a special place. It is so narrow, that you really fell how high you are. One thing I don't understand is why do people make piles of stones on every top. I think they look like a bad joke in the beautiful nature. In stead of putting my stone in the pile, I always take one off. If others would follow my example, the mountaintops would slowly go back to their natural look.

I saw some willow grouses. It is fun to follow them. They let you come close, before they run away. I had a snack on the top and looked at the third top, Vuontiskero, ahead of me. The path did not go to the top of it, but because these other two tops had been so marvelous, I was tempted to make a trip there, too. On my left hand side I could also see the end point of my journey, lake Vuontiskero. It looked like a blue hole down on the earth.  Watching all this the sun was still shining, but the wind was so hard, that I almost felt cold. So I started walking again.

Vuontisjärvi nähtynä Lumikeron huipulta 

First down to Lumikuru-valley and then up Vuontiskero-hill. When I was on the highest point of the path, I left my bag behind a stone. In case of fog or cloud or rain I marked the place in my gps. Then I climbed up on my third top today, and it was the charm. There was a lonely reindeer on the top. Meeting and filming him up there felt like a final touch to this wonderful trip. I felt thankful.

Tapaaminen Vuontiskeron huipulla. 

Then it was just one downhill back to the world. In Montellin Maja -cabin I felt I am not in the wilderness anymore. There were many people coming and going, there was almost a road from Vuontisjärvi. Easy to reach, this little cabin surely gives many people their first glimpse to the mountains. For me it was the other way round. I walked down and out tried to adjust my head to meeting family and friends.

I feel the  mountains do take a part of my soul, leaving it there with the wind and the raven. But they also give me something back: An ability to see more clear. When I feel I lose it, it's time to go back up again.

Pallastunturit ja Pahakurun pihlaja.