I happened on the Finnmarksløpet dog race while following the Russian border south from Kirkenes, Norway, the remotest town in Europe, deep in the Norwegian Arctic. This region is covered with lakes, rivers, and marshes, so winter is the best time to move around, because all that water freezes and everything becomes a road – for the dog sleds, at least.
The Finnmarksløpet is a 620mi (1,000km) race, lasting 10 days, and Kirkenes is one of the stops. It's the biggest event of the year for this town of 3,529 people and there's a festival while the race comes through town. I started chatting to locals at the checkpoint, and after seeing how big a part dog sledding plays in their lives, I decided to give it a go. There are plenty of tour companies that run sledding on the frozen fjord near Kirkenes, but I wanted to do it properly. The locals suggested Birk Husky, right on the Pasvik River, which marks the border between Norway and Russia. This is also the furthest east that the Finnmarksløpet goes, and the team from Birk Husky helps create the course.
Getting there took about 45 minutes of driving down a narrow, icy road in a blizzard. I remember thinking, "Crikey, is this a particularly good idea?" But to be out into the wilderness – not just up and down the fjord, but off for hours along the river, hearing stories about border crossings – was amazing.
I went there expecting my instructor to be some sort of Viking, but Craig, who gave me my lesson, happens to be from England. He came up here to do a degree in adventure education, loved it, and stayed, but he must have some Viking blood because he doesn’t feel the cold.
The dog sledding was such a visceral experience. There was just Craig with his sled, and me and the cameraman on my sled, in the most remote and beautiful place I’d ever been. The dogs loved it, and so did I. One of the best things I've ever done.
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Ash is a travel writer, filmmaker and storyteller who explores the world with curiosity, excitement, and a sense of adventure. He has just finished a 5,282mi (8,500km) overland from the top of Norway to Crimea.
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