Chapter One of Marjorie’s Marvelous Meanderings is drawing to a close. It’s a rainy morning in Longyearbyen, 7am, and I’ve been sleeping soundly with heavy curtains drawn. I don’t like to do that (FOMO…right Lace?), but sometimes you just have to miss a ray or two of that midnight light…and get some sleep. I have loved every minute of this Arctic time. There’s still a photo album or two to go of dogs and dinners, and birds and another berg or three, and all those random but wildly picturesque shots of my new favorite place in the world. Some of that this evening perhaps.
And now it’s this evening. Tromso, Norway. My first airbnb of the trip. But more about this travel day later. First the working dogs of Svalbard. The beautiful smart sled/wagon huskies and husky mixes that easily outnumber the people in these wide open parts.
I signed up for a morning trip dog sledding (although in summer it must be a wagon, not a sled) but with some hesitation. First of all, before the Greenland trip, I had read a lot about the dog sledding there and it seemed a harsh life for both dogs and people with not much of a relationship between the two. Secondly, pulling a wagon on a gravel road didn’t seem like something dogs would like to do even though they apparently do want to run the winter sleds.
Here’s what I found out. While I don’t know about the Greenlanders, these Norwegians and the others working up in this country love these dogs and are loved in return. Basecamp’s dog staff trains long and hard to care for their charges properly and to teach them how to be good sled dogs…and they know everyone of them personally. Our guide for the day was a young Welsh woman who has worked in Svalbard for some time; she led our three teams and encouraged, chastised and praised each dog, by name, for the whole two hour run. It was such pleasure to watch the whole process up close. Dogs, as we all know, have distinct personalities and have to be paired and harnessed accordingly. They bark continuously, have little spats as the trip goes on, and once in awhile one annoys another to the point where they are switched between teams. But they all beg to be part of the trip, barking and yelping and jumping and whining as the choices are made for the morning’s runners.
The summer running isn’t really for the benefit of the tourists as much as to keep the dogs in shape for their real jobs as winter sled dogs for short and long trips over the big main island. The dogs work about ten years and then are adopted by families in town and on the mainland and retrained as … couch dogs! Since they get plenty of attention and affection during their working lives it doesn’t take much adapting but the rhythm of a couple of walks, evening on the couch in front of the TV and treats after ‘sitting’ is a change from being a team member on days-long journeys through snow and over glaciers with two soupy meals of fish meal and veggies a day and never a cookie.
Follow me step by step through a cold wet muddy loud doggy morning: