6 DP (dog power) Engine

Ready to run!

Ready to run!

(Reis) We pulled up to the outpost in the limos of Longyearbyen (which is not saying much, given that they were 15 year old Ford vans repurposed as shuttles to our destination), and the smell hit us immediately. It was hard to describe but it was something that smelled awfully like 60 unwashed dogs in a yard, sitting in their own… filth. Oh wait, it was. To give you some context, this aroma was on par with the giant haul-up of walruses we had seen just 3 days before- except the walruses had about 2 metric tons on these dogs, and the lifestyle of a walrus is much more sedentary than that of a dog. Long story short, it smelled bad, but that did not deter us from our desired objective. We were going to go dogsledding (the “we” to which I am referring is the 6explorers plus 3 of our good family friends who were along for the ride). This event was to be Emma’s 17th birthday celebration, partly because we were eager to try out this storied method of transportation, and partly because we had 5 hours in Longyearbyen, a bustling metropolis of 1,800, and we had exhausted the limited attractions boasted by this city the day before. And so, here we were, a couple miles outside the city center in a foul-smelling reconstruction of a trapper’s outpost from the 1600’s, ready to go.

Reis and Alex in control

Reis and Alex in control

We made quick introductions with our two guides, Adelheid and Niklas, who would instruct us in the many intricacies of the process. The first step of said process was to don the spacesuit-looking jumpsuits, partially for the brisk air and partially to protect us from any stray dog scat that may or may not have been ever-present during this entire two-hour span. Next, the fun part, we had to harness the dogs to each “sled.” I use quotation marks here to denote that they were in fact not sleds, but rather four-wheel carts with a long wire lashed onto it on which the dogs would pull, thus moving the cart. There was a whole procedure for actually putting the harnesses on the dogs, but in the end, each cart ended up with six dogs harnessed at the front. I should note another key member of the “five senses” which was quite present in this scenario, that being sound. The dogs that we would be using were Alaskan huskies, a kind of dog that is bred with running in their blood. And boy do they run. So all of the dogs in this yard were itching to be chosen and have the opportunity to go out and do what they do best. Therefore, most every dog there, save the few shy ones, were howling and whining and barking and yapping and stomping and jumping to be chosen. When each of the five sleds were prepped and ready to go, we were off by way of a sharp, foreign word in Norwegian understood by the lead dogs to mean “get moving.”

Great fun!

Great fun!

In each cart there was one driver and one passenger. The driver, who stood chariot-style at the back of the cart, was in control of the whole vehicle—the speed and the direction. The direction was fairly simple; there was a set of bicycle handlebars that moved the tires and pushed the dogs to turn, but speed wasn’t as easy. See, normally these kinds of dogs have only two speeds, full-throttle and chained down. And so, one had to apply the bike-style brakes quite heavily in order for there to be any lowering of speed (which was required by the guides, because we didn’t want to exhaust the dogs). We trotted along at our guide-approved speed for two or three miles before we reached our turn-around point. However, this turn-around was quite the ordeal in itself. Given that the full length of the sled-with-dogs was about 15 feet, you can imagine that turning 180° would be pretty difficult. So, one person had to hop out of the cart and help guide the dogs around in a circle (it also probably didn’t help that our turn around zone was the small loading area for an old coal mine). Here, we swapped drivers and headed back to the basecamp.

Birthday kisses

Birthday kisses

After returning, we were keen for a shower, having travelled through a sizeable amount of dust, sweated buckets in the spacesuits, and gone through five miles of dog farts and flying poop which the dogs expelled en route. But, arguably the best was still to come, the puppies. Back at the yard, there was a separate section cordoned off just for the husky puppies. Based on the picture above, you can tell that they were definitely cute puppies, and I will let the picture speak for itself.

So there you have it, our Svalbardian (Svalbardese, Svalbardish…?) dogsledding adventure. It was a great way to spend (fill) four hours of empty space, and also a very enjoyable birthday for Emma, or at least I hope.

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