Alex is paired with Per, Simon and I share a sled and there are also a couple of Aussie guys and a Mexican mother and son. As soon as the ropes are untied from the trees the dogs are off – 5 per sled, all wearing little booties on their rear paws to protect them. Simon is driving first and finds it quite a struggle to keep his feet securely on the runners and also operate the brake. The driver is meant to put their weight on the inside runner through a turn, and you both lean in to the curve. But when the track is at an angle you’re supposed to compensate by leaning the other way. Sometimes these two things happen simultaneously so it’s difficult to maintain equilibrium. Added to that, the track is bumpy and it’s hard to keep your feet rooted to the runners when the sled bounces, especially when they get snow on them. Finally, there has been little snow so some of the track was pure ice and other parts just boggy ground. It was inevitable that we’d come off – we managed to turn the sled over and it landed on top of me which was a bit of a shock. Simon managed to get it the right way up and hold the dogs back for long enough for us both to get back on and we managed to keep it together until the instructor stopped and suggested we changed places.If I thought being a passenger was tough, being the driver was so much harder. The runners are narrow and the brake sits between them. The idea is that you transfer your weight from runner to brake but it’s not that easy when you’re travelling at speed across very uneven ground. You need to keep your knees flexed and maintain pressure on the handrail at all times. It’s ridiculously tiring and quite stressful, as the dogs just keep running unless you have enough pressure on the brake to hold them back – which is basically your entire body weight. My first stint of driving went fairly smoothly but the hard work took its toll. The second time I took over driving I was too tired to control the sled properly and we had a couple of disasters. I managed to tip the sled over and couldn’t work out how to get it upright and still maintain pressure on the brake, so the dogs took off with Simon and I had to do the walk of shame to catch up with them after Per had saved him. Then we both managed to come off. Fortunately we were not the only ones – the Aussies were nicknamed “Crash” and “Crash”!
We were so relieved when we saw our starting point come back into view. Needless to say Alex had neither fallen off nor lost control and seemed to be a born dogsledder. We were invited into a little hut with an open fire and pumpkin lantern for coffee, tea or hot chocolate and the ubiquitous (and delicious!) chocolate cake and then driven back to Tromso, arriving just before sunset at around 2pm.After a brief visit to the apartment to remove some layers and eat some leftover pasta, we set off for the photographic museum which had some fascinating exhibits about the relationship between Russian sailors and Tromso, and some interesting contrasts of Tromso past and present. We continued to the Kunstmuseum which had varied exhibits including some representations of Sami myths and legends and some impressive paintings of various regions of Norway, as well as some more modern works that left us a bit baffled.
Dinner tonight is chicken curry, using some of the ingredients we brought with us. It’s such a lovely clear night that I want to go out and look for the Aurora. As we leave the apartment we look up and I swear I can just see the unmistakable ribbon in the sky above our heads. Down at the waterside, the boys lose interest long before I do and I stay behind until the cold forces me back to the apartment. The following day I overhear a conversation that suggests that despite the beautifully clear weather, there was little auroral activity.