When my editor, Doug Cooke, of the travel marketing magazine, JAXFAX Destinations, asked if I would consider going on a 5-day dog sled press trip in northern Norway, he said I was his only writer who could do it. That felt like a compliment but it was also a red flag.
When I looked into details of the trip I found that my hosts, Tromso Villmarkssenter, are based out of Norway’s Storfjord region. I will be driving my own team of huskies over the tundra of the Arctic Lapland. I will be responsible for harnessing, feeding, driving the dogs. I will sleep in a little backpacking tent and cook freeze dried food on a little backpacking stove. (been there, done that but not in the Arctic). We will cover 155 miles in our 5 days. I will need to have the capability of pushing my sled up mountains, balance on one foot as I drove, persevere through 8 hours of driving a day. I will have to be able to do high mountain driving, drive down steep mountains, drive technically through challenging woodlands. I will be taught how to do these things, not figuring I ever did any of them before, although I had, kind of, in Vermont, many years ago with the kids.
Sierra and Bryce were young and rode in the sled. Todd and I merely stood on the runners and did not assist, as in pushing or running. We slept as a cozy family in wall tents with woodstoves that were fired up for us before we got out of bed in the morning- oh, and our hosts cooked delicious meals for us, too. This will not be the case on this trip. When I questioned the woman from the PR company in NYC who represents the Norwegian outfitter, she said that she dog sledded twice in Norway and it was the best experience of her life- she slept in warm cabins and had gourmet food cooked for her. OK. That is not the case here either.
I am used to my husband’s company and assistance on every major adventure I have taken in the last 35 years, and of course, husbands are not within the budget of most press trips. WHO would I be traveling with? I discovered that I am the ONLY person from America, the ONLY travel writer and will join seven tour operators from around the world. Are most tour operators normally beastly, I asked myself? Would I be the weak link in the group? The only woman? The oldest person? OMG. I better step up my game.
When I told some friends they said, “You can’t do that.” Others said, “Holy shit, that sounds like an adventure of a lifetime! DO IT!”
Todd suggested we watch one of the kids favorite movies, “Iron Will,” a 1992 Disney film about a dog sled race and then make up my mind. Young Will Stoneman from South Dakota travels to Winnepeg Canada and takes part in the 500-mile dog sled race to save the family farm. Of all the times the kids watched it in our bed, covers pulled up, snacks in bowls, I never saw it, just parts as I would come in to deliver food. There is a very scary scene where his dad falls into a river and gets tangled in a leash and drowns, there are frightening scenes of speeding through the woods, rocketing airborne, cornering on one runner, around corners, and wiping out on trees. “I hope I don’t have to do those things and go that fast,” I admit to Todd. I cried at the end, like my kids always did because Will won, pulling up to the finish line completely spent, with bloody wind-cracked lips. “I guess I’ll go,” I said
I know I can do it (and not actually die, they wouldn’t let me die) but I considered my potential happiness level and my level of suffering. I have some control over both of those, being 6 weeks out. I could probably leave right today to mountain bike pack the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail through the Rockies for 800 miles like I will do in late June and have done the last two years and I would be OK. And I could probably leave right now for Norway, in the kind of fitness level I am at and be OK too. But it might not be so fun.
I usually exercise every day for an hour- biking, hiking, doing yoga. But I have since upped my regiment to two times a day, sometimes three and added Pilates and weights. In one week, my body feels different already although the scale hasn’t changed. But I don’t give a shit about an extra five pounds. It might add some warmth! for I am used to sleeping next to a man whose metabolism is a fiery furnace.
What other body issues might impinge on my performance and make me the weak link? I do have a bit of a dizzy inner ear issue in the last few years and that might get in the way of balancing on one foot on a sled runner but doing so much yoga and turning myself upside down so often has helped with that issue. I did injure my shoulder last year and found out that I have calcified tendonitis. What if the dog’s yank the leash out of my hand and hurt my arm and I can’t move it at all as happened last year? But the strengthening exercises have helped with that too and I no longer feel periodical dull jabs of pain.
I decided that it did not matter if I spent every night crying myself to sleep because it was so hard and I was lonely, and maybe even every day. In my opinion, it would still be worth it. I used to tell the kids when we were struggling across the wind-torn plains on the Camino de Santiago, or hard situations like it, “It might not always be fun, but it’s always worthwhile.”
I did not spend any time whatsoever wondering if I was “too old,” as I do not even believe in limits, at least for another decade or so. But I do know that I will probably never get the chance to do this again in life. My hosts said that after the five days, I will definitely be able to call myself a musher. Being a musher was never on my personal list of goals for myself, but why not? I have learned that when opportunities come your way unexpected, they are most likely a gift from beyond, sent to teach you something and help you learn and evolve. I will see herds of reindeer, sleep on the tundra where Norway, Sweden and Finland come together, hopefully see the northern lights and learn a little bit more about myself. Our time here is so short. Why remain in our safe, comfortable home doing what we already know how to do.
Twenty years from now (I will be 82!!!!) you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bow lines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade wind in your sails. Explore Dream.
PS- I have my flights- April 20-27- send up good vibes and prayers for me please- haha call in the angels
Posted in: Travel Story