You know you’re going somewhere remote when your first exchange with a local Norwegian at the airport is: “People don’t go to Alta, people get sent to Alta.”
Joking aside, Alta is a fairly small community well into the Arctic Circle, and we were leaving civilisation behind altogether by venturing into the wilderness with seven sleds and 32 huskies. The cabins we stayed at varied in facilities – some had running water and electricity but, at some, we had to keep a fire going for warmth and drill into a frozen lake for drinking water. It really did feel like we’d left the real world far behind.
On the first day, we were introduced to our dogs and shown how to harness them correctly to the sled. Before long, we were tearing across the snow, astounded at the dogs’ enthusiasm, strength and speed. They were as friendly as pet dogs and yet much hardier with a relentless attitude towards their work. They slept outside in the snow and pulled the sleds for hours on end without tiring. And each had an individual character.
Whenever we hit an incline and they started to slow, we had to jump off and run with them or scoot to help them out. Leaving them to it was not an option; if we were slacking, the dogs would just stop and turn round to look at us. They don’t need the power of speech – it was easy to see what they were thinking!
But it wasn’t just a case of jumping on the sled in the morning, traveling for five or six hours, and then collapsing. We looked after the dogs’ every need before we settled down each night. Having no TV or internet meant that our group of seven (including the expedition leader and trip doctor) really bonded over the course of the week.
I think the second day was the most physically demanding. Not because there were many hills (that day was actually quite flat), but because muscles I didn’t even know I had were aching. Despite all the training, everyone seemed to be feeling the strain. I don’t think I could have trained more, but think this was simply down to the fact that it’s a completely different type of exercise to running or cycling or swimming. That day, I really did have to make myself get off and run when the dogs needed a bit of extra help. But I kept reminding myself why I was doing it and kept going.
Lying in hospital with 12 broken ribs, I would never have thought that, two years on, I would be mushing my own team of huskies across Norway. I can’t thank the Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance (WNAA) enough – I genuinely believe that they saved my life the day that I fell from that horse. I think it’s important to keep raising awareness and funds for the charity so that they can continue to save lives.
So that’s how I came to be stood on a sled in the North of Norway. It was tough at times but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and am grateful that I had so much support with raising money for the charity.