A baptism of fire (and ice)

Dog sleds crossing sign, Hetta

I arrive after dark, dragging my suitcase through the thick snow. But I’m barely through the door when I’m handed a pair of work boots and dispatched down to the farm.

“Do you want to get thrown in the deep end?” asks Anna, my host, but it’s not really a question. “Get your jacket on, go down the hill and follow the snowmobile tracks to a gate.”

The instructions turn out to be unnecessary – I follow the sound of barking which starts off loud and grows to a wall of noise and fury by the time I reach the kennels.

Three figures are running back and forth up the lines of dogs, pulling more from cages and running circles and harnessing them to three sleds tied to posts along a track running up the centre of the yard. The noise is incredible; I can barely hear to introduce myself to the others, but they are too harried to talk much anyway. Not knowing how to help, I hover on the sidelines and rub the forehead of one of the quietest dogs.

Ice crystals are hanging in the air, glinting in the glare of the floodlights.  The dogs are mewling, almost hysterical in excitement, throwing themselves forward and straining against the holding ropes in their desperation to be off and running.

“Get in!” someone instructs me, and obediently I hop down onto a sled full of snow, immediately soaking the jeans I’ve been wearing since I got on the tube in Kentish Town the previous morning.

A command rings out and with a jerk we are off into the dark, through the snow-tipped pine, with only a head torch for light.

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