Friday, January 6, 2012

What is the Arctic Without Any Snow? Miserable.

My first day at Hetta Huskies was...wet.  It rained from morning til night and after two rounds of training on the quad I was completely soaked.  I peered out from beneath my gortex in misery and wondered at the piss-poor conditions surrounding me.  Where was the snow?  I was supposed to be sledding now, zooming across the marsh with 8 bounding huskies, eager for their first few runs in the snow.  I hadn't packed for rain.  I hadn't mentally prepared for it either.

After two weeks of abysmal weather, cold rain and freezing temperatures, I was starting to worry as was the rest of Lapland, whose economy is based on Arctic tourism.  What is the Arctic without any snow?  After our first few safaris were cancelled, everyone began to realize that this was serious.  If snow didn't come in the next few days business would start to drop dramatically.  December is our busiest month every year.  Our guides work 16-18hr days (sometimes even 20) and the dogs suddenly go from running 18K/day to 40+K/day.  Now that safaris were being rescheduled for later dates in December, we realized our black month was going to turn even blacker...

Finally in the last 2 weeks of November, the snow started to fall.  Relief rushed over Hetta and preparations began for the eminent arrival of clients.  Our first sled-training session happened an entire 3 days before the first tourist groups arrived, meaning that our guides were able to go out on 2 safaris themselves before instructing others how to do so!  Needless to say there was a bit of mayhem for our initial safari groups, but as usual the clients were oblivious to any sort of confusion or disorder.

The black period with Canterbury daybreaks (a program where our dogs have to run around an 800m loop for 6 hours) every day in addition to short 2km safaris and longer 6km safaris began before we had time to catch our breath.  And the hectic schedule didn't abate much once Canterbury was over.  We continued to have 20km safaris schedule during Arctic groups that go out on 6km safaris with NorthernLights safaris held nearly every night.  Not to mention the fact that this hectic time crunch was only at one farm.  We still had to manage safaris at the Valimaa farm as well.  By the end of 3 weeks consumed by non-stop running, shouting, fire-making, snowmobiling we all sat around the table, a bunch of zombies with lights on but nobody home.  Luckily I managed to escape for a few days to England and by the time I return the air will have cleared and people will start to look normal again...I hope. 

We are approaching a major shift in volunteers, however, so I will soon start to say goodbye to all of the people I have grown to care about.  I am excited to make new friends but I will be sad to see the old ones go.  Ah well, at least the dogs will still be there to brighten my day.  They are truly what makes all of this back-breaking work worth it.  Love to every one in Lapland and I will be returning to you very soon!

More love to everyone back home...I promise to come back someday!


Monday, August 1, 2011

A Break in Travels: Europe Ye Will Be Missed!

That's right.  I'm coming back to the US for a limited time only so get your Em-fix while you can!  After nearly a year of international travel I am packing my bags once again and flying high over an ocean blue.  I will miss so much about the great continent of Europe but it is time to visit the fam and friends.  There is something about a person that changes with excessive travel.  I have obviously fallen in love with every place I have traveled to, but as much as I miss Finland or Norway or Ireland, I am constantly aware of a stronger urge to go somewhere new.  I keep adding to this list I have created of places I want to visit again, but I'm not sure that I ever will.  The earth is full of fantastical places and given the short time I am allowed to live it seems such a waste to revisit old favorite spots versus discovering new ones.  So recently instead of adding to my list of places to revisit, I have started a new list of places I want to go.  Here's a sample:

The Marble Cathedral of Chile:  It is rather challenging to get to, but anything worth having doesn't come without a bit of effort.

The Great Pyramid of Giza.  Ok it doesn't necessarily have to be the  Pyramid of Giza, any Pyramid will do.  I suppose I just really want to go to Egypt.

New Zealand....mainly the mountains and remote site locations from LOTR.

The Great Barrier Reef.  I will need to take some diving lessons prior to this excursion.  Should be amazing!

This list could continue for page after page.  Needless to say I have years of travel ahead of me, but at the moment I am taking a break from hopping about and intend to stay in Lapland for a year at Capelapland/Hetta Huskies.  I miss my huskies too much to stay away and plan to return at the end of September.  As for after Lapland, I have no plans at the moment and am open for suggestions!  Also if you are aware of an amazing place on earth that you feel should definitely be on my list...please let me know!!!  In the meantime, see those of you who live in the US in just 2 short days!


Monday, July 25, 2011

The Rain in nonexistent!

So...the last time I posted on my blog it was springtime in Ireland and I was all abuzz with flowers and green things.  I suppose those of you who follow my blog have probably been wondering what I've been doing in the meantime.  Well to begin I spent two amazing, wonderful, mind-blowing months in Norway and will never be the same.  It is impossible for me to describe the sense of joy living in such a beautiful place gave me.  From sea kayaking with seals to hiking under the midnight sun, everything I did was surrounded by surreal mountains of mist and glittering glass-like bays.  Despite recent attacks in Oslo, Norway is still in my top 5 places to live the remainder of my life.

But Norway is in the past now and as I don't like to write about the past, I will have to skip over the more impressive parts of that trip and fast forward to present day.  Now I am in Spain, roughly 22k from Vilafranca de Pendes, high in the mountains with views of the vineyards and distant peaks.  Whereas in Norway I was managing a campground and renting out kayaks, here I am taking groups on bike tours through the countryside and tasting cava (spain's version of champagne) for a new review of the 50 greatest cavas in Spain.  I also sample a selection of fine wines every evening with my gourmet meals.  Yes my life is very hard indeed.  In addition to my blissful work, the weather here is absolutely perfect.  Warm, dry heat fills the afternoons and then tappers off to perfect cool evenings with light breezes carrying over to the following mornings, making my morning runs delightful!  And this isn't just a rare occurrence to be treasured...this happens every day!  You don't even need AC.  I thought that Spain would be sort of miserable for me since I despise heat in any form, but I actually LOVE it here!  I am already planning a more in-depth tour of Spain for next summer...any takers?  Add-ons are welcome!

Unfortunately I only stay here for 1 more week before returning to dreaded Arkansas where I hear the summer weather has been abysmal.  Oh well.  At least I have a road trip to Cali to look forward to followed soon after by a return to the arctic.  Dreaming of the arctic chill makes the Arkansas humidity seem a little bit more bearable...but only a little.  For other blogpost updates from me, check out my blogs on  See you stateside!


Friday, April 15, 2011

My Favorite Week of Spring

It is now mid-April and Ireland is in full bloom.  The week I have been anticipating for 2 months is finally approaching and I am thrilled to be able to experience it before moving on to Norway.  You are probably wondering to which week I am referring...well my dear friends that would be the magical week of spring where the leaves on the trees are bright green, the tulips are in their prime and the blossoms on the trees release a wonderful fragrance that ensnares the senses and awakens the soul.  Yes indeed that week is finally here and I have been outside enjoying every minute of it.  Pheasants run along the fields and rabbits hop between the rows of newly planted Irish potatoes.  The songs of countless birds fill the air as towering, billowing white clouds roll across a fiercely blue sky.  The luscious green grass is softer than the finest silk and makes a perfect pallet for an afternoon nap in the golden sunshine.   I have spent so much time in the sun that its rays are beginning to appear in sun-kissed strands all over my head.  Ireland is very much alive once more after a difficult arctic winter and I am thrilled to be a part of the transformation.

Now before you exit this page with a sense of enraged jealousy, let me assure you that not everything is perfect in my idyllic week of spring.  I did unfortunately injure the head hen on Monday, something I am not very proud of, but karma has paid me a kind visit in return so the universe is balanced once more.  How did I manage to hurt a hen?  I’m afraid that is a story that must be told in person so you will just have to wait for the hilarious details.  I also had to spend one afternoon removing gobs of hair from a poor pony with Cushing’s syndrome.  Other than these two mildly unpleasant moments, I have been biking around the gorgeous countryside and hiking in the forest.

On Sunday, April 10th, I spent the day in Glendalough with Shella, the vet who owns Molly (the cart-horse who has been at the farm for 18 years and is 5 years older than me!).  We had a fantastic afternoon exploring the surrounding Wicklow Mountains, visiting the two lakes formed by melted glaciers, and gorging ourselves on well-earned ice cream.  It was a beautiful place that I plan to return to with Marion’s daughter Natalie before I leave.  If you ever have a chance to visit Ireland, make sure you mark Glendalough as a must see on your tour.  It is only about an hour from Dublin and I highly recommend it.

Next Thursday I will be traveling to Galway, the iconic gatekeeper of true Irish culture, where I will spend an afternoon exploring the city.  On Friday I will then journey to Connemara, considered to be one of the most stunning, wild locations in all of Ireland.  As I meet more and more Irish, however, I have found that everyone has their own idea about what parts of Ireland are the most scenic.  I suppose will just have to explore them all and draw my own conclusions!  Work work work :)

With only two weeks remaining I am starting to mentally prepare myself for another drastic culture change.  It has been nice living in a country where I can easily communicate with everyone, but I am ready for another challenge.  Hopefully Norway will be everything I have imagined and more.  Time will tell.  I will try to post again before I depart.  Much love to everyone and see you stateside in less than 4 months!  The time has flown by!


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Spring time in Ireland

This is why I never keep a journal.  I am absolutely terrible at updating anything that involves my day-to-day activities.  Sorry folks!  But in all actuality Ireland is relatively dull compared to my life in Lapland.  I love it nonetheless, however, as I now have time a book!  Something I have not managed to do in years if you disregard the odd textbook on dna and mutagenesis.  :)  I have now read the Stieg Larsson series, Empress Orchid, The Help, some James Harriot books and the LOTR trilogy (yes I know I was amazed myself that I had not read it before the age of 23...I have no decent excuse).  I don't know what I will read next but I have a pile of books in my caravan to choose from.  I would say I'll keep you posted but you know how that would turn out.

For the past three weeks I have experienced incredible spring weather with sunny skies nearly every day and some wonderful horseback riding adventures around the farm.  Not to mention many trips to the Kilkea Castle and the Mullagreehlen National Forest a few km up the road.  But if I want to experience the beauty of the Irish countryside I need go no further than outside my door.  The Kilkea Lodge Farm is several hundred acres (reduced from several thousand) with views of the Wicklow Mountains, the Kilkea Castle and endless blue skies and green fields.  I have especially enjoyed watching the sunrise over the Mullagreehlen Forest every morning and watching it set upon the western horizon of the farm.  I am at peace here in Ireland for it would take more of an effort not to be tranquil in a place as lovely as this.  Marion, my host, can be a bit frantic at times, but on a daily basis my life is quite nice here in Castledermot where I can bike ride through the countryside and go for morning jogs through cedar groves.  I have also developed a rather unhealthy addiction to fresh egg fried sandwiches which I eat nearly every day for lunch...I just can't help myself when I bring in a new batch of eggs from the hen house...I have to at least sample one to make sure they are fit for consumption right?

I wish I had more to tell you about my exciting Irish adventures but to be honest Ireland isn't that exciting...and that's exactly what I love about it.  Everything here is simple, straightforward.  People say what they mean and mean what they say.  "There is a pleasure in the pathless woods" as Lord Byron would say and I have definitely found that pleasure here in Ireland.  It draws you in until you have no desire to be anywhere else.  I fear I will find it difficult to leave the comfort of such a place that nearly feels more like home than the grand ol' USA.  My Irish roots called to me and I have answered them.  This is a country I will continue to visit and love for all of the years I have left.  Enough words now...I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

Ok sorry no more photos 'til next time.  They take to long to load!  Love to you all and I will try to write again soon.  Note I did say try...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

It's been a while longer...

Hi Folks!

Some of you may have thought I was kidnapped by an elf, some of you may have thought I married a reindeer herder, and the majority of you probably thought the wolves finally got me, but alas I have returned to the realm of the living and socially active (somewhat)!

I am now in Ireland at Kilkea Lodge Farm ( where I work with horses instead of dogs, a rather drastic change from the arctic husky farm.  I still follow basically the same routine, I muck out stables and feed morning and night, but in between I ride and train horses instead of dog sledding.  It's brilliant good fun and in my free time I am learning a tremendous amount of Irish comfort food recipes to bring home with me and share!  Stews, shepard's pie, plum pudding, ham and cabbage (sounds gross but is surprisingly delicious) and that's just in my first week!  I think I'll be restoring myself to a more normal weight after the skeletor attack that happened in Lapland.

So a brief update I think is also in order for my last month in Hetta.  Things died down a tiny bit after the holidays, thought it didn't feel much different physically or mentally.  I went on an 80km snowmobile safari with Pasi and Charlie Patton (big time UK explorer who is training for a North Pole expedition in April) which was insanely awesome but I suffered incredible pain for the next week or so.  6 hours on a snowmobile through deep, soft snow with no track can be, well let's just say challenging.  I also went on a snowshoeing adventure around Pallas with Lotte and Ben (two other guides) that included an overnight stay in an off-grid cabin that took us an hour to find and was so cold inside we might as well have spent the night under the stars.  But all in all it was a great trip with some phenomenal views and a top 10 sunrise to finish off the trek.  I also saw some pretty stellar northern lights with purple runners as they're called which was an exhilarating moment as well.  In conclusion the final month was bitter sweet and leaving Lapland was difficult (made easier by the fact that if I didn't leave the Finnish government would deport me), but I plan to return again for next season if I can manage to obtain a long stay visa.  Cross fingers!

And now I"m in Ireland with no more snow and lots of green things sprouting everywhere.  It feels unnatural after the pristine of the arctic.  The air is a bit easier to breathe since it is never below freezing and I can walk outside without having to put 7 layers of clothing on which is nice.  Along with my attire, I will have to readjust my diet a fraction as well since I am used to shoving as many carbs in my mouth as possible to make it through the day.  After leaving the huskies I feel out of step.  Now I am constantly looking for something to do and can't handle sitting for longer than 15min at lunch time.  I will adjust to my new slower paced lifestyle, but it will take a while.  As much as I complained about my work load in Hetta, I am already yearning to return.  Will I make it back or will it be New Zealand for Winter 2011?  Time will tell...

Expect another update soon since I now have time to actually write on this thing.  Love to everyone!!!


P.S.  I'll post some pics of Ireland soon.  I'm only 300 meters from a castle....

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It's been a while...


So it has been a while since my last post.  Tourist season has begun and with it has come endless days full of safaris and ridiculous amounts of British clients who couldn’t be thicker if they tried.  A typical safari conversation flows in the following manner:

British client:  “So are we on the lake now?”

Me:  “yes”

British client:  “So there is water underneath us right now?”

Me:  …. “yes”

British client:  “So it’s frozen right?”

Me:  “no these are Jesus-dogs, they can walk on water”

British client:  “Do all the dogs have names”

Me:  …seriously?  “No that one is dog 1, that one is dog 2, that one is dog 3…”

British client:  “Why is that one called White?”

Me: …”Because he is white…”

You would not believe how many times I am asked these questions.  No but seriously I really enjoy having the clients around.  It is nice to have some fresh faces and everyone really seems to enjoy dog sledding.  So many people say it is the best thing they have ever done even when they just do the 2k loop. 

Yesterday we did 3 different safaris.  We had short breaks in the morning where groups come every hour, complete a 2k loop and then leave after enjoying a warm cup of juice in our cozy kota (otherwise known as a teepee).  Then in the afternoon we drove the dogs to another location where we drove 400 people around a short 1k loop next to an ice castle they have built here in Lapland.  The castle doesn’t look like much from the exterior, but inside it is incredible what they have completed.  I only got to briefly walk through before the sledding groups arrived but if I get more time in the future I will try to take some pics for everyone.

Although I am working very hard, I only become tired when I stop moving.  This means that I usually don’t want to stop for lunch because then the exhaustion sets in and I don’t want to go back outside!  But you push on anyway because the dogs are simply incredible to work with and at least I (not all of the guides feel this way) want to spend as much time with them as possible. 

My favorite dog is currently sleeping next to me on the couch.  His name is Bino (because he looks half albino) and he is one great dog.  His eyes are so crystal blue they are almost white and every time I approach his cage he constantly jumps about with excitement.  He is rather shy when meeting new people and tall guys especially scare him.  For example one guide here is 6’2” and Bino runs away from him every time he comes near.  I’ve had to go get him from the cage several times for Emile now because he can’t catch Bino.  It’s hilarious.  He is a very smart dog but not quite lead material.  Last night when I went to get him out of his cage to take him home with me, his roommate Sausage was trying with the utmost effort to escape.  I had Bino in one hand and was attempting to force Sausage back into the cage with the other when Bino slipped from my fingers.  I cannot explain how scary it is to lose a dog.  Every time someone is loose there is typically a fight or a dog in heat becomes pregnant.  In either scenario it is a big deal and results in vet bills and dogs that can’t run due to injuries.  I quickly shut the cage door and frantically turned around, prepared to have to chase Bino all over the farm but when I looked down, he was sitting right behind me, patiently waiting for his harness.  The feeling of relief was amazing.  I couldn’t believe that he trusted me enough to not run away.  I will be terribly sad when I have to leave and can’t take him with me.

My other favorite dog is called Atlas.  He is very sweet and majestic in appearance.  He reminds me of Mufasa from the Lion King for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on.  Although he is a slight dog in terms of physical build, he is unbelievably strong!  I took him home with me one night and made the mistake of just using a lead and harness instead of a belt, meaning that I had to control him with my arms versus the center of my body.  I swear I had grown new biceps by the time I got home!  He pulled me all the way, with me half running behind him.  The good thing was I cut my travel time nearly in half so that it only took 20min to get home instead of 30!

Well folks I feel like there are so many things to tell and describe but I am so tired I think it is more important for me to sleep.  The upcoming weeks are the busiest of the season and days off will become a thing of the past at least for a while.  Tomorrow we have short breaks in the morning, day breaks in the afternoon, and optional safaris at night.  It will be a long day and a cold one.  -28C at the moment and it is snowing lightly outside.  We could really use a good snow storm.  It hasn’t truly snowed here in almost 6 weeks.  Before a nap I think I am going to walk Bino to the store so I will touch back sometime in the future but it may not be for a few weeks due to our busy schedule.  Much love to everyone and I hope you are all happy, safe and healthy!  Happy Holidays from Santa land!