not dog sledding in kiruna

after we finished our dog sledding adventure, we had a day to relax in kiruna, the northernmost town in sweden (pop. 18,148 in 2010). the town grew up around an iron mine which opened in 1890. (iron was discovered as early as 1696, but the climate was too harsh, and the mining techniques too primitive, to make commercial exploitation viable until the 19th century.) according to our sledding guide, kiruna was the wild west of sweden until the government began formally settling the area at the start of the 20th century. the population was 18 in 1899, growing to 12,884 by 1930.

in 2004, the state-owned mining company notified the local government that it had to dig deeper into the hills just outside town, and this excavation could cause a number of apartments and public buildings to crack or collapse altogether. sure enough, fissures began to open up around the city, and the government therefore began planning to move the entire city center two miles to the east, a move that will start this year and be completed in 2034. this is a massive project, with all sorts of psychological and sociological implications: how do you make anything beyond the most minor life decisions when your entire town is in limbo? how do you redesign an entire community, and what happens to its memories?

so, let’s look at kiruna while we still can:

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kiruna architecture: some charming, some not quite so charming.
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i do not know what “obs snöras” means, but i like how it looks. meet me at the corner of a lot of syllables and even more syllables.
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the city center, with inexplicable metal sculptures.
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a fantastic clock tower on the town hall, foundlings left outside the public library, and, just outside the city center, above it all, the mine.

dog sledding in kiruna

for my 50th birthday, we went dog sledding in kiruna, in swedish lapland. why, you ask? because i like dogs, and when we were in albania in 2008, we met a guy who had gone dog sledding in finland, and he put a bug in my ear that was still there seven years later. so … to celebrate 50 years of not dying yet, we met some friends for the weekend in copenhagen, and then we all went up to the arctic circle where it still was warmer than anything our friends and family were experiencing in massachusetts, dc or new york; and after an overnight stay in a cabin at the company’s lodge, we had breakfast, suited up (thermal underwear, sweats, a thermal jumpsuit, hat and gloves) and met our dog teams. our guide gave us a quick lesson on how to steer the dogs, and off we went! and off we each promptly fell at the first big turn – it isn’t as easy as it looks.

my dogs and i bonded.
my dogs and i bonded.

my dogs turned out to be very easy to manage once i got the hang of it, and also were very friendly. as it happened, they all were female, and all in heat, so i went first (after the guide’s sled) to keep the other teams of dogs running in the right direction.

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dogs at camp; sleds ready to go; my team – risti, selka, smita and darro.

it’s hard to describe the experience: it is like sledding, of course, but also a little like water-skiing, in that you have to keep your legs loose so you can manage the hills and bumps without falling off. the dogs followed the lead sled, so we just had to use the braking mechanisms judiciously to keep from tipping over on the turns, or to create a drag on the downhill parts (so we wouldn’t run the sled into the hind dogs’ legs). otherwise, we just admired the views while feeling the wind rushing past. abby took a video that shows it pretty well:

we spent two hours out on the first leg of our journey, and then stopped for lunch in a cabin out in the woods, where we met other dogsledding teams, before heading back. once at camp, we took the dogs off the harness, gave them snacks and dinner, and then piled into our cabin to relax before our own meal. the camp had neither electricity nor running water – instead, we drew water from a hole cut into the meter-thick ice covering the lake, cooked over propane, dined by candlelight, and heated the cabins with wood stoves. very rustic, but very comfortable.

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lunch in the woods; selka bedded down for the night; camp in the early morning.

one of my hopes had been to see the northern lights, and on our first night in the wild (and my 50th birthday itself), we saw them. at first, i was surprised, because – for reasons i don’t understand – in the sky, they look something like this:

when the camera captures the sky, however, it sees this:

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this may become an annual tradition.