“End-of-winter” trip and big cabin news!

(This was supposed to be published in April, and it feels a bit weird posting in the middle of summer, but life happens…)

A trip in March. A multi-purpose trip:

  • cabin maintenance/renovation: before demolition, we needed to clear it out as much as possible.
  • work related: as our goal is to move to Lapland, I need to set up a business
  • dog related: the dogs were in need of some proper sledding and training

So on March 12 I left for Travemunde in Germany. Loaded up sleds and skis, some beers and chocolate and the dogs of course. Due to Covid pandemic traffic was light and we arrived before midnight at the Finnlines check-in.

As usual, excellent service and ample time and space to walk the dogs before boarding. Together with 2 other trailers we boarded as the last ones and after an hour we sailed for Helsinki.

And smooth sailing it was! Winter boating across the Baltic is notorious for sometimes stormy weather, high seas and freezing temperatures. It was freezing cold, and there was plenty of wind, but the seas was relatively calm.

Arriving in Helsinki in winter is always a bit surreal. Sea ice broken up by the stern, snow and very cold wind. The dogs were super excited when they smelled the cold winter air.

At the harbor 2 checkpoints: Raja (customs) where a thorough identity check was done, and a small interrogation on the purpose of travelling. I was redirected to a THL (health) checkpoint for the Covid PCR test. I had a negative test certificate from the day before sailing, but an extra test is always safer.

At 10AM exact we started the trek up North. First planned stop near Hyvinkää to meet Nina’s uncle for a coffee. First time I noticed everybody wearing a mask all the time. When we were in Turku for Christmas almost nobody was wearing masks…

A quick snack and coffee and back to driving. Around 2 pm I reached Jyväskylä where I dropped of moving boxes from a Finnish expat. Dog walking and back to driving.

Up until then the roads where pretty much cleared of snow and ice, and it stayed that way until Oulu, where I had planned a short stop with friends. Thank you, Yulia & Ward for the welcome! Again a dog walk and onwards and upwards!

Thats when the fun started… it had rained the previous night and day and the highway between Oulu and Kemi/Tornio was iced over and a lot of roadworks. In Tornio I gave the dogs a long free run and around 11 left for the last 250 km. Surprisingly enough the road was clear until Kolari. From there on it’s ice and snow covered roads.

I pulled up to the cabin at 2.30AM… a balmy -17C outside and inside the cabin -12C… I let the dogs run a bit while I installed the stake-out chain and removed the stuff from the car that shouldn’t freeze (mainly beer and other drinks…)

Despite being tired and a bit cold it felt great. I walked to the water plant nearby to stretch my legs before going to bed… at -10C… Heating up the cabin takes a bit of time…

By morning it was +1C so my sleeping bag got tested and approved.

And so I started installing myself a bit. First task: firewood. Only one issue: the shed was behind 3 meters snow – had to dig out a walkway… (lesson learned: don’t put the snow shovel in the shed itself…).

The parking itself was luckily cleared by Emppu the day before, but with snow foreseen a daily clearing was necessary.

Around noon I went to pick up the caravan from the storage in the village, only to discover that the heating wasn’t working. Installed a small electric radiator but repair shall have to wait until summer.

Later that day out neighbour, Rami Kulppi from Rami’s Husky’s popped by. I had asked him what would be a good place to run with the dogs. With his snowmobile he quickly created a short trail to connect to the existing tracks. When I started to prepare the sled, line and harnesses the dogs went crazy!

We went for a short and fast 6k run past the water plant into the bog behind the forest. It felt great. The dogs were loving the work and the views were wonderful.

The days went by very quickly. Between work at the cabin, basically stripping it to the basic structure, working/training the dogs, sometimes fast trails or roads, sometimes through deep snow and forest paths, and working for the future business, the days were gone before I knew it.

Mid march the Sun comes up around 10.30AM, and goes down around 4PM, and the 2 hours before and after it’s a very blue-ish dawn and dusk. The first week it was very cold, had a few nights of -20 or colder. Love that cold bite that hits you in the face early in the morning!

After a few days I left early in the morning to meet up with Marianne at Harriniva Kennel in Muonio. She is one of 6 dog-caretakers and tourist guides at a huge kennel of over 250 dogs. Due to the almost full foreign tourist blockade imposed by Finnish government, the kennel was virtually non-active. But the dogs still need their exercise, need care of course and they need attention most of all. To survive the financial drain that this blockade created, some kennels started an “adoption” program where you could donate money, and in return you became godfather or godmother to a dog. And this allows you to come and visit them, and do some sledding. Apart from that, the caretakers can bring friends and family to help train the dogs. So had a very nice sledrun with Marianne’s dogs. I’m used to strong working dogs, but these were relentless! 17 km with only a few minutes of rest, a huuuge sled that weighs easily 50 kgs, and me on it, braking most of the time to keep them from running into Marianne’s team.

Driving up and down to Muonio is either via the road to Kilpisjärvi, or via a road that drives either past or through the National park Pallas-Tunturi. Finnish Fell Lapland at it’s best!

I did a test run with a pulka-style sled that I had picked up in the Netherlands, it was great but my skiing skills need a lot of work. I guess when we move here it will get better a lot.

March 19th I got lucky! Clear skies, cold, and high aurora numbers! The Dancing fox appeared for a good show in the sky. I always get chills when they start flowing.

I also met up with Stefan, Andre, Desley and Hugo, 4 Dutch guys that live/work around Sirkka, better known as Levi, the ski resort. Stefan is the Campire Barista: either in remote locations or downtown Levi, he serves Lapland’s best coffee, prepared on an open fire, using his own coffee bean blend and custom home-made syrups. Nothing beats a cup of coffee when it’s freezing and snowing!

Andre is also a licenced ski-trainer, so we met up a few days later for a short refresh on my skiing. After a mere 45 min I was dead. OK, I’ll admit I’m no spring-chicken anymore, but my technique needs a lot of work too.

The second week the weather had turned much warmer, and I even had a bit of rain.

I met up with some local contractors, introductory meetings, some good leads there. And a very interesting video conference call with the local business bureau. It’s clear that support for starting your business in Lapland is a high priority and very well organised.

Second week I had another visit at Harriniva and trained with Marianne’s dogs. It was warm so we took a shorter route and more resting. The kennel-life is something I love, I did it in a previous life and wouldn’t mind starting a small kennel again…

The last days in Kallo were spent by working, training, sauna, a small tour on the snowsled, and a few good hikes. It was rather warm, a lot of snow had already melted and sledding had become a bit dangerous, the dogs would sink in all the way to their chest. But not complaining, a lot of mushers couldn’t even run on snow due to the travel bans.

An extra bonus on those car-trips to Finland? Coming back home stocked on Finnish groceries: Fazer chocolates, Piltti baby food and oats, Moomin stuff, Lonkero and… salmiakki candy and makkara. If there’s one thing I miss in Belgium is the facility and habit of quickly and easily lighting the sauna and a fire for some makkara…

The drive back started early afternoon. Everything packed up, dogs a good run, cabin stripped down. I managed to recover the water-pipe-heater, a 5-meter long heating wire that goes into the water supply pipe to prevent it from freezing. We had shut off the water at the mains already last fall.

Leaving is always a bit difficult. I always walk around the property just before driving of, taking in the sights and take some deep breaths of fresh air. With the rain, high temperatures and warm winds the snow was literally melting before my eyes.

Quick stop at the trash collection point, and next stops are Tornio-Pyhäjärvi-Jyväskylä-Lahti. We arrived well in time at Vuosaari harbour so I took the dogs to a free running dog area. They got to play with some dogs before heading to the check-in.

The rest of the return trip went by quickly. Dogs were behaving very good, and drove all night from Travemunde to home. It was good to be home. Back with Nina and Aamu, we celebrated Nina’s birthday that night and Aamu played with the dogs.

And then for the big news: the building permit for our mökki renovation came in in May! Since 2 weeks the online application has been moving around and the community gave it’s final go. Time to get cracking! Follow us via the mökki Instagram account:

https://www.instagram.com/villa_aamuaurinko/

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