There is a lot different sports in the world. I don't even know all of them. But you might have figured out that dog sledding has become one of my favorite sports. The best part of this is. Women and men starts equally and it doesn't matter if you are 18 or 80. It's the person who has the strongest and fastest dogs, and at the same time lay out the best strategic rest for the dog through the race, who will win.
Mush Synnfjell had a lot of publicity for this years race. Lance Mackey had decided not to compete in any race this year except one. When Thomas Wærner announced that Lance Mackey is coming to Synnfjell to compete with his dogs, I guess the CEO and manager was more than honored to have him in the race. Mush Synnfjell isn't quite as famous as many other races here in Norway.
If you are not familiar with competitors in dog sledding races, you might wonder. Who is Lance Mackey?
Lance Mackey is an American musher from Fairbanks Alaska, who is a four time in a row winner of the Yukon Quest (1000 mile) and four time in a row winner of the Iditarod (1000 mile). He has quite a history behind him. Fighting against cancer, suffered nerve damaged in a finger, and had pretty big legacy to carry, which I think he manages to maintain far and beyond what people would expected to see.
(want to read more about Lance and the races, find links at the end of the blog)
I had just gotten back to the car after an afternoon run with my dogs. It wasn't hard to realize that Tore Halden was having people over, because there were cars blocking the way out. I could see movements in the conservatory. Tore was sitting there along with some other friends just taking a brief smoke break, signaling that I should come inside.
My mom usually tells me I walk around as an elephant. As I stumbled in to the conservatory I didn't feel less as an elephant with all the layers of clothing and shoes protecting me from the cold. Tore could see my reaction and told me I could head on inside with the shoes on.
As the glass door opened I stepped into a warm huge kitchen. In the middle of the kitchen was a long big table with recognizable people sitting around, most of them mushers like me, but non of them were talking. Some of them barely turned around as I came stomping inside. But their attention fell back on the English speaking man with a pony tale and cap on, sitting at the other end of the table chattering about excitingly. Lance Mackey was telling stories about the Iditarod race and the mushers from the other side of the Atlantic ocean. It took me some time to understand the story right a way, since I just stumble in to it.
Lance had dozed off at one of the checkpoints in the Iditarod race. Jeff King came in and saw Lance resting at the fireplace with his feet on the table. Jeff knew he needed to rest his eyes a bit too, but he couldn't let Lance run off while he was sleeping. Jeff sat down next to him and lifted his feet and laid them on top of Lance's feet. Jeff smiled as he closed his eyes. Now I'll know when he leaves.
Okay, Lance didn't tell the story like this, but that is how I pictured it when he had finished the story.
Tore had brought me a big plate of food in the mean time and I was enjoying every bit of it. Birgitte Næss, a well know musher in Norway was seizing the moment to ask Lance questions about how he does things back home in Alaska. Training, puppies, breeding. All very exiting questions I would ask too.
As the chatter and laughter continued on. I was sitting there listening to everything. I even got dessert after my big meal. Tore told me he didn't want any left overs. I felt like I ate for the rest of the week.
I'm not much of a big talker when I end up in big groups, I really like to listen. But at the end, when everyone was preparing to leave. Lance came over to give me a handshake and introduce him self, as I came in later than the others and I guess he did see me.
I found out that day, Lance is a really cool, relaxed and laid back type of guys who LOVES telling stories and interact with other people. But I have to admit, I don't agree with all his methods of training and breeding. But it is obvious that he is doing something right when it comes to competitions.
Lance Mackey was not the only international musher coming for the Mush Synnfjell race. At my place, a Spanish couple was renting one of my rooms. They had been at my place since December 13th.
Two Frenchman was renting a cabin not far from Tore Halden, also competing in the race.
And a man from South Africa, currently living in Bergen were coming to compete too. It's exciting, when a little place like Synnfjell gets visitors from international mushers.
Over the years I have heard from mushers competing in Mush Synnfjell, that it is a very stressful race, specially in the beginning.
Mush Synnfjell has based their race on the public, bringing excitement to the audience watching. It might be stressful, but then again, Isn't it a competition? You have to learn to keep your nerves at bay.
The beginning is nearly there. People have crowded around the arena. The speaker is starting to count down from 10, 9, 8...
48 Musher and sleds are on a line. They are ready to jump out of their sleeping bag when the flag falls, the dogs are standing on a line behind each sled. Equipment located beside the sled. Dogs barking, eager to head out. Handlers are keeping an eye on the dogs to make sure no fights will occur. Hearts are pounding. There are between 8-16 dogs on each team. all depends on how many you dogs you signed on for the race. It will be a race to get out in front first.
...3, 2, 1, GO...
As a musher I understand why many mushers feel like this is stressful. But you learn to get your nerves at bay, you learn to handle equipment fast and sturdy, you need to learn how to have the best efficient packing. When you master does skills, all this can be fun, which I think competition is all about. And it is a nice warm up for the bigger races later in the year. This will come as a good skill a long every checkpoint.
Mush Synnfjell is around 200 km, with two Checkpoint, Halden and Fløytedammen.
Checkpoint Halden is also a place for audience. The whole place is open, and you can walk anywhere. They have Campfires around in the slops and field that you can warm yourself at and socialize with volunteers, mushers and handlers. It might be more activities there in the beginning, but I have never been there on time to see the Mushers come to the checkpoint. I'm usually found back at the beginning offering dog sledding rides for kids. And there are always tons of them wanting a ride. For them, Sledding is like a roller coster.
But what I do get to see is when they head out on the trail again. And heading up the steep slope turns out to be a bit challenging. Didn't see any tip over this year, but one did last year.
Fløytedammen is a wilderness checkpoint. I have never been to this checkpoint. There are volunteers there, keeping campfires going as far as I know. They also keep an eye on the dogs taken out of the race. Maybe they have some food for the mushers too. But there are no audience, no handlers, just Musher. You can finally get some peace and rest from the public eye. All they can see is a GPS dot on the internet. I believe you get a feeling like you are on a camping trip with fellow mushers, and that is all you want and need. Wilderness Checkpoints are always a Mushers Favorite.
It's early and still dark. The trails have been hard. The French Musher, Pontier has held a high speed through the race with his 12 dogs. He went so fast that there where almost no one at the finish line when he came in. He was just there when we came out from the hotel to cheer on him as he cross the finish line.
But not to far behind. Elisabeth Edland came cruising in through the skiing trail and into the finish line. The only way to know was the headlamp on Elisabeth's head shining bright in the dark. Even though she didn't get first place. She had one goal, to beat Lance Mackey with her "big" dog team. If you don't know Mushers her in Norway. Elisabeth Edland is a well know musher in Norway competing in the 8 dog team classes. I have never seen her with more than 8 dogs. So as that comment left her mouth, most people knew it was irony and started laughing. Lance came in behind her on third place with 12 dogs. Just so you understand the irony in it.
As the sun started waking up, peeking a little over the mountain top. Lance came back to the finish line. He wanted to greet the other Mushers as they cross the finish line. No other Musher did that as I could see. I don't know much about Iditarod race or if it is a costume to do it over there. If not, I think it say a lot about Lance as a person.
As we were waiting for more Mushers to cross the finish line, some of the audience wanted a photo with Lance. But for me, I just had one question to ask him.
Me: How was the beginning of the race? Was it stressful? Lance: It was FUN!
Mush Synnfjell 2017 Video by David Lewis