July 26, 2018 - This morning, Viking Sky is docked in Tromsø, Norway.
This afternoon, we disembarked the ship for our optional shore excursion "Husky Trek Through Arctic Hills."
We boarded the motorcoach for the 30-minute drive to Villmarkssenter, a Norwegian adventure company with more than 300 Alaskan Huskies. In the winter (which lasts about 7 months here), they offer dog-sledding excursions, some lasting four to five days!
Not long after disembarking the motorcoach, we get the first glimpse of the dogs. Most are laying on top of their wooden dog houses, most likely enjoying the warm sun, a rare commodity in this part of the world.
Our group of 36 is divided into two smaller groups, each with its own guide. Our guide delivers a brief explanation of how the hike will work. Anyone wishing to hike with one of the dogs will wear a harness around their waist to which the dog's leash will be attached. These dogs are way too strong to handle by holding a leash in your hand. Each dog is capable of pulling 130 pounds! In fact, the guide warned us not to wrap the leash around our hand lest we risk a broken hand!
It was at this point that Rickee decided to bow out of the dog portion of the hike, as did about half of our group. Instead, they will hike along with us through the Arctic tundra. The sun is shining today and it is much warmer than we expected. Our jackets are soon removed and wrapped around our waists. The scenery here is spectacular.
Once the I have the harness attached around my waist, the next step is to attach the leash which is attached to the dog's harness. My Husky is named Haggel (pronounced 'hoggle') and is one of the largest and most powerful in the group (of course).
Once everyone has their dogs attached to the harness, the guide begins walking, and when the guide goes, you had better be ready to go! Don't be mistaken, I am not walking the dog, the dog is walking me. Or, more accurately dragging me. These animals are bred and trained to pull, you don't walk them like a typical domestic dog. Their power is amazing.
The tundra is very mushy, so every step feels like you are walking in mud, and often, you are. The terrain is uneven and wherever the dog decides to go, you sort of have to follow. You can use the leash to direct the dog a little, but it takes a firm pull. You can tell, these dogs LOVE to pull. It was quite a workout, to say the least. Along the walk, Haggel would come upon a little depression in the tundra containing some rain water and want to take a drink. Our guide told us, if they want a drink, let them drink (like I could stop him!)
At one point, we all stopped to give the dogs, and ourselves, a rest. The dogs were tied up to trees and we had a chance to enjoy some cake, tea and coffee. The dogs are very friendly and love being petted. Whenever the group would stop, we were instructed to pull the dog in toward us using the leash, straddle him and start petting him. That is the signal for them to rest and stop pulling.
After about an hour of walking, I was worn out. This was pretty physically demanding, mostly because of the terrain. At some points, our boots would sink 6 or 8 inches into the mud. A couple of guests actually fell down during the excursion, but the ground is so soft, you can't really get hurt. At the end of the hike, the dogs are tied back up and we get an opportunity to see and play with the puppies!
The pups are only a couple of months old and three of them are awake and ready to play. Of course, this was the highlight of the tour. I think everyone who participated had a great time on this excursion. it was one I won't soon forget. We boarded the motorcoach for the drive back to Viking Sky, which was ready to sail from Tromsø as soon as we arrived.
This evening, we attended another production show, "Rat Pack Revisited," featuring the three male vocalists on board.
After the show, we are exhausted and ready for bed. We get back to our stateroom at around 11pm and the sun is still shining brightly. This truly is the Land of the Midnight Sun! Tomorrow, we will be in Honningsvåg, Norway.