One Man and his Dog
This month I want to share my experience of a lifetime.
I am very fortunate to have a beautiful family and a vocation I love. So, every once in a while I get the urge to help others less fortunate than me. Challenging myself not only to feed my slight addiction to adrenaline, but also in raising lots of cash for charities close to my heart.
I have always been fascinated by working dog breeds. Whether it’s a Jack Russel working on a farm helping out with pest control, or a Border Collie keeping the flock in check. Huskies though are the one breed I have always wanted to experience first-hand in their natural habitat.
It was to no one’s surprise that my destination of choice would be the Arctic.
Never having skied in my life, when I mentioned to my wife that I was planning to take on a 1000km Nordic ski expedition through the Finnmark in Norway and up to one of the most Northern parts of Europe during the Winter, her reply was, “I think you have finally lost it”! In a way, that motivated me to crack on!
After months of preparation and some very embarrassing roller ski sessions around Dorney Lake, I found myself boarding a light Aircraft bound for the Arctic Circle. Landing in Alta Norway, I was greeted by my Expedition Leader, Hans-Olaf and a very chilly Arctic wind. Next, it was a bumpy ride in an old Land Rover to base camp. It was evident, that despite having a dangerous trip ahead, our main priority was the care of our dogs that would be helping us along the way.
After several hours, we finally drove through the gates of base camp and quite honestly couldn’t believe the sight before me. Along one side there was row upon row of around 60 dog houses, each with the most amazing looking Husky sitting beside it. Each of them had an inquisitive look, wondering I guess, who was arriving in their little Town. I was told to make sure I was completely covered up before getting out of the vehicle as the temperature were close to -25 Degrees Celsius and the wind chill near double that.
Walking towards these dogs I didn’t know how they would react to someone they had never met. It felt like I had died, because it was so blooming cold and at the same time I’d gone to doggy heaven! Despite the Huskies not having the same level of socialisation as city dogs, they were remarkably calm and welcoming. After a good 30 minutes, I found myself being dragged away by Hans to pack our pull-carts and have a quick health and safety talk before finally meeting my four-legged Arctic partner, Ask.
Barry’s hero, Ask
Ask is an Alaskan Husky and probably the most beautiful and powerful dog I will ever meet. He was one of the most experienced dogs in the camp, safely having taken Explorers to the North Pole on three occasions and regularly leads a pack on Sledding Expeditions. I knew I was in safe hands (safe paws to be exact).
The dogs were to be attached to us by a long bungee style lead, but not to pull us along. They were trained to move in a zig-zag pattern in front, ensuring the ice sheets and snow were safe for us to pass and occasionally, more often than not in my case, help us plough through deep powder.
After a short nap, it was time to begin our journey through the Finnmark. The expedition was designed to take me through the most scenic parts of the Norwegian Arctic, but also through some of the most isolated parts of our world. I could go on about how gruelling this expedition was, but what really had a huge impact on me were the dogs. They took everything nature threw at them in their stride.
Their journey begins…
We skied 15-17hrs per day over frozen lakes and snow dunes. When it was time to set camp, it was a rush to get our tents up and start boiling snow to prepare food for our dogs, before starting our own. Which to be honest, came in a foil bag and wasn’t the tastiest food I’ve had but contained all the necessary nutrients needed to prepare us for the next day.
Barry, Hans-Olaf and the Boys taking a little break
The dogs would eat and immediately curl up next to their bowl and fall asleep. I was pretty shocked that they would sleep out the whole night, through blizzards and temperatures as low as -30 Degrees Celsius. When I asked Hans if we could bring the dogs in with us he said they acclimatise during Autumn for this weather and if we were to bring them in they would over heat and not be able to settle.
The first morning I woke, I’II never forget walking out to a landscape that had completely changed from the day before due to the amount of snow that had fallen overnight, I couldn’t find the dogs!
Where they had laid, the warmth of their bodies had created craters and the snow fall had completely covered them. Hans told me to look out for a small hole created by their breath near to where we had tied them and that would be where I’d find them.
Base camp with the pups
Day after day Ask led me safely through a land I only ever imagined existed on the moon. Standing his ground firmly through 100mph winds, blizzards and whiteouts. This breed is truly astonishing and genetically capable of surviving its Arctic home.
We were finally only 2 or 3km away from our finish. Trekking along the icy clifftops the skies opened to reveal one of the most dramatic landscapes I have ever seen, the Arctic Ocean coast line. Standing a near physically broken man, clearly lost some weight on the way, 5kg to be exact, I felt quite emotional, not only because I knew I had made it but I was getting closer to saying goodbye to my new best friend, Ask.
Getting close to saying their goodbyes
He didn’t know me from Adam yet was there every step of the way, listening to all my complaints, warming me up with the best cuddles a grown man could ask for and motivating me to keep going when I felt I didn’t have another step left in me. I still to this day have never felt a bond so strong. Ask is my Hero.
I have dedicated my work to ensure that working dog breeds that live in our city lead healthy, happy and stress-free lives. Nurturing their natural instincts as much as possible. Huskies love to work, all day if they had the opportunity to. I have seen so many Huskies in rescue centres all over the UK and the main reason for this is because they are such a stunning looking breed, often used in commercials, TV shows and even blockbuster movies that increases the appeal of owning one. The majority of working dog breeds need a lot of mental and physical stimulation and a confident, calm assertive pack leader to ensure they live healthy urban lifestyles.
Barry sailing home
I am so proud to have a raised a little over £17,000 which was shared between the children’s charity Right to Play and the animal rescue centre Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.
Hope you enjoyed the read.
Wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!