I would be lying if I said I didn’t expect some sort of ceremonious “crossing into the arctic circle” roadside sign or border on our trip up north. There was no such indication. When we drove through Rovaniemi, we stopped at Santa Clause Village, the “official” home of Santa Clause. Across the street was a Shell gas station and truck stop with a café restaurant where we had lunch. This is a picture of the roof outside, the only indication that we had crossed into the Arctic Circle. Much less official than I anticipated.
Our cabin in Saariselkä was much nicer than I anticipated on a student-budget trip. Nestled in the snow banks on the outskirts of the village it was a nice place to relax after multiple days of exploring and adventure. A fire and a bottle of wine were all you needed to feel right at home here in the North. The cabin also had it’s own Sauna with a timer. In true Finnish fashion, we would set it to turn on half an hour before we arrived home at the end of the day, relax in the sauna for a while, and then startle ourselves awake again jumping into a snow bank off the back porch. Rinse and repeat
This picture was taken from halfway up Kaunispää-fell. We hiked to the top in the dark one night in a failed attempt to catch the Northern Lights away from the lights of the village. In the dark of the night on the way back down the fell you could see the lights of Saariselkä off in the distance. I mounted my camera to a signpost to the side of the trail and pointed it to the city on a 10-second exposure. This picture is a testament to the benefit of snow in the north. In the Arctic, where nights can last for months, the white snow reflects the light and makes weathering the long winters much more bearable.
Halfway through our dogsledding excursion we stopped at a hut in the middle of the woods to warm up by a fire. As our guide stoked the fire she shed light on the process of raising sled dogs. A team – a set of six female or five male dogs specifically paired up to complement each other, pulls each sled. Teams are tested young and as the dogs are raised they are slotted into different positions. The two dogs at the front are lead dogs; the smartest and most well behaved dogs of the pack. They are selectively bred and trained young to be leaders. Behind them – the middle dogs – are the younger, less well-behaved dogs, usually there to learn from the other four. In the rear are the stronger, older dogs. Despite being hardworking, well-trained sled dogs, the huskies at Husky Ranch slot right back into being man’s best friend when unharnessed and off-duty. Friendly and desperate for attention, playing with the many dogs rivaled the experience of dogsledding all together.
We chose to spend our last day of free time in Saariselkä on the local ski hill. This is the view facing North on the southern hill of the mountain – I use the term mountain liberally here. Boasting one chair lift and three T-bars, the runs were much tamer than what we were used to back home but the quality of the snow made up for what the terrain lacked. Light and fluffy, almost everything was powder, even the packed down runs couldn’t stay that way. None of the hills were crowded, thanks to the remoteness of the resort – we felt like we had the place to ourselves on most runs. It was a good way to say goodbye to Lapland.
Back in Helsinki with an expired gym pass and most of the snow and ice melted, I have begun running outside to stay active. We are fortunate to live near some of Helsinki’s few beaches in the western part of the city. Winding along the water and through the parks that surround the beach are nice trails and cycling ways that serve for great running routes on a sunny day. Back home I would rarely run outside if it was below 5 degrees out –spoiled by temperate BC winters. Here, -2 is a nice day for a run.
James is a recent graduate of the Marketing Communications program at BCIT, and is extending his time at the institute to earn his BBA. He currently lives in Helsinki, Finland where he is studying for a semester at the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences.