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Pole to Pole

Day 18: Karasjok

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleSven Engholm is the Martina Navratilova of dog-sled racing. He's won the Finnmarkslopet, Europe's longest race, nine times. Like everyone else in this inhospitable northernmost corner of the continent he has a mobile telephone and a shrewd eye for a tourist opportunity. In the laavu in his garden, a few miles from Karasjok, he and his wife Ellen serve us a traditional Same lunch. Smoked salmon, with egg and fresh-baked brown bread, is followed by reindeer bouillon and reindeer stew served from a smoke-encrusted black pot over an open fire. We sit on reindeer skins and eat off wooden platters. Just when you think the meal is getting conventional, Sven produces a large hunting knife, reaches for a charred brown lump hanging above the fire and offers each of us a slice of dried reindeer heart with our coffee.

The dogs which Sven breeds so successfully are outside in a compound. Thirty-seven adults and ten yearlings. They seem wildly hyperactive, straining at their leads, barking and lunging at Sven as he passes. I suppose the secret of being a good musher (as they call the dog-sled drivers) is to be able to translate this manic energy into forward momentum. That Sven and his team can race 1000 kilometres across the frozen Finnmark plateau in less than five days is an indication of his success. During our interview, as Sven is earnestly explaining the need for the dogs to relate socially, not just to each other, but to people as well, I notice the camera crew convulse with laughter. Seconds later I feel a warm, damp glow on my trousers. I look down just in time to see that one of Sven's dogs has just finished relating socially to my right leg.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 18
  • Country/sea: Norway
  • Place: Karasjok
  • Book page no: 37

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