Even if the new year did not start the way many of us thought it would I was still happy to see the last of 2021. It’s been a tough year from beginning to end. The first half of it was marked by a difficult work situation leading to a burnout. The last bit of it brought new challenges due to a lack of snow, which made the logistics of training very hard. In addition new COVID measures were announced just a few weeks before Christmas making it unsure if any of the races were to happen this season too.
I am really keen on finishing a 200km race this year to qualify for something bigger next year. The goal is still to enter Finnmarksløpet, the biggest sled dog race on the continent, within the next few years and to be able to do that we have to start somewhere. The plan was to drive at least two smaller races last year but COVID intervened and it seemed like nothing might happen this season either. I know, postponing for a year does not sound all that dramatic, but there are a few factors at play that make it a bitter pill to swallow.
There’s time for one. Finding enough time to train while working a full-time job is like balancing on the edge of a knife. I still have to be careful about how much energy I use and how much I rest and recover while also trying to max out the amount of time I spend with the dogs. Then there’s the economics. It’s no surprise that it’s expensive to have 14 dogs and all the equipment that comes with them. The extra cost of having to drive long-distances every weekend to be able to train them combined with inflated prices for gasoline and exploded electricity prices suddenly put me on a quest for personal bankruptcy. Third, there’s the fact that the pack is ageing. If I cannot qualify in 2022 that means that they will become too old to continue and we’d have to start afresh with a new team, putting the whole project off for a few years, which in turn puts into question how far we can stretch the time and the economics. Plus, I’m really proud of how far this team has come compared to how they were when I first picked them up and it would be so rewarding to see them cross some finish lines.
For a little while I really didn’t know what I was doing or why I was doing it. What’s the point in putting so much time and money into a project where I just keep banging my head against the wall? In spite of two years of hard work I was still at the start. This lifestyle also comes with other major consequences. It has a big impact on my personal life, on the relationship between PJ and myself and on job and growth possibilities. Even when Femundløpet announced that the race would be happening the question marks were so large that they did not simply go away by themselves. It became hard to justify all of it or to see it go anywhere. I wondered if I was in over my head, if I should let it all go and maybe keep a smaller team just for recreation.
What I needed was to find back the joy of being out with the dogs, of spending time with them. I needed to find my drive back, feel like I was going somewhere, have my compass point in one direction and follow it. My whole foundation shook to its core and I felt lost at sea. For eight years I’ve been had this as a goal beyond all goals, to build a life in the forest and have my own team of sled dogs. Finnmark would be the cherry on top of the pie. I’d come so close but it seemed so far away. It all didn’t add up.
I’ve always been a very driven person and I always have a plan. Once I settle for one it’s all for the plan and the plan for all. There is never a plan B. This was the case for migrating, for the expeditions in New Zealand, Nepal and Norway and it’s the case now. Only this plan was bigger: we even bought a house in function of the plan (not that we wouldn’t like it otherwise, but honestly then we could have lived anywhere). The plan has never not worked out. Even though Pj and I didn’t finish skiing across Norway we did start the trip and gave it everything before we called it quits. I know failure is part of life, but not one that I acknowledge or deal with particularly well.
Last weekend Berit and I had a simulation race in our home mountains where we copied the distances and conditions of Femund as close as possible. It was only the second time this season I’ve been out in the mountains at home and the first time when the weather was actually good. I missed the panoramas we have on our trails, looking out over the spine of Norway from the glacier on Hardangervidda in the west to the sharp peaks of Jotunheimen in the north and the undulating peaks leading up to Høgevarde in the east. I missed the sunshine days at home looking at those fluffy butts, cruising through the mountains, forgetting about the world and not worrying about a thing. It struck me how happy I am when standing on a sled, in spite of all the things I’ve been worrying about.
No, I’m not ready to let it all go just yet. Though I’m quite aware that the way forward will not always be easy nor straightforward I love it too much to just call it quits. I haven’t given it everything I have just yet.
In just a couple of days Femundløpet is starting and if all goes well we’ll finally be able to qualify for anything but an entry-level race. I’m really looking forward to it while simultaneously feeling relief that after Femund the pressure will be off and the bad conditions won’t matter all that much anymore. From there on it’s only leisurely cruising around and spending quality time with the pack, awaiting the spring and bright days out in the mountains.