Thursday, March 12, 2009

Finnmarkslopet 2009: Part 10 - Tana

Every checkpoint has it´s own charm, that is totally without any doubts. But Tana has completely surpassed all my expectations. No wonder that many teams take their 16 hour mandatory rest here.

It was a lot of driving through the wide valley of Tana river, surrounded by the bare mountain landscape, to reach this tiny town, so far up north.

At first I thought, how the heck are we all (dog trucks) gonna fit in here, on a parking lot behind the Tana Hotel. But it showed up, that the hotel has also cabins to rent, toillets, showers, kitchen and other "outside" facilities, with it´s own large parking space, and just a few steps away from where the drop bags are stored for mushers to take, and where teams rest, on a small meadow, protected from wind and bad weather by trees that surround three sides of it.

The teams came out of the wilderness right into town, crossed the main road and arrived to a beaufitully prepared finish line, elevated to higher level, by adding perfectly hard packed snow right under the finish line arch. A huge snow sculpture of a dog team (complete, with sled and musher) welcomed arriving teams, standing right by the finish line, and reporters from NRK (Norwegian National Television) and local comentators kept crowds entertained while waiting for the teams. Several mushers had been interviewed as they arrived.

Infront of the hotel, right beside the finish line, a real nordic outside market took place. Folks (many of which were Saami people) were selling everything from food made on open fire, home baked cakes and pies, to raindeer skins, raindeer hand made boots, mittens, woolen nitted gloves, boot liners and other handicrafts, heavily used in the harsh winter conditions, not just by the Saami people that call this area home, but also by mushers and other outdoor enthusiasts. In the north part of Scandinavia, everyone will tell you that handcrafted woolen and skin products are more valuable and functional, than much of the hi-tech equipment. As a result of that, you see most mushers wear woolen mittens, boot liners, sweaters, hats, pants, etc., while their feet are protected by sealskin, raindeer or filt boots, with liners made of wool, sled dog hair and birch bark. Back to basics big time! And I totally love it.

Lit up candles charmed the whole atmosphere even more and an ice sculpture of a bear welcomed everybody inside the hotel restaurant, opened whole night. A festival of Saami song singers and other artists was on for the mushers and race followers, and I thouht it was an awsome cultural event idea, of bringing the race together with the local culture and traditions. A perfect harmony and cooperation.

The race office was situated downstairs, in a large school room, where Tana´s high school students, that help running this checkpiont, worked on laptops to bring the latest race updates to the world. The walls were decorated with all musher profiles and photos, made by the students.
Mushers had a large common room for sleeping, while race officials and vets had the other one.

Among the first teams that arrived to Tana were Nina Scramstad, Sigrid Ekran, Harald Tunheim, Inger-Marie Haaland and Kjell Brennodden.
Mikael arrived at quater to eleven at night and looked a bit tired. He said the trail was "rocky mountains". This was the longest leg of the race, 110km between Levajok and Tana. Mikael will take the mandatory 16h. layover here and is schedulled to leave at 15:12. Time differential (equalization of time difference from the starting times) will be done for each team during their 16 hours rest. Mikael will be dropping Mimmi here, as well, as she is tired. Mimmi is one of the youngest dogs on his team, she is just 2 years and she is doing very well, not just working, but also handling all the stress and hustle around. This shy, yet curious girl with puppyish look and behaviour sure did a great job, running 323km of the race.

As we waited for Mikael to arrive, before I found myself a spot on the floor of the cozy, well heated race office (which, beside other "luxury" had plugs for recharging mobile phones!), I went in the restaurant to have a cup of coffee and try one of the delicious apple pies, as Paula rested in the car, catching up on sleep. My original plan was to have something warm to eat, but there was a power shut down and the whole checkpoint ran on generator. Folks in this part of the world are simply prepared for everything and I learned from the handlers and race officials, that power shortage is very common during the race, in these artcic areas. The restaurant was crowded anyway, candle lights on every table made everyone feel welcome.

I dropped Kayla and Dotty and made Kayla a warm soup, in order to keep her rehidrated after the tough running in the race, and went to bed. After a short hour of sleep, Paula woke me up to make coffee for Mikael. Let me tell you, being more than half asleep, after sleeping only couple hours in the past 12 hours, in dropping temperature, is quite a challenge to make a good coffee.
After watching Mikael take care of the team, I took spare food, left over from the drop bag and fed Dotty and Kayla. That means I´ll have to get up again in 2,5 hours, to let them out. Mikael was quite tired and asked me if I could have a look at the team during the night, when I go to drop the two girls, and if anything is wrong (dogs without blankets, not resting properly, etc.), I should wake him up.

After 1,5 hours of sleep, I dragged myself out of the cozy sleeping bag (funny, how a sleeping bag, designed for 30 below, and woolen socks and sweater on, don´t make you sweat at all, even in a room with temperature around +20/25°C, when you are tired) and went into the night again. The temperature dropped to about -15°C as I could guess. Some of the festivities were still going on and it was 3:30 in the morning! I dropped the girls, took Kayla for a short walk to move her stiff shoulder a bit and gave her a short massage. When I checked on the resting team, they were totally one with the ground - sleeping hard and deep. All but couple had their blankets on, but they were all so well snuggled in the thick straw beds, that I thought it is not worth waking Mikael up. He also needed a good long rest.

Among the resting teams, I saw Roger Dahl, and since he was one of the front runners, and those already left, I figured out he was taking his 16 hours mandatory layover here as well.
All teams were already in or out (on the way to next checkpoint Neiden), but the team of Jana Henychova from my home country of Czech Republic was still on the trail. I spoke shortly with one of her handlers and he told me she had to take extra rest in Levajok, as the dogs didn´t want to eat. But he said she was already on her way, and should arrive shortly.

And that is about all from the night in Tana.

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