FINNARKSLOPET ( www.finnmarkslopet.no
FIRST CZECH WOMAN AT FINNMARKSLOPET 2008,
THE WORLD´S NORTHERNMOST SLED DOG RACE
A famous Czech musher Jana Henychova and
her Siberian Husky sled dogs achieved a really unique success.
She is the first Czech women in history to take a part in an extreme
500km sled dog race in Norway Finnmarkslopet. Jana and her eight
dogs set on the trail in a Norwegian town Alta on 8 March and
safe and sound they all crossed the finish line on 12 March -
in 3 days, 20 hours and 6 minutes. Only 32 competitors out of
58 entering the race finished it. Jana Henychova on the 24th place
was one of them.
/ Czech Press Agency/
There are five or may be ten years of hard work, endless training,
pain and effort behind this short announcement of the Czech Press
Agency. The very first thought that I could try an adventure of
this scale came to me when my B-litter of puppies was born in
2003. I kept four of them and there came the temptation that with
such dogs in my team I could do something great. Taking this decision
I sacrificed everything considered normal: a partner, a prospect
of a family, a “proper” job… Looking back I declare: No regrets,
it was worth is it!
As time went, the puppies grew up and more young ones were born.
Suddenly I reached the point of decision: I have got enough good
dogs for this race, I pulled all my courage together and sent
my application to take a part in Finnmarkslopet 2008. A real breaking
point was getting in touch with Johanne Sundby who found me somewhere
on the internet and contacted me. Where she found me remains a
secret to me, but it was probably meant to happen… Our discussions
followed by my visit to a seminar in Hadakal sled dog club and
training consultations and support from Geir Wiik suddenly made
my plan look much more realistic.
The training itself started in August last year. The dogs run
and run and before the actual race had over 2000 km in their paws.
I started training all twenty dogs, then I chose fourteen to come
to Norway with me and finally I selected the best eight for the
racing team. We arrived to Alta a month before the race at the
beginning of February. We travelled through Poland, Baltic States
and Finnland to Utsjok. We followed the trail of the race from
Utsjok to Alta. We arrived to Alta after a 5 day and 3500 km long
Everything felt strange in Alta and we felt like total strangers
there. Everything was different, unfamiliar and we didnt know
a soul. Arnt Holger Jensen, one of the few people in Alta who
own and love Siberian Huskies, soon became the most important
person for me. As bizzare as it sounds, he is the one and only
in Alta, proud of his pure-breed dogs who seem to be lost amongst
all those Alaskans - just like a rare specimen. It was very kind
and obliging of him to support me and my team with such determination
to get through the race to the finish line.
However he was not the only one. I had a great supporter in another
Siberian Husky lover Hans-Christian Orjeatad from Oslo. He organized
meat supply for my dogs from a comp. VOM og Hundemat. I collected
the meat at Rodger Dahls. Rodger, one of the most famous mushers
in Europe, told me how to make portions of meat and taught me
a lot of almost life-saving things about feeding the dogs during
the race. His ears must have been ringing almost constantly when
I was on the trail as I remembered his words dozens of times.
I am convinced that without all that meat and information I would
have hardly finished the race!!! I have to admit that my beloved
doggies put a lot of weight on during our stay in Norway. ?
We arrived to Alta one month before the race, so we had enough
time to acclimatize and get used to the local conditions, very
different to what we knew from our homeland. Training in the Czech
Republic is mostly about zigzagging forest trails, passing houses,
crossing roads, bending our dogs in sharp turns. And there was
Norway… A vast flat plateau, where you see neither its end nor
its beginning, just blue colour. I expected something different.
The landscape took me by surprise so as the snow did – being so
different then the snow I know and am used to. The Czech snow
is soft, fluffy and smooth just like a feather duvet. The Norwegian
snow is rough, powdery and it hurts and wears down the dogs paws.
I had to buy booties for all my dogs and I spent a lot of time
learning how to use them properly.
The time was ticking and our Day D was getting closer and closer…
We get to the start as the very first. It needs a certain amount
of skills and enough space to manoeuvre the car and the 5m trailer.
Other competitors – mushers - start slowly coming here as well.
The frantic mummery starts right here. The time flies and everything
is getting inevitably close and real. I have butterflies in my
stomach and my whole body trembles with an inner feeling of desperation.
Thousand times repeated rutine takes over and I do all I have
to do on an auto-pilot. I am putting on the dogs´ harnesses, their
booties, and we begin to harness the sled. Finally the helpers
in their yellow waistcoats come and lead us to the starting line.
The starting corridor is full of lined up dogsleds as every minute
one competitor after another crosses the starting line. The air
vibrates with maddening noise of barking dogs, loud music and
the speaker’s stream of words from the loud speakers topped up
with a ramble from a passing helicopter… And here I am at the
start. I feel a heartbreaking cry of desperation deep inside my
soul that cannot be seen. The last minute before the start...
And here comes THREE, TWO, ONE and GO!!! The dogs shoot out as
bullets and we are almost flying through the corridor surrounded
by hundreds of people. Everyone shouts and waves. It is mad. I
wave too and my heart is beating as strong as a bell. Going through
the start here is the ultimate life experience!
I enter the race with an incredibly heavy sled. Nobody cares
how heavy it is, what you carry with you is what matters. The
sled is full of the compulsory equipment: dog food, food for the
musher, spare clothes, a sleeping bag, a stove, spare dog booties,
compasses, the complete set of maps with marked trail, a long
knife or an axe, a pot for boiling water, a veterinary book and
an emergency signal flare.
we are on 42nd minut
The sled is full as it can be with almost nothing else to fit
in and it is almost impossible to lift it. Franta Chlan´s sled
slides greatly and I feel how smoothly we move forward.
is all quiet at last. The trail goes on a frozen river, mile after
mile, on and on. How long is five hundred kilometers? No, I must
not think like that!!! We are heading to Jotka now. It is 53 km
and another 88 km to Skoganvaare. From Skoganvaare the trail leads
us to Levajok settlement on the side of the mountains. Then we
descend to a river which makes a natural border between Norway
and Finland. This part of the race is 88 km long. Now on the trail
follows the river for the next 86 km and it will take us to Karasjok.
It´s only 20 km from Karasjok to Jergul then, but we will have
to climb from the river to the upper plateau, cross it and descend
back to the river and add another 69 km. The trail follows the
river from Jergul to Jotka, then it slowly goes up on the frozen
steams and lakes and to a great lake Iesajarvi. Passing the lake
and a small mountain ridge we will get back to the 80th kilometer
to Jotka and then back to Alta following the same 53 km long route.
It starts to get dark at about 6PM. A vast blueish slightly undulating
plain is all I can see as far as I can see. As the daylight fades
I see nothing else but the yellow beam of my headlamp and my dogs´
butts rocking. This view is really and truly the most important.
I have to check everyone is alright and healthy. That is crucial,
so I check and check again. It´s all unpenetrably black around
the headlight beam and I suddenly feel like being back at home,
in the Jizera mountains. I clearly sense the tall spruces standing
around in the dark protecting me. I am thinking about this illusory
effect. I shoot the headlight aside twice and suddenly I feel
the black night´s emptiness and desolation. I also feel like standing
on the edge of a cliff falling deep into darkness. Quickly I shoot
the light back at the dogs and build a vision of a trail taking
me through the dark forrest in my head.
I look at my watch to check the time and mileage. I have a great
feeling after getting through Jotka that it is only 88km now.
As we make our way formard I start to feel that it is all going
fine, but we could already be there. I check my technology just
to find out that we still have about 40 km more to go. I sit in
a snow hole and the dogs are having a rest. It´s dark all around
me. Just a thought: Is it possible to give up the race here? There
are no roads here and the first civilization is in those 40km.
I learnt at the pre-start seminar that they start looking for
a lost competitor 24 hours after the last contact. The thought
of waiting here for a day before somebody rescues me makes me
get the dogs up and off we go again.
We are still going inside of a black tunnel. Good that I have
the GPS with the trail marked. I can clearly see my position,
the display also shows me various little lakes and streams… In
reality I see none of it. All I can feel is a deep powdery snow
crushing under my feet. I zoom up and down, but soon I give up.
My last distance info says that we only moved 500m forward! I
help my dogs to shove the sled and immerse back into my thoughts.
We go on and on.
We take a break every two hours to check the dogs and arrange
back their booties. It is their snack time too. I carefully scan
that everyone eats. Who eats, goes and is at ease… Who doesn’t
eat gets a ride in the sled bag to rest for a while. We are moving
steadily and we reach Skoganvaare at 01.30AM.
one stake out next to another marked with numbers. A lot of mushers
have already gone or are just leaving when I get here.
I make the dogs beds from straw at the check points. Each competitor
can use one pile of straw. I prepare drinks for the dogs and make
their hot main course. In a moment they snuggle down into the
straw. I massage them using Algyval ointment. I dress each dog
into a warm outfit so their muscles could have a rest as well.
No one protests. I wrap them all into blankets and then no one
turns a hair and sleeps.
I wake up after three hours of sleep and it´s morning already.
I see that we are neither first not last. It freezes, the temperature
is below zero, the sun is shining and the right positive thoughts
are taking over my mind. It is only 88 km, just over the hill,
so we should be there in a while.
The truth is somehow different. After a fairytail start with a
snow covered countryside bathing in the sunhine, the trail starts
to rise steeply along a side of the mountains. A strong wind starts
blowing. The blasts of wind are whipping us with an incredible
speed and force. I put my glasses on and tighten all the covers
around my face and head. Running through such wind is not new
for me, I am not afraid of it and I know that the dogs do not
mind it either. It is important to follow the navigation poles
and not to let the dogs be blown away from the trail. I learned
later that a musher from Wales had turned back at this point thinking
that it wasn´t possible to pass through such a gale. .. I think,
he must have been there when the wind blew even more…Never mind,
worse moments are to come… We get over the hill and no one’s footsteps
are to be seen in the deep snow. We must find our way forward
by ourselves again. The poles only show the direction but do not
say where the hard and ridden trail is. When the leader dogs step
off the trail, they sink up to their ears in a deep snow. Danny
lies down in a while with ‘I am fed to to look for something all
the time’ look on his face. He can´t see the trail. I am trying
other adepts from the back rows but they don´t seem to understand
what I want them to do. The second we stop, the dogs immediately
start to dig their dens in the snow ready to fall asleep. I take
over the leadership and pull the dogs myself. It´s getting dark
and the very last thing I want is to get trapped here overnight.
We come across a ski doo scooter trail. The dogs perk up and happily
follow my cry: “Let’s get out of here, guys!” they start running
merrily in the luxuriously prepared trial.
Levajok. We arrive after a little navigation problem. We did 88km
in 12 hours. I decide to let the dogs have a rest for as long
as possible. I need a good sleep too. Those ones who know say,
that we have got through the worst. It should be easier now on.
We follow an amazing frozen river trail till we reach Karasjok.
It gets warmer to only minus 1C. The temperature dropped down
to minus 43,6C in 2006. I am gratefull for gentle minus 1C.
We move on towards Jergul. We set on our way at 1AM. The trail
rises to an upper plateau and here comes the dawn. Everything
seems to be in a blue haze. The miniature birches peep out from
the haze. There are only various shades of white and blue in front
of us. I can’t tell where the horizon blends with the sky. It
is like a white-blue marinade. Suddenly I hear voices around me.
As if somebody is laughing. I feel dizzy from the lack of sleep.
What is it? I stop the dogs and listen carefully. It´s calm again.
The sound comes and goes. What is it? I remember Arnt´s stories
about snow elves and Trolls. I realise how easily one can start
believing all the stories and legends here. I am a smart realistic
woman and I have to smile at my imagination. But if a Troll appeared
in front of right now, I woulndn´t be surprised…
We are riding through the blue-white haze. I watch the never-changing
countryside around me.
It really is exactly how the experienced mushers had described
it to me before the race. Dogs, that are cared for properly, get
through this race easily and without big problems. Problems stick
with the humans. It is them who don´t finish the race. It is mainly
the people who cannot persuade their minds anymore that the end
As I say, the bigest psychological support for me is my GPS navigation
with the marked trail. I always know exactly where I am and how
much is left. There is the estimated arrival time too. It has
to be maddening to stand somewhere in the darkness, stuck in a
deep snow not knowing how fast I am moving forward or how long
I have to carry on for. I am sure I would feel really bad without
this psychological help.
relax for nine hours In Jergul. Surprisingly the dogs are in a
very good shape. They eat, drink and set on the trail with at
least some enthusiasm. Leaving Jergul we could feel the temperature
dropping again. The dogs start to run slowly but with the coming
dark they fly like during a sprint competition. We feel a hard
trail under our feet for the first during the whole race. We have
run in “snow-sand” untill now. The dogs run fast and I believe
they smell a reindeer or other animals because to run like this
after 368 km is amazing. I tighten the rope around my hand even
more – I don´t want them to loose me here. Everything looks promising.
We go under a bridge where we were taking pictures of the river
while training here one month ago and we rush to the Ieshajarvi
lake. The trail winds on frozen streams and lakes - higher and
higher. We are back in the darkness again. A light aurora borealis
can be seen in the distance. Just a touch of it, nothing special,
we have seen a better one ?.
We come to a place where we turned around during training here.
Becky (my leader) and I remember this place very well. I know
that we are going up a little hill now and then down and down
to a lake. And there will be Jotka. We know our way from Jotka…
I know I can´t stop because I would not make the dogs get up anymore.
We have to go and finish it…
Just behind Jotka we cross a road in a place where Zdena (my doghandler)
used to wait for us with our car during the training. Becky is
turning back to me and I can see she feels betrayed that I make
her go further up the hill. Becky, I promise, you have a place
on my sofa reserved till the end of your life! I promise!!! We
climb the hill. The rest of the trail gently descends to Alta.
I hand out the last snacks to the dogs. But I also have to go
to “toilet”. Before I take everything off and put all the electronics
back on I find out that the dogs are fast asleep. I will always
recall this moment as a moment of a true crisis. I drag all of
them behind me to make them get up and move on. It is down the
hill and we very slowly move on. I control the speed of the sled.
I do hope they start running…
Yet again I feel dizzy from the lack of sleep and tiredness.
I have been riding all night and it´s getting bright now. I am
standing on the sled tightened to it to make sure that I don´t
fall off. I still have to keep an eye on the dogs. When I concentrate
and focus my eyes only into one place I almost fall unconscious.
What do I do now? I can´t I stop and sleep here, such a short
way to the finish!! I put my hand into a pocket and fill my mouth
with everything I can find in a subconscious movement. It works!!!
When the mouth moves, the eyes do not shut!!! I keep stuffing
myself with chocolate, dry fruit and glucose tablets till I am
wide awake. The temperature is just about zero. When it was below
zero, the dry fruit was crunching, now it´s chewy.
It took the dogs some time to start running, but we continue
in our standard speed in a while. The mood in the team improves
a lot as we get into some trees. A shimering cloud covers Alta
as the sun rises. We still have about about 40km to go. We are
going slightly up among trees, not just on the vast plains and
I can see the first log cabins. My little hunters start hunting
again. Go on, we MUST NOT stop!
We are coming to a river and we already know it here. We pass
the Ice Hotel, Rodger’s place where I used to collect stones and
where we were filming with a tripod. But who is it peering at
us from behind that bush? There are two elks standing there staring
at us. It is so close now…
After a long zigzagging we reach the first houses and we get
to the main road. Of course, Becky pulls the sled from the snowy
sidewalk onto the tarmac road and my eight crazy dogs dragg me
behind without any control what so ever. There is a lady with
two little dogs standing aside at a little fence. My hunters put
on a higher gear. We fly by the doggies and… I can see the finishing
line! We are here at last… It is such an incredible relieve. This
really is the end. How many kilometres have we done? 500? Not
possible!!! We have done it!!!
The dogs are lying down getting their much deserved snacks. I
accept congratulations, it is too early and everyone is sleepy.
Next time I will get the timing right!
We have done: altogether 501km in 57h 39min. We spent 33h 58min
resting. Our total time: 3days 20hours 06min. Result
32 mushers out of 58 (from 10 European countries) entering the
race finshed it. Our team came 24th. I started with eight dogs
and finished the race with all of them! I brought them up since
they were puppies and six of them come from my own breed.
FROM COMING TO THE FINISH
No one is interested if you have pure-breed dogs or not in this
race. Everyone starts together. But people know… Just finishing
the race is credited by respectable breeders. The teams of pure
breeds seem to be rather unique, something like a memory of the
good old times. No one who breeds the Alaskans can understand
how others can race with Siberian Huskies or Malamutes.
Personally I am very proud to finish the race and would like
to pay a compliment to all Siberian Huskies. The fantastic and
wonderful animals that can captivate your heart and change your
life for good.
I have 24 dogs now. It is sad to see your four-legged friends
age. It takes two or three years to bring up a dog and teach it
something. When it is about eight years old you see the old age
coming and the dogs unwillingness to keep up with the young energetic
You need at least 8 dogs to build a good team for 500 km long
race. You need 14 dogs for 1000 km race. I believe I have a chance
to prepare 14 of my dogs for the next year 1000 km. Then I will
have more pensioners. I have about three good years ahead of me
and I should be able to go to the big races. Then we will retire,
sit back and tell stories about how good we used to be. My dogs
are my friends, my family and therefore they will stay and live
with me till their last days. I really do not plan having more
dogs. I have different plans. When we come to the age of retirement
I will write a book about my dogs. But now it is time to fight
My plan is to try the 1000 km race next year. With this year experience,
I know the dogs can do it. It is possible to prepare dogs well
for such a race even in my homeland – the Czech Republic. They
need good quality training, diet and care. I will be the first
Czech person to stand at the start of the thousand kilometre race.
If I make those 1000 km I will be one of the few mushers from
the continental Europe who did it. I would also be the first not-Norwegian
women who succeeded. If I do the 500 km again next year, I know,
we will not be much faster. So, it is time to do 1000 km now!
To prepare and train the dogs and organize everything will be
a success itself. What I know for sure that just to stand on the
starting line side by side with the best mushers in the world
will be a great honour for me!!!
I spent a month in Alta. I left it as a place of my heart full
of new friends. I left a place where I want to come back again…
I would like to send my biggest THANK YOU to all my helpers
and all my new friends from Norway who were very supportive and
helpful to make my dream come true. Thank you very much!!!