Traveller's Tale

Karin Curman warms to the challenge of an Alaskan adventure.

The alarm wakes us at 8am. Where am I? Then it all comes back: my husband and I had flown into Anchorage the night before and we are about to start a 10-day dog-sled expedition through Alaska's frozen interior. We will fly from Anchorage by small charter plane to Lake Minchumina, an isolated community on the other side of the Alaska Range. We will each drive our own team of up to seven Alaskan huskies, which will pull our sleds to the base of Mount McKinley, Alaska's highest mountain, and sleep in a tent - in the middle of winter.

Listening to the traffic through our hotel window, I know that it has snowed. Growing up in Germany there is no sound quite like it: the snow has covered the whole town in a thick blanket; the traffic sound is muffled. My heart sinks - we have to get to Lake Minchumina today or the expedition will leave without us. At the airport we meet our pilot, Doug, who is standing on the wing of his small propeller plane, sweeping. "As soon as I can see 100 yards, we'll be taking off," he says. He has other important cargo - crates and boxes of apples, broccoli, oranges and other groceries. We take off balancing fresh produce on our laps.

The visibility is still zero and I doze off - to be woken by the rough landing on the frozen lake. Although we are wearing our entire wardrobe for the mushing trip, the ice-cold air takes our breath away. Our hosts and two guides give us large bib-style pants and an Arctic anorak with a hood to put over our ski clothes. We are instantly warm. Next we are introduced to our enthusiastic dog teams and given a crash course on mushing.

"Driving the sled is quite easy, you'll get the hang of it soon," we're told. "The most important thing to remember is that if you fall off your sled, never ever let go of the handlebars! The dogs will just keep on running, they never stop. You will be left standing in the wilderness, watching your mode of transport, your shelter, food and drink disappear. Without those things you'll be ill-equipped to survive. The temperature can drop to minus 40 or even minus 60 degrees."

With that cheerful introduction, we start our real adventure.

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