The robust and very hot breakfast of porridge leaves us cozy for a new boreal day. A trip over semi-snowy roads around Kuusamo takes us to the Oulanka National Park Visitor Center.
Normally, in these parts, at the beginning of winter, we are greeted by people with sophisticated synthetic outfits that protect them from the frigidity that seizes the scenery. They also come equipped with the latest telecommunications technology, not always domestically produced, to the detriment of Finnish finances and self-esteem.
Era Susi: A Unique Character from Finnish Lapland
When we come across Era Susi, the exception jumps out in such a way that it disturbs us.
We see ahead of us a small human specimen, something rare for the Suomi population. Long, light brown beards, slightly gray, hang from his rosy cheek, from which deep blue eyes stand out.
The beards merge with a collar and collar of almost the same color and rub against a full-skin sweater that goes with worn-out trousers and tan gloves.
The clothing comes all in the same raw material of animal origin and handcrafted confection. It refers to a sort of Arctic Crocodile Dundee style. We realized that the model has been using it for a long time. That it feels comfortable and integrated in the Nature that surrounds us.
Originally from the south, “Susi” felt comfortable in the taiga of northern Finland from an early age. There he installed his favorite way of life, which he interrupts only for another visit to Helsinki or Turku, or abroad.
“Hello, I'm Jukka Nordman, better known as Wolf, welcome. I was watching the weather evolve and… it started to snow seriously too late. You will only arrive for a walk but pulled by dogs. And speaking of them, these are Miska and Funny, your engines. As you can see, they are eager to run. Let's go?"
Jukka Nordman turned 51 that day. We just had to indulge him.
Hiking Trailer of Demonic Huskies
Wolf hands us two hand harnesses. We put them on and the owner hooks us up to his huskies. Miska is an Alaskan leader, Funny is a Siberian. At ease in the wooded, white-smeared setting but detached from the usual teams of eight or ten other dogs, the pair stalk off wildly.
The route begins by revealing itself flat or rising, which helps us to control its momentum, but the first descents don't take long. On the steepest, we lost traction. We are forced to run and skate to avoid imminent falls and stretches in tow but sprawled on the icy ground.
In this way, we stumbled forward for a few kilometers along the Oulanka River which, in turn, winds through the national park it gave its name. Having overcome a considerable distance, Wolf rejoices that we have all our limbs intact and sees the inadequacy of the boots we wore.
Coffee Break, Bonfire and PN Oulanka Worship
Take the opportunity and dictate a well-deserved break for rest and rewarming. We settled in a humble clearing, surrounded by icy beech trees and a short distance from the bluish river flow.
There, under the anxious surveillance of several Siberian jays, he hurries to fetch wood chips from a nearby hut and prepares a pyramidal fire which he lights in three strokes. Moments later, there's already a scorched coffee maker on the fire.
He dumps part of a Paulig Juhla Mokka bag that he opens with a knife hitherto tucked into a holster hanging from his pants.
“Is coffee okay with you?” he asks us. “Here in Finland we drink in industrial quantities. You know how it is. There's little light, half the year is really cold, we're not very expansive ourselves. With the coffee there, we keep the highest spirits.”
The steaming steam from the coffeemaker indicates a near-boiling point. Wolf gives us mugs with an organic look and texture, serves us the dark and thick drink, passes us the sugar and salmon sandwiches.
Also secure us with sausages that we stick on sticks to roast over the fire, one of Lapland's unavoidable outdoor rituals.
From the nearest branches, the jays gain confidence and venture out on calculated incursions on offered or lost pieces of bread. Susi also rewards the three canids for their efforts.
The Huge Pack of the Wilderness Wolf
Jukka Nordman and her partner Mirja Pyysiainen raise more than two hundred and fifty dogs on three separate bases, with the main lair in Oulanka Park, just two kilometers from the Russian border. Every year, from November to April alone, the couple takes more than 5000 visitors on their sledges.
Wolf tells us they know the names of all dogs and can recognize them by their looks and howls. “But in reality, their character matters more than their names.
"It's what determines where we put them on the teams that pull the sledges." We continued to talk about dogs, for a long time, sprinkled with floating snowflakes that had begun to fall in the meantime.
Iditarod and Affines: A Delicious Conversation on the World's Dog Sledding
We'll tell you about our dog sledding experiences in Ushuaia and in different parts of Alaska and the breeder-keeper's eyes shine even more. "But these are my big rivals!"
I find them when we participate in the biggest international competitions. You've heard of Iditarod, right? “ We had already heard and in what way.
“Because I participate with my best sled dogs. But they are very tough competitions. And, in the Alaska, cross huskies and other races with wolves. In Ushuaia, the latest trend is to cross them with Australian dingos. They breed incredible sled dogs, the fastest of all! "
The Upchuck, the Loss of Finnish Karelia and the Respect for Russia and the Russians
In the image of the ever more abundant snowflakes, the conversation flows and drifts.
We confess that one tundra animal in particular, the glutton, has fascinated us for a long time. Wolf understands our admiration and professes to us his. “It's a really amazing animal. If you know them, you know for sure that they can kill dozens of reindeer in just one night.
They gouge out their eyes and bite their Achilles tendons until they are badly injured. Then they chase them as long as necessary and end up eating the ones they can. Reindeer breeders hate them. And there is no wolf or bear that can defeat them”.
We go back to talking about Iditarod and Wolf confesses to us that he considers himself privileged. He's already traveled around 25 countries. “I really like the Russia. Unlike many Finns who prefer to cultivate resentment at the loss of part of Karelia at the end of World War II, I even have a lot of admiration for them.
“Russia has its bureaucratic peculiarities, let's call it that. I see them as a good way for the country to protect itself from the rich and ambitious.
Saint Petersburg it's an amazing cultural city. Moscow is more like a big village. You have to go there as soon as possible.”
Did not take too long. The following year we took a long trip across the border and discovered both cities and most of the Karelia now Russian, unfortunately not the remote part of Panajarvi Park that extends beyond the eastern limits of the Oulanka.
We also returned to Finland in the middle of winter. In Rokua – on the outskirts of Oulu – as elsewhere in the country, snow was already much more abundant. We returned to walk towed by sled dogs.
We soon realized that even there, hundreds of kilometers from Oulanka's headquarters, the sled dogs that were pulling us were from the great Era Susi.