Kibworth & Smeeton WI

Arctic Adventure with Huskies, WI logo

Arctic Adventure

“My Arctic Adventure with Huskies”, a talk by Matthew Hopkinson, had us enthralled at our February meeting.

Matthew gives talks to raise money for charities, in this case Gems.

Dogs with Sleds

He explained that using dogs and sleds in far northern regions dates back thousands of years. They were important in Alaska, Canada, Russia and Scandinavia for transporting items like food, medical supplies and mail – and racing. It was Russians who began pairing dogs up behind a lead dog, with each knowing its own role.

Matthew gave us examples from more recent times of their heroic deeds. In 1925 a small town in Alaska, Nome, was devastated by a massive outbreak of diphtheria and had no serum. A dog sled relay was organised to deliver serum over a long distance in temperatures reaching -40. En route they passed the small town of Iditarod, after which the famous modern 1,800 km endurance dog sled race is named.

In World War II Alaskan Malamutes were used for hauling goods, delivering mail and messenger work. They are large, strong huskies bred for strength and endurance rather than speed. Matthew told us about an expedition in Norway, arranged for his birthday, taking five days over 200 kilometres to Tromso. Showing a photo of his team, he said one was a clever surgeon, but useless at first aid! One of the women asserted that their first rule was “No hanky-panky and no fighting” – and that’s just the dogs! Matthew explained how easy it was to form a bond with the dogs.

Caring for the dogs

Caring for them, being with them constantly and learning sled language to use with them was a special experience. The dogs ate twice a day: frozen meat in the morning; dried food at night. They wore coats and were attached to rope lines at night, close to dogs they got on with! The lead dog was very privileged, sleeping in a tent with their master! Sometimes the dogs would burst into song, one setting off the others. This is because the dogs love to work. The sound is magical. Matthew’s great respect for these amazing animals was obvious.

Challenges for humans

The human team quickly learned how to erect a tent, and not to leave their boots and socks outside! They used solar chargers for equipment because batteries don’t last long in such cold conditions. Food was mostly boil-in-the-bag. Water for this was snow, so care was needed not to use snow from near the dogs! A private spot for bathroom needs – easy for dogs – was a problem for humans! These hazards apart, it was a wonderful experience, not least the fishing through holes in the ice. If you caught a fish the Norwegian custom of downing a very strong alcoholic drink had to be endured! Stories around a bonfire were very popular.

Matthew ended with an insightful quote:

“Jobs fill your pocket. Adventures fill your soul.”

Jaime Lyn Beatty, musical artist

For more on the activities of the Kibworth & Smeeton WI, see also:

Next WI Meeting

Visitors are welcome to our April meeting when Carolyn Boulder will be showing us how to make an owl paperweight.

Date: 14 April 2022

Time: 7.30pm

Venue: Grammar School Hall, Kibworth Beauchamp

Pat Sharman