An otherworldly stark beauty is how metro Detroiter Eric Keller describes the icy landscape and 24-hour daylight he encountered on his dog- sledding trip in Svalbard, the Arctic Ocean archipelago between Norway and the North Pole. The combination of constant light and the icy scene were exhilarating, he says. “Land and sky merge into one. And with no darkness, you lose your frame of reference and all sense of time. You’re presented with an awesome expanse and glaze of light across vast glaciers and frozen ocean.”
The Vagabond, a French research vessel, is moored in the ice all winter (it has a special hull). Its scientists take environmental measurements, such as the progress and flow of glaciers. The researchers were the only humans Keller’s group encountered along the sled route.
Photograph by Eric Keller
Eric Keller, freelance art director, is a dog lover. His Web site, thedogsihaveknown.com, is evidence of that. So are his travel habits.
He discovered dog sledding in 1980 when, he says, he participated in a media event in Detroit.
“I took about a two-minute dog-sled race on a loop. It was amazing to stand on this thing and see these guys go,” he says.
His affection for dogsled travel is, he says, a combination of loving canines and appreciating the kind of energy they have.
He says Svalbard, where he spent a week dog sledding, is really a different kind of world. “There’s not a lot to see on the entire archipelago, but it’s got a more moderate temperature. It’s amazing to see a part of the word that’s threatened.”
Svalbard in the early spring is exhilarating, he says. “You have no sense of time. I found myself having a lot more energy there. You’re pushing sleds up mountains and digging through snow. And if it weren’t for that [strenuous activity], I don’t think I would have slept the entire time.”
The dogs: “Some aren’t so sociable and some are affectionate and interact with you when they’re not working. There were a lot of really sweet dogs that I really got attached to. You have to give them water and feed them whale blubber that’s in a big plastic bag. It’s wet. The hardest-working dogs are those that are closest to the sled.”
Newbies: “There are places in northern Michigan where you can go on a day trip with no winter camping and experience being on a dog sled. The camping is a whole other thing to contend with.”
Getting to Svalbard: “I flew Detroit to Chicago to Copenhagen to Tromso to Svalbard.”
Fellow mushers: “There was an 85-year-old woman on the trip who I’ve kept up correspondence with. She’s a rare individual.”
Trip preparation: “You really have to do some training. “You’re pulling the sled along with the dogs and [for that] a lot of endurance training would help. I spent time on the treadmill. Weights are good, and yoga will help give you a sense of balance for the sled.”