National Geographic : 2012 Jan
lives. Sledding during the endless night, espe- cially in fog, is o en performed half blind. e dogs have stopped short at cli edges and refused to move even when prodded. ey also make a speci c polar bear warning sound, a hissing growl, that lets patrollers know when to be alert. were in the rst week of their inaugural trip, they'd already agreed on a particular style. Some Sirius pairs prefer traveling light and fast; extreme weight-phobes cut tags from T-shirts and handles o tooth- brushes and ration the fuel for their camp stoves. Jesper and Rasmus represented the slow and warm approach: ey brought all the clothing they desired, and never worried about sacri c- ing a warm meal. eir motto, Rasmus says, was "We never run out of fuel." So there was no hurry as they moved across the Hochstetter Forland. Patience and precision were more important than speed. Any miscal- culation in the far north can be dangerous---put your gloves down in the wrong spot for an in- stant and they'll blow away. "You'll be punished if you're not doing everything right," Rasmus says. e only fatality in Sirius history, in , occurred when a patroller became separated from his partners on a training ride, lost amid swirling snow, and was unable to survive the storm alone. At the end of the day, Jesper and Rasmus halted the sled and launched into a precisely choreographed routine. While the northern lights blazed overhead in neon pinks and greens, Jesper set up the tent---some nights are spent camping, some in huts scattered along the coast---then unrolled the ultra-insulated sleeping bags and lit the stoves inside the well-ventilated shelter. For extra warmth, Jesper and Rasmus liked to use three stoves at once. Rasmus carefully staked out the dogs, making sure they were separated enough to prevent con- tact. He then spent a little time with each one. " ey become your family," Jesper says. Rasmus bear-hugged their proud lead dog, Johan; their cheerful female, Sally; their resident trouble- maker, Indy; and their legend, Armstrong, who was in his tenth winter as a sled dog---a Sirius record, twice as long as most dogs serve. Arm- strong had hauled a sled at least , miles, more than a lap around the Equator. Rasmus knew that Armstrong was nearing the end of his career. ere's no room at the Sirius base for retired dogs. And the dogs---as much wolf as pet---cannot be adopted. ey must be euthanized, an act the patrollers do themselves with a pistol. Both Rasmus and Jesper say it's the most di cult part of the job. , stoves running full throttle, Jesper and Rasmus nally thawed out. At minus 40°F materials like plastic become as brittle as glass. About 60 below, the dogs start to su er; sores, from the sharp snow, open on their paws. At minus 70 you must stop and camp. Dinner was a one-pot stew of tomato soup, pasta, cream cheese, and canned mini-sausages: not quite enough to replace the burned calories. Some patrollers lose as much as 30 pounds dur- ing a winter. Relationships between patrollers ---for the better part of a year, the only humans they'll see---aren't always amicable. But once out on the ice, there is no option of divorce. Jesper and Rasmus were a harmonious match. The closest they came to a disagreement was over pipe smoking. Rasmus, following classic Sirius tradition, enjoyed an evening smoke. Jesper couldn't stand it. As the stew simmered, Jesper nally had time to examine his wound. He wriggled out of his ski pants, and it was only then he saw the deep gash in his leg and the blood that had spilled---and continued to ooze---and he knew for certain he'd landed on his knife. Jesper hardly reacted. He was a Sirius patrol- ler, after all. He simply took out the first aid kit. He cleaned up the blood. And he patched himself up. j IF THE TEAM IS NOT IN SYNC, A SIRIUS SLED CAN FEEL LIKE A BODY WITH 13 MINDS.