I hate being cold, which I am most of the year as a Texan living in Germany. So why would I want to go to Northern Finland, one of the coldest, most desolate places on earth in winter? I wanted to visit another country, experience the way of life in one of the world's harshest climates, and see the Northern Lights. When I told my husband that I wanted to go to the Arctic Circle during winter, he wondered if I needed to be committed to a mental institution. Before our flight touched down in Finland, I vowed to myself that no matter how cold and miserable I felt, I would not complain because this was my brilliant idea.
Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, Lapland, Finland
For three nights, log cabin #31 of Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort was home, a toasty respite 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The cabin was at the end of the row, more private and only a 5-minute walk to the front office and restaurant.
Five minutes is a long time when it's -30F degrees. And there’s no way to make a quick run to reception if you need something. There was lots of prep before going outside, an exercise of pulling on clothes on top of clothes that resulted in sweating, cursing, and vowing to lose weight so that everything would not fit so tightly. After all that effort, we were rewarded with the opportunity to explore a winter wonderland. Surrounded by towering evergreens bound by ice and snow, the only sound was the crunching of our boots on hard-packed snow paths and snowshoes crashing through inches of fresh powder. In awe of the beauty of nature, we hardly noticed when everything froze, from our eyelashes and nose hairs to cameras and flashlights.
The Dog Sled Fiasco
The night was clear, ideal for spotting the aurora borealis. After shimmying into arctic suits and listening to instructions, we greeted our team of six energetic Huskies.
Because we manned the first sled, we had to set the pace for everyone else. The trainer coaxed our team to start, and the guide took off on his snow mobile. I eagerly braced for rapid acceleration — nothing happened. First there was a fight between two dogs in front, so the trainer brought out another dog. Before going five feet, the dogs were at it again. The trainer took away a frazzled dog, leaving us with five. We started again, but a dog at the back kept sitting down in protest — he was not up for chauffeuring tourists around that evening.
Now there were only four dogs working overtime to pull us across the wilderness. They found their pace, and my husband pushed, leaned into the curves, and braked on downhills. I rode and watched the horizon, searching, hoping for lights.
There wasn’t a postcard-perfect spectacular showing that night and I don’t have any decent photos to brag about, but we did see a veil of green cover the dark sky.
The Exhilaration of Snowmobiling
When we arrived for a snowmobiling tour on our last night in Finland, the chances of a Northern Lights sighting were nonexistent; it was cloudy and had been snowing all day. So I focused on speeding through the darkness while my husband hugged my waist. I plowed down narrow paths with high snow banks on either side; it was like barreling down an Olympic luge.
To maintain the required distance of 20 meters between snowmobiles, I dropped far behind before hitting the gas to close the gap. Periodically, I yelled to duck for overhanging tree limbs made visible by the headlights. At one point, I failed to warn my husband to lean right to avoid a branch — whoops! The moment of impact was recorded by his iPhone. Luckily, no phones or husbands were harmed while making the video.
After snowmobiling, we returned to our warm cabin, our flashlight illuminating the snow, which glistened like the facets of gemstones. We had survived three nights of winter at the Arctic Circle, and it had been incredible. But we conceded that this Texas girl did not have what it takes to live there.