Faces not Places: The Dog Mushers

Last week I wrote about Stian and his beloved dog Varg, who I was lucky enough to meet on a trip in Tromso last December when I learnt (ahem, attempted) to live like a dog musher in the frozen north of Norway.

Stian couldn’t do what he does – looking after and racing his team of 23 huskies – without his girlfriend Nieske and their recent recruit, a dog handler called Amalie. I was inspired by these two women. They live and work this unforgiving and physically demanding lifestyle everyday, couldn’t be happier doing it and, for both of them, the job came along as a bit of an accident.

Nieske Wierda

1235546_10200993099454338_121747456_nImage: Nieske Wierda/Facebook

Nieske is originally from Rotterdam and met Stian at university in Norway a few years ago, although it wasn’t exactly love at first sight.

“I thought he was rude, he was this crazy man who lived in the woods with his dogs. We worked together doing night shifts at a nursery home and I helped him out in the dog yard but I never thought of him as a boyfriend.”

One night at university however, some serious pheromones kicked in during an 80’s party: “I was standing next to him and, it sounds weird, I smelled him and something clicked.”

A few weeks later Stian gave her a plant in a plastic bag – Nieske doesn’t like flowers – and said that she should be his girlfriend. In 2012 they bought their cabin in Tromso and started expanding their pack of dogs and Nieske started racing. The only thing they argue about now is what to call the dogs, Stian wants to name a new pack after famous glamour models…Nieske isn’t quite as keen.

She’s guided ‘celebrities’ on sled races for the ITV show 70 Degrees North (and was, incidentally, highly unimpressed by the inconsiderate and selfish way some of the guests treated her dogs) and will take part in the Europe’s longest dog sledding race, The Finnmarksløpet, in March this year.

Firelight

Amalie Miko Jæger

AmalieAnimal lover, dog whisperer, iron woman, traveller and she’s only 20-years-old. We were all a little bit in love with Amalie.

Amalie originally planned to join the police or the Norwegian military working with their animals or in a medical capacity, but fell in love with Stian and Nieske’s dog handling philosophy when she worked with them on a school placement.

Amalie went to one of Norway’s Folk High School – schools which offer a sort of funded, structured and tailored gap year where students can pick a sport, job or field that they are interested in and work there for a year. Amalie chose working with dogs because, in her own words: “Most of the time I like to be out of my comfort zone.”

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Image: Amalie Miko Jæger/Facebook

Most of her friends think she’s crazy and look incredulous when she explains that during the winter, when the pipes freeze, they have to take it in turns to lie, face down in the snow and collect bottles of river water for the cabin’s tank. While she might miss her bath and family home back in Bodø, she find big cities stressful, thinks people who live their lives online are terrifying and works with Varg and the other dogs to re-establish an inherent, sympathetic connection to nature.

Stian, Niekse and Amalie work with adventure company Magnetic North to show how dog mushers live in Norway a few times a year during northern lights season. You can explore and ask about any of their trips to Scandinavia here.

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