“Molodei!” (good) “Molodei!” shouts Dima, followed by “Horosho! (good) Horosho!”
Twenty-year old Dima Kovalev of Lisvyanka, Russia, was zipping us over the snow tracks through the woods behind a half dozen jazzed and excited sled dogs.
“All the dogs are different,” Dima says. “Some are funny, others clever and some strong, but all have a passion and love for pulling the sled. The lead dog is always the cleverest.”
He points to a dog he calls Bell.
“Bell is our best lead dog. He has helped us win international mush competitions,” he says.
Bell, with his sky blue eyes, has a sense of royalty to his body language, as if he is clear and comfortable with his role in life.
At the halfway point we switch positions. Dima rides in the sled and I take over the controls. The dogs look back at me over their shoulders. Their eyes seem to be saying, “Who is this greenhorn from Nebraska? Let’s give him a ride.”
I raise my foot off the brake and away we go. The sled makes a whooshing sound as it races across snow and ice. Trees and brown grass dart by in a blur. We hit a bump that sends the sled momentarily airborne.
“Eee hah!” I shout laughing.
Dima nervously attempts to steady us with his legs as they dangle over the edge of the sled.
There is something magical about moving through the woods at such a high speed without the noise of an engine. It is more intimate. You feel a connection to the land through which you are moving. Instead of observing it, you become a part of it.
All too soon we pull up to the house to the greeting of the barking dogs left behind. They seem to be asking, when is it my turn?
Dima asks, “How was the ride?”
“Horosho,” I reply, “Horosho!”
My stay in Russia was cut short because of visa difficulties. Three weeks to race across Russia allows one to just barely scratch the surface of this vast and complex society.
Leaving Russia is a tense moment, one that is stretched out over eight hours. Each train car is separated as they process the paperwork and search each bag for smuggled goods.
“You have boom boom?” says the border guard to one of my Norwegian traveling companions as he shapes his hand into a gun.
“No,” she says nervously.
“Good,” he says with a smile. “Put your things back into your bag.”
Next, the head immigration officer walks through our train car.
“Did you go to Uganda?” he asks with a stoic face.
He smiles, and then tells me his brother is living there.
“I have some photos. Would like to see them?”
“Yes,” he says as his head nods with a smile.
While he pours over my photos of Africa, he speaks about his visit to Uganda to see his brother.
“I liked it very much. The wildlife there is amazing. My name is Alex, I hope your visit to Russia was good, and I wish we had more time to visit,” he says.
“Me too, Alex,” I respond.
“One day you must come back,” he says as he waves goodbye.