Reader's Digest International - - Laughter -

EXT MORN­ING, the sky had cleared. Kenth Fjell­borg, the pro­pri­etor of Fjell­borg Arc­tic Lodge, showed up on a snow­mo­bile, and as Espen had done with the sleds, he kept it sim­ple. “This is your ma­chine. Here is the ig­ni­tion, the throt­tle, the brake. Keep your feet tucked in here in case you tip over.” Big smile. “Let’s go!”

Kenth is a mas­ter dogsled­der and a con­sum­mate sto­ry­teller. At age 19, he ap­pren­ticed un­der the leg­endary dogsled­der Joe Run­yan, in Alaska. Kenth ran the Idi­tarod in 1994—about 1,600 kilo­me­ters through Arc­tic Alaska— and fin­ished in the top 20. In 2006, he guided Prince Al­bert II of Monaco to the North Pole. Kenth’s fam­ily has lived in the area for nine gen­er­a­tions, and it’s se­cond na­ture for him to make camp at 30 be­low. I asked him what he did in his free time. “Moose hunt­ing. It’s my Arc­tic-male ver­sion of yoga.”

Off we went. The for­est shim­mered with rime, and the trees cast shad­ows that were long and blue. We throt­tled out of the woods onto the white ex­panse of the lake, where two rein­deer were sun­bathing. We zoomed onto the river Torne and along a well-beaten track marked with storm poles. Our faces froze, our eyes squinted against the blast. There was Kenth’s vil­lage, Poikki­järvi, just a string of small houses along the south­ern bank.

Across the river was the ham­let of Jukkasjärvi, home to the Ice Ho­tel, the fa­mous ho­tel that melts ev­ery spring and is re­built ev­ery au­tumn, when artists from all over the world come to each carve one of the dozens of rooms. There is an ice bed with a rein­deer skin in­side each of these ice sculp­tures—es­sen­tially an ice cave with a steady tem­per­a­ture of around mi­nus 5° C.

Kim and I walked into a room with a bunch of ice sheep jump­ing over an ice fence, their fluffy wool made of thou­sands of lit­tle ice balls stuck to­gether. We laughed. The artist, Luca Ron­coroni, said he cre­ated it so that guests who were wor­ried about sleep­ing in sub­zero tem­per­a­tures could count the sheep and fall asleep more eas­ily.

In the Ice Bar, we sipped el­der­berry juice from ice glasses, then drove back as night over­took the for­est. Above us, stars be­gan to glit­ter like ice chips. It got se­ri­ously cold. As the ma­chine surged, and my cheeks burned with frost, I felt a pro­found sense of glee.

That night, no aurora. The next morn­ing I woke very early to see if I could catch it. The Swedes have a name for the po­lar twi­light, usu­ally at its most pro­nounced around dusk, when the long shad­ows merge. They call it blå tim­men, the blue hour. At dawn, as I stepped out of the cabin and walked to the edge of the lake,

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