Singing And Squawking In The Far North

If you’re going to head towards the Arctic Circle with Volvo, there are several things you need to do in order to be prepared.

I took my snazzy new ski jacket and matching gloves. I even threw in my son’s dorky-looking hat with the earflaps, reasoning that style flies out the window when ice chunks fly in.

A day or two before I left, I finally managed to find a pair of sub-zero boots. I was set.

Well, sort of set. As I prepared to get on a charter flight for the last leg of the journey, I put on my rugged new boots. Both of them were rights.

“Ah! That Canadian gurl! She only make luft turns, she vill nevah get lost!” began the jokes.

On a three-day testing event, you do far more than test cars. My host was keen to make sure I learned as much about the native culture as possible, which is actually quite nice. A little disturbing, but quite nice.

Evening entertainment was comprised of snowmobile racing and reindeers harnessed to sleds.

Just when I thought I couldn’t feel any more badly for the poor reindeers, we went in to dinner. And ate one.

Not too worry, however. You wash all of this odd food down with something called Aquavite, a national drink that strips your innards as it chases down the reindeer. Believe it or not, it tasted better than our welcome beverage, a vodka and lingonberry concoction that we instantly christened Benylin cough syrup.

As I headed out each day, I was handed a kit of water bottles and energy bars. The instructor told me to eat the bars and stay hydrated; it is easy to burn more energy in the cold than I might be used to.

My driving partner and I opened the bag the first day, and shook out the bars. They were called Plopp. We were told to make sure we ate our Plopps.

There was a curious dichotomy going on. After wining and dining and playing with a bunch of Swedes from Volvo, I’ve discovered the safest place to be is in one of their cars.

For the most part, auto journalists are purists. They want to drive a car and feel the car. The first thing we do is disengage all the safety features we can. Technology is fighting this more and more every year.

The new Volvos have cameras mounted to monitor blind spots; Lane Departure Warning and Driver Alert Control make sure you stay awake (a symbol of a coffee cup will come on to suggest you take a break); Collision Avoidance will determine if a collision is imminent, and begin applying the brake if the driver doesn’t respond.

For many consumers, this is fabulous. For people who live to drive, it’s a toss up between a nanny state and pure exasperation. How much handholding is too much? Personally, I like the option. If technology can make adverse conditions safer, great. But I don’t want a car squawking at me all the time.

When the driving gets put away for the evening, the bar comes to life with war stories of other trips and hits and near-misses with other vehicles. Well into their cups at one point, the Spanish contingent serenaded me.

I imagined they were singing “The Girl With Golden Highlights in Her Hair,” but it’s just as likely it was “The Girl With Two Right Boots.”