The trip ...
Day 4 - this was the real gruelling one, and the day that was to cause the biggest problems. We travelled from Masi to Mollisjok (hey, don't blame the messenger for the place names) a distance of over 55km. The day started well enough with the usual chores completed with what was now becoming a military precision, and porridge consumed (with Norwegian jam - lovely!). Let me relate something which I later wrote in my diary and which you will laugh at now, but it perhaps sums up how just the smallest comfort can be important out there. I wrote that I had managed to get to the outside loo (read 'hole in the ground') before the rest of the team. My team-mates will understand why that was such an important event!!
My diary notes for day 4, completed that evening, start with 'Oh my god, what a day' and that sums up what we encountered. The day was full of steep uphill climbs and then fast dangerous decents. There were a lot of crashes (including a horrendoues 'knee-breaker' to our youngest member Emma who still gamely finished the challenge albeit strapped up by the doctor), several runaways, and a noticeable increase in tension within the team. The physical effort of manhandling the team over the new soft snow, the relentless steep climbs, and continual braking and use of the snow anchor was exhausting. At one point I noticed my team-mate Carl had actually sweated right through his arctic suit and it had frozen on the outside he had expended so much energy!
Even as we approached camp a couple of the teams took a wrong turn and headed flat out down a steep bank with fortunately no casualties. What a day indeed! For my own part I was thoroughly knackered (excuse the language) and had nothing left, and quite what I said to the video camera put into my face by BBC David (the cameraman out with us) immediately upon arrival at camp I don't rightly know, but I bet they don't show it on the TV! Several of the team were close to pulling out of the event due to the extreme physical effort of the day, and even the dogs were clearly exhausted. The chores that night were done grudgingly and with no enthusiasm which wasn't like us at all. That nights evening briefing with the organisers from across the Divide, and Per Thore, became pretty heated about the ability to do another day like that and everyone went to bed exhausted and pretty miserable. For all those people who said I'd just be standing on the back of a sled for a week - oh how I wish you had been there!
My diary was very brief that night but I did note that my team had been brilliant, and that I was so proud of them. A small thing now, and possibly only something my team mates can properly understand, but written at the time with a lot of emotion. Even writing this now, and remembering that day and how they struggled to help me get the sled up the hills, I can recall little Costella looking back at Toq and Nanuk as if calling for an extra push, and them responding with all their considerable might to add to the team effort. You had to be there I guess ...... The last entry for that day before I fell asleep (and woke with my diary still open and my pen on the floor!) was that we had managed to wedge shut the single glazed window on the cabin so that I hoped we would all be able to sleep without freezing to death, and so it obviously proved!
Day 5 - We woke with much trepidation as yesterday was such a killer day, but how much difference a day can make. The sun was shining, the air was clear, and we travelled along the biggest lake in Finnmark (Lesjavri) which of course was flat! Just what we needed after the day before, and a real pleasure to be on the sleds today. At lunch we stopped at a hut propped up on pallets in the middle of the lake(!) where Per Thore pulled up a net in a fishing hole but unfortunately it was empty - never mind more reindeer stew tonight then!
As we travelled sedately to Jotka everyone's spirits were raised and when we arrived at camp there was a definite improvement in the atmosphere. Once again the team were up for the rest of the challenge and all was well in the camp. Well, not exactly. Yours truly had been feeling a little unwell all day (sick as a parrot actually) and had caught a dose of the trots from being so close to the dogs. The doctor had warned us to maintain personal hygiene and I guess I had probably eaten my sandwiches with my dog-handling gloves on or something, but when we arrived at camp my world fell out if you know what I mean? I was immediately turned into a pariah by my team-mates who didn't want to catch what I had (can't say I blame them ..) and I endured a very uncomfortable evening and sleepless night. But thanks to adrenaline, and something called diuretic introduced to me by Peter (thanks mate) and the doctor, I felt a whole lot better (or at least no worse but I wasn't going to admit that) as we started the last day. If you are considering the 2007 event (and I hope you will) be prepared for some deep lows as well as the inevitable highs....! I managed to avoid getting bounced off the trip by the doctor but falling ill in the arctic is no joke, so be prepared.
Day 6 - from Jotka we then travelled 45km back to Gargia on what was the best day of the trip. Having climbed several steep hills at the beginning of the day (easy now even for me feeling less than 100%) we had a series of fast downhill runs to negotiate through a pine forest. Image a husky team and sled on the Cresta run and you get the idea! Brilliant fun, loads of crashes (including a 'senior moment' from me and a close encounter with a tree), but we would all have happily gone back up to do it again. I must say that pure adrenaline is great at settling a troubled stomach! I was fine by the end of that day. We arrived back at the Gargia 'base camp' that evening in fine spirits and were treated to a 'reindeer buffet' by the Norwegian family who own the lodge. Great food made up of every part of a reindeer, but not advisable for vegetarians! Wile we were waiting for the buffet to be prepared we were taken to the Alta Ice Hotel for a quick visit. An odd place and smaller than expected, but as you can see on the gallery page you can even get married in their ice chapel! back at Gargia we were able to have a shower to wash off a week of grime, and we dined heartily as if it was to be our last meal. The talk of course was of tomorrow and the end of the adventure - well not quite.......
Day 7 - Some of us managed to get on a snowmobile for a couple of hours of mayhem in the morning before the run back to the airport. What great fun, especially if you had ridden one before like me as I was allowed to go solo rather than two-up (sorry team-mates, but you know how it is.... ?) Then came the hardest part of the entire week - saying goodbye to our teams. There were, I will admit, tears flowing and even now writing this its hard not to. They took us where no human could go alone, over steep mountains, down super-fast decents, and through raging blizzards. They did so without complaint and with only a bowl of soup twice a day. And what they gave back was companionship, affection (to us if not to each other!), and a sense of pride that I cannot put into words. I know I'll miss little Costella, her friend Clara, and of course the two big brothers Toq and Nanuk. A final goodbye to Per Thore Hansen and we were off to the airport.
From Gargia we travelled back to Alta where we officially finished the challenge. From there it was the flight to Oslo, and then to Heathrow where the stink of that airport (mass humanity) hit us like a sledgehammer - welcome back to the real world? We said our goodbyes to the two travel leaders and to each other. The fact that we came back a team speaks volumes for the people involved, and my thanks to all of them for contributing to an experience I will never ever forget. Will our daily lives ever seem the same again I wonder?
The huskies ...