Something a bit different from the normal race reports. Here’s Isla’s report of her Arctic Trek in Finland
Back in July last year I decided to sign up for an Arctic Trek, to be honest I wasn’t really sure what I was signing up for, but I like a challenge.
The plan was that I was going to go to Finland and into the Arctic Circle, walk for 3 days dragging a pulk behind me and camp out in the freezing cold. What could go wrong.
Lee from Breaking Strains Events held information evenings where he went over everything from the kit we would need, training plans and cold weather injury prevention. I was prepared for training on hypothermia and frost bite, but the trench foot warnings surprised me.
Over the next few months I gathered kit, with Lee readily available to answer any questions, and started dragging my tyre up and down Yellowcraigs beach.
On the morning we left we met up with Andy one of our trek leaders at the airport and flew to Finland, meeting up with our fellow trekkers on the way. The first night was dinner and getting to know each other time, and the next morning we had our final briefing, snow shoe training and kit inspection.
Day one of the trek, pre race jitters were setting in and we met up with Neil and Jo our back up team outside of the hotel where we were introduced to our pulks for the first time. Harnessed up we set off and the first section was along the river. Once I’d got over my slightly strange feeling that surely it’s not natural to be walking on a river, I settled into a rountine. The pulk was no heavier than the tyre I’d been training with.
Lee and Andy were there encouraging us, and laughing at us the whole way, keeping our spirits up.
Day one was the longest day, we walked on a river, through some forest and finally on a lake. The views were amazing it felt like you were in a film set it was so beautiful, walking through the forest was like being in Narnia. It was cold, but it didn’t feel that bad as we were layered up with all the right kit. Lee and Andy were checking on us throughout the day reminding us not to get too hot, if you sweat and your clothes get wet they could freeze and too cold was also dangerous, so I kept heat packs in my mits at all times to keep my fingers warm.
Admin, admin, admin was drummed into us, making sure we looked after ourselves.
I quickly got used to my buff freezing, and having to keep an eye on my water bottles to make sure they didn’t freeze. Tony’s beard froze and with his red turban he began to look like Santa.
It was a long day, with the final hour along a lake in the pitch dark with head torches on. Lee let us know how far we had to go, quickly getting used to me converting the distances into parkruns, 2.5K to go, equals one lap of Vogrie.
As we neared our camp site we could see the fire, as Neil and Jo were already there with our tents up, the fire on and hot soup waiting for us. First we were instructed to change our base layers and socks and get our down jackets on, as we would quickly cool down, and then after getting our sleeping bags and mats set out in our tents we sat round the fire eating soup.
Its not a bad way to spend an evening drying your socks in front of a roaring fire eating Tony Singh’s curry. Sleeping in a tent on a frozen lake was slightly harder, and I don’t think any of us slept very well.
Day 2, we set off over the lake and then through a forest, it was described as slightly lumpy, but no worse than hills you find running round Edinburgh. The up hills were a bit of a pull, but the down hill offered the chance to jump on your pulk and sledge down, or race down and see if you could beat your pulk.
Snow shoes were needed at times, which although they looked weird were pretty easy to walk in and at least you didn’t sink into the snow. Some of the paths were quite narrow and if you stepped off to the side you could sink into the soft snow, and after I ended up to my waist, once Lee had stopped laughing at me, he pulled me out.
Again the views were tremendous. It was cloudy most of the time, which meant that we didn’t get the sun sparkling on the snow, but it meant it was slightly warmer than it had been the week before, and after the horror stories of walking in -32 I was happy with the clouds.
At the end of the day we were met again at camp by Neil and Jo, who had everything ready for us, they were a back up team with a smile, which made such a difference.
More fun round the camp fire, with a couple of bottles of whisky circulating and good chat.
Day 3 was the shortest day, and by this point we were all used to getting our admin right, and keeping snacks, lunch and water bottles down the front of our jackets to keep them above freezing point. It felt like such a privilege to be walking somewhere where so few people get to go.
We finished walking across another lake and arrived at the finishing line to a welcoming committee at the Snow Hotel, after a photo session, we made our ways to our glass igloos which were home for the night, and a welcome shower and change into clean clothes.
Our final dinner was in the Ice Restaurant, sitting on a bench made of ice at a table made of ice, with ice carvings on the wall and drinking a very chilled glass of wine.
It was a once in a life time experience, I got to walk somewhere I never thought I would go, and push myself physically, mentally and emotionally. I met some great people and we are already planning our group reunion. We were looked after so well by the team from Breaking Strains, who thought of everything, and were there with help and advice the whole way.
Photos courtesy of Isla Craig