DAY 6: Jotka – Gargia

From the notebook:

“A fantastic day in the Arctic!  Surprisingly warm, clear skies and no wind — I couldn’t have asked for a better day to end the adventure on.

The landscape today was so varied: across frozen lakes, with our shadows keeping pace alongside, up steep hills, and down winding trails through Nordic forests.  The trails were narrow and sometimes scary, with tight bends and downhill stretches where my rocket dogs just wanted to run flat out.

Though I came off the sled a few times, I always managed to stay on my feet — or, once, on my knees — and recover the sled without it turning into a “fall”, which in some ways was better than not stumbling or falling at all.

We waited for the first competitors from the Finnmarksløpet race to pass by, they had already been going a few hours and were heading up, up, up the hill.

Arriving back in Gargia felt like a homecoming — back to the comfortable, warm cabins with showers and electricity — and chaining the dogs to their kennels.  I hugged all my dogs, though only Anneka liked it, and I thanked them all for their hard work.  I’ll miss those dogs, especially the beautiful, affectionate Anneka.  I’d keep that dog if I could.

Would I come back to the Arctic, would I dog sled again?  Maybe.  Maybe, if I was stronger in every way — maybe if I trained harder, but I didn’t ever feel like I was lacking, though there is always room to be better.

I’ve had 5 days here, maybe with more time I could get better at this?  On the other hand, there are more adventures to be had.  What adventure is next?”

After the unease and worry of what was to come on the last day, it was easily the most enjoyable day in every way.  The weather was perfect, the terrain was varied — so I even enjoyed the occasional steep slopes.  Despite being quite sedentary when I’m not training for an adventure, when I have something to get my teeth into, or like this when all my training has a reason,  I quite enjoy the physical exertion.

In moderation.

And, on this day, everything was in moderation, there would be the hills so steep you had to give your dogs a run up at them and even then I would still have to get off the sled halfway up the hill and push.  People laugh now at the thought — it seems so absurd to the inexperienced that a team of dogs wouldn’t be able to do it alone without help — but we were told early on that we were one team, with the dogs.  And the dogs would perform better for you helping them out: not that they would remember your help, as such, but towards the end of the day when the dogs are getting tired a bit of help on the difficult parts earlier in the day can count for a lot with their energy.

There was also the very pointed looks your team of dogs would give you.  Another thing we’d been told, but you think is a joke until you experience it.  Picture the scene: A steep slope, a team of dogs, a sled, and a musher on the back.  The dogs race up the hill, until about halfway up when gravity on the sled and the musher starts to equal the strength of these amazing dogs.  The dogs slow or stop, and almost as one they look over their shoulders at you with a look that almost says “Come on, fat boy — get off and push”.  Having been reprimanded by your dogs, you sheepishly get off and put your weight behind it.

Except by the last day, it’s not like that — there’s no question, no need for meaningful looks from your dogs. You get off and run behind the sled, pushing for all you’re worth, because now you really are one team.  And you know there is no way you’re getting up this slope without them.

Of course, the steep slopes went the other way too: down.  Steep downward slopes could be dangerous — your sled would pick up speed very rapidly, it would be harder to control, or worse yet it could hit your dogs.  Sometimes a slope would require one foot on the brake. Sometimes we were warned in advance: both feet on the brake.  Not that both feet would do a whole lot to slow down a sled over ice and snow on a steep downward trajectory, but it was enough to avoid casualties.

I’d been worried about the winding trails through the Nordic forest, but for the most part while, yes, they were winding and they were narrow and there were lots of trees to crash into, I found a bit of brake was enough to keep the sled under control enough to be able to just let the dogs take the corners and for me to just slide with the motion of the sled; just like I’d learned to do earlier in the week.  Don’t try to control it, just go with it.

We stopped for a long break when we came to a point where the Finnmarksløpet race would pass.  We’d been asked if we wanted to stop and watch the race pass, or carry on.  I voted to carry on — I was enjoying the sledding so much, and didn’t want to stop for long.  I wasn’t in a hurry to get back to Gargia, but part of me felt that if my dogs were running, then we’d keep running forever.  Unfortunately, everyone else voted to watch the race, and I was called a misery for not wanting to — which I felt was unfair.  I didn’t have anything against the race, but I though watching it pass was going to be a lot like it eventually was: we watched no more than 3 or 4 competitors pass, and it was mostly uneventful.  We’d cheer and shout encouragement and they’d keep going.  It wasn’t like there were large numbers of competitors all going past at speed.  Just the same, it was good to see how the pros did it.

It was almost a little sad getting back to the lodges at Gargia: it felt like a month rather than a few days since we’d last been there.  We each unclipped our dogs from the sleds, and chained them to their kennels.  As my notebook says, I’d grown very fond of my dogs and hugged them all — with all except one being largely unwilling to be hugged.  My beautiful dog Anneka just loved attention from me — I’m told she wasn’t used to a lot of it, and she loved being scratched or rubbed behind the ears.

I’d talk to my dogs each day in the morning before we’d set off, tell them what was ahead and how I’d be grateful  for their help, and in the evenings each night thank them for being such clever, strong dogs, I thanked them all one last time.  To them, I was just another stranger weighing down their sled.  Except for Anneka, whom I firmly believe wanted to come home with me — or wanted us to run away and live on a farm somewhere in the Norwegian countryside.

This is where the “adventure” ended, though we were in Norway for almost a whole day more after this.   And much like how the notebook ends; I’m left wondering what adventure is next.

Run Dem Crew

Run Dem Crew: The First Annual Zombie RunRun Dem Crew was formed in east London in 2007 by a runner and writer called Charlie Dark — less than five years on the running club he started has more than 100 members, with some now forming spin-off groups in other parts of the capital.

It can be hard to keep yourself motivated when you’re training on your own, but Across the Divide has provided me with a helpful guide to preparing for the Arctic Circle, and while I’m working hard with my fundraising I also need to be working equally hard on improving my fitness.  What better way to prepare than joining a running club?

A good friend of mine — the writer runner — has been running with Run Dem Crew for ages, and she has in turn inspired me to join up with them.

I turned up on Tuesday night at the 1948 Nike store in east London, where the Crew run out from.  Of all nights I could have picked, it turned out this was their First Annual Zombie Run: taking to the streets of London painted up like the living dead.

100 runners took to the streets of the capital under the cover of darkness, and as a pack we set off through Shoreditch and towards Liverpool Street station.  The different speeds and abilities of the groups within Run Dem Crew quickly spaced us all out, but the route was the same: through the middle of Liverpool Street Station, out the other side, across London Bridge, down along the river to the Millennium Bridge, across to St Paul’s (passing by Occupy London) and back towards 1948.

Next March, the Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure will have me running in the snow alongside a pack of huskies  — possibly having fallen off my sled, or pushing the sled uphill.   This night had me running past ionic London sights instead, places that I see every day but don’t pay attention to in my 9-6 working drudge.

My fitness isn’t nearly as bad as I might have thought — which is reassuring, but my flat feet and bow legs don’t make me a natural runner, so I was left with a painful back and painful knees, but the reassurance that I can do this.  Next year, when I’m sat beneath the Northern Lights, I’ll know that running with Run Dem Crew paid off.

Please do your part to support The Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure and make a donation here.

Adventure is out there

Preparations for the Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure have got into full swing this week — and hardly a minute too soon.

Donations via the Just Giving page have reached £220 this week. It might seem like a slow start, but that’s 5 donations — including one from someone who is a little bit a personal hero of mine, Peter Lubbers.  The man does it all — ultra-marathons, bungee-jumping, skydiving — and still finds the time to be an expert on HTML5.

Corporate requests for sponsorship have so far been met with polite declines.  From a sports marketing perspective, I also approached several brandsto see if they would get behind “The Flat Footed Adventurer”, with much the same level of success.  Adidas have told me that while Macmillan Cancer Support are one of the charities they are supporting this year, they can’t support me “due to resource & budget limitations”.  Animal — without a doubt one of my own favourite brands — agreed that Macmillan Cancer Support are a great cause, and like so many others the friendly press office contact had seen first-hand their work, and said on a personal level he “supported” any charity fundraising for them.  However, like so many others, Animal have to draw a line somewhere.  In this case, I was told normally they offer goods to raffle off or to support in any event that ties in with their core of surf, board and bike sports.  However, dog sledding doesn’t count as one of their core board sports — although it involves snow.  As they say, there has to be a line somewhere.

Among the other responses I have had included a no from the office of Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London.  As a publicly funded organisation and a strategic body for London, I am told the Greater London Authority is not in a position to assist individual causes, no matter how worthy they might be.  As “sorry, no” responses go, while it may be entirely copy/pasted, there’s very little you can argue with in it.

I have not had any kind of response from the press offices of London’s various transport services, nor from my local MP.

In a more positive light, the organisers of the Hacker News London Meetup made an announcement to their members about my Arctic Fundraising Adventure ahead of this month’s meeting, and I was given a very kind donation by the organiser of the London Java Community.

Outside of fundraising, I was generously given a free personal training consultation by Matt Wolstenholme this week — Matt has a variety of fitness qualifications and bags of experience under hsi belt (as well as being a talented sports writer), so I considered myself very fortunate to get an exclusive consultation with him.  Although I am sore today, and noticeably out of shape, I found I’m not nearly as disastrously unfit as I had thought I was — but this could just be as a result of Matt’s motivational style.  If you’re in London and want a personal trainer, Matt comes highly recommended by me — and hopefuly, if finances allow, I will be able to see Matt on a regular basis for more personal training. With his help, I have no doubt that in no time I will be fit for chasing huskies and pushing sleds uphill.

So , where does this leave me?  I consider this some of my first steps along the road — I have made a start on fundraising, but there is an awful lot more to go.  I have also had one personal training session, the first of many more hours of fitness training.  From here, we can only go up.  There needs to be more donations, which will surely come as a result of more effort to find the donations — so there must be more emails written and more contacts made.  I also need to start some traditional supermarket collections.

I should also get a proper press release written, since all contact with the Docklands newspaper was met with a resounding silence.

In the news his week was a report that Four in 10 Britons will get cancer.  According to the Guardian, “Figures obtained by Macmillan Cancer Support show that 42% of Britons had cancer before they died – compared with around 35% a decade ago.  The study, which analysed data from 2008, also revealed that 64% of cancer sufferers will eventually die from the disease.”

It reminds me of why I am doing this trip in the first place.  You can donate to my Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure here.  Adventure is out there!

>Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone

>In an effort to get some training in for Peru, I joined two fellow trekkers for a walk in the Chilterns, an area of “outstanding natural beauty”. It was rated as seven out of 10 in difficulty, about 20km and 5 hours of walking. No problem, I thought.

First the good news: I was not noticeably less fit than either of my counterparts. In parts after steep uphill climbs where I’d be feeling a little warm and out of breath, they seemed to mirror my own reactions — and most importantly, it didn’t take me long to recover. Heart and lungs seem to be in excellent working order.

Continuing the good news theme, my hiking boots are incredibly comfortable and there was not even a hint of a blister or rubbing all day. An excellent buy there, and I think we can safely say they are broken in.

The bad news is I am in pain. Somewhere along the way the steep downhill descents must have proved too much for my knees — and if you hadn’t guessed by the fact I am updating in the middle of the day, I am home from work sick today as I can barely stand up. Completing the walk yesterday was very difficult and painful as my knee became stiffer and more unyielding. The doctor has told me today I have strained the ligaments, and I need to rest it. I can also put an ice pack on it twice a day and take anti-inflammatory drugs three times a day. It’s a good job I have a stash of the latter in the cupboard.

My research on the internet tells me this kind of thing is quite common, and unsurprisingly associated with steep downhill descents. I was probably going too quickly. For Peru, if not before, I will need walking poles and a knee support — and I think a small supply of medication in my luggage.

It’s frustrating, I want to be out walking and training in the gym, and right now I can’t do either. But I’ll crawl the Inca trail on my hands and knees if I have to.