I have made this blog wrap up in retrospect because of the
technical problem we had with the sat phone. The sat phone ate
minutes eventhough we didn't get through and we had to save minutes
to call in our coordinates to Extreme Races.
I am now fine, my ancles still hurts but my feet have recovered well. But I'll take it from the beginning...
Race day, we're all excited but the race doesn't start until 3 o'clock. Bus left at 11 after a hefty breakfast, we're all taking on board the need to fill up the food reserves, not that it's such a horrible thing since the Russian breakfast isn't bad. The bus trip is 1.5 hrs and I'm not really talkative, for someone that normally talks a lot I've not felt that sociable these last couple of days a bit nervous probably.
As we get to the lake after 1.5 hrs on the road the wind there is a howling head wind and it's -15. The sun is shining though. First there's lunch and another 4 course meal, getting easier and easier though to stuff your face. Then we're going to the local press conference with some introductions and we get to see the Russian competitors, both looking fit as hell one is some sort of local Olympian but since they are doing the race on bikes we've decided they don't count.
Finally it's time to go to the start, we're all lined up and quite a funny sight with all the different disciplines mixed.
Neil and I just started. Photo:EWR
The start gun and everyone is rushing away, Neil and I are
falling back as the skis doesn't stick well on the mainly icy
surface. We're really struggling in keeping up and are hoping there
will be more snow later on. It's quite hard work but we are moving
up a little but looking at the GPS and the speed is really not that
good. Pitching the tent around 8 and almost loose the tent, a piece
is flying away and I run after it, catch it after 400m, it's the
bloody mosquito net, useful! Were both quite grumpy in the tent and
squabble a bit about nothing, call in our position and do the blog
without problem. We're discussing changing to spikes since everyone
else seems to move a lot better than us, we're certainly not last
but seem to have to expend more energy than most of the others.
We've actually only covered 10 miles, an average of 2 miles an
hour, which is not good enough.
Morning and we decide to go with the spikes and it's working beautifully and we're gaining on quite a few in the field, we're walking along with Dave the squaddie he mentions that he has heard one of the signals boys went through the ice yesterday and had to be pulled out and thawed up, quite funny since we had heard of their commanding officer messing up at the South Pole race.
Photo: Dominik Luksch
We're really chuffed with our clothing, we've chosen the
Klattermusen Etaproof Bilskirner jackets, being very tightly woven
cotton the breathe splendidly and although not 100% waterproof(on
purpose) they would keep you dry, obviously in our case
waterproofness isn't that important considering the cold. I've
brought quite hardcore salopettes but feel a lot more comfortable
in my Klattermusen Gere trousers with the Aclima Wool Net longjohns
and zip neck wicking brilliantly, on top of this the Aclima Hoodie
is great since it gives us the option to wear it in different
configurations to control temperature. I've made quite a stupid
mistake in not wearing liner gloves and only one pair of decent
glosves. Must admit that I've made some mistakes in not bringing
more socks, which I apparently should've been changing them more
often. My feet are feeling a bit raw already but I'm hoping it's
nothing and that it will get better, my idea of sore feet was more
the heels and not the soles. We're doing reasonably well but the
head wind is quite zapping, most of the other competitors seem to
aim for the middle of the lake, we can't really see why and decide
to stick with a line reasonably close to the coast, but not to
close since most of the danger areas appears to be there.
Later in the day we hear that Ben and the Spanish guy appears to be missing,
both are among the faster ones and we don't understand how it can be that hard
to find them. My feet are more and more sore, a bit nervous to look at them
when we stop for the night after about 12hrs. We get the tent up without real
problems and the mood is considerably better and we're on much friendlier terms, we've covered about 25 miles, a bit disappointing when we felt we thought we had done more, the again we do put it down to the head wind and hope to up the mileage if the wind turns or calms down, it isn't as bad though as it was on the skis.
Photo: Kevin McDonald
The night was a bit scary with the wind picking up even more, the Nanok tent did hold up well though and seem to work as well the Hilleberg tents that most of the other competitors are favouring and although it's probably about -25 we're quite warm and toasty in the Nanok Performance down -30 sleeping bag, we have Nanok Downliners as back up but don't need them at any time. Using Nanok bivy bags protects the down bags so they keep their performance during the race duration. Another piece4 of kit that I love is the Exped Down Mats, they're like Thermarests but filled with down. This means that rather than being cooled by the air in the mattress b(having the same temperature as the surrounding air it provides warmth. They're slightly heavier than a normal mat, but definitely worth it as you can save on the rating of the sleeping bag, they're soon available in an expedition version, which is much lighter than pretty much any self-inflatable mat. The Nanok bivy boots are quite cosy and necessary as we get our socks off at night to dry them and our feet out.
Photo: Dominik Luksch
The third morning and the wind isn't abating. We decide to sleep
in and don't get going until 9.30, but we don't think this lost us
much since the weather wouldn't have permitted much progress
anyway. My feet are hurting and I'm quite miserable, later in the
afternoon it suddenly feels better for a while and we add some much
needed miles; we go until 8.15 and are reasonably happy.
Photo: Neil Foote.
Tent life is quite similar from day to day, with Neil running
the stove and me trying to organize myself and our kit. Our Light
My Fire kit works well with MealKits being used as storage
containers for our day rations of snacks, held secure with the
harnesses. We've brought both plastic and titanium Sporks, knowing
that at extreme temperatures the Titanium is going to work better
also for use in pans the titanium is preferred, however since the
temperature in the tent isn't that cold it's much nicer to use
plastic Sporks, the Titanium cooling the food faster. Another thing
was the use of the Swedish FireKnife, we started out with matches,
but they were a bit of a fiddle and then I remembered bringing the
FireKnives and for lighting the stoves they were brilliant. We also
know that if the temperature drops considerably they will always
work, while lighters and matches can be a bit dodgy in the extremes
and obviously a FireSteel will last a lot longer. We also used the
knives for general maintenance work like operating on my beautiful
feet and hacking ice. We're having massive problems with the sat
phone and even if we don't get through it appears to eat minutes,
we're texting and ask if we're allowed to give our coordinates by
text but don't get any reply, when
we're getting through they tell us that they still haven't found Ben or the Spanish guy, we're quite worried. We also hear that Night Rider, our competitor that brought twice as much food as everyone else (he even had to have two pulks) and was planning to move at night because he felt it was easier to put the tent up in daylight?!?, has been lifted. There is also other competitors that have thrown in the towel, Steve that we walked with for a while is one of them and Dave withdrew with all sorts of ailments. The signals guys managed to burn down their tent and had to withdraw, probably the safest option.
Day four and I'm not a happy bunny, but at least the wind has turned and is coming from behind, my feet is hurting so much that we can't really take advantage though, I can tell Neil isn't best pleased his competitive mind is hurting. Late afternoon we've covered a fair distance; and there is no one in sight, when disaster strikes:
I've taken my jacket off and put it on my pulk, the temperature is now quite warm and my feet are boiling but besides the feet our kit is keeping us perfectly temperated, when I look back and my jacket isn't there and I can't remember when I've last seen it, shoot! I decide to go back until I find it and start walking, I finally find it about a mile and a half behind us while I'm away looking Neil is leaving our pulks and go looking around some broken up ice. Suddenly we see the organizers hovercraft approaching our pulks, Neil is still about half a mile away and I'm further still and they seem a bit alarmed, we start shouting until they've seen us they come up to us and tell us that they were very alarmed and thought we had gone into some Siberian 'Bermuda triangle'.
Quite funny, but we're not in a great mood, as I come back I
want a break for my feet and Neil wants to get going and some
strong words are exchanged, I'm working myself into a bit of a
state and when we've calmed down we decide to discuss things
further in the tent in the evening. The mood isn't brilliant but my
anger has released some adrenaline that kept me going until the
evening. We decide that I will continue to the midway point and
when there decide what to do. Somehow this keeps me going and we're
covering some decent distance, day five we do about 33 miles in
about thirteen hours. Waking on the sixth morning we think we have
about 25 miles left and expect to be reaching the control point at
about 6 or 7 in the evening, as the day progresses we have to
change our Expected Time of Arrival, we just don't seem to get
there, as it's getting darker we hook up with Ashley, if I thought
I was suffering its nothing compared to Ashley one arm is twice the
size of the other and blue, he has hurt his neck, lost a couple of
toe nails and fallen over no less than 50 times, over the week
we've met him here and there and to be honest I would have bet
quite a lot that he wouldn't have reached to midway point, it
really puts my suffering in perspective.
Photo: Kevin McDonald
We're approaching the control point in the dark and when we finally see a light we're jubilant, we get in at about 10.15 after more than 14hrs moving. There is loads of people at the control and several has finished, the sprinters and others have had to withdraw, Ben is there after being found after two dips in the lake once even with his tent. He did get himself in though. The Germans have quit because of broken skates. Ashley and me go to the Doc and the film crew is also there.
While Ashley is being looked after I'm being interviewed by the film crew while they seem to enjoy filming my not so pretty feet and I'm also having a chat to Dave one of the organizers and he said he says he would be more impressed if I make the decision to quit than if I continue, considering I would be risking damage to my feet that might be irreparable, this makes up my mind and after the doc looking at the feet without touching them and kind of suggesting it would be mad to continue I'm out.
I go back to the tent and in the morning I let Neil know I won't continue and he should go on without me and finish the race for the team. He finishes the race brilliantly, catching at least one other competitor and finishing with an epic 60 miles in 24 hours, thank god I didn't join him.
This is me leaving. Among others Benn Berkeley and Ashley Baldwin.
Photo: Caspar Odqvist.
Yes, my feet hurted and I am tired! Photo: Caspar Odqvist
By the way any kit discussed in this blog is available from our shop: www.nordicoutdoor.co.uk
We would also like to thank our other sponsors: Solomon for the
skis and boots, unfortunately we didn't get much use of the skis,
but they did work very well on the little snow we came across in
the beginning and Neil might have got a bit more use out of them at
the later stages of the race. The Sorel Glacier boots provided to
us by Solomon, through Sub Zero boots, were very warm and
comfortable to start with but unfortunately they were the wrong
choice considering the high temperatures later on in the race, the
blame for this solely lies on the weather and ourselves.
I would also like to thank Power Traveller. I used two different chargers and the Power Monkey Extreme worked so much better than the other. It is very solid and quite resistant to the cold temperature. The weight of it is all worth it if you compare how much power you get.