Back to School
This month saw all the polar challenge competitors converge in Austria , in a town near Zell Am Zee . As with most of the ski resorts in Europe in January , the snow was not plentiful and the temperatures very mild , not really the best for Arctic training. The first couple of days were spent alternating between the lecture theatre and the nursery slopes. Matty Mc Nair , one of the Worlds leading Arctic explorers talked about her experiences. We were all in awe of Matty , an unassuming , surprisingly slight and down to earth character . The content of the lectures covered topics such as navigation, clothing , packing, equipment , what and how to eat and drink, the importance of organisation (one of my challenges !) and of course how to avoid getting hypothermia, frost bite and dealing with polar bears. It brought it home to me how a case of minor neglect in normal circumstances could result in life- threatening consequences. ! Sweat is our enemy (as sweat freezes) . Ironically , the objective in the Arctic is to stay slightly on the cool side but obviously not too cool. The story of a competitor 3 years ago who forgot to pull up his zip after peeing made us flinch . This resulted in serious frost bite to a ‘sensitive’ area and later had to have 2 inches of tissue removed ! ) . I won’t encounter frost bite in that particular area but being a violin player I’m acutely aware of the trauma of potentially losing other appendages !!
On the Pull
How hard could it be for an averagely competent skier like myself to grasp the basics of cross-country ski-ing. Well… put it this way I was back in the beginners class by the end of the first day !! My coccyx was taking a severe beating ; add a sledge (pulk) to the equation (attached to my back ) and it was a disaster in the making . Several actually !! If I was lucky , the pulk took me out from behind and I landed on the front of my pulk cushioned by the soft sleeping bag, but then had to stop the pulk from accelerating into the trees below !! I just couldn’t get it ! The more I fell, the more I became dis-heartened . By day 3 , things were looking up. My confidence had increased with one-ski game of football, a 2-ski game of netball , an assault course and hours of practice round the circuits ! Pulling a pulk weighing 60kgs is not as bad as it sounds (once you’ve mastered the ski-ing that is !) . Across the flats you can almost forget it’s there. Uphill – a different question all together !!
One of the objectives for the week was to hitch up with other people who had applied as individuals and form a team of 3 . There were originally 8 . 3 of which had gotten together before I signed up. 5 were remaining. Of course 5 doesn’t go into 3 !! There was going to be some difficult choices . I was keen to go with Ian who was a strong and very experienced outdoors chap . Jean , I had spent time training with over Christmas and thought we may have teamed up. You are looking for people you can trust with, people who won’t drive you mad , people with the same level of commitment and hopefully fitness. The individuals had to rotate team members on a daily basis , sharing a tent and performing the days exercises together. After discussions (resembling Big Brother voting tactics) with the remaining individuals we decided it was too difficult to make these decisions so we would leave it up to Polar Challenge to sort out. I was therefore incredibly shocked when 3 of the others (Ian , Jean and Mark) decided to go as a team after they’d had a good day together . After an initial feeling of rejection (similar to the last kid picked in school teams ! ) , Thom (the other last individual) and I decided not to take it personally and see our predicament as an opportunity, though we weren’t at this stage sure we could team up with each other. Thom and I had had our occasional clashes ! Should we wait for the inevitable drop outs. I’d been informed that almost every year there were bone breakages , bereavements and team fall-outs before the race even started. It is not recommended to participate as a team of 2 so I wasn’t sure at this stage what would happen !
Taking the Plunge
A common training exercise is that of cutting a hole in a frozen lake , jumping in it with all your clothes on , jumping out as soon as possible, taking wet clothes off , rolling around on snow , putting tent up , lighting stoves and jumping into sleeping bag naked ; and if that fails to warm you up , your team mate is obliged to pop in there with you , preferably without clothes !! All about body heat you see ! No frozen lakes this year but teams had to line up and jump in to freezing water , fully clothed and holding hands. A few seconds before Thom and I were due to jump in , I asked Thom if he could swim . “No , not really that well” was the reply !!. Mmmm… well “Remember to let go of me once we hit the water” . The impact of the cold water stuns you into a 5 second paralysis as your mind catches up with the shock your body just experienced. Click the video link to see the look of shock on our faces coming out the water !! Actually we did rather well considering there was only 2 of us to put the tent up. A very exhilarating and actually quite enjoyable experience but no-one bothered to jump naked into sleeping bags (Phew !!) . It wasn’t really cold enough.
The last night we celebrated with a huge meal (very tasty after 4 nights of dried soya based food) and a visit to the local hot spot in fancy dress. I went topically as Snow White – see photo to right. Not a practical choice when later in the evening got locked out the hotel without a coat in an Austrian mid Winter ! Team Star raised the highest eyebrows by the locals that night with their ladies of the night costumes wildly dancing in the cages !!
Lectures with Matty McNair
Thom and I pulling pulks
Negotiating the Slopes with pulks
Thom and I taking the plunge
End of Training Celebrations
Weight Gain Progress
Weight gain 4 llbs now at 9 stone 11(62kgs) and body increase of 1% now to 24% . Pav too increase to 10 stone 10 so neck and neck on the weight gain.
Gabrielle Finn - Polar Challenge 2007