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June 2007 - Post Race Report Part 3/6
Gabrielle Finn - Polar Challenge 2007
On your marks…..

The gun shot blasted into the air. We were off. We’d already had 2 withdrawals from the race. Steve from “Team Star” had to withdraw due to an old knee injury and Scott from “Team Spirit” due to different objectives and a suspected team incompatibility. I was envious. I thought it actually took courage to withdraw . This was a harsh environment and any minor issues in a normal surroundings could certainly blow up into severe problems out in the Arctic.

There were now 3 teams of 2 including “Girls on Top”. Tina and Rachel were two strong girls but to carry the weight for a full team between the two of them was certainly asking a lot. By the end of the first day, they were struggling. Rachel had been having doubts for days about being alone and exposed in the Arctic with already a huge disadvantage over the other teams. They camped up with us on the first night and relayed their fears. I felt for them and didn’t have any hesitation but to offer our company and assistance where possible over the next couple of days.
The first leg to Check Point 1 covered getting across Bathhurst Island and the notorious Polar Bear Pass. I had made a decision (that I later regretted on one notable occasion) to leave Thom and Gary to the route planning. Gary had the lat and long co-ordinates for the route he had taken last year. Thom had researched on 3D Google and had beavered away with spreadsheets and co-ordinate conversion algorithms. They had for the mostpart done a thorough job but we did go astray at times. Bathhurst is also notoriously hilly and so it was important to avoid too many steep slopes. Rachel and Tina struggled immensely on these hills. Gary often pulled his own pulk up, ,de-roped himself ,went back down the hill to Rachel’s or Tina’s pulk and assisted them with theirs. Thom and I too , when not struggling with our own weight did the same. We were already giving up on competing for any decent ranking in the race.

Tina’s Mum , had told Tina before she set off that she needn’t worry as “angels would look after her” Tina’s diary for the day read …

“Today we have conquered Polar Bear pass without seeing any bears! We have had a better day with sunshine and good company in the form of Team Polarity. (Mum I think they are my angels) we have been slow but happy and Gaby is coming round for tea tonight”

Some unlucky choices in route planning , left us facing the wrong gully in Polar Bear Pass , and on one occasion incorrect navigation left us no alternative but turn back on ourselves. We were getting further behind all the time.
Day 3. Rachel was feeling very cold. Of course this is normal in the Arctic but once you have done all you can do to warm up which includes putting on duvet jacket, moving faster / physical exertion on the spot, eating more and your core is still cold , it’s time for some firm action. Once hypothermia really sets in then shivering, confusion and dilated pupils are apparent . Rachel was not at this stage but we were taking no chances. We promptly put up the tent, got the stoves on and laid out a sleeping bag for Rachel. As an extra source of warmth Tina also got into the sleeping bag ! A couple of hours later with hot drinks, hot porridge , and restful sleep Rachel felt strong enough to continue. I must admit that I too was glad of the rest . It was the first time since I’d arrived in the Arctic that I had had to chance to relax during the daytime hours. The downside was that we were getting increasingly behind the other teams.
The next day Ady in no uncertain terms told us that we would have to increase our daily mileage or else we would compromise our ability to finish the race. The recommendation was that we go our separate ways from Girls on Top as they were contributing to our slow progress. It was a hard decision . Rachel had been incredibly supportive to me on a tough night through whiteout and bitter winds and Tina had livened up the proceedings somewhat I had appreciated and enjoyed their company. We were however only potentially 2 days from CP1. The girls were strong , baggage was lighter and we still had our dreams to fulfil. I waved a reluctant goodbye.
Falling Apart
It wasn’t long before we ‘bumped into’ Tina and Rachel again ! We were afterall on the same course !

I had been ski-ing well but my thighs were beginning to feel extremely painful. Muscle pains were not unusual but to my frustration this was slowing me down . The others were making good progress so I had to shout them back. I hobbled along for a while but this pace was doing us no favours particularly with the warning we’d received. I turned to what got me through other painful episodes – Nurofen Plus !! Wonder drug ! Within half an hour , I could walk at a regular pace again however for several days after , I was unable to kneel or squat – not entirely the ideal for camping activities !

During the winter months in the UK, I often experience broken skin on my fingers. It didn’t occur to me , nor had it been mentioned by previous competitors to take precautions to mitigate against this. Within days of being out on the ice , open sores began to appear on my thumbs and fingers which became deeper throughout the journey. The extreme cold prevents natural healing and skin regeneration. I initially cursed my way through all finger-related chores ( pretty much all of them !) until the pain just became the norm.

We’d been warned about old injuries and bone breakages coming back to haunt you in the Arctic. I’d broken my collar bone playing rugby some years ago and had always felt aching twinges in the cold over the years. Of course the aches and pain came back with a vengeance. Once again Nurofen Plus came to the rescue !

One side of the Arctic boots we’d been issued cut into my right ankle. I treated the blisters with Compede , a skin protection product , but they featured low down in the hierarchy of pain.

I also suffered swollen lips, swollen face , self inflicted burnt chin and fingers, a scolded mouth (by accepting some hot soup from one of the trainers ) and frost nipped big toes and fingers which caused further pain when exposed to the extreme cold.

To complete the list , I should mention the single most misery-inflicting ailment I had to deal with . I had been prescribed the pill under my gp’s recommendation to prevent any inconvenient menstrual bleeding. This pill had the reverse effect on me . Suffice to say I bled from Day 3 all the way to the finish line without adequate protection – not the sort of problem I cared to share with my male team mates !!

I have noticed that this section is by far the longest !! I promise I’m no hypochondriac but the Arctic did seem to bring about a variety of health hazards !!

Stern Warning
The race begins
Joining forces with Girls on Top
Passing through a gully on
Bathhurst Island
'Sargent Ady" taking team positions
Me - not in a good way !!