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June 2007 - Post Race Report Part 5/6
Gabrielle Finn - Polar Challenge 2007
Sleep Ski-ing

Tina suffered badly from the condition of sleep ski-ing. I too occasionally succumbed to this condition. It IS actually possible to fall asleep whilst standing upright and whilst ski-ing !! The symptoms are slurring of words , staggering , slow pace and falling down due to attention deficiency. For Tina conversation or once having her pulk pulled by Gary helped ! Coffee and Michael Palin reciting his “Pole to Pole” book worked for me (though his mention of the heat and food available in Cairo was not welcome !)
My energy levels were not consistent despite my religious approach to regular eating on the trip. I was consuming close to 7000 calories a day but occasionally I felt as if I were “running on empty”. I am lucky to be blessed with a very high metabolism but it worked against me in the Arctic. I was up to 25% fat before I left but soon my reserves were running out. I was losing blood daily so perhaps these all contributed to these energy lulls. I was upset and frustrated. Despite my regular efforts to dip into the sweet and cheese bags and the mind over matter approach , when the energy lapses hit , I would struggle to keep up with my team mates. Keen to push on, they would rarely look back and I occasionally found myself in potentially hazardous situations eg falling down snow holes with no-one around to help or being exposed to a polar bear attack without back up from the team.
Energy Deficiency
The last slog to CP2 was memorable. The officials saw us approaching from the distance and videoed our staggered efforts towards the camp. Mark, a polar challenge trainer, frankly told us that the outlook wasn’t good. We were now lagging behind the other teams significantly. Could we complete the last leg in 3.5 days ? The answer was no . There was evidently worse ice rubble to follow. What could we do to increase our speed ? Drastic action was required. We decided to ditch one of our tents , dump any non-essential items of kit and re-distribute weight once more. Even with this action we could only promise to attempt a 4 day leg. If we didn’t make the 4 days , we would potentially have to be rescued. This would involve us building a runway on flat ice for a plane to land – something we did not relish.
We set off from CP2 with grim determination. There was no way we could envisage not making the finish line after what we’d been through. .That first day we made excellent progress despite encountering the beginning of more ice rubble. This next section was far more challenging and unrelenting than previous ice rubble encounters particularly as visibility was deteriorating. We were going to struggle to meet the 4 day deadline. Despondency was setting in.
Deadlines at Check Point 2(CP2)
Set Back
Polar Bear – Encounter No 2
Day 17 : We needed to put in a huge effort day – at least 22 miles to be able to get to the Pole and the finish line on time. We were disheartened to wake up to bitter winds and poor visibility and to see the track we had found the previous day had been covered by snow during the night. Could things get any worse ? Half an hour into our journey, Tina and I spotted a yellowish 4-legged creature in the intermediate distance. We identified it immediately. (In training we’d been told that polar bears in the far distance look black , in the intermediate distance look yellow and if they look white, then you’re in trouble !) Gary was navigating ahead . Tina shouted “polar bear” . He ran back to where we were. We dropped our back packs, took off our skis and sprang into action. Thom got the gun , Tina and I held up our skis and waved them around above our heads shouted and yelling at the top of our voices to look large and sound imposing but to no avail. The bear was advancing towards us at a rapid pace. It suddenly paused then stood upright on its hind legs , waving its front paws around and snarled aggressively . It wanted us for breakfast ! Gary had no luck setting off the flare. At this point, Tina shouted to Thom “Shoot the f*ing gun, shoot the f*ing gun “ . Thom fired a shot into the air. The bear then retreated but visibility was still poor and we lost track of it. We decided to inform the officials of our status and position. As I was speaking to Tony, , the boss of the Polar Challenge company, on the satellite phone, the bear emerged from the whiteout and began to run towards us again. “Gotta go Tony – bears coming back ” I said , with a tad of urgency in my voice !” . Thom shot above its head once again and it retreated. For the rest of the morning , for the first time since the trip started , we stuck very close together.
It seemed that luck wasn’t on our side that day. The visibility became poorer and we found ourselves in thick white-out. This is where the horizon is white and merges into the ground seamlessly , with no definition or ability to distinguish the gradient or texture of the ground beneath you. Without sunshine penetrating through the clouds , the usual differentiating shades of white merge into one overall white colour, the experience of which is similar to playing blind man’s buff . White Out had been my biggest concerns. How would I cope with it mentally ? As it turned out , I found white out rather fun – especially if I navigated to the sounds of my ipod. I prided myself on the ability to walk in a straight line without any sense of perspective whatsoever - reminiscent of my walks home as a drunken student in Sheffield ! I’d check the gps from time to time to checking I hadn’t gone off course. It was a strange sensation, sinking in the snow unwittingly or stepping up without sight of the ground !!

Despite our best efforts, getting to the finish line in 4 days was impossible but 5 was entirely feasible. Polar Challenge kindly extended our deadline by a further day.
Left behind
Arriving at CP2
My polar bear piccie
A taste of white-out