June 2007 - Post Race Report Part 6/6
I would like to thank .....
All who supported me in this challenge
To everyone who donated to the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign and Prostate Cancer Charities
To everyone who sent me messages of support whilst out in the Arctic
To the ones who believed I could do it
To bosses of John Lewis who allowed me the time off
To all that trained with me in the Lakes
To Gary Hurd and Chris Tapp for encouraging me to sign the dotted line and realise a dream
To Andy Barton of The Sporting Mind whose help was invaluable
To Alex Harold for inspiration
Finally to Mum and Dad for all their unconditional love & support throughout this journey and throughout my life in general .
Gabrielle Finn - Polar Challenge 2007
A Pole at last
I have been careful in all communications with friends, family and journalists to specify that this is not the Geographic North Pole which is far and away much more of an achievement than the 1996 Magnetic North Pole. I don’t however want to underplay our achievement either (afterall it is cited as being the “toughest race in the world”). We arrived at our Pole around 10pm on the 14th May . The sun was shining with not a cloud in the sky. The ice glittered like sapphires, rubies, emeralds and diamonds – a sight I shall never forget. We opened up the barrel between the polar challenge flags and packed away all the contents as instructed , took some photos and then went on our way. We were still another day from the finish line
15th May : With only 12 miles to cover , I thought our last day would be a breeze. In terms of energy , this was my worst day yet. I laid into my cheese and chocolate like a demon so why wasn’t it helping me . I was bleeding more profusely so suspected this might have more to do with my sapped energy. I felt on the verge of collapse and repeated to myself “you can do it Gaby , just keep putting one step in front of the other ” . Eventually it became evident to my team mates that I was struggling. We were aiming for a 7pm flight from the finish line and so it was imperative that we made it on time. Gary offered to take my pulk fro a while. I reluctantly handed it over. I knew as a team we had to increase our pace and it did help our overall speed immensely. We spotted the polar challenge finish flags and tents could be seen in the far distance . Though the last complete team to finish we were officially 4th out of 8 teams who entered with an official race time of 18 days, 6 hours and 44 minutes.
Civilisation (not that you can truly describe Resolute as civilisation !) was within our grasp but was taken away at the last moment .Our flight that evening had been cancelled due to poor visibility. Tears overcame me , I sobbed and sobbed letting out all the pain and distress of the past few weeks. Gary passed in a small tumbler of cognac and I took one sip. The taste was divine. The impact of the alcohol hit me immediately and I fell into a happy sleep knowing that I would never have to pull a pulk ever again. Wrong ! The next morning we dragged our pulks for 90 minutes to the runway at the top of the steep hill in Issachen , a bizarre deserted mining town .We took refuge in an old building strewn with 1970’s magazines, foods and artefacts whilst we waited for the plane to land. The plane arrived on time swooping low to check out the state of the landing plot. We helped load the plane taking with us all remaining evidence of the Polar Challenge race.
On arrival at Resolute I looked at my emaciated body in the mirror. My initial thoughts were along the lines of “ Never Again “. I was not a natural polar traveller. I had never experienced such lows and did not want to suffer such hardships ever again !
Having been back almost a month , I’m able to be more objective and even romanticize the experience somewhat . I was privileged to “bear” witness to a polar bear standing on its hind legs in pre attack mode (and live to tell the tale ! ) ; I observed the randomness of nature through the thousands of magnificent and unique ice formations on the ocean that will never be seen again as the ice melts and reforms; I saw the Midnight sun in all its glory and I appreciated food , health, sleep and warmth and kind words in ways I never thought possible.
I’ve viewed the challenge as an overall 9 month project so much of my enjoyment has been in the pre-event preparation: designing and writing my web-site (inc techy bits !); becoming involved with the Muscular Dystrophy and Prostate Cancer Charities; being sent free beauty products to try out in the Arctic; the novelty of being interviewed by journalists and photographed by professional photographers; learning about nutrition, physiology, navigation, survival and the psychology of endurance sports; getting to know the Lake District better with the many hill walks with friends and family. All of these factors have added to an overall hugely enjoyable and rewarding experience.
I have returned from the Arctic stronger, happier, more relaxed and confident. The things I feared the most (polar bear encounters and white-out) offer some of the best memories of the trip. The opportunity to relax was rare and my pre-challenge guilt-filled attitude to relaxation has been replaced (at least for the time being !) with a more laid-back approach to life. I acknowledge more than ever before that my life is incredibly privileged , and am thankful for all the wonderful people and good things in it. The resilience of the human mind and body amazes me . This realization makes me feel stronger and better equipped to deal with the obstacles life may throw at me.
Flight to Civilisation
Post Challenge Reflections
The glittering Pole
Flying the flag
The plane to civilization
Celebrating in Ottowa