Arctic Rugby Challenge 2015 - It's All Getting Very Real Now...
As I sit down to write this blog, I’ve come to the realisation that in a mere 91 days we will be officially embarking on our journey to the North Pole. Starting off with a seven day training camp in Resolute Bay, the most northerly inhabited area of the world, before leaving for our 100 mile trek to the Pole, my journey is starting to become very real now.
The journey to Resolute sounds like a bit of a mission in itself! It consists of five separate flights, the planes getting smaller and smaller each time we change – apparently my legs will be sticking out of the front windscreen on the last! Finally we will land on the frozen land of Resolute Bay. It is at this point, and only this, that we will learn how to survive in such extreme climes; how to manage our tent preparation, how to cook food, prepare water, avoid frostbite - the list goes on.
In fact, I have just returned from a camping weekend down in Wales, which was our last official training together as a group before we head off in April. It was a brilliant weekend which, among many things, has increased my excitement and anticipation to get going.
The weekend was dubbed as a ‘fitness wake up call’ and it certainly didn’t disappoint. We spent the Saturday morning running up and down the famous
Big Dipper sand dune at Merthyr Mawr, a task which can only be described as brutal! I have been on many sand dunes in my time as a rugby player but this one was definitely the biggest, longest and steepest I’ve encountered. We then had a brief picnic lunch on the beach, which wouldn’t be my first choice location on the 10th January (!), before going on a 15km map reading orienteering exercise in teams of three.
The afternoon session was a great opportunity to spend time with some of our fellow challengers and get to know our new teammates. My team of three was a team of Scots and, in classic Scottish style, we teamed up with another team of three to make our team stronger and increase the banter!
One of the recruits had actually been to the North Pole before, so I took this opportunity to ask as many questions as I could in the three hours we had together. You can imagine my obvious questions to begin with – did you encounter a polar bear? How cold is it really? However, what I found out in the next few hours were some extremely valuable tips; the little things that will make such a big difference when we’re out there, so I thank Rob for putting up with all my probing!
Julie, who is another polar adventurer that was with us over the weekend, told me of two stories, while we were getting stick in to some vin rouge on Saturday night. Those stories will really stuck with me and brought home the realities of the challenge. Julie embarked on a journey to the North Pole in 2009 and unfortunately didn’t make it all the way because she fell through the ice! Thankfully Julie is ok and bravely wants to complete the journey, and so is coming with us this time around for take two. It did prompt me ask how thick the ice is, to which the response was “an average of 6ft” - not as thick as I would have thought, or hoped!
The second encounter she had sent more shivers down my spine than -40C ever could. When Julie was sleeping in her tent one evening on the ice, she woke up to the noise of a polar bear striking her tent, clearly after some food. Thankfully the polar bear ran away before getting frightened by a shotgun and everyone was ok, but what a terrifying encounter to have nonetheless.
It made me wonder why on earth she is returning to the challenge, and in fact why I was going, however I quickly remembered why I have decided to take on this challenge and why it inspires me so much, which you can read about in my first blog post, where I explain the real reason I’m taking on this challenge – to support the Wooden Spoon Charity by raising a substantial amount of money for them, while having the opportunity to truly have an experience of a lifetime.
Back in Scotland and reflecting on our weekend in Wales, it has provided some valuable preparation and has made this whole thing very real indeed. If I’m being completely honest, I can’t wait to get going!
If you are in any way inspired by my story and would like to support the charity and my journey, you can donate here: https://www.justgiving.com/arcticrugby-steve/