If you have visited our shoe shop in Corbridge you may have met Janet who recounts her amazing recent Arctic adventure …. what an achievement!
An Arctic marathon… a marathon in the arctic… 26.2 miles in the snow and freezing temperatures… a marathon on cross country skis…. no matter how you say it, it always sounds just a little bit crazy ! But crazy is good isn’t it? Crazy makes you feel alive!
And so I go back to May 2016 when, to be fair, without too much hesitation I pressed the send button on an email to sign up for Walk the Walk’s Arctic Challenge 2017. A moment of madness? A midlife crisis? Or the best decision ever?? Only time would tell.
It’s fair to say I was excited from the start. I loved the idea of doing something completely different, taking on a challenge, stepping out of my comfort zone and having the opportunity to help to raise money for such a worthwhile cause. It had been a few years since I’d done The MoonWalk London so time to do my bit again.
When the Training Plan arrived I really felt like it was actually happening and while I was already pretty active I still stuck to the plan as much as I could, early morning running before, and walks after my shifts at katie kerr and walking all round the beautiful Northumberland countryside on my days off. My dogs have never been happier… they turned out to be the perfect waggy tailed training companions!
And so February 2017 arrived, all the kit had been purchased, the training Plan seriously put into action and I was off on my travels.
We met, most of us for the first time, at 4:40am at Heathrow airport on Feb 24th and despite the early start everyone was already in great spirits. Time for the first team photo … our journey had begun! and what a journey it turned out to be.
One of the many things that amazed me about this trip was the speed at which a group of strangers bonded. By the time we reached the Mountain Station in Abisko, I really felt like I was part of a warm, fun and friendly team. We were just 14 ordinary women and 3 brave men (!) about to take on something extraordinary. We each had our own story to tell and reason for being there, united in our desire to challenge ourselves and to raise as much money as possible for the same great cause.
From the minute we touched down on the snow filled runway at Kiruna airport we barely stood still for 5 minutes. No time to sit still, no time to waste, so much to see and do.
A wonderful meal at the Abisko Sky Station completed a long day of travel but all was good, and off we went to bed satisfied from the wonderful food, tired after the travelling and excited about what the next few days would bring!
Saturday morning was all about trying out cross country skiing … for most of us, including me for the first time ever! Fuelled with lunch and wrapped up in ultra thick snow suits we all bundled ourselves into skidoos for the exhilarating 3 hour journey to our hut for the night and the starting point of our marathon. We got our first glimpse of the absolutely stunning scenery and the route we’d be skiing along over the next two days… definitely no going back now!
While the temperature outside may have been freezing the atmosphere and temperature inside the hut couldn’t have been more different. With beds made wood chopped and fires lit we sat down to a lovely pasta supper with wine too, perfect. We dined by candle light, and the team spirit, bonding and laughter carried us through till bedtime. Quick trip to the toilet before sleep, well I say quick, but when the toilets are outside it’s not so quick by the time you’ve kitted up into all your warm clothing including hats & gloves and head torches and crunched your way over the snow to the Arctic lavatories… definitely an interesting experience ! There is something about basic living and a no frills environment that brings out the best in people, we were all equal and all getting stuck in looking out for each other and after each other. What a lovely feeling. It struck me that night that I was very lucky to be there and really happy to be a part of this “family.”
Next day dawned, marathon day! I was very excited, the forecast was perfect it was set to be sunny all day… how lucky were we?
What a day, what a place, as long as I live, I will never forget the beauty of that day. The stunning scenery off set by perfect blue skies was breathtaking. It truly was a privilege and joy to be there. Nine hours of skiing through the glorious sub arctic became less of a challenge and more of a pleasure. The day’s skiing was mostly flat apart from a short but steep decent to take us back to the tree lined lower area. We skied , tumbled and walked this section and I will never stop giggling at the alternative and comical way our group negotiated this section. Downhill skiing it turns out is not so easy on cross country skis !
Just a few more miles to the hut to stop for a much needed and well earned rest for the night. It was getting cold but strong spirit, grit, determination and team work saw us through and we’d made it to half way.
With wood chopped and fires lit we tucked into another well earned supper, everyone mucked in and did their bit not easy without electricity or running water ! Day 2 of the marathon arrived with talk of it feeling a bit colder. Confirmation of this came from the guides who with wide eyed looks informed us it was -30c! Yes, we were right, it was a bit chilly!
It turns out that -30c is cold enough to freeze your eyelashes, I had a lovely line of snowballs along my lashes making blinking interesting, I’m not sure I was in touch with any of my fingers for a couple of hours that morning despite 3 sets of very good gloves & mittens and one team member did get frost bite in their thumb!
The early morning ski across the frozen lake was amazing. Slightly scary seeing cracks in the ice and hearing a few suspect noises, one particularly loud one really spooked us but we ploughed on and into the undulating tree lined route towards the finish. What a welcome we received when 8 hours later we crossed the finishing line.
We’d made it! We’d stuck together, we’d done it as a team, we’d laughed till our cheeks hurt and till tears rolled down our faces, we’d had ups and downs but so so many more ups than downs, it felt great! We were all elated!
After a big thanks to our wonderful guides we headed straight off to our hotel. It was quite sad to leave the bubble of the marathon and the peace and tranquility and to find ourselves back in the company of strangers but I have to say the simple joys of a light switch, running water and a flushing toilet brought big smiles to our faces.
We had a big celebratory meal booked on the last night and after a relaxing day, we met in the Ice Bar for some celebratory fizz wearing the trademark walk the walk decorated bras. There was such a warm feeling amongst us, despite the freezing temperatures inside the bar. We had done something amazing together, we had shared something magical, we had conquered fears, we had overcome injuries, we had skied a marathon and we all knew how each other felt and we had bonded as a wonderful team. Back in the land of communication again we were all also finding out that our sponsorship money was going up and up as word reached our friends and family that we’d completed the marathon!
All this and we still had a night on the ice to come.
Sleeping in the Ice Hotel was quite surreal, a truly amazing and unique experience, there is something charming and beautiful about the rooms and wow, what amazing ice sculptures everywhere you looked !
And then, there it was, the final day had arrived, the day to return home to family and to normality. Time to go back to the usual routine, but somehow I think we all knew we’d changed a bit, we had absorbed all that this challenge had thrown at us, we’d embraced it and loved it and we were taking some of it away with us.
The sadness at leaving was soon forgotten as we took our places on the sledges for the husky ride to the airport, what a way to go! The fun, the experiences the sights and the magic… just never seemed to end.
We travelled home happy, contented people. The greatest sadness was all going our separate ways after landing at Heathrow. Was it really only 6 days ago that we all met for the first time?
We’ve all kept in touch since we got home, sharing photos, memories and ideas and plans for future meetings. I think just about everyone of us is doing another walk the walk marathon or challenge… or planning one. It’s hard to let go! For me I’m aiming for a 140km walk next summer but to keep me going I will be taking my place overnight on the London moon walk as a crew member/volunteer on may 13th. This time I will be cheering the walkers on and lending my support as they pound the streets doing their bit for breast cancer awareness.
So, was it a mid life crisis, a moment of madness or the best decision ever? Probably all of the above but most certainly one decision I am so pleased I made… one I will never ever regret and one amazing experience I will never forget