Post 2 of 4: The trek

OK, OK, OK, so let’s get to the story…

We trekked for 72 kms, over 3 days, in between -20 and -34 degree temperatures.  That about covers it.

But if you’re after a bit more detail…

The first day of trekking was by far the best.  We were well rested, highly caffeinated (see post 1 of 4), excited, and enthusiastic.  We started the trek walking 2 or 3 abreast, down a frozen river, chatting away, and simply enjoying the thrill of what we were doing.  The view was completely magical.  Not a breath of wind. Snow clinging to trees like they’d been carefully dusted by an artist.  The sun was shining, making the snow on the ground sparkle like diamonds, and the dusting of snow in the air (puffing off trees, rather than falling from the sky) shined like little bits of gold dust.  We left the river and trekked through a picture postcard town with houses painted perfect Nordic colours, and snow covering everything. It got a bit harder trekking later, including a slight hill which made negotiating the pulk down hill a little interesting… but still all happy, all positive and all lovely.  At the bottom of the hill we emerged onto an enormous frozen lake, and as the twilight twinkled its last and darkness enshrouded us we trekked down towards the welcome row of tents already erected for us by the ‘logistics’ team, and a roaring fire.

So far, so good.

The thing is, I was most nervous about being able to ‘do’ the trek.  And by that, I meant, the walking.  But walking is (literally) putting one foot in front of the other. And nothing had prepared me (could have prepared me) for the cold that seeps – immediately – into you when you stop walking, or the faff of trying to do literally anything in that cold.  Make yourself a cup of tea (also note: powdered milk, because the fresh stuff would freeze. Yechhhh.).  Unpack your sleeping bag.  Go to the loo (a lean to with a ‘long drop’ that could have embraced the phrase ‘long’ a little more…the night was OK – when we arrived everything was frozen… the morning… let’s just say you’d have been better to get there before the 17 other people on the trek had visited….).  Everything was just more difficult in the cold.

You’ll have seen from the last post that Olivia just couldn’t get warm overnight.  I certainly wasn’t ‘warm’ but I was not so cold as to be kept awake. Lying on three layers of insulation (roll mat, inflated mattress, my own down jacket), fully dressed, inside a sleeping bag which was pulled so tight there was a gap the size of a dinner plate, not that I noticed, because my head was tucked so far down into the sleeping bag it was nowhere near that gap.  And with all of that, I was just not too cold to be able to snatch a few hours of sleep.

The next morning at the campfire I saw the look in Olivia’s eyes and knew before she said anything that she wouldn’t be continuing.  It went in a bit of a blur and suddenly she was off on the snowmobile, and I was packing up the tent on my own, freezing, and trying to fit everything back in my pulk bag.

No one had slept really well, 5 of our team had left the trail by that point, we didn’t have the biggest breakfast, and we knew we had a long slog ahead of us with the prospect of another freezing night in tents.  Given all of that, day 2 was going to be a day for building character, and drawing on the willpower I have written about.  That got even more pronounced when it became apparent that almost the whole day was spent trekking single file.  This meant less chat with other team members to distract, motivate, and sympathise.  It was just you, pulling your pulk, focused on not falling too far behind the pulk in front of you, and being aware of and responding to the conditions around you.  All with the prospect of another night in a tent.  And did I mention it was still freezing cold?

Towards the end of the day it was apparent that everyone was flagging a bit, and me a little more than others.  Not so much that it was a problem, but enough that it was noticeable.  The guides (you’ll hear about them in the next post) made a call for the last 5 km push to the campfire: they put me in front behind the lead guide.  This meant that they whole team stayed together, moving at a steady pace that worked for me.  It was on this part of the walk that a capercaillie flew out of the snow and away from us.  Incredible not in and of itself, but because it was the only wildlife I saw on the WHOLE trek.  The animals and birds know to stay away from the cold, but we didn’t get the memo.

We were within a kilometre of the camp only to find out that we’d been trekking too fast!  The logistics team hadn’t arrived to light the fires.  Luckily, Heikke – our Finnish guide (and Olivia’s snowmobile hero) – can just look at a fire to get it lit.  He raced off ahead on his snowmobile and arrived approx. 5 mins ahead of us.  By the time we walked in and unhooked our pulks there were two roaring fires.  Awesome.

Night two was a little less overwhelming that the first night, but really only because we knew what to expect and were better prepared.  After an exceptional chicken and chorizo stew with just enough chilli to pleasantly heat your body, it was another 10 mini trips to and from the tent to set up.  Pull out roll mat and mattress and undo them.  Back to the fire.  Pull out sleeping bag.  Back to the fire.  Blow up mattress (actually, I had one of our obliging guides do this for me on the second night, but I stood next to him in the cold, so it counts).  Back to the fire.  And so it continued.

Our guides pulled out a little pub quiz, which was a respite from the cold and the dread of the tent, and I admirably helped my team to a few pretty good answers (one I would obviously get – Who is on the back of the new $10 note?  And another a little surprising but thanks to my wonderful husbands’ sports obsession – In football, what does GLT stand for?) See the end of the post for the answers.

And then, I could delay now more, and it was time to attempt bed.  Because I no longer had my favourite tent-buddy, I was sharing with Jack, whose wife had had to come off the trek with the cold also.  I added an extra jacket to my outfit from the night before, and some handwarmers in my socks and tucked into other clothing, and I settled in.  Surprisingly, sleep and warmth came easier than the night before.  Still not comfortable, mind you, but easier.  When I woke, Jack had already packed up his side of the tent and I learnt another lesson: get everything packed up around you while you’re still sitting warm in your sleeping bag.  Don’t (as I had done the morning before) head straight for the fire in the morning and have to go back to a cold tent to pack up.  It was still cold (there was a layer of iced condensation on the inside of the tent), but that just compelled you to move fast and pack quick.

Day 3 had begun – the final day.  Not only was this just (just) a 15 km trek, but also we were trekking to the finish line.  For some reason, we were trekking at an incredible pace on the last day.  I’m not sure why.  But we were going fast. Really fast.  To be honest, a bit too fast for me, and I was struggling.  Not struggling to walk it – I was always going to make the distance barring a significant injury.  But the pace.  Still, I’m a bit stubborn, so I just told myself I wasn’t going to fall too far back.  This is where the willpower came it.  It doesn’t work against hypothermia, it doesn’t work against injury, but when it comes to pace, I just decided to keep up.  And I did (kind of).  The main event of the last days’ trek will be revealed in the last post in this series (“why I took my clothes off in -24”)… so I’ll leave that to then.  But the next most important event was coming up to the end of the trek.  You have read about meeting Olivia on the track which was amazing.  And I then walked among the group, but also on my own, across the final frozen lake.  It was clear, still, and with sunshine creating that magical sparkle that I’ve described before.

I looked up to the end where the logistics team were waiting and saw the only thing I needed to motivate the final push to the end: a very pleasing pun.

And so I walked my last steps towards ‘The Finnish Line’.  Classic.


Pub quiz answers: Jane Austen and Goal Line Technology.

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