6633 Arctic Ultra: CP5 to CP6 (Aklavik to Inuvik)
As we set out on the ice road we know that this will be one of the toughest legs of the race as it's a 75 mile stage, which we know will take between 30 and 40 hours to complete (dependent on the weather conditions). It's about midday and we start off well, sticking to our 2 hour on/15min off schedule and we make good ground. As the evening and darkness approaches, my stomach starts to feel a little odd but I push that to the back of my mind and we push on into the night.
It was about 2am and we hadn't seen anyone on the ice road for many, many hours, when a big 4x4 pulls up. Usually we don't know if this is one of the crew or a local until it stops, as the lights are usually too bright. This time it was a local, a younger guy and his girlfriend. All of our previous encounters with the local communtiy were brilliant, they were usually wondering what we were doing (strange people pulling sleds in the middle of the night) and offered us water and snacks. This stop was odd from the very beginning. They stopped and asked whether we were with the 'other group', I answered that we were and then they went on to tell me how they'd just pulled some of our colleagues 4x4 trucks out of the snow bank and they'd been offered beers in return for the favour (none of our crew had gone off the road). Something just wasn't right, so I thanked them several times for stopping, hoping they would move on, Hayley also added that our support crew were on their way (we had no idea if this was true or not) and we moved off. A very strange encounter and one we hoped wouldn't happen again.
We carry on into the night with no issues. Our medics pull over for a chat but we can see that they're distracted and have to shoot off quickly, we guessed they were needed elsewhere on the course but little did we know the ramifications that were about to happen to some of our colleagues on this early morning.
At this point I must mention a slightly graphic situation that we all have to encounter in the Arctic, and one that many people have asked about.......going for a poo! Or as I was calling it, a "nature poo". Yes, sorry, but it's one of the most asked questions. How do you do it? Very quickly, is usually the answer. But there is a method and due to the extreme weather, you have to be prepared and get things done efficiently. Usually you get your tissues or wipes ready, pull over to a snow bank, whip your trousers down, do the deed, wipe, maybe add some lube to your butt cheeks, cover your poo with snow and put your tissues or wipes in a little bag (dispose of that later). And that's it......easy.
We decide to bivvy out, there aren't many safe places to stop so we dig into a snow bank and set ourselves up for a quick hour sleep. When we set up for a bivvy, we always make sure our pulk lights are facing any potential oncoming traffic, and even though we're well off the main route, we need to make sure any traffic can see us. We were asleep all of about 15mins and our medics arrived, they said they could hardly see us from the road, so they turned us around 90 degrees (still in our sleeping bags) so we could be better seen by any traffic. I had a full blown conversation with the medics, Hayley spoke to them too, but upon waking 45 minutes later she couldn't rememebr a thing and wondered why we were facing a different diirection to when we went to sleep!!! The mind is a wonderful thing!
We set off again into the darkness and continue on with our 2 hour on/15min off schedule. Everything is going well, except now my stomach is pretty bad and I have to employ the "nature poo" strategy from above on several occasions. This is not good and is starting to worry me a little bit. I don't mention it to Hayley yet, but she can clearly see that I've had to stop a few times to have a call of nature.
Daylight arrives, this always gives us a lift and we continue on the long ice road. The support crew of Bob and Lisa stop and tell us that one of our colleagues, Didier, was in hospital with suspected hypothermia. This was a huge shock to the system, we knew Didier was at the front of the race with Patrick and David, and we knew that Didier had been at this race before and had to DNF, we just hoped and prayed everything was going to be OK and that it was just a precatuion.
At this point Hayley and I had been crunching numbers and somehow we had convinced ourselves that there was no way we could finish the race within the cut-offs. We had been told by the race director for the previous few days that we were doing really well, but in some kind of weird Arctic brain-fog, we just couldn't make the numbers add up. We were knackered, this was a huge stage (we still had 30-odd miles to go), we were upset about Didier and in our heads we would miss the cut off's and be out of the race......we'd essentially talked oursleves out of the race. Our minds were all over the place.
This message got back to the race director who then drove out to convince us everything was OK, he told us we were on schedule and even though timings were tight, we were absolutely fine as long as we continued on at our current pace. We took a lot of convincing, and I mean a lot of convincing, but we got our heads back in the game and we shot off at a strong pace for the next few hours before settling back into our normal pace and routine.
Night time came and my stomach was getting worse and worse. At this point I told Hayley how bad it was and said if it got any worse she would have to leave me and carry on on her own. We'd come so far together, there was no way she was going to let that happen, but I told her it might be inevitable and she might have to go.
We bumped into Richard next, he's one of the film crew guys who was following the race. He's a top guy and told us that we had 10K to go until we get to the next check point, this was news to our ears but it still meant another 2-3 hours of hiking and with my ever growing stomach issues, it could be even longer. I was really struggling now, I went to the toilet 5 times in the last 5 miles, I used up all of our supplies of toilet tissues and wipes and was forced to use several old 'buffs' as toilet paper. Sorry for the graphic details, but I think it's important to let you all in on how the race really unfolded.
I was feeling weak and had no energy. The final few miles seemed to take forever, but fortunately as we approached Inuvik (we could see the lights of the town) some of our fellow athletes came out to walk us into the next check point. This was amazing and even though it still took over 20 minutes to get to the check point and felt like forever, it was great to see Kev, Neil, Wing and Bronwyn and catch up on how everyone was getting on.
Finally we reached the check point. This was a massive stage and took us about 36 hours, it was such a relief to get inside and have a rest. This check point was a small rustic chalet (weirdly, with lots of Caribou antlers at the door, see right), so we were able to have a hot drink, some food, grab a shower, change some clothes and sleep in a bed........luxury! We also saw Didier, who had been released from hospital, he didn't have hypothermia and was in good spirits, so that really lifted our mood.
We decided on having 4 hours sleep and I was dead to the world within seconds of my head hitting the pillow.
Upon waking, we sorted out our food and water supplies, we also had access to our final drop bag, so we had everything we needed to make the final push with just under 100 miles to go until we reach the finish at Tuktoyaktuk. The sun was rising, we were in good spirits, lets go get this done!
CP5 to CP6 (Aklavik to Inuvik) 75 miles (total: 286 miles)