6633 Arctic Ultra: CP7 to the finish (Gateway to Tuktoyaktuk)
We're cold but have to move to get warmed up. We also can't hang around as we know that we're very close to the cut off time and need to move quickly to make sure we get to the finish line on the Arctic Ocean before 10:30am tomorrow!
We haven't seen that many other athletes since day 3 of the race and we know that David left the check point at Gateway about 4 hours ahead of us, so we're pretty sure we won't bump into him; and as we're not racing it's not important to us at all. We start to warm up, then have to stop for some running repairs on Hayley's contact lenses. As much as I tried I couldn't push that little lense against a squashy eyeball! So her three layers of gloves come off and she pops it in in a flash......easy!
We continue on and we come over the brow of a hill. Hayley stops suddenly. She pushes me forwards and says "Is that a bear?" Now I'll be honest, my long distance sight isn't the best, but I did see what she was talking about. Indeed, in front of us was a tall dark creature, standing upright on two legs. It took a second to come into focus, then I noticed that the 'bear' had a small 2-man tent and a pram. It was David (yes, he was pushing a jogging stroller/pram rather than a traditional sled). He had just gotten out of his tent, was stood upright, stretching in his large black insulated jacket and trousers. We were safe!
David was struggling, he just couldn't get warm, so had decided to get into his sleeping bag and try to warm up. He was talking about quitting, but the sunrise had slightly swayed him and was now contemplating carrying on. He'd called one of the support crew and we all decided that Hayley and I would continue on and that he would probably catch us up later on down the course.
We moved on from our bear scare and continued on. It was good to see David, even if he was struggling, and much as we thought he did indeed catch us up in the next hour or two. It was good to have company, we chatted about David's life, he lives in Montana and works as an attorney, a rancher, a tennis coach and a preacher, so has a few varied and interesting things to talk about. David chatted for about an hour, then decided to push on. We said our goodbyes and the next time we saw David was at the finish line on the Arctic Ocean.
We continued on at a good pace whilst we still had daylight and continued with our regular stops for food and hydration and our regular stretching breaks. We knew time was against us, so we kept these short and tried to do more on the move (eating on the move, changing clothing on the move, etc) as we knew time was precious and we couldn't mess around. One of the medics pulled up to us and checked on our progress, we were fine but we decided to stop for a good long break as this might be last big break we get in the next 12-18 hours. Scott, the medic, stopped with us, it was great to have company and talk about stuff that wasn't directly linked to the race (the cold, the distance, food, hydration, our feet, etc). Scott is a no-nonense Scot with some good stories, we left that break totally refreshed and ready to tackle the remaining 30 miles or so.
We continued on in the daylight, darkness soon fell and exactly like the previous night, Hayley's pace slowed dramatically. We address this straight away tonight and chat through it, we know time is of the essence, so we decide to carry on for a little bit then find a suitable place to bivvy up. After 20 minutes or so we find a suitable spot, Hayley jumps in her sleep bag and is snoring within seconds. I set my alarm for 20 minutes, get my sleeping bag out but something just didn't feel right to me and I couldn't put my finger on it. I'm not sure if I was worried about missing the cut-off, sleeping through my alarm or if I was concerned about locals stopping, but I lay there awake for 20 minutes almost like I was on guard duty. It was weird.
Anyway, 20 minutes was up, my alarm went off and we were up and away within a few minutes. Hayley was back in the game, time to crack on and get this done!
We're about an hour in and I'm guessing we have about 20 miles to go, when one of the support crew vehicles pulls up. Martin (race director), Emily (support crew) and Mimi (support crew and photographer) are on board and Martin tells us it'a 'about' 20 miles to the finish line and that we need to get a move on. Martin had looked at our average speed for the previous 20 miles (at this point he was unaware that we'd stopped for a big break and stopped for a sleep) and if we stayed at that speed for the final 20 miles then we would arrive at the finish line between 10am and 10:30am (the cut off was 10:30am). That of course was too close for comfort and we didn't want to be close to the cut off, just in case something went wrong in the final 20 miles. Then Martin joked that the Wales V Ireland rugby match is due to start at 7:30am, so we'd better be back before 7:30am or don't bother arriving until 10am, as he'd be watching the rugby and would miss us crossing the finish line.
This, of course, was meant as a joke, and as a bit of encouragement. Unfortunately Hayley didn't see it this way and blew her top! She was fuming! I think I learnt a few new swear words that day! Before I knew it, the support vehicle had moved off and we were off and flying down the road at break neck speed! She was angry. Very angry!
"Who does he think he is?!?!" says Hayley as she was striding out at some crazy speed. I let her simmer for 10 minutes or so, then we stopped for a chat. She'd calmed down, slightly, but we both decided that it was now time to really smash this thing, no more messing about, time to really knuckle down and get to Tuktoyaktuk as soon as was physically possible. We pushed on at a hard pace, probably harder than we'd ever pushed, we were starting to sweat so we had to be careful not to overheat and then cool down, or we could be in big trouble. We were driving on, we didn't have a break for about 4 hours, still pushing, making good ground, pushing some more, then we took a series of very short stops to get some fluids inside us (we were now running on snacks, no real food was consumed in the final 6-7 hours) and we were moving on again......no time for extended breaks.
Eventually we reached the highest point near the coast and we could now see the lights of Tuktoyaktuk below but knew it was still about 10 miles away, which was still another 4 hours of hiking. In fact, the route seemed to be taking us away from Tuktoyaktuk, not closer to it! We were now getting really tired, the conversation had dropped to nothing, we were both hallucinating and as we got nearer to the Arctic Ocean it got really, really cold. We just had to keep on trucking. One foot in front of the other.
Then Hayley shouts at me:
- Hayley: What's your favourite colour?
- Me: What?
- Hayley: We need to talk to stay awake! What's your favourite colour?
- Me: Blue
- Hayley: Why?
- Me: I just like it.
- Hayley: What shade of blue?
- Me: Light blue, like the colour on my website!
This continued on for the next hour or two, discussing our favourite food, holiday destinations and other werid and wonderful things, but it worked. We got closer and closer without realising it. We were almost there. However, when I say almost, we're still maybe 2 hours away.
We're now down at sea level and it's very cold. The wind is whipping across the frozen Arctic Ocean, so we have to batten down the hatches and put all of our warmest gear on. We're almost there and we know that we'll be met by some athletes with about 2 miles to go......we keep pushing on towards the lights, slowly but surely they start to look bigger and seem to be getting closer.
I'm now hallucinating big time, I'm seeing lots and lots of faces on the ice, from Elvis Presley to Bruce Lee and everyone in between, then I see grave stones popping up out of the ice, I close my eyes and open them 5 seconds later hoping they'd disappeared (they did). Then I saw him, the final nail in my weird hallucinating coffin.....Mr Blobby! What on earth was going on in my head??? I stopped, closed my eyes, took a 10 second break, took in a masive breath, opened my eyes and he was gone.
Then we saw some lights approaching us. Please let this be a support crew vehicle telling us we have 2 miles to go! It was and it wasn't. It was Richard (film maker) and Kev (our favourite athlete), we were elated! They'd come out to meet us, to walk us in and told us we have 4.5 miles to go. This was kick in the teeth to be totally honest, as we knew this was another hour and a half of hiking, but it was so good to see Richard and Kev, and catch up on the goings on with the other athletes.
We were really tired, stopping occasionally to stretch, we were in no rush, we were well ahead of schedule, so there was no danger of us being anywhere near the cut off. After a while a few other athletes came out (Pete, Neil and Matt) and told us we had 2 miles to go, we were over the moon. We walked in with our friends, chatting about how everyone was feeling back at the check point and generally catching up with everyone.
As we neared the finish line on the Arctic Ocean, the guys told us exactly which way to go, then they left us to enjoy the finish line on our own. Hayley and I stopped about 400m from the finish line, took a moment, had a hug and a few brief private words. We'd shared a huge amount over the previous 9 days and we didn't really have to say much to each other, we both knew we couldn't have done this epic challenge without each other, now all that was left was to finish it off.
We'd walked over 380 miles, in crazy arctic conditons, now all we had left was the final 100 metres towards the finish tape. We crossed the line and it was all over! The culmination of 10 months of hard work and sacrifice had come down to this moment on the frozen Arctic Ocean. I was done. I was happy. I needed to sit down.
We made our way into the school hall and someone had laid out 2 chairs for us. I sat down, closed my eyes and thought about what we'd just achieved. I was very, very pleased, but totally drained. I was expecting it to be quite emotional on crossing the finish line, maybe even a few tears, but it wasn't like that at all. Perhaps the emotional rollercoaster that we'd been on over the previous 9 days had taken all the emotion out of it and we were just getting the job done or maybe I was just too damn tired. Don't get me wrong, it was amazing, there just wasn't any emotion left to come out.
Perfectly timed to wake me up from my post-race brain fog, Jonny the medic offered me some porridge and Mimi brought me a cup of tea. I was in heaven. The porridge tasted amazing and the tea was bang on. Then all the other athletes, finishers and DNF'd athletes, were coming in and congratulating us; it was great to catch up with all the athletes. We were told before the race that we'd become a small close-knit family over the duration of this race and I doubted that to be honest, but it's true. I formed strong friendships with many of the athletes and crew, we have shared experiences that just can't be replicated elsewhere, this was more than a race, it was a true life experience.
CP7 to finish (Gateway to Tuktoyaktuk) 54 miles (total: 383 miles)