6633 Arctic Ultra: The aftermath……….

 

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It’s been a few weeks since I completed the 6633 Arctic Ultra and I’ve had some time to reflect on the cold, the wind, the distance and the endless pulling of the pulk. I’ve written several blog posts after the race and these blog posts have been quite cathartic and made me think more about the actual race itself. Sometimes you get caught up in the moment and forget the little things that were going on at the time, so writing the blog posts were a good exercise for me.

There were a few things I didn’t mention in the blogs (because I forgot or didn’t appreciate them then), one of them was the amount of sleep I got over the 9 days of 'racing'. After counting up the sleeps and my mini-naps I calculated that I had 19 hours sleep over 9 days, which works out at a little over 2 hours of sleep a day……for 9 days! This explains the fatigue and the hallucinations, but one thing we must remember is that this was self-inflicted. I chose to sleep so little. I had to keep moving to meet the cut-offs (and keep warm), so sleep wasn’t a priority; moving was a priority. A good friend of mine who completed the 6633 last year told me before the race “If you aren’t moving, you aren’t finishing”. And this is so true. You have 383 miles to cover in 9 days, so you have to keep moving. Not sleeping is a form of self-torture and it was my choice at that point in time. Sleep deprivation can drive a person crazy (there’s a reason people use sleep deprivation as a tool of torture) and my mind was all over the place at times!

Read more: 6633 Arctic Ultra: The aftermath……….

6633 Arctic Ultra: CP7 to the finish (Gateway to Tuktoyaktuk)

 

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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. 

Read more: 6633 Arctic Ultra: CP7 to the finish (Gateway to Tuktoyaktuk)

6633 Arctic Ultra: CP6 to CP7 (Inuvik to Gateway)

 

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We leave the checkpoint at Inuvik just as the sun is rising, suitably refreshed and ready to tackle the remaining 100 miles. On leaving we're told to wrap up as it's -32'c further down the course, we heed their advice, wrap up and get going!  

We're both feeling great right now, we're ticking off the miles and dreaming of the finish line at Tuktoyaktuk. We're very confident........too much too soon?

We're sticking to our 2 hour on/15min off schedule and also adding in a quick stretch every hour; Hayley's ankle is sore and our bodies are tired, so these 2 minutes stretches really helped with the tightness we were feeling (in pretty much all of our muscles). The course is hillier than expected, we knew it was due to flatten out soon, and it didn't come soon enough as some of these hills were now taking their toll on us (the race director said this part of the course is undulating, not hilly, I beg to differ. It might be undulating in a nice warm 4x4 truck, but it's certainly hilly on foot, after 7 days of hiking).  

The route now is quite open, there is little tree cover and where there are trees they're stunted by the cold. In fact, the further North we've been travelling the less and less trees we've seen, I guess a result of the colder Arctic conditions as we move nearer to the Arctic Ocean.

We stop for a break and the offical photographer, Weronika, stops for a chat and takes a few photographs. As I'm changing my socks I notice some paw prints, I ask Weronika what they're from (she's a local, so knows her wildlife) and says they're too big for a coyote or wild dog, they're wolf prints! We hadn't seen any wolves so far (a colleague did see a big black wolf on Wrights Pass), but I was keeping my eyes peeled from this point on! Check out their paw prints in the photo below! 

It's now mid-afternoon and Hayley is starting to struggle. Her pace dropped dramatically and something had to be done, we couldn't carry on like this. I ask her to pull over, at exactly the same time we both say that she needs a sleep.....great minds and all that. We ignored the bivvy for the first time and simply lay face down on our sleds and were out in seconds. For some reason we both woke up after 5 minutes. I decided we needed more time, so set my alarm for 15 minutes and back to sleep we went for a super-quick power nap.

Read more: 6633 Arctic Ultra: CP6 to CP7 (Inuvik to Gateway)

6633 Arctic Ultra: CP5 to CP6 (Aklavik to Inuvik)

 

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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.  

Read more: 6633 Arctic Ultra: CP5 to CP6 (Aklavik to Inuvik)

6633 Arctic Ultra: CP4 to CP5 (Mid-Point Peel River to Aklavik)

 

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We set off from CP4 and it got dark very quickly. The fatigue was setting in, so we decided to bivvy up quite soon after setting off. As before, the alarm was set for an hour and I was asleep as I my head hit the pillow. On waking, it was freezing again, maybe -25'C and it took us a while to warm up this time, but we got there, eventually. 

So far the arctic weather gods had been fairly kind to us, that was about to change! As we progressed through the night the wind started to pick up, nothing too serious but as soon as daylight arrived the winds started to really smash us. No matter where we were on the ice road, it seemed like we had a head wind. The wind was turning into a storm, snow was whipping across us and it was a real grind. It was head down action for hours, driving onwards, hoping that the storm would blow through.......but it didn't. This was a tough slog, I wasn't sure how long we could keep this up for! For a second the wind seemed to subside, we were knackered, so Hayley and I took the decision to try to bivvy out for an hour, hoping that when we woke the storm would have disappeared. 

Whilst setting up our bivvy systems, some snow got blown into our sleeping bags, this had to be removed quickly as we couldn't allow our down sleeping bags to get wet, that could be catasrophic. Snow removed and we were both asleep within minutes. 

An hour passes and we're back on the ice road grinding out the miles. The wind has died down a bit, it's still pretty strong but not a patch on the previous few hours, so we try to make headway whilst we can........except that we're knackered. The snow storm had really battered us and taken a lot out of our bodies. We're eating well but it just feels really hard. After a few more hours we decide to have another bivvy, we get off the ice road onto a soft snow bank and set up camp. We decide to eat first, then sleep. Whilst doing this more snow gets blown into our sleeping bags, which we have to remove quickly to avoid ruining the thermal properities of the sleeping bag. We decide on 2 hours sleep and, again, I'm sleeping like a baby before my head hits the pillow! 

Next I hear Hayley shouting to me, "Mark, Mark, get up, I'm freezing cold, we need to move!" I think it's a dream, I stick my head out of my bivvy bag and see Hayley staring at me. She's cold. Very cold. We need to move. We need to move fast. 

Read more: 6633 Arctic Ultra: CP4 to CP5 (Mid-Point Peel River to Aklavik)