Greenland. A dream for me: I found my first experience of the Arctic,
Kiruna in Sweden, haunting, and now am going to race where Gino
Watkins died in his kayak, Norsemen lived for 500 years before mysteriously
disappearing, and Inuit scratch a desolate living out of the sea
with whaleskin their sole source of vitamin C.
to find less snow than expected, but blue skies and an intense cold.
On the first afternoon, met an old Norwegian (who spoke no more
English than I do Norwegian, ie 4 words). He turned out to have
won his age group in the Birkebeiner 3 times; I went out skiing
with him for 45 minutes and ended up exhausted.
sociable race: participants from a real mix of backgrounds, mostly
not hard-core racers, but with a commonality of purpose which gives
us all something to talk about. I thought I was making progress
learning German but cannot make much of what the Swiss say - it
sounds more like Swedish to me.
frantic last-minute visits to the sports shop, much debate about
the waxes required for a 160km race, a church service (in Greenlandic,
but with familiar hymn tunes), and a safety briefing with frightening
film from two years ago. Then an early but sleepless night.
1 dawns sunny and surprisingly warm. Much cheerfulness and some
apprehension at the start, as few of us have ever done anything
like this before. I plan to take the first day very conservatively,
and ski with Andrew Gardner from the US.
course undulates and rises. The feed stations come regularly, with
the highest at 420m above sea level; there follows a terrifying
descent back to sea level, which takes off all my grip wax, and
after double-poling to the far edge of the fjord I stop to rewax;
Andrew catches me here having taken the hill easily to save his
knee. We ski on, almost half way now. Andrew stops to adjust some
gear and I do not see him again. I keep skiing steadily and arrive
in 4 hours 43 minutes, 20th place and with 2 women in front of me
- a long way in front!
bags are given to me, and I go straight into the heated drying tent,
change, find my sleeping tent and dig out some of the vast supply
of food I have brought. My tent-mate has already arrived, and it
is not hard to work out who he is as so few people are yet there
in the great mess tent. He has already worked out to use the Trangia
stove we have been issued, and soon I am refuelling furiously. Then
to the 'hospital' tent for my statutory 15 minutes massage - there
are not many races where you get that.
last runner arrives well after dark (and it gets dark late here,
even just after the equinox) in 10 hours 56 minutes. It is quite
cold once the sun goes down, about -25°C, but that is a long
time to be skiing in any temperature.
feeding tent is quite convivial, with two long tables and an aisle
down the middle; it is warm enough not to wear a jacket. It gets
crowded later so it is certainly an advantage to be there early.
Another advantage is that you get time for two meals.
Svahn of Team Vasa is a bit of a 'rock star' with his long blonde
hair and attitude. He is third after the first day, and keeps borrowing
my grip wax for the next couple of days: Swix green special. I have
never before used anything colder than blue extra, but this seems
to work well. One day I will be such a star that people want to
lend their wax to me.
the night I am stricken with diarrhoea, which is a major inconvenience
when it is that cold outside, and I do not sleep much, or feel like
getting up to race again in the morning.
the sun rises over the mountain and warms us up, and day 2 is an
easy one: due to lack of snow we will not be meeting the 620m contour
line, but will be staying mostly on a lakefor our 48km. This is
fine. I ski with a Canadian, Don Drewcock, mistaking him for the
Canadian who finished a minute ahead of me yesterday. In fact Don
had finished 20 minutes ahead, and approaching half way he starts
to pull away from me. I pass Trude Madsen from Norway, who was 35
minutes ahead of me yesterday; she seems to be having trouble so
I let her follow me as we ski through sensational mountain scenery
and beautiful weather on near-perfect snow. I decide to leave her
to it and try to drop her; but she does not want to be dropped,
and when I have worn myself out, she passes me! It is all I can
do to stay with her for the next 5km as we pass various people,
including Don. Then we seem to be approaching the camp: I pull away
up what I think is the last hill, only to find at the top that the
camp is not in sight, and Trude and Don catch me again. Then the
camp comes into view and we have a sprint finish, which I just win
from Trude. She is a fine, hard woman, and taught me a bit about
ski racing today!
night I saw the Aurora Borealis for the first time. The dog-sledge
men in their amazing polar bear-fur trousers put on a spread of
traditional foods: raw fish, shrimps, whale and seal. Unfortunately
I was still feeling too delicate to appreciate it. I did however
appreciate the great pile of cooked and frozen ice-crabs left for
us to add to our supper.
3 dawned an hour late as we had put our clocks to Summer time on
Saturday night, but otherwise much as day 2. My personal challenge
for the day was to beat Trude and Uiloq, the Greenlandic woman who
had skied 45 minutes faster than me on day 1. I lost touch with
them at the start but eventually settled behind Trude. After a while,
and thinking that her backside was not very feminine, I passed her
and found that I was following some bloke. A great disappointment
from all points of view, and I pushed on, eventually meeting Uiloq.
I began to tire, and Trude came up from behind with the old Norwegian
star. I lead them a while, before tiring and falling away. I managed
to get back when we reached the fjord, by being quicker in the feed
stations, and followed them over the fjord. I was amazed at their
strength on the flat, and concerned as my grip seemed to be going,
with the horror climb approaching. I was pondering my tactics with
regard to the ascent and my wax, when Uiloq and Trude stopped to
rewax. I thought that if I did the same then I could be confident
only of starting with them up the hill; if I took the other course
and just made the best of my bad wax, then who knows...? I struck
out up the hill, and never saw them again.
top of the hill was a great relief: I arrived level with a very
quick-looking Dane disguised as a Norwegian, who promptly fell on
one of the ensuing hair-raising descents. The first glimpse of the
buildings of Sisimiut in the distance was a welcome milepost; I
pushed hard and passed a Greenlander, then to the finish, where
the entire population had turned out to watch. Elation, tinged with
disappointment that it was over, as I had enjoyed it so much.
next morning I was sorry not to be skiing again at 10 o'clock, but
this soon faded as the weather deteriorated, and we realised how
lucky we had been to have three perfect days for the race. A ceremony
and great party, with substitute vocalist Andrew Gardner showing
that he really is more of a rock star than a skier (I am not surprised
he has knee problems, seeing the way he abuses them when the music
plays), closed this year's Arctic Circle Race.
20th on day 1, 11th on day 2 and 8th on day 3: 14th overall. Next
time, must ski far harder on day 1, as that is when the differences
Circle Race web site
Andrew Gardner's article
on the XC Ski World site