On the 25th February 2016 we set off from the Highlands of Scotland on what can only be described as an adventure of a lifetime. We were on our way to the long awaited Arctic Marathon.
After months of training and sourcing all the correct clothing to keep us nice and toasty, we were on the train to London. On Friday 26th February at 5.00am we headed to Heathrow airport and for the first time, met up with our fellow Walk the Walkers, Nina and Kate, and started our journey to the Arctic.
Two flights later, followed by a coach trip through stunning scenery, we arrived at Abisko National Park. Shortly after arriving we met our guides, who would be looking after us on the challenge; we chatted about the route, the huts and skidoos, and we were handed our Ice Hotel suits… which we would all become quite acquainted with. We then checked into our rooms and finished preparing our mountain bags for the following day, and it was soon time for our first meal in Sweden. Wrapped up in our thermals and Ice Hotel suits, we made our way to the chair lift, and headed up to the Aurora Sky Station for our 4-course fine dining meal. The chair lift was so peaceful and quiet… the magic had begun; we were in the Arctic.
Saturday morning and it was time to have a lovely breakfast, get fitted with our skis, and head out in our groups to get familiar with the cross country skis and kit. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, the snow was out of this world, and we had a fab guide! You could feel the excitement and nerves throughout the groups, but this was it… we would soon be heading up the mountain to begin The Arctic Marathon. It still didn’t feel real!
Soon after it was all hands on deck, and the mountain bags were loaded onto the snowmobile, along with our skis. Once we were all wrapped up, we started our 3-hour journey up to our first hut. The journey was amazing and gave us a real sense of the type of route we would be skiing the next day; the scenery was like something out of a book! Once we arrived we unloaded the gear and settled into our dorms, followed by a briefing about the route we would be taking. We spent the evening as group and enjoyed a delicious meal; the wood burners were keeping us toasty, and the candles and head torches lit the hut… could it get any better? The atmosphere was fabulous, everyone getting on and laughing.
The morning of day one had finally arrived, today we would be covering the first 13.1 miles of the challenge on skis. Once again, a hearty breakfast was made for us; our flasks were filled, lunches made and bags packed… it was time to start the marathon. Each group headed off under the watchful and encouraging eyes of our wonderful guides. I don’t think words can really explain the scenery… it was breath taking, it was everything and more, and we were skiing a marathon through it.
Every 50 minutes our group ‘superdoopermegabrateama’ named by Amanda our guide, would stop for a 10-minute break, which gave us a chance to have a chat, take some photos and take in this incredible part of the world. The team spirit was so special, everyone encouraging each other. We weren’t skiers, but we had all done the training and the fundraising, and we just kept putting one ski in front of the other. Blue sky, mountains, sunshine, skis, flasks, laughter, determination… we had done it, we had completed day one!
We had another lovely hearty meal made for us, followed by another briefing and a bit more packing; we even got a glimmer of the Northern Lights. Then it was time to get some sleep, ready for day two of The Arctic Marathon.
The gear was packed and the snowmobile loaded, lunches made and flasks filled. This was it, our final day on our skis; a beautiful sunrise awaited us and it was time to head off. The route was once again stunningly beautiful, skiing over frozen lakes and rivers, while the sun was shining down on us. Then a truly magical moment took place; we had to stop to allow a herd of 800 reindeer to be rounded up by the Sami. This is something that I don’t think any of us will ever forget!
We tried to absorb every moment as the miles went by; the scenery, the sound of the skis on the snow, the peacefulness, the magic. Then there it was… the finish line, and you could feel the emotion building in our group. We had made a pact on day one that no matter what, we would all cross the finish line together, in a line next to each other… and that’s exactly what we did. We had done it; we had completed The Arctic Marathon! We waited and cheered the final group over the line, and the hugs, tears and photographs soon followed. What an achievement it was for us all! Everyone out on that trail had overcome something to complete this challenge, something that we will always share together… the feeling was just incredible!
We headed back to the hotel at Abisko for tea and cakes, and cheered on our guides as they received their well-deserved medals. These guys had cooked for us, encouraged us, guided us, looked after us and made us all laugh, and we couldn’t have done it without them. Soon it was time to say goodbye to Abisko to head to the Icehotel… another adventure awaited us!
We all checked into the warm accommodation and enjoyed a much needed shower, then it was time to head off for our meal at the Homestead restaurant. It’s not often that you are sitting there enjoying your meal and the waitress comes through and shouts “Northern Lights” – you have never seen a bunch of people who had just skied a marathon, move so quickly! There it was… the beautiful green glow of the Aurora Borealis, another tick on the list.
After a beautiful walk back under the green sky and a good night’s sleep, not to mention another mighty fine breakfast, we had a day to explore the Icehotel. We were to check out of our warm accommodation and into the cold… yes, tonight we would be sleeping on ice! Before that though, we had a fun filled skidoo trip to enjoy; this was one of the optional activities, and we would highly recommend it. 3 hours feeling like James Bond on our skidoos, plenty of photo opportunities and time to play in the deep snow. Once again we had blue skies and sunshine, and we had a lovely stop off at some huts in the trees where a fire was lit! We all sat down with a hot lingonberry juice, something that became a firm favourite, and a cinnamon bun, laughing and chatting… another magical moment!
This was our final day; time had gone by so fast. We spent the afternoon exploring the Icehotel and looking around the art rooms, walking around the ice village and sitting down together in the snow, watching the sun set with the sound of huskies in the distance.
It was then time for celebrations, time to start absorbing this epic challenge!
Our celebrations started in the Icebar, and we were sporting our Icehotel suits, Walk the Walk t-shirts and decorated bras. As we all chatted and laughed, drinking our cocktails out of the ice glasses, the time had come to reveal all for our celebration photo. Yes… the suits were zipped open and tied around our waists; there we were, the whole team in an ice bar in the Arctic, proudly sporting our decorated bras with pride! We even sang happy birthday to a holiday maker who was celebrating his 50th birthday and even joined in with us… he took off his top and stood bare chested with the rest of us for our group photo! The energy was amazing that night, as we all celebrated and fine dined. Nina and Kate presented us with our medals, and we all chatted the night away with big smiles, many laughs and lots of lovely Walk the Walk hugs.
Then the time had come to sleep on ice; we got dressed into our thermals, bobble hats and gloves, were given our lovely Icehotel sleeping bags and headed off to our magical room. What an experience! We had a great night’s sleep, so peaceful, and we even met the Lingonberry fairy the following morning as she slowly went round all the rooms giving everybody a glass of lingonberry juice… perfect!
It was time to start the journey home, and what better way to start it than a husky sleigh back to the airport… the magic continued right until we left Sweden. We left the Arctic and headed back to the UK with heavy hearts, but huge smiles; we wanted to tell everyone on the plane what we had just done, what we had all achieved. Back at Heathrow it was time to say our farewells. What a time we all had, what an experience it was; friendships formed and a story we had all shared.
The Arctic Marathon was an incredible experience, one that is hard to put into words… life changing! 21 people headed out to ski a marathon and unite against breast cancer, and that’s exactly what we did. Nina and Kate made it even more special with their amazing organisation, hugs, laughs and the stories they told us.
Would we do this challenge again? Yes… in a heartbeat! The Arctic Marathon changed something inside of us forever, something good, something positive.
As we headed back to the Highlands we sat quietly on our train, contemplating, remembering and thinking. I think we left a wee part of us out there in the wilderness, so we will have to go back. As for the cross country skiing… loved it; walking on skis… perfect!
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