Sheena spends 50th birthday with 2018 Arctic Adventure

The Arctic Challenge was an amazing experience as I went on my own not knowing anyone but came back with lots of lifelong friends and wonderful memories.

When I signed up for the Arctic Challenge 2018 it was something I had researched a lot as I wanted to do something different whilst raising money for a vital cause and my 50th birthday was looming! 

My Mother-in-Law had breast cancer and we as a family went through the treatment with her and remembered her journey. I had done many runs; including The Edinburgh Marathon and many half marathons, Ben Nevis by torchlight and local walks and treks in the past for Charity including the Walk the Walk MoonWalk 2012 in London – but this challenge was totally different going away to a different country, doing a marathon on backcountry skis, never skiing on proper snow, not knowing anyone. I couldn’t wait!    

After meeting up in London in October 2017 for the information day Nina, Sam and Guy went through all the aspects of the Arctic Challenge from training, nutrition, itinerary; to the vital clothing and equipment required. We did a power walk around Hyde Park with Guy at the front encouraging us every step of the way. At this stage I knew I had met some lifelong friends.

Friends, my very supportive husband Paul and my family embarked on a lot of the training with me; especially the longer Power Walks and hill walks. I took up pilates, spinning and swimming at my local leisure centre and this was a great way of easing and stretching tired muscles. As I hadn’t skied before I went to my local dry slope centre and had many lessons. Skiing was completely out of my comfort zone, it didn’t involve power walking, running or swimming – this involved strapping large skis to my feet and using balance and co-ordination, which didn’t come naturally to me at first but after many lessons, quite a few falls and a wonderful patient instructor I managed to finally gain confidence and enjoy skiing; albeit on a dry slope.

Training was sometimes hard going over the winter as the weather wasn’t always kind but then how would it be in Sweden? I followed the plan and if I couldn’t follow the plan for that week, I would tweak it and move around my week. My family and friends were amazingly supporting and often donned their walking boots and waterproofs to join me and there was always a picnic and craic along the way!

My fundraising started with me asking my family for donations instead of birthday presents. I also hosted a book club and instead of my book clubbers bringing along drinks and nibbles I provided these in return for a donation towards my fundraising, everyone was so generous. I was amazed at who sponsored me; family, friends and my Father-in-Law shared my fundraising page and his old army pals started sponsoring me and sending me lovely messages and they had never met me!

On the day of my 50th birthday instead of gathering my family and friends around me for a fizz filled bash, my husband drove me down to Heathrow where a large group of us were staying the night before our flight. We chatted as though we were old friends. We had a meal and a few sensible drinks and one of the lovely ladies Marie-Helene produced a fantastic birthday cake she had made for me – so kind considering we hadn’t met before! The next morning on 23rd February we embarked on our long day arriving at Heathrow just after 4.00am, excited, nervous, buzzing. We were met by Guy and off we went on our adventure and it just got better and better!

Everyone from the airline crews to the staff we met along the way were so supportive. From the bar man at the ICEHOTEL, to the cooks up in our remote mountain lodge were amazing. One of our cocktails was made from Rhubarb liqueur – delicious! The cooks we had in our mountain huts made us feel so special by producing lovely foods and drinks by candlelight with napkins on the tables and fresh herb garnishes on our evening meals. Even the trips to the outdoor loos were an adventure in themselves! There was the luxury of toilet roll and hand sanitizer – even in the wilderness. There were saunas at our mountain huts and many took advantage of these facilities.

The weather was beautiful; blue skies every day but very cold. Fine when you are on the go, so our breaks in the snow weren’t for long! Our guides were amazing stopping us regularly checking we were all warm enough and stopping to help me up when I couldn’t after quite a few falls! A special mention to Michael and Cecilia who were the guides for my group, they kept us going and produced chocolate and sweets for us along the way to keep us going, we had lots of hot drinks and food along the way.

The backcountry skiing was fun but hard work. I ached all over at the end of the first day and had sported quite a few bruises from falls but everyone fell at some stage and it was usually in soft snow.  It was difficult getting up the second morning, waking up in our cabin in the darkness with aching muscles knowing we had a long day ahead but we knew the end was in sight and what a lovely sight it was! Guy and others had put together a finish line with ribbons, banners and flags and because of the remoteness, we could hear them from a great distance cheering us on until the end. All the earlier finishers had waited for us at the finish line even though it was so cold for them – what amazing people! At the end we were so emotional – from tiredness to knowing what we had accomplished, we had done an Arctic Marathon on backcountry skis!

My highlight of the trip was making so many good friends and we had such craic in the dormitories at night; it was like being back in the Girl Guides sharing a dorm with bunkbeds and laughter late into the night. Our trip was highlighted by the Northern Lights on night one, Guy brought along his camera and the quiet wilderness was stunning. We had an option to do an activity on our last day and I chose to drive a snowmobile (completely out of my comfort zone) and after instruction, we were off whizzing through the wilderness. We stopped in the middle of a forest for coffee and cinnamon buns which tasted so good!

The ICEHOTEL was stunning! So cleverly crafted and our nights in the warm room and cold room will never be forgotten! We were brought back to Kiruna airport by husky sledge and this was a fantastic journey; these dogs were so devoted to their work, stopping occasionally along the way to roll in the snow and eager to get on their way again. Their owners knew all of them personally and to see them want to run and work was awesome.

The Arctic Challenge was an amazing experience as I went on my own not knowing anyone but came back with lots of lifelong friends and wonderful memories. Guy, I miss your daily texts with the itineraries – like a shepherd leading his flock!!!!


Sheena, Arctic Challenge 2018

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