Sunday, 28 February 2010

Toasty warm

I will never, ever, ever again complain about being cold in this country. Having spent a week in 'proper cold' I feel quite guilty about having whined about being cold on the Suffolk coast - at minus 1C.  Our average was in the region of minus 37C. with some mornings being minus 40, in fact we found ourselves not even referring to the minus! The dogs were amazing and so tough, I have even more admiration for them than I did, and I didn't think that would be possible.
Sara and Uno waiting to be fed

I've been home for 2 days now and it all seems a little flat, having spent the last 6 months fundraising and preparing for the trip. It lived up to my expectations, in fact it surpassed them in many ways and so now I am thinking about "what next?" Perhaps a little further North? I friend asked me what my overriding memory will be, and whilst there are many things that will live in my mind for years, like the wonderful team of humans and dogs I had the privilege to work with and the cold, the most tantalizing sensation was the silence. I had a tiny taste of what the people of the North live with in the vast snowy wastes and I feel I could do with more.

Working with the dogs was such a joy and once I was comfortable with the harnesses and sled mechanics it became second nature to fling the ice anchor down when I needed its security, even though I had been frightened at our briefing by the idea of the blade cutting through flesh...

I began to look forward to jumping onto the back of the sled with my willing team of dogs to set off across the snowy wastes without a care, other than whether my fingers and toes would make it.

The only problem with our photos is that we couldn't take the at the really challenging times, as this was when we needed our wits about us, so the most beautiful landscapes are missing. Here is a link to a short video of our team and some of the easier terrain we covered:

Thursday, 25 February 2010

On our way home

It hardly seems possible that we are on the plane travelling home, the time has flown! Our last drive was the most challenging due to the temperature dropping even further, we woke shivering in -41 and even the dogs weren't keen on leaving their straw covered ice holes for breakfast. I began to lose the use of my hands during feeding time and Milos sent me inside. Frustration and pain brought tears to my eyes. Milos also made it clear that he was concerned about some of the dogs, preparing me to be ready to swap dogs around in case we needed to carry the tired ones who have lost so much weight during the trip.
The wind chill got to us and Paul and Elsie suffered more than most with cold injuries to their faces and necks, and they are on the first leg of their journey home to Durban, where it could be +40! It was only about 25k to get back to Musher's, but we stopped for a couple of photo ops. as we were confident of making it.
There were emotional goodbyes as we settled out dogs into their kennels for the night and made our way to our showers - such a treat to have hot running water - no more harnessing up in the morning...
The evening was spent celebrating our journey and Paul's birthday and then, as if just for us, the Northern Lights made an appearance, what an end to our Arctic experience.

- Posted from my iPhone

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Home again, home again, jigiddy jig!

We made it back to Musher's Lodge in one piece! When we woke up to -41 in the sun this morning even Milos looked worried. The dogs were also uncharacteristically disinterested in moving from their ice holes, which didn't fill me with joy, but here we are. The journey was beautiful and the sun stayed with us all the way, but it got no warmer, in fact the wind chill was quite strong and we did feel it.
There was time to reflect on our journey thus far as we crossed a frozen lake so wide and vast that we seemed to stand still, nothing got any closer for at least 20 minutes. It has been a challenge in some ways, that is true, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I know that this is not my last time driving a sled, that is for certain, and huskies will always have a place in my heart, if not my home. It was so sad putting them to bed this afternoon, knowing that we have had our last drive.
It has been a privelege to travel with them, and this human team, who are so sound. I know I drew a very long straw with this group. We have some lovely tales to tell, which are far too long to type on my phone...

- Posted from my iPhone

Monday, 22 February 2010

Sami homestead

I am not sure whether my posts will arrive in sequence because this is the first real signal I have had, but we are now on day 4 and have arrived at the home of Per Nils and Brit Marie. Today was the first day that I really felt the cold becaue even though the temperature had gone up this brought a cold wind and some snow. It was our longest drive so far too, just over 40K. We didn't stop for lunch but kept going as the whether was drawing in. Gaynor is really a joy to have as our leader, she is calm and funny yet manages to keep us working without being bossy. Her father is with us too and they make a great team.
My dogs and I have developed a real bond since I have been on feeding duty! Rune is a real teenager, always wanting attention and messing about with his brother. Uno is used to me now and actually does shut up when I ask him too. They are the most rag tail team, not glam in any way, but they are amazingly strong and have such stamina that I have had to have the brake on all aftrnoon, which didn't help the feet. The drive was through much easier terrain today and I was able to experiment a bit, I could get used to this form of transport...
I know that I have benefitted from all the training and am really grateful to the guys at Voyage for sending the exercise manual as I would have really struggled if I hadn't been fit. It is very demanding, I think they should also send a list of brain training excercises though! Concentration is really hard when you are surrounded by such beauty. Twisting and turning through the forest at speed is exilerating but there is no time to stop and stare, maybe I'll come back on skis one day.
Following last nights accomodation this is total luxury. Per Nils cooked for us; minced reindeer from his herd of 5000 (we can't ask him how many he has ad that would be very rude) with spuds and wild lingonberries. Now I am sitting by the fire in a rocking chair covered in reindeer hides, with a glass of wine... And they said this would be a challenge?!

- Posted from my iPhone


Snow, snow and more snow

Posted by Mertz via text.

Two amazing days. It's -39C and so I am verycoldclaire, and shall be for a while, although last night we got the sauna going and that was a wonderful contrast.
I have an incredible team of dogs and wonderful team of humans to work with. Rune my lead dog is a real character and wants a hug every time we stop, Uno is on wheel and never wants to stop, he is in love with his wheel mate, Sara, who he keeps clean. Rune and his brother, Refat, throw themselves on their backs whenever we stop.
It is a challenge there's no doubt about it, but I am having the best time. This is not a first and last for me.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Greetings from Kiruna

A quick post to say that we are here safe and sound. We are about to fall into our bunks and will be lulled to sleep by the baying huskies outside our window. I've really lucked out with this team, great bunch of people, and our team leader is a star. She has just set off for a quick moonlit drive before turning in and I am slowly turning green with envy.
We are staying at the 'Musher's lodge' tonight and it is compatative luxury - we even get food cooked for us and don't have to wash up. In the morning we will be allocated our dogs and as we met most of them this evening I will be happy with whoever I get, they are all beautiful and full of spirit.
The route has been changed to give us an easy day tomorrow and a hard last day. A great decision. We need to be broken in gently after a couple of Aquavit and Jaegermeisters to steady the nerves and break the ice (metaphorically) this evening.
It feels as if we've fitted a lot in already today as we've had so much information to take in. Our local guide, Milos, has been very patient, as has Gaynor, with all our questions and I hope we are prepared. Only time will tell...

- Posted from my iPhone

And we're off!!

Met up with the team at 4.45 and we are through security without too many dramas. Gaynor is in charge and there are only 9 of us as poor Pru has dropped out due to a hip injury. Very excited!

- Posted from my iPhone


Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Brilliant card from Nom

Thank you all for your good wishes and support - especially this brilliant card! I do hope the reality does not include such pee stops...

Monday, 15 February 2010

Missing head torch!

I've been going through my check list and got the spare batteries for the head torch, but now I can't find it - this is a disaster! I had it the other day when I walked over the bridge to the pub....
Almost everything else is there, just some final sorting of clothes, which I am wearing as it is very cold here today. This is the non-clothing section, pre packaging removal:
There's a little extra in there, the Lovely Sarah came for supper and brought me a pack of mini Green and Black chocolate bars, I hope none of my team mates read this, or they could be gone on the first night! Also arnica lotion, tablets and massage balm, who cares if it's cool to knock homeopathy, my surgeon believes in arnica, and I believe in him.

The clothing section is getting there:

My old duvet boots should come in handy, as will my Fathers old balaclavas and neck warmers. I haven't put the hats out yet as they are also in use, and today star hairdresser Kayley gave me a hat-friendly cut - i.e. very short and spiky. I might spray this blue too.

More news from the front

I'm following Carolyn's blog avidly, and whilst it is not exactly encouraging, it does give me a chance to prepare for the worst - I'm really grateful to her for posting and am not sure that I'll be quite as active on that front when my time comes. 

They have had a number of problems, not helped by the team being "the most emotional team to have done the challenge", in the words of their leader. The heavy snow fall has meant that the going is tough and they are finding it hard to get to the lodges on time as a result. Last night they reached the Sami homestead, which I am really looking forward to, but got there too late and exhausted to make use of the sauna. There have been tears and tantrums, which I am sure must influence the dogs' behaviour, and one team member was threatened with being sent home for not eating, we have to take on at least 3500 calories a day to keep our strength up, so that could be a serious problem.

I hate to say it but I think that we can learn from their experience, so thanks Carolyn!

Today is my big preparation day and my to do list is long:

Charge camera batteries
Buy spare batteries for head-torch
Buy juice booster for iphone
Buy heavy duty moisturiser and deodorant (not sure my gentle eco-friendly Weleda stuff is up to the job)
Check weight of kit and remove all packaging
Put everything into zip-lock bags
Collect krone from Post Office
Get hair cut into manageable, under-hat shape
Find swimming costume for sauna
Send off sponsorship money collected this weekend
Strength exercises

Also need to buy the following for the building project: loo, bidet, 3 sets of taps, 2 showers, 2 shower door units, wok burner, and check sizes of washing machines.

Better get on with it.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Not exactly encouraging...

I've just read a blog from a fellow nutter, who left last week to undertake the Arctic Challenge for the Dogs Trust. Can't say that she's filled me with joy...  falls, wrong turnings, losing the leader, frayed tempers, panic attacks and cooking burns so far, although they did see the aurora borealis last night, so I think she'll feel better in the morning. Eeek.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Fundraising day

Having sprayed my hair blue and met up with my new BF Tundra, Jo and I set off to rattle the tin in the local town - lots of lovely people stopped to chat and we even raised some money... One kind lady said that the Dogs Trust needed more nutter like me.

Tundra is a malamute and she drew a lot of attention, with nearly everyone wanting to get to know her better (apart from a lady with a very, very tiny dog, who though she might it it for breakfast).

We used the collecting bucket to store the treats, which Tundra earned for being so very good, but when we got back to the stables at the end of the day she found the hiding place... she talked at them for some time.


Thursday, 11 February 2010

The team from came to visit and we talked for hours about dogs - no surprise there then. The site is BRILLIANT and has advice from the resident vet, news, walks that have been logged by members and even recipes for making your own dog food and treats. In fact there is a batch of liver treats to their recipe in the oven as I type.

They recorded some of our chat and have very kindly featured me on their home page, in order to raise the profile of the Arctic Challenge, I hope it will help the sponsorship and raise awareness of the Dogs Trust as well as giving them support too.

Nighttime murder

Hoping for a good night's sleep was simply that, a hope. We were woken 3 times by the serial murderers who live with us, they had heard and chased a mouse under the fridge and demanded, very loudly, our assistance. The first time Mertz went down and moved the fridge and they got a mouse. The second time, they were just as insistent that there was something that needed to be killed and sure enough, he moved the fridge and Willow pounced... on a dog biscuit that had fallen down the back. The third time they were ignored.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Getting the body ready

Today was scheduled as a day of physical preparation for next week, but not in the way of exercise. Although I went for a run this morning as usual, I kept it short because it was icy and the last thing I want to do is fall. I do tend to fall a lot, in fact I am still cleaning the stair carpet from the tumble with the coffee cup.

The next part of the day was all about getting my body ready on a deeper level with a deep tissue massage from Anna Colman-Wilson, who I suspect may have magic coursing through her veins. I'm a massage junkie and have been pummeled in places that range from the high end spa to the deeply unsavory Thai finger clicker's huts, but I have to say that today's experience eclipsed the best of the best. The last deep tissue treatment I had in Maida Vale in the 90's kept me in bed for a couple of days, I'm sure this was partly due to the bollocking I got from the practitioner for my debauched lifestyle, but he did introduce me to skin brushing, so he wasn't quite the devil.

Anna is a friend. Having never been treated by a friend before, I was surprised at how much the level of trust I have in her made me able to relax and allow her to do her thing without my feeling any fear. Whilst I am not quite a wreck, there was a lot of work to be done and 2 hours later I floated out into a blizzard and have no recollection of how I got home. I then followed her instructions to the letter and ate a lunch of salmon with roast veg and anchovies (thanks to Abi for the recipe) and then took to the sofa for an hour. I honestly don't think I could have been of much use anyway as I hardly slept last night and so the massage and big lunch sucker punched me.

The weather continued to get colder and once the snow had stopped I took the girls out and visited Mother and the build, since then all I've able to do is listen to music and read Doris Lessing. Working tomorrow, so hope to sleep well.....

(news coming up about a new website for dog lovers)

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Thanks for getting me over the target and beyond!

I've always had a problem with Dragon's Den speak and that whole "I'll give 110%" thing, but it was quite nice to see the figure come up on Justgiving. I suppose that I should change the target to £4000, but as Justgiving has a different way of accounting to the Dogs Trust, it has all become quite confusing. Justgiving doesn't count the Gift Aid in the total, presumably because I haven't raised that myself and the DT count the money they have cashed, so the figure will vary. My total comes from the online total raised + Gift Aid + the money I've sent in to the DT including my deposit to secure the place + the money in my bucket in the hall, giving a total of £4,328.59 today. SO.... thanks this week go to:
Lizzie Woodman
James and Sarah Long
Daniel Boase
The Button Family (again!)
Hugh and Sue Smiley
Katrina Young
Tony and Lydia Reed
Sarah McKinley
Warwick Comer-Stone
Sandie Tolhurst
June and Graham Ward
John Olivers
David Webb
Pam and Wally Webb
Mark and Mandy
Mary King
Anneke, Marcel, Sven and Iris
Mimi Merttens

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

£4,200 reached

Including Gift Aid and my initial £300 to secure my place on the team - pleased and spurred on by by the boys at who are offering to support me on their fab new site for dog people. More of that later.

The last few days have been lovely and cold, great training for me but the girls are not so keen. The sun did come out today and we went for our regular Wednesday walk with Anna and Maisie - Maisie is on a diet and in her insatiable hunger she had eaten rather a lot of flotsam and jetsam from the beach and been 'slightly unwell' overnight. Poor Anna had been woken regularly by demands to be let out.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Kit List check

This evening was spent going through my kit list, as the January Sales are all coming to their final reduction stages:

Kit List 
8.1 Personal Equipment 
There are a few personal items, which will make all the difference to the enjoyment level of this trip 
because of the cold and the nature of what you are doing.  (Please avoid purchasing cotton clothing, as 
it won’t keep you warm if you get wet). Always remember when buying your kit cotton kills, wool 
wins!  An Arctic suit, mitts, hat and boots will be provided for you. 

Main rucksack or holdall that should not weigh more than 12 kg (please make sure it 
doesn’t have wheels, is around 40-45 litre and is a soft bag) and contain;  
 2 x thick wool long underwear, both top and bottoms are very important as they do keep 
you warm.  (got 2 sets but could do with another)
 Down jacket  (check)
 Fleece trousers or track suit bottoms. (check)
 A small towel and bathing costume for use in sauna or hot tub. (check)
 Several pairs of socks and outer thick socks that can be used for walking around the 
lodges/cabins. (check)
 A sleeping bag liner possibly made of fleece or silk will keep you much warmer at night.  (check)
 Sleeping bag - 4 / 5 seasons if you have one otherwise you will be provided with one. (hiring)
 2 x fleeces (one thick and one thin) or woolen jumpers (one thick and one thin).  (check)
 Waterproof / windproof (Gore-Tex) jacket to cut out the wind. (check but the team leader says we don't need it)
 Long sleeve tops (avoid cotton).  (need)
 2 x bin liners to line rucksack and put sleeping bag in. (check)
 Wet wipes for personal hygiene. (need)

Day sack / small bag to be kept at the back of the Sled for easy access (15-20 litre holdall); 
 Gloves  - 1 x waterproof hard wearing gloves (gardening gloves would be perfect) for 
feeding the dogs, 2 x thin woolen gloves are needed because you have to work with your 
fingers when putting the harnesses on the dogs.  1 x thicker pair to keep you warm when 
travelling.  You will be given over-mitts, but these are just to keep out the wind-chill.  (need thin ones)
 2 x 1 litre water bottle, plastic ones are better than the metal versions (may not be 
necessary on shorter trips) do not bring drinking systems as the pipes freeze in very low 
temperatures (check)
 Head torch - must be kept close to hand and you must know where it is. (check)
 Toilet paper.  
 Thin thermo hat to be worn under the fur hat provided. (check)
 Neoprene face mask  (need)
 Sun screen - minimum factor 15   (need)
 Lip salve. (check)
 Goggles are best, but good sunglasses can also be used if temperatures are not too low 
(n.b. in mid winter, un-tinted goggles are best).  (check)
 A warm neck guard and a balaclava - will help stop a lot of the cold air on your face (balaclava in hand, but need neck guard)
 Small waterproof bag containing; passport, airline tickets, credit cards and money.  (need - and need money!)
 Camera, lots of film memory cards and spare batteries.  (Manual camera, as back up, is 
recommended). (check)
My Mother is in charge of this:
Personal first aid kit to include all of the following; 
 Painkillers (paracetamol, aspirin, ibuprofen (400mg strength). 
 Antiseptic wipes. 
 Gauze pads  
 Crepe bandage 
 Zinc oxide tape, adhesive tape. 
 Moleskin and/or 'compeed' for blister treatment. 
 Imodium or Lomitol for diarrhoea. 
 Dehydration mix such as Diarolyte. 
 Small tub of Vaseline to put on lips at night if lips get windburn 
 Tweezers, scissors, safety pins (to be packed in the main bag and checked-in for flights). 
 If you take regular medication, please make sure you bring a plentiful, but reasonable 

So, just a few bits and bobs to sort out, and make sure I pack the loo roll!