This article is also available in: Dutch
In October 2016 I learned about the Fjällräven Polar Contest. A contest, organized by the well known outdoor brand, that allowed ordinary people from all over the world to go on an adventure of a lifetime. A 300 kilometer dog sled adventure through the Arctic wilderness with over 200 Alaskan huskies and 25 fellow adventurers from all over the world. When I found out about this contest, I knew one thing for sure: I have to win this. This is for me.
And two months later, after 4 weeks of competing my ass off, ignoring people that told me to quit and against all odds, I won. I won Fjällräven Polar 2017. I got to represent the Benelux as one of the 26 lucky participants. I think I cried for three whole hours. And after that every time I thought about it a wave of happiness and panic came over me. I got to go back to the place I love the most.
It all seemed so far away back then, but it’s already three weeks since I came home from the adventure of a lifetime. I’ve been struggling a lot with putting my experience on paper. Especially how this whole experience changed me forever. I feel super strong and extremely vulnerable at the same time. But because I really want to share my story and I feel like I owe it to my 12.326 voters, I’m going to try really hard to writ.. I mean be, an open book.
The Polar family
Monday morning, April 3rd 2017, my alarm went of at 4:30 in the morning. I don’t think I ever got out of bed this fast. I’ve been counting down the sleeps that were left to this day from December 18 onwards. Two hours later I said goodbye to home and met my Dutch team mate and two other Polar family members from Taiwan. At 8:30 we took off towards Stockholm, where we met the second bit of our Polar family.
A little van took us to a beautiful boat house in Sigtuna, where the entire family came together. This is where we learned that our expedition was going to be joined by the one and only Alan Hinkes and his camera man. Hinkes is the first British man to have ever summited all the 14 8000m+ mountaint tops, including Everest. Also invited was the ever inspiring Kate Humble (the woman with the voice of an angel), who makes wildlife and science documentaires for the BBC.
Despite us having been in touch for months through Facebook chat, it was a bit weird to finally meet everyone in real life. There was a lot of hugging, laughter and nervous speculating about expectations. It appeared that no one really had any expectations from this adventure, because no one knew WHAT to expect. Except that it was going to be amazing. We enjoyed a lovely lunch at the boat house whilst being interviewed by the crew one by one.
The camera made me feel super uncomfortable, because I didn’t really have any words to describe how I felt at that very moment. It felt like I could wake up from a dream every moment, but that never happened. At least, it didn’t until today.
Silence is silver, speech is golden
We then spent the afternoon with the man to have around when the apocalypse hits. The best outdoor and survival expert from Sweden, or probably Scandinavia: Johan Skullman. Johan is a man that owns the room and when he starts talking, everybody in that room will be quiet and listen. Silence is silver and speech is golden with this man. Because what he taught us this afternoon, might safe our lives later that week.
No shortcuts in Fjällräven Polar
Johan taught us how to regulate and control our body temperatures in the Arctic. He taught us how to stay hydrated and the importance of having good meals, even when you’re not hungry. He told us how to work with our gear and above all: that there are no shortcuts. Not in life, but especially not in the Arctic wilderness. Because if you want to take shortcuts, you might as well go home. Shortcuts are dangerous.
If you want to go to sleep as fast as possible and don’t put up your tent properly, you might wake up in the middle of the night with your tent on your face. Or worse: a couple of meters away from the place you set it up. If you’re rushing to pick something up and are not wearing your gloves, you could seriously hurt yourself.
Apart from the ‘no shortcuts’ lesson, Johan taught us another valuable lesson. We had now completed the virtual part of this experience by winning and it was now time to face reality. To get away from those smartphones and enjoy mother nature and everything she has to offer. An advice that all the adventurers were more than willing to follow up.
Disneyland in Sigtuna
After these valuable life lessons from Skullman, it was time for Christmas Eve. In the well known gear room our fully stacked backpacks and personalized Fjällräven Polar Parka’s were waiting for us. Like little kids in Disneyland we ran into the room and got straight into our parkas. There was so. much. stuff! It was incredible. From thermos flasks to thermal underwear, snow boots, ninja suits, compasses, three pairs (!) of gloves, and so on.
After everyone tried out their gear and found a spot at the table in their keb shell eco jacket, we were treated to a feast meal with fresh fish, steak and popcorn icecream. Shortly after we stuffed our tummies with jummy food it was time to hit the people. We were expected to be at the bus at 6:30 the next morning with filled stomachs and filled backpacks! Let Fjällräven Polar 2017 begin!