Stories Adventure Follow the participants of Fjällräven Polar 2016

A group (kind) of ordinary people embarked on a 300 km journey over the Arctic tundra on dog sleds and we set out to meet them by the finish line. Just to find out – How was it?

We are standing by the finish line. One dogsled after the other pulls up as the audience cheers. A six-day adventure has come to an end, a 300 kilometres long journey over tundra, snow-covered forests and frozen rivers with a set of dogs as their engine. The loud barking of the dogs makes it initially almost hard to hear what anyone says but we soon catch up on the feeling of accomplishment – and sadness – that now overwhelms our tired travelers.

“I just feel so proud and so amazed that we were able to accomplish such unforgettable things”, Lucinda says as her voice cracks. Confessing that “a tear welled up” in her eye as she realised that the journey had come to an end. And the dogs in the background make sure to let her know that they also feel sorry that it is all over.

Lucinda Klicker from the U.S. is one of the thirty participants of Fjällräven Polar 2016, a winter adventure from Signaldalen in Norway to Jukkasjärvi in Swedish Lapland, where the participants get to steer a dogsled on their own 300 kilometres over the arctic tundra. An area with no shelter, electricity, running water or roads.

Fjällräven’s idea behind the expedition is to: “give ’ordinary’ people, with ordinary jobs, the chance to discover how amazing outdoor life is in the winter. We want to demonstrate that anyone can experience the adventure of a lifetime – as long as they have the right knowledge and equipment.”

Not only do the participants get all the equipment and well-needed clothing, they are also trained in using the equipment and taught essential skills before heading out into the wilderness. And coaching from Kenth Fjellborg, one of Sweden’s most skilled dog mushers, on how to guide his dogs across the Arctic tundra. See, none of the participants has previous experience of driving dog sleds or wintertime adventures.

The list of participants is a checkered one, but I’m hesitant to call anyone “ordinary”. They are from all over the world, 12 countries in total, but they do seem to have a couple of things in common; their love of nature and the outdoors, as well as a quest for self-exploration. Watching all the entries (you apply by submitting a video) even I get an urge to leave my day-to-day routine and test myself against the elements. Would I push through when the going gets tough? Will they?

To get a feel for what they have experienced and endured during their journey I’ve watched each episode of their expedition online, published day by day. From learning how to put up a tent, do’s and dont’s for staying warm, getting their burners lit and their eagerness to take off on the first day. When hitting a rough patch as the weather takes a turn to the worst, when lighting a fire becomes a challenge and everything gets cold and damp – all summarized in their tired looks by the end of the day.

Or as Lucinda puts it:

“My toughest moments are battling my mind. When I’m tired and when I’m hot, or cold or wet and I need to overcome that to be able to get the tasks done.”

But there is also beauty in misery.

“It’s like driving in a big white room all the time, it’s more confusing to know where you are. It’s harder to focus. It easier to get tired also. But you have to enjoy it and look for the different shades of white because they are beautiful.” Veronika Sund from Norway explains as they solider through a snow storm on the open tundra.

The 300 km route starts at Signaldalen in Norway, across the Scandinavian mountain chain along the border of Norway and Sweden, heading towards Tavvavuoma which is one of Europe’s largest areas of permafrost. From there, the trail continues over the lake Torneträsk from where they will foremost journey over frozen water, on the Torne River.

Walking on frozen water, no less driving a dogsled over it is not on everyone’s bucket list. “I was absolutely petrified beforehand. Just the thought of going over a lake, yes it’s ice, but in the UK the ice is THAT thin” says Toby Peach who now lists hitting the frozen lakes as one of his favorite moments.

Although there are no actual roads in this area, the Fjällräven Polar follows trails used by people living here since ancient history. This is the land of the Sámi who have lived here as nomads, following the reindeer’s migratory paths for centuries.

And now, here on lake Väkkäräjärvi, by the finish line, the journey is about to end.

– I feel mostly sad, says Il Woong Lee from South Korea. I’m happy that we all made it safe to the finish line. But, you know, this is a great experience. I could go on for a few days more – but sadly this is the end. Great memories! I had the best time ever.

Following their journey from a distance, I’ve watched them quickly adapt to the conditions, learning to become experts in putting up tents in snow and enjoying the freedom provided by the vast wilderness. From not knowing anything about the Arctic conditions to becoming somewhat wilderness pros. And it only took 6 days. I guess everything is possible with the right knowledge, equipment and training grounds.

– I’ve never been dog sledding like this and never camped outside in the wintertime like this either, but it’s very cozy and nice. I would totally recommend it to people to come here because it’s really something beautiful and different. Maybe people are afraid that they are going to be cold or uncomfortable, but wintertime offers so many things to do, different from the summer. I think it’s kind of unique what you can do here in winter, Veronyka Ginger Jelinek from the Chech Republic concludes.

As the participants of Fjällräven Polar 2016 have a hot meal, sauna and bed to look forward to, it’s high time you started filming your application to Fjällräven Polar 2017. Entries are accepted from November 2016.

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