ARCTIC CIRCLE 2022
FOR MYSELF THE RAT RACE ARTIC CIRCLE CAME UP IN MY SOCIAL FEED ONE DAY. MY WIFE AND I HAD ALWAYS PLANNED TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS ONE DAY, AND THIS OPPORTUNITY TO COMPLETE A RAT RACE AND SEE THE LIGHTS IN THE SAME TRIP WAS ONE I COULD NOT MISS.
The information on the website gave me enough data at the time to attract my interest, so we booked it online using the fast and effective Rat Race systems. As a member of Rat Race we also go a small discount which helped in a small way. The fact that I could book my wife as a supporter made the offer more attractive so I booked my own space plus one for my wife using the supporter’s package.
As the date started to come closer, the information from the Rat Race team started to come in, making the trip feel more real. There were a few emails to start off with which included the detailed kit lists, but the real catalyst was when we were able to join the Zoom Webinar meeting. This was a great opportunity to meet Rob Atkin, the Race Director, and see the faces of the others who were also attending the event. During this time Rob explained the details in more depth, and we had the opportunity to ask some real-life questions relating to our own concerns. The team was able to answer all the questions in detail which helped in my preparations. One element that I did not plan on at the time of the booking was the level of kit that would be required for this trip. I knew that I would need more than I owned but the specialist items did mount up. We used the kit hire specialists suggested by Rat Race and this provided a good balance between useful kit and great value. For the travel, we booked Heathrow to Tromso flights via Oslo with returns at a cost-effective rate.
As a Rat Race event it was clear to me that this was going to require a good level of fitness. For myself this was ok as I have already completed several other events in my time. The hard part was trying to work out a plan that included the 3 different disciplines, which in the UK is difficult as we don’t get much snow these days. To prepare, I increased my cardio and endurance bike riding and runs to hopefully cover off my personnel fitness levels.
After many months of reading the kit list over and over and repacking the bags several times to make sure that I had what I believed was enough kit, it was time to go.
We travelled to the airport with our great new Rat Race bags and, as this was post-Covid, we had the additional buzz of our first trip from the UK in 3 years. The flights and travel were simple and faultless, and we ended up in Tromso one day ahead of the planned collection.
As we soon found out, the whole of week two participants had done the same so Rat Race set up a meet and greet at a local pub where we could all put names to faces and break the ice with a few beers. Well too many beers in the end but a good way to start the trip.
In the morning of day one we all met up post breakfast and visited the local hire store to get the ski boots selected and pick up any additional hire items we needed. The weather in Tromso was mild with not much snow on the ground. We boarded the bus to be transferred to Kilpisjarvi where the base camp was located. Whilst enroute, the weather came in and we started to get a real view of what the next 4 days has in store for us. On arrival the accommodation was far better than we expected with a great restaurant, bar and lounge area. After getting all checked in we had the opportunity to test the fat bikes for a few hours. Like a bunch of excited kids on Christmas Day, we jostled for position to get the bikes out and were then allowed to go down to the frozen lake for our first taste of the event. We all rushed around the small section of lake in the cold and were all buzzing as we had eventually all realised… we were about to get this event started after the long wait. Once we all got back, a full mandatory kit check was completed to ensure we had all the items listed and had prepared ourselves correctly. For myself, I found out that the mittens gave me better protection than normal gloves against the cold.
The day was here and started off with a quiet breakfast, and the nerves were clearly starting to build up. Once set up, we all transferred down to the starting position on the lake where the weather had decided to add a 15mph wind to the mix pushing the chill factor down just a little more to -15. With Rob’s short and cold build up, and a quick 5 -1 countdown, we were off! We all started off fast as we were keen to get on with the event, but that soon slowed down once we got into it. As with all Rat Races, the field soon spread out and small groups were naturally created but with great signage and a clear route created by the local guide at the front, it was simple to follow. The first section was a complicated route through the wooded areas into Pit Stop 1 after several hours work. For myself I was very pleased as the kit preparation I had selected was working well. While still very cold it was comfortable to work in. I was welcomed to Pit Stop 1 which was a warm hut and a selection of pit stop goodies. As my wife had also travelled with me, the Rat Race team arranged for her to come along to Pit Stop 1 via the support snowmobile and at times I felt that she was having more fun than I was. After a short break I set off on leg 2 and soon found that I was all alone. For me this was exactly what I wanted – to be all alone setting off onto the frozen lake with not a sole to be seen. The weather and environment were extreme and difficult to navigate as the wind was blowing the snow and frost across the route. But the markers on the lake were just visible and could be followed.
Then the turn came which required the next 20k of effort to be into the wind. This changed the situation and the cold factor to extremely hard. As with all Rat Races there is a level of pure grit and determination required and during this period of the ride, it was time for it. During the race there were very supportive pit stops, and the Ski-Doo crew and doctors were always present which gave you reassurance that help would be available if required. After a long day and the use of several hand warmers, the end was in sight and I was met by the team at the finish line of day 1. The day was closed out with the Day 3 briefing and dinner and then off to bed for an early night. But the night was cut short with the Whats App group lighting up. The Northern Lights came out so we all ended up getting back out of bed and headed off down to the lake. The very cold but clear night presented us with an awesome experience viewing the Northern Lights. AWESOME!
This was the start of the 2 day excursion including the overnight camping at the base of Mount Saana. We were transported to the start line a few miles down the road where we had the opportunity to test the Nordic Skis. For me this was a great experience as I had no opportunity to learn this skill, but by the looks of it I was not the only one. We all got ready and after the countdown, we were off. I soon found myself dropping to the rear as I could not connect with the skills required to do the Nordic Ski. However, I was able enough to grasp some of the basics to get through this section of the event. The day was a long one with the route mainly being a slight uphill gradient and flats with the occasional down hill sections. The pit stops were available as required. For me this was desperately needed as I found this a pure endurance section. At the pit stops, the crew were very supportive and helped me out with some warm food and drinks plus some advice on the next sections.
THE VIEWS WERE SO SPECTACULAR AND CLEAR DURING THE START OF THE DAY AND I COULD SEE A VERY LARGE SNOW STORM OFF IN THE DISTANCE.
However this was the way I was travelling and the surreal view over the coming hours as the weather approached. Luckily, I manage to get to the camp site at the base of Saana just as the worst of the weather came in. The camp was a welcome sight after this long day to start with but then the realisation of camping out for the night then came real.
CAMPING: The camp site was already set up and prepared and accompanied by 1 cabin that hosted a warm fire and food. This cabin soon was full of us all craving the warm fire and able to discuss the days events with everyone. For us the storm then came in with winds up to 35mph dropping the temperature down to -20. With the hard ski day over and some food and water back in the body I craved the warmth of the sleeping bag. I had invested in a good -20 sleeping bag thankfully and made my way to get some sleep. But sleep was not to come easy as the storm was one that is hard to put into words and had to be experienced. High winds, snow and the cold made the experience one out of the movies and while I craved the sleep, I also wanted to experience the real Artic Circle experience.
The morning was welcomed and on emerging from the tent the hights of the snow drifts told their own story of how the elements welcomed us to the Artic Circle. After getting sorted and packed away with a warm breakfast we all started to prepare ourselves for the final element of snowshoeing. The storm had passed, and we were welcomed by a clear sky and some sun. As we were all cold, we set off early and fast to generate some heat into our bodies. The start of the route had us crossing the frozen lake to the base of Saana. Then we started the hard climb to get to the top of Saana and the effort was well rewarded by the views from the summit. The snowshoe day was awesome and I was in my element passing up and over Saana, through the National park and over the saddle. I found myself on my own again for the larger part of the day but at those times I was rewarded by pure silence. I stood to take in the views.
After a few pits stops I was then on the final leg. This came as a double edge of emotions with the first being that the end is in sight, and this will be completed, swinging to ‘I wish that this could continue’. The end line was eventually in sight at the 3 Nations Border Point where I was welcomed by Rob, Stuey, Brydie, an awesome medal and a cold beer. Once everyone was in and had returned to the base camp we had time to warm up and have a well-deserved shower. We all met up in the bar for a debrief and to catch up on the experiences we all had.
This was the final part of the trip and the Team returned us back to Tromso so that we could then continue with our own travel arrangements.
THE VIEWS ALONE ARE A ONCE IN A LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY AND I WOULD RECOMMEND THAT, IF YOU ARE CONSIDERING A BUCKET LIST EVENT, YOU LOOK AT THIS ONE!
As with all events you do not know who the other people are or what their own goals are going to be, and this is always a risk on a group event. Rat Race set up a Whats App group before our arrival for communications. I was not sure if they wanted us to, but the group as a whole decided to take this on and we used it to share photos, jokes and have fun. This was from the outset before we even had met up and was a great way of starting out. I feel that our group was one, and that we had the same goals – to support each other, enjoy the experience to the full and have a great time.
THE RAT RACE TEAM
Stuey, Brydie and Rob also took part in this which helped in making this a whole team approach and I have made new friends in the process. An event of this type clearly requires a lot of planning and management, but this only goes so far. To make this event work you needed the right personnel who were committed, dedicated and had a personnel inclusion into what was going to be achieved. It was clear that there were a few hiccups on the event with some equipment failure, but due to the team engagement and the arrangements this did not affect any of the experience. The additional team members Nick and Hannah (Medical) were awesome and helped me with a few blister issues following issues with my Nordic Ski boots, and supported other members with their requirements. The local support team from the guides and the Snow Mobile crew were absolutely great and very helpful – always there to give us some encouragement.
I set out on this trip as an opportunity to complete a Bucket List activity in visiting the Artic Circle and to view the Northern Lights with my wife. To this end, we completed this. However, I would like to thank the whole team in making this a real-life changing experience. During this time, I have gone from massive highs and extreme lows while all the time feeling that I am safe and being looked after.
On the bike sections I was in my element and could have not been happier and would have loved to go further. Then to the Nordic skis where I found myself with my thoughts for very long periods of time with the issues with my skill level. The experience of the camping is one that will remain with me for ever, and closing out the event with the awesome Snowshoe section across the mountains and terrain. These all had their own ups and downs, and others had the same experiences. However, during the whole period from arriving to leaving, and especially out on the course, at all times I was constantly rewarded with some of the most special scenery and views that mother earth has to give. The views alone are a once in a lifetime opportunity and I would recommend that, if you are considering a Bucket List event, you look at this one! The effort and planning and training to complete this event is definitely worth it and Rob and the Rat Race Team have made one that is achievable and rewarding.