Preparing for an Arctic Expedition

I Wrote the below post on my way to my expedition in Arctic Norway, crossing the Finnmark Plateau, but am posting it afterwards.

I wish I 

could say that going to the Arctic
had been a lifelong dream. That the 17 days I will be in the frozen wilderness will fulfil an ambition that has been with me from an early age. But to be perfectly frank, it hadn’t even crossed my mind this time last year. I remember seeing explorers in the extreme cold on tv as a child and feeling genuinely confused as to why people would voluntarily do that. 

Today I will touch down in Arctic Norway, ready for an adventure unlike any I have done before. 

There are so many thoughts and questions running through my head. I have spoken to various people with cold whether experience and I’m still confused.

Will I be fit enough?

Will I be strong enough?

What will the cross-country skis feel like? Will it be hard? What if I don’t get the hang of it?

How will I respond physically and mentally in temperatures that can drop from -5 to -35 in the space of hours?

Am I a good enough team player?

This last question weighs on my heavily. Adding value to the team is important to me, and I commit to putting the others’ needs before my own. But I know I’ll have some huge challenges and I hope I can stick to this.

It was April when I signed up for this expedition and now I’m on the plane to Alta, watching the pale pink sky turn to darkness at 3pm. For two weeks, my life will be cold, ice, snow, darkness, tiredness and powering through pain.

I have put a lot into my preparation and hopefully it will be enough. I don’t think I could ever feel prepared enough because it’s all such an unknown but I’ve tried damn hard.

So how have I got myself from zero to expedition in under a year? The main things are fitness and nutrition, gear and research of the environment, and above all, mindset.

Training and nutrition

Fitness has always been a part of my life, but it was only this year I managed to get some structure and commitment to achieving my goals. I used to run a lot, but after getting injured, my training fell by the wayside and I became a very sporadic exerciser. I’d go to the gym every day for a week, then not at all for two months.

This year I got my mojo back, mainly because of my commitment to the Everest Adventure which I completed in September (well sort of) and to this Arctic trip.

Getting a personal trainer was a huge help. I started lifting weights around 3 times a week and targeting the muscles I need for this adventure. I also found that I loved lifting weights and was seeing progress rapidly.

She also got me dragging the equivalent of my body weight on the prowler up and down the sprint track in the gym.. this supplemented the longer sessions I spent pulling my tyre (which conveniently appeared outside my flat one day) on a harness around my local park. This is all in preparation for dragging my belongings through the plains of the Arctic behind me on a pulk.

Beyond that, I’ve spent a decent amount of time on the step machine and the cross trainer (though cardio in the gym numbs my brain a little). Add a weekly outdoor run and a few hikes here and there and that’s pretty much my training schedule. The biggest focus has been strong legs, back and core so I’ve been neglecting my arms.

Nutrition has been a challenge sometimes – being vegan and having limited time to prepare food can be a struggle. I eat a lot of fruit and veg, beans, pulses, nuts, some meat replacements and a bit of crappy food on top of that. My diet isn’t fantastic but I supplement it with Vivo Life protein which I makes a tangible difference.

Gear and research

So much time in the build up to today has been spent figuring out what gear to take, and sourcing the gear on a budget. Between trawling through blogs, team Skype calls and chats with adventurers, we were putting a lot into making sure we’d be warm and as comfortable as possible.

I was really lucky to borrow the vast majority of my gear from someone who has summited Denali and someone who has been to Siberia. That just left a few baselayers, socks and midlayers to get hold of.

We’ve spent a lot of time looking into how to cope with the cold, and I’ve been abnormally fascinated by how best to go to the toilet. I’m sure I’ll come up with a good strategy and hopefully will be writing a blog post on this once I’m an expert as there really is very little information on the best practice.

Mindset

My change in mindset over the last few months will hopefully be a huge asset for 2 weeks in the cold. My biggest challenges will be managing my gear effectively and staying positive when I can’t feel my feet. 

When times get though, I need to remember the things I’ve overcome to be here and how proud I will be when it’s done.

I need to be a good team player, but also to understand that putting the team first sometimes means taking care of myself. I can’t support anyone else if I’m miserable.

I’ve worked hard on my mindset, which hopefully means I won’t be apologising for myself, being negative or being annoying.

I need to accept that there may be times when the group dynamic is difficult. Someone might snap and me and I have to keep my emotions level.

I need to accept that I will be cold and I will be uncomfortable. And that’s okay. 

I’m determined to face any challenges head on.

The adventure is about to begin.