Autumn adventure along the Arctic Circle, Part 1

You know you’re in one of the best jobs on Earth when… it sends you to guide international agents through 200 km of the Arctic Circle from ice cap to coastline. It was a five-day adventure that (almost) made me and the 7 agents forget we were working! Read about my extended weekend of new experiences here.

In mid-September 2017, on home turf, Greenland hosted Vestnorden Travel Mart, a trade show to connect international travel specialists with the three North Atlantic destinations: the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Iceland. One immersive and extremely important part of this trade show is the pre-tours that take place in the days before all the meetings. No suits or formal handshakes here. Agents get into their travel element and have the exact same adventurous and fun tourist experience that their guests will have in the future. Together with local partners, Visit Greenland planned and sponsored these pre-tours, and hence, my guiding ūüôā¬†

Autumn is such a nice time of year to be outside. Though there are no piles of fallen leaves to crunch through and kick up, the changing colours of the mountain alder and Arctic thyme to yellow and red hues are more than #fallyall Insta-worthy. Usually there’s already been a few snows at the higher altitudes, and the snow-capped mountains just add to the whistfullness of the landscape.

And into the inland autumn wonderland that is Kangerlussuaq is exactly how we started the long weekend.

HIKING THROUGH MUSKOX COUNTRY

Nini Frydkj√¶r Holstebro, owner of the little boutique called ByHeart, led us on a narrow pathway trodden not by backpackers but by – get this – muskox. Her voice is calm and soothing, and I could instantly tell she is every bit the ‘beautiful soul’ I have heard her described as before. As we walked, she showed her true colours as a modern-day gatherer, describing in detail the homeopathic uses of different herbs, including which ones work best in cookies. I, for one, took notes!

Following Nini off-track to investigate an area just over the hill paid off. After a few hours we found a blended herd of muskox bulls and females with their calves. At first we counted 5 or 6 animals, but in time, ‘rocks’ came alive and turned out to be little ones hunkered down!

21688390_10213351213231878_3525115147588174117_o

Muskox in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. Photo by Anne Kiel.

 

The hike, and day, ended at Restaurant Roklubben on Lake Ferguson. Over a three-course plated dinner followed by the famous nightcap called Greenlandic Coffee, the agents wrapped their heads around the fact that just fifteen hours earlier they stood in European capital, Copenhagen, Denmark, and now they sat a world away in the Arctic, looking out over the widest landscape imaginable with a green swirl of Northern Lights overhead.

IMG_2310

Though an Ice Sheet may sound like a flat ice skating rink, it is anything but. Cracks, crevices and snaking rivers define this Arctic landscape.

FLIGHTSEEING

Day 2 got us up in the air and was such a perfect experiential segue from the previous day’s backcountry hike and into this day’s upcoming mini expedition on the ice.

We circled and swirled over the same lakes and reddish hills we walked through, this time getting so much more perspective of the vastness we stood in. We saw the lakes’ true depths as evidenced by their technicolour layers, not to mention hundreds of muskox. Funny to think that though¬†I only saw 12 muskox with my own eyes, we were actually completely surrounded by them.

My stomach was in my throat half the time, but I did enjoy nonetheless following the braids of glacial runoff further inland to their source. The Greenland Ice Sheet is so monstrous and obvious but somehow it still seemed to surprise me how fast it popped up on the horizon. Russell Glacier gives such a stark contrast to the land it creeps onto one cm at a time, and the only thing I could think was, “I can’t believe I’m going to be sleeping down there tonight!”

IMG_2297

From above, one gets perspective – always on the landscape and even sometimes on life.

GLACIER CAMPING

Four and a half years ago I stood on the Greenlandic Ice Sheet for an afternoon to watch a charity football game (yes, you read that correctly). Though that story is pretty hard to top, I do think camping overnight on the ice gives it a run for its money, and I was so excited for the opportunity to try this staple adventure experience in Kangerlussuaq.

The drive out to the ice is as rough as I remembered – an hour and a half jostling around on a dirt/sand/gravel road leftover from Volkswagen’s car-testing days in Greenland. Thank goodness for short breaks for fresh air and silence!

IMG_2379 2

Tents and sleeping bags, check. Barrels of food, check. The pulks are ready to be strapped down and pulled up to camp.

Once we reached the end of the road, we went immediately into pulk preparation mode. The camp is located half an hour’s walk on the ice, so there’s no running back to the bus to grab something real quick. Everything we needed for the night we had to take in ourselves. This is not glamping, folks!

Pulks are the classic piece of equipment that the bonafide¬†Extreme Adventurers use when they cross the Greenland Ice Sheet from coast to coast. (It is not uncommon for them to train for their expeditions by pulling heavy tires, CrossFit style!) While the pulks we had were super light, I couldn’t help putting myself in the expeditioners’ shoes for a moment to imagine the feeling of heading off into a frozen world with 70 kilos strapped to myself – everything to (hopefully) keep me alive for upwards of thirty days in an otherwise uninhabitable environment.

IMG_2391 2

The mini expedition begins.

IMG_2416

Camp Ice Cap by Albatros Arctic Circle. Open from March to October.

Our glacier walk with the pulks was pretty painless – 30 minutes or so and we had arrived to the camp where two large expedition dome tents stay erected for the whole season. We paired off and set up our small two-man sleeping tents (provided for us, along with a sleeping pad and a sleeping bag+liner good to -35*C), plus the all-important bathroom tent, and then enjoyed a nice cup of cocoa before heading out again (sans pulk).

We were fighting the waning light a bit, but we still managed to get in a good couple hours of glacier walking. We went up and down over the frozen waves of light blue, dark blue and black, looked sheepishly into moulins where liters of rushing water disappeared into a deep hole every second, and even collected cold glacier water directly into our water bottles. By the end, head lamps were a necessary tool to navigate back to camp, which definitely added to the feeling that this is real adventure.

Though I never said it to my group of agents, I was so thankful they all are the adventurous and ‘respectful’ type. They were up for anything, no problem, and they were also quiet when on the trail. It is more important than one realises. The¬†pleasant ambience of shared silence¬†gives everyone the peace to connect and reflect on the experience in real time. Live in the moment, you know?

IMG_2429

This is adventure.

IMG_2433

Me. Don’t ask how an Amazonian feels perfectly at home in the Arctic. I don’t even know the explanation myself.

IMG_2439

Crampons and hiking poles are a necessity out here on the ice.

IMG_2446

Night-walking.

Dinner was a surprisingly delicious just-add-water packet of spicy rice mix, seated comfortably in the gathering tent on foldable camp chairs pre-arranged in a cosy circle on the perimeter. In the middle, the top on a pot of soon-boiling water fluttered, and soon the steam plus body heat made it more like a sauna tent. A hat was complete overkill!

Like on most camping trips, the excitement of adventure mixed with physical activity puts everyone early to bed. My tent mate and I turned in for the evening, noting verbally that it really was not cold at all! I slept the whole night through until we woke to the sound of little droplets of sleet hitting the rain fly in the morning.

IMG_2399

The obligatory ‘our feet were here’ shot! It’s just like field camping, only icier.

ONE NIGHT IS TOO SHORT!

We were all pretty sad to leave the ice – the fun had only just begun! But yet new adventures awaited us out on the coast. Fast forward through the same bumpy drive between ice and town, plus another lunch at Hotel Kangerlussuaq Restaurant (it’s like Groundhog Day here sometimes) plus a flight out to the coast and we landed in Sisimiut.

But that story you will have to wait for Part 2 for…

 

 

Autumn Arctic Circle Adventure in a nutshell

Here’s the Cliff’s Notes of everything, in chronological order, that we packed into 5 days/4 nights of discovery:

  • Direct flight on¬†Air Greenland from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq (in summer, there are also direct flights with Air Iceland Connect from Keflavik)
  • Lunch buffet at Kangerlussuaq Airport Restaurant
  • Hike through Muskox Country with Greenland Outdoors / By Heart
  • Dinner and Greenlandic Coffee at Restaurant Roklubben, RSVP only via Albatros Arctic Circle
  • Overnight at Polar Lodge, run by Albatros Arctic Circle
  • Flightseeing with AirZafari Greenland
  • Camp Ice Cap, a combination glacier hiking and overnight glacier camping experience with Albatros Arctic Circle
  • Lunch buffet at Kangerlussuaq Airport Restaurant
  • Visit to Kangerlussuaq Musuem
  • Air Greenland flight to Sisimiut
  • Three-course dinner at Restaurant Nasaasaaq at Hotel Sisimiut
  • Sailing trip / Tour of Assaqutaq, an old settlement, with Arctic Incoming
  • Overnight at Hotel Sisimiut
  • Adventure day of sailing, fishing, grilling at a fjord cabin, hiking, ATVing & mountain biking, meeting sled dogs, and sauna, all with Arctic Incoming and Greenland Extreme
  • Greenlandic buffet dinner at Restaurant Nasaasaaq at Hotel Sisimiut
  • Overnight at Hotel Sisimiut
  • Walking tour of Sisimiut with Destination Arctic Circle

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

New Expedition Sailing Company in Greenland

001 _ logo_transparent_background

 

HUGE NEWS!! This Polarphile’s adventures just took an extreme new turn!!

I am now an independent business owner! We have officially launched our new tourism company Greenland Expeditions by Land and Sea, offering sailing expeditions in Greenland on board our own beautiful wooden ship, Nakuak’. This is a dream realised together with my boyfriend Johan Arne Fleischer (@arcticwindow), and we are so excited to take our first voyage in summer 2018. Will you be our guests?!

This means that, after nearly six years, I will be leaving my beloved job at Visit Greenland in just a months’ time. It is a bittersweet feeling because it is the only work life I have ever known up here, but I am also so ready to dive into this new future.

Read more about our first sailing season, the ship and the route at www.greenland-expeditions.com.

Read my articles on Visitgreenland.com

IMG_2433

Me on the Greenland Ice Sheet in September 2017. Just one of the things that has kept me occupied since the last time I posted here on this blog.

I haven’t written anything for half a year – how on Earth can that be?! I think about it nearly every day, and I certainly have had lots of exciting moments. I make reminders to myself to write about the little ideas I jot down here and there. But I write SO much in my daily job that I think I just get burned out…

So I’m killing two bird with one stone here and giving a shameless plug to read my latest writing about Greenland over on www.visitgreenland.com ūüôā

*

*

Relaxing Lodge Getaway Highlight on the new waterfront Ilimanaq Lodge that opened in summer 2017 in Disko Bay

8 Times the Light in Greenland was Absolutely Heavenly¬†Greenland’s landscapes and light are a photographer’s dream

Winter Sailing¬†a highlight about why winter on the water isn’t as scary as you think, plus where to do it

6 Instagram Shots You Must Get in Nuuk Like a social media scavenger hunt, these photo suggestions will take you running all around the capital

Greenland’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites are Pure Nature¬†a peek at what you will find up here plus how to experience it

5 Greenlandic Foods + 1 Cocktail to Try¬†How to ‘go native’ without eating the really exotic stuff (unless that’s your thing)

Arctic Weather: For Better or For Worse a photo collection to show all the wonderful types of weather in Greenland, plus tips on how to thrive in them

The Coolest Skiing in Greenland¬†isn’t where you think! Watch this video of skiing in Nuuk that will leave you so pumped for the snow season

Drone Rules in Greenland what everyone needs to know before packing any drone gear

Behind the Camera An interview with professional photographer, Paul Zizka, about his photography workshops in Greenland

*

*

And, as always, my @polarphile Instagram account is where I post most frequently about the small, daily moments of #lifeatthetopoftheworld. Follow me!

My Greenland Sailing Staycation

IMG_1262

Staycation (n): a trip in which one uses his or her time off to remain home and, in fact, go nowhere. A play on the American English word “vacation”.

Okay, so I’m using a bit of poetic license with this one since I did not actually stay¬†home for my summer holiday, but I did stay in the country as opposed to the vast majority of friends I know who travel to Denmark for summer holiday, plus another handful or two who venture further to places like Bali or Los Angeles. Plus, it is alliterative with “sailing” and “swordfish”, which made for catchy and unique hashtags.

I’m fresh back from a nearly three-week summer holiday in which I sailed along the west coast of Greenland between Nuuk (64*N) and Disko Bay (69*N) in my own private boat. By the way, when we say sailing here, 8 times out of 10 it is actually with a boat with an engine instead of with a true sailing vessel. I guess I’m not really sure what to call sailing with a motorized boat otherwise? Anyway…

To put it simply, my sailing staycation was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had! Of course I have been sailing before, and I’ve even been sailing along most of the west coast before, but when it is your own boat, and when it is YOU yourself as captain some of the time, it is an experience on a whole other level!

I’m nowhere close to being able to compose a concise post about my holiday, so for now I give a few teaser thumbnail photos and a suggestion to follow the trip in short-story form via my in-trip Instagram posts on @polarphile.

Winter Getaways in Greenland – a must do!

 

img_5825

I am telling you – the Christmas season in Greenland simply does not get any cosier! There are orange Christmas stars in every house and office window, the days are getting shorter each day, there are always candles lit, and there are a ton of Christmas trees all over town. Oh yeah, and there is a ton of snow and northern lights!

I have personally been in the absolute highest of holiday spirits this year – baking up a storm nearly every other day with warm fruit compotes or cranberry something-or-others, and decorating the house with festive candles and a Greenlandic mobile. Cultivating cosy has been such an enjoyment!

Here are three ways and places you, too, can get filled with the winter spirit in Greenland!

Celebrate¬†Christmas and New Year’s in Nuuk

Bid the sun welcome back in Ilulissat in mid-January

Have fun in the snow in Sisimiut and Kangerlussuaq

Why a scarf is the best accessory in Greenland

rscn2869

Wondering what to pack for your cosy winter getaway in Greenland?

 

Winter is that time of year when you struggle to look different any time you leave the house because you typically wear the same parka and the same snow pants every single day from October until April – and if you are like me, they are both black. Hence why a selection of colourful and exciting scarves (or hats for that matter) helps to change up the look!

Here is a starting list of what I suggest you pack for a winter holiday in Greenland, in addition to your everyday indoor clothes:

  • Down parka with hood¬†– I use one by Mountain Hardware that has never let me feel the cold ever, but a lot of Greenlanders use a Canada Goose jacket, too. They’re just too heavy feeling for me. A knee-length jacket is what I suggest for max warmth, but it is not the best if you will be doing outdoor adventures that require a lot of mobility of your legs, so you must choose a jacket that fits your activity needs. A good jacket will not require you to have excessive layers underneath, but you will want to use a medium- or heavy-weight long underwear top and a wool layer for half-day or full-day outdoor adventures.
  • Insulated snow pants¬†– not that I can imagine a pair of snow pants that aren’t, but they should be both waterproof and windproof. Just wear them over your jeans or everyday pants when walking around in¬†town, or layer a pair of medium- to heavy-weight wool long underwear underneath them for half-day or full-day outdoor adventures. I use:
  • Wool socks –¬†important because if snow does get into your pants/boots, the socks will remain warm even if they are wet. I don’t suggest the scratchy wool kind.
  • Winter boots – in general, they should be waterproof and have very good traction on the soles as there is snow and ice everywhere¬†(no down-to-the-concrete plowing here). It is best if they give a minimum-temperature guarantee, but not everyone does. Places in the Arctic Circle Region and North Greenland get down to¬†-25 to -30*C / -13 to -22*F, while places in the Capital Region and East Greenland typically hover in the -10 to -15*C / 5 to 14*F range. South Greenland is even milder. Over the years I’ve used these brands, starting with the most satisfactory:
    • Hanwag Tatra Lady GTX – My current shoe. Quite happily surprised, actually, that these boots function well in winter, as I purchased them in summer as a hiking shoe. But they are completely waterproof as I’ve tested on many occasions, and I used them recently for a few hours’ snowshoe trip and they kept my feet comfortable and warm.
    • North Face Valdex Winter Boot – Also generally satisfied with these boots, but have experienced cold toes sometimes with them in -20*C / -4*F like in North Greenland. They are also very heavy!
    • Sorel Joan of Arctic Boot – Not wildly satisfied with these boots, despite I had high hopes for them since I saw¬†so many people using them in Greenland. For me, the traction is awful, and it is never funny to feel scared you will fall down at any time. I also got tired of the fur on the liner, but that was easily substituted with an alternate liner.
  • Scarf¬†– Wool is your best friend when it comes to accessories!
  • Gloves –¬†Mittens are¬†highly recommended over gloves with individual fingers, as the warmth gets circulated differently. I’ll be honest here and say that gloves made outside of Greenland have never been satisfactory enough for me. The only ones I swear by are¬†my sealskin mittens¬†and my muskox wool gloves, and you have the possibility to buy them yourself in Greenland. If you are buying sealskin products, be sure to know what your home country’s importation rules are about sealskin – you might run the risk it is confiscated from you. There are, however, no regulations against muskox wool.
  • Hat –¬†I suggest a wool hat, as synthetic knits simply do not hold up to the wind. Again, the accessories¬†I swear by on a daily basis are made of muskox wool (like the hat I wear in the picture below), which can be bought in Greenland when you arrive. Read here about why I only use muskox wool!

img_4141

#FjordLife – Music Festival in Qooqqut

dscn3633

In early September there’s an annual event called Qooqqut Festival that takes place just outside Nuuk, the capital city of Greenland. It is a celebration of being together with friends and family listening to good music and soaking in the most beautiful natural surroundings on the planet.

I got to attend this year, and it was just the most perfect ‘goodbye’ to summer, as just a few days later I was traveling out of the country for 6 weeks on business! (And when I returned, it was already winter.)

Qooqqut Festival is¬†a full-day no-alcohol¬†event with music, art workshops, demonstrations, face-painting, and food, so bring the whole family – kids, grandparents and even the dog. When you’re in the fjord, there’s room enough for everyone!

Watch this film with fantastic drone footage (you’ll never believe minute 2:29 is real life!!) or Read the story here, or both ūüôā

A Snapshot of Internationals in Greenland (2016)

img_5110

Last year I wrote about some statistics and figures related to the nationalities of Greenland’s residents, and I thought I would do it again with the most recent figures to see if there are any significant changes this year over last. (The short answer is: no).

As of 1 January 2016, 11% of Greenland’s population of 55847 people is foreign born, which equates to a whopping 6021 individuals¬†who hail from 51 different countries. This¬†is literally only just a few handfuls of people more than last year, so the proportion of foreign presence is staying quite stable.

Danes account for the vast, vast majority of internationals in the country (76%). Faroese account for 5%, and Icelanders and Thai, 3% each. Filipinos and Swedes account for 2% each, and all others are 1% or less per nationality, including people from Norway, Germany, USA (39 individuals, or 0.6%), Poland, Other Asia, Other America, Other Africa, Bulgaria, Finland, France, Great Britain, Romania, Canada, China, Oceania, Iran, Holland, Italy, Spain, Pakistan, Lithuania, Slovakia, Russia, Other Europe, Sri Lanka, Ireland, Austria, Lebanon, Belgium, Hungary, Turkey, Ethiopia, Iraq, Japan, Latvia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Ukraine, Morocco, India, and Syria. In that order!

The distribution of internationals around the country is also very stable this year in comparison to last year.

  • 62% of internationals live in Nuuk (3733 people, which is actually about 100 people more than last year)
  • 7% of internationals live in Sisimiut (414 people, which represents a slight decrease actually)
  • 6% of internationals live in Ilulissat (384 people, which is slightly more than last year)

And, it’s still true that no matter where you are in the country, you will always be in the minority compared to Greenland-born residents.

  • The 3733 internationals in Nuuk still account for only 22% of Nuuk’s¬†population.
  • The 414 internationals in Sisimiut account for 7% of Sisimiut’s population.
  • The 384 internationals in Ilulissat account for 8% of Ilulissat’s population.

Think you could hack it is an international in Greenland?

All figures based off of data published by Statistics Greenland on their Statistics Bank.

A Greenlander At Home in New York City

img_4714

Today I came across a story about one Greenlander, Inuuteq Storch, who had an amazing experience in New York City which changed his life. I thought it was fitting to share it because I myself am in New York City at this very moment, and as I walked along 34th Street toward Broadway, I imagined what it must have been like for him to arrive here and suddenly feel at home amongst a few million people.

The following is my translation of an article originally published in Greenlandic and Danish only.

*

*

A Magical Year in New York

“I felt at home in New York from Day 1. The city¬†suits my mentality, and I felt comfortable in the big city’s international art scene. People showed a huge interest in my artwork and my story, so I was able to establish a network in the art community which I can take advantage of in my further developments as an artist,” said artistic photographer Inuuteq Storch, who, after a year at the International Center of Photography in New York, has now returned home to Sisimiut [Greenland].

The 27-year-old Storch’s artistic photography teacher at the Fotomorgana school in Copenhagen had recommended that he¬†take this year at one of the world’s best art schools, where Storch, together with 70 other young artists, went through a Certificate Program in photography, artistic photography and photojournalism at the International Center of Photography in New York.

Standalone Artist

“I was recommended the school in New York because I am a standalone¬†artist. I know I am unique because I have always gone my own way, both personally and artistically. All of my photo motifs are from Greenland, and my artistic expression stems from my Greenlandic roots. Artistic photography from Greenland is unseen¬†in New York, so naturally there was interest for my photographs amongst the other artists I met through exhibits and showings there,” says Storch, who also stands out in a crowd due to his outward appearance with a manicured long moustache and nice eyes, as well as a large black hat that sits atop long black hair.

“For me, it is important to express positivity, probably because I get the negativity out of my head and into my pictures,” he says.

Storch first had to get together more than 250000 Danish Kroner [37000 USD / 34000 EUR] to be able to take the year in New York. He had actually applied and gotten accepted to the school two times previously, but it was only in 2015 that he finally had all the funding together to be able to fulfill his dream.

“When it finally worked out, it was a magical year,” says the charismatic young man.

Big Development

Storch has been interested in photography since his youth, so he no doubt underwent big developments during his time at the International Center of Photography from September 2015 to the end of August 2016.

“I went through a big development as an artistic photographer during my time in New York – especially technique- and identity-wise. My eyes were also opened to¬†expressing myself through photo books, where previously I had focused on exhibits. I also learned a lot about myself as an artist, and now I know that I am a special artist within the realm of artistic photography, specifically because¬†I root myself in my Greenlandic background and because I use Greenlandic motifs in my work.”

Storch says that he has good opportunities to further develop his art in New York.

“If I¬†could have extended my stay in New York, I would have had the opportunity to be apprentice to a photographer who I got to know through several exhibits and showings I participated in while in New York. But, I went home instead because I missed my girlfriend, family, and the Greenlandic nature.”

Projects

Inuuteq Storch has for several years now worked on a project about a young hunter’s life in Sisimiut. In addition, he has started working on a book with photos from his year in New York. When artistic photography is not that lucrative in Greenland, it is necessary for the young artist to earn money another way.

“Together with two other peers from the art school in New York, I am working on preparing a photo exhibit that will be shown at Taseralik Culture House in Sisimiut in summer 2017. I hope it can also be shown in Nuuk.”

Storch himself saved a large amount of the money needed for his stay in New York. He also took a loan from the bank as well as received money via crowd funding and sponsors such as Royal Greenland A/S.

Story written by: Inga Egede ineg@royalgreenland.com

Visit Inuuteq Storch’s website at http://www.inuuteqstorch.com.

KangNu: 35 km Terrain Run in Nuuk

IMG_3410

Last weekend (27 August 2016) I attempted and completed what, to date, is the toughest physical challenge I’ve ever asked my body to try before – a 35 km / 21 mi terrain run in the Nuuk backcountry, called the KangNu Running Race.

This run took me¬†completely outside my comfort zone, which I could notice just from the amount of nerves and second thoughts I was having all the way up to the word, “Go!”

In contrast to the weekend prior, when I was pumped and excited to compete in the Inua Challenge, I wrote this on Facebook, three days prior to race day:

There‚Äôs no way back now‚Ķ I got my start number tonight, so I‚Äôm ‚Äėready‚Äô to run 35 km / 21 mi around Kangerluarsunnguaq fjord on Saturday for the KangNu Running Race.

Two years ago, I ran the 20 km / 12 mi route so of course this year I had to push myself a little more, right?! What the f*** am I thinking?!?! Maybe, ‚ÄėHey, it‚Äôs been a tough 1.5 months, so what‚Äôs one more tough thing on the pile?‚Äô After a hard Inua Challenge last weekend, I had otherwise considered cancelling my registration for KangNu.

Yeah, whether I run the whole way or walk a little, or certainly cry and curse a little, I know I can get through it physically because I’ve trained for the last 8 months in a row (and that I had absolutely not done back then) but anyway… 10,000 butterflies have suddenly come in my stomach, and fast! 

Now it’s just a question of preparing myself mentally over the next few days.

Read my inner monologue below to see how I got through this challenge of a lifetime.

0.8% OF NUUK’S POPULATION, SCATTERED IN THE¬†FJORD

All in all, 137 people sailed over to Kangerluarsunnguaq fjord to be dropped off in the nature and to run home. (It’s sooo Greenland!)

We were 21 persons strong who had the same crazy idea to run the 35 km / 21 mi route – 13 men and 8 women. It does make me proud that, out of 8183 women living in Nuuk, we were the 8 who wanted to take on the challenge this year. It also makes me proud that 5 out of the 8 are CrossFitters!

Another 36 people had the bright idea to do the 20 km / 12 mi terrain run, and yet another 80 people selected to hike the 20 km route.

THE MORNING OF RACE DAY

Kang Nu sarah with coffee¬†Me in the 7:00 hour on board the boat that sailed us to the starting line. I’m clearly blissfully¬†unaware of what lies ahead. Photo by my friend and Crossfit Inua teammate, Inaluk Brandt.

kangnu_2016_01¬†One boatload of people – that’s all who was¬†brave crazy enough to want to do the 35 km KangNu race¬†this year. Photo by: Leiff Josefsen for this Sermitsiaq.ag news article.

kangnu_2016_02_start¬†8:00 –¬†We’re off!¬†Photo by: Leiff Josefsen for this Sermitsiaq.ag news article.

9 HR 29 MIN 35 SEC OF ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER

It’s a long time to be at the same activity, the same action. Something around¬†53000 steps. Zoning out was not an option as traversing Greenlandic terrain takes awareness and concentration.

The boulders¬†along the beach are huge and rough and sharp, and if they’re wet or covered in seaweed and moss, as many were on race day, one incorrect¬†step could go horribly wrong. The hills are covered in soft moss and a crowberry & blueberry ground cover that is¬†deceptively soft, so one always has to take care not to hyperextend a knee or roll an ankle. And there is no red carpet path cut for you – sometimes one¬†really has to use their nature-sense to search for the route, for example to look¬†for places where the grass is flattened a bit from runners that have already passed through.

HAPPINESS, FRUSTRATION, ACCEPTANCE, AGONY, SECOND-WIND, PRIDE, GRATITUDE

This was the gamut of high and low feelings I went through in the course of the race.

Happiness –¬†The first 2.5 hours were absolutely lovely – the view running into the bottom of the fjord was stunning, and the air was fresh. The terrain was exactly as I expected it to be, and I settled into a nice pace. While I didn’t set any sort of¬†goals for myself for this run in terms of time or pace, I had always generally envisioned¬†that I would run the whole way, nice and easy, if the terrain was¬†just like this.

IMG_3398 The enjoyable terrain to run on Рslightly rocky, slightly soft groundcover of crowberry and blueberry, with steady elevation maintenance. The first 5-8 km.

Frustration РBut the terrain was not just like this forever. At some point when we were uphill, a boat of judges sailed next to us in the fjord and shouted up to come downhill to run along the beach.

Nice white sandy beach? Not a chance. It was rocky and slippery, eventually turning into humongous boulders way larger than my body size. At first I could run on the rocks because they were small, thanks to my new Salomon Speedcross 4 shoes, but eventually it turned into one part walking, one part running as I grew more and more uncomfortable, getting scared to land wrong on my foot. I was getting so frustrated at the terrain, feeling it was hindering all my mental preparation of planning to run the whole way.

IMG_3406 The hellish terrain to run on Рwet rocks that only got bigger and tougher in time, with gaining elevation. The next 5-8 km.

Acceptance – But for me, an inexperienced terrain runner, it wasn’t possible for me to run on the beach anymore, and I slowed to a “purposeful walk”. I had so much wish to run, but I just couldn’t. Eventually I accepted that I will just have to walk until we get out of the beach area, whenever that is… Somewhere in this period I picked up my friend and Crossfit Inua teammate who was walking¬†a bit behind me, and we continued the rest of the way together, which I was so thankful for because, looking back, I don’t think I was mentally prepared enough to run this race¬†alone.

Turns out it was another 2 hours nearly to get off the beach, only to be followed nearly immediately by a large uphill rocky stretch that was so steep there was a rope to guide the way. So the walking continued.

Agony – After coming through the first 15 km / 9 mi of the route along the rocky “beach from hell” and the uphill climb through the rocks, my hips were basically dead, and every step felt like fire. There were a few¬†big steps up in¬†the rocky uphill climb that I was nearly having to help lift¬†my own leg up. It was somewhere along here that we picked up another friend and Crossfit Inua teammate¬†who had been ahead of us,¬†so then we were 3.

When we got to the start line of the 20 km / 12 mi KangNu race, it was a welcome and familiar sight because I knew the route from here, and I knew terrain was easy-cheesy compared to the previous.

Again I had so much wish to run – mostly to¬†avenge¬†the walking stretch – but my hips were simply in too much pain. I was getting frustrated and angry¬†again that I used so much energy on the first stretch, that by the time I got to where it¬†was¬†possible for me to run, I couldn’t. Every single step for the next hour and a half was painful and slow-going. When we reached the second uphill climb of Ukkusissat Kangilequtaat, there was a silent pep-talk in my head for every single step. Take a step. One more. Another.

IMG_3411 Smiling and having fun was the only way to get through it. Heading uphill on Ukkusissat Kangilequtaat. Somewhere around the 20th km / 12th mi.

Second-wind – When we got to the top of the hill, there was a refuel station with chocolate, oranges, power bars, and juice – the first we’d encountered¬†in maybe four hours’ time, although we had our own personal stocks in our backpacks, too. Having this extra fuel,¬†plus knowing the¬†10 km left in the route were¬†all downhill from here, was a boost for us, and we started to run. My hips were definitely still on fire, but the angle of running downhill¬†changed the pressure, and I was able to run through it.

Not to mention, we suddenly saw ahead of us a group of 4 people hiking Рthey were the last of those who chose the 20 km KangNu hike. It was a self-centered yet soooo-needed mental boost to know that we had been through 15 km more terrain than them and still had enough gas to forge ahead past them. We eventually saw and passed another 5 hikers when we got closer to town.

IMG_3412 The downhill home stretch has really beautiful and dramatic nature. 

Pride – When we got to the final meters of the¬†home stretch to Inussivik sports hall, we could hear music playing, and suddenly the MC’s¬†were saying our names over the loud speaker to announce we were coming into the finish line. I was getting goosebumps thinking, “We actually did it!!” I truly was¬†in shock and disbelief that I came through it.

It was such a big experience to cross over the finish line with my friend while giving her a high five, and to see our third friend waiting there, who had finished 3 minutes before us. It was a feeling of accomplishment and pride that I’ll never forget.

IMG_3421 KangNu 35 km complete!

Gratitude – The day after the race I was actually in way better recovery shape than I would have guessed. Still a bit swollen and tender in my hips, but with perfectly fine knees and ankles, and not a single blister on my feet!

Mostly I was so happy to have had the opportunity to try such a run and to have had two friends by my side. I wrote this on Facebook that day:

We talk frequently about PR’s in CrossFit – one kilo more, maybe five. These numbers are big and a lot to be proud over, and that I am, when they happen, but what I experienced yesterday gave me a much greater feeling of pride, which I will live off of for many years.

Yesterday I stepped outside the comfort zone; I moved my limits. I am not a runner, nor am I a terrain runner. I have only done such a run once before, and that was in 2014 for the KangNu 20 km / 12 mi. And, not to mention, a few weeks ago I was even fighting mentally to get through 5 km / 3 mi on the treadmill. But for some reason I thought I should try the KangNu 35 km / 21 mi in 2016. Maybe because I think I’m generally in good shape. Was that dumb? No. It was insane.

Therefore, when I crossed the finish line yesterday together with two of my super strong CrossFit friends (and let me be clear, I only crossed the finish line because they were there with me), I got a PR of 15 km’s / 9 mi’s run out in the most beautiful but harshest nature. It’s nearly incomprehensible for me.

That I will remember as, until now, the biggest personal challenge I have ever overcome.

Today’s going to be a good day ‚̧

THE SAME THREE THOUGHTS RUNNING ON LOOP 

Due to the necessary situational awareness one needs when running in the backcountry, I was mentally present the whole time, and I kept coming back to the same few ideas. One was:

“There’s a finish line at the end of today’s race, but the purpose is not to cross it. The purpose is to enjoy all the steps it takes to get to it.” –¬†Words I wrote on Facebook after being totally inspired by this Tree of Life film clip¬†just before going to sleep the night before the race

So many times I was “waking myself up” to stop for a minute to look around at the indescribably beautiful country¬†I am privileged to call home. I was thinking, Of course I will sail in this¬†fjord maybe one¬†hundred more times in my life, but will I ever be in this¬†spot running again? Probably not. NOW is the time to appreciate this experience. “

* / * / *

The second was:

“Every once in a while one needs to move his/her boundaries. You can do it.” –¬†Motivational words written¬†to me by a friend, on the morning of the race

Original: “Man skal jo engang imellem flytte sin gr√¶nser. Sapinngilatit.”

There were many times I was feeling that I was really overstepping my boundaries of what is realistic for me based on previous experience. As I’ve said, I’ve¬†only done trail running once before, (read here about my experience¬†two years ago for the KangNu 2014 race), and that was the much easier and shorter 20 km / 12 mi KangNu route, so maybe a 15 km / 9 mi increase through much tougher terrain¬†was too much of a jump?

But then I rationalised, if I thought the idea of a 35 km terrain run was just completely impossible for me, I never would have considered it in the first place. So the very fact that I considered and decided upon it, means I subconsciously always believed I could do it.

I also rationalised that others, like my friend who wrote to me, must have also believed I could do it. Not a single person questioned,¬†“Are you sure? Do you really think you can do that?” ¬†when they heard I will go for the 35 km route.

* / * / *

Finally, the third was:

“You are her happiness”.¬†– Words written to me by a family friend about me & my mother.

I thought frequently of my mother, who is a paraplegic due to Multiple Sclerosis and who, over the course of the last 30+ years, has acquired more and more machines to carry out basic functions, the latest being a breathing vent.

I was thinking about how I use my body so much – daily CrossFit training, hiking, and special events like Inua Challenge and KangNu – while she’s¬†sitting there not¬†even able to lift her¬†own hand. The contrast of my life versus hers¬†is astounding.

I’ve always sort of scoffed at people who ‘run in the honor of…’ or ‘run in the memory of…’ people, but I get it now. Every time I came to think of these words by the family friend, I thought also,¬†“I will complete this for her, to be her happiness.”

NO INSTANT REPEATS

I am really glad that I stuck with it and somehow squashed the voice that screamed to me to back out. Crossing the finish line was a true moment of completely obliterating any physical limitations I thought I had, and taught me something about my own strength.

Will I do the 35 km KangNu terrain run again? No, never. Ironically, to¬†now know the terrain that lies ahead means I’ll never get through it again.

Will I do some other physical challenge that presses me just as much, or more? Absolutely. Eventually. Maybe hike the¬†160 km / 96 mi Arctic Circle Trail between Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut… maybe run/hike the 120 km / 72 mi Nuuk-Kapisillit terrain race… maybe run the Nuuk Marathon…

But¬†with¬†winter coming, and being that I’m not a downhill or cross-country skier, I think my opportunities for outdoor challenges have run their course for 2016.¬†I’m more than¬†satisfied to call the 35 km KangNu race¬†my final physical accomplishment hoorah for the year.