#FjordLife – Music Festival in Qooqqut

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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 🙂

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The best thing about life in Greenland

What is the best thing about life in Greenland?

In a picture, this:

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stop-the-glorification-of-busy

I bet you expected a picture of a breathtakingly beautiful fjord with a mirror-like sea and northern lights floating overhead, didn’t you? For that you can just take a scroll through the @ilovegreenland Instagram account. Ok, ok, here’s a picturesque shot to hold you over.

skaermbillede-2016-10-21-kl-18-39-00Photo by @danielkordan, regrammed by @ilovegreenland

While it would be an incredible understatement to call the inescapable natural beauty of Greenland just a ‘cherry on top’ of the experience, for me the best thing about life in Greenland is actually intangible and wholly impossible to capture through a lens.

The best thing about Greenland is that there is no societally-imposed glorification of busy. Instead there is a prioritization of one’s own happiness and never apologizing for that. So if that means keeping busy because you want to, great. If that means keeping an open schedule, also great.

Through four and a half years I have collected a lot of stories and impressions, but one red thread holds solid no matter the person, season, town, or situation: personal time is sacred. There is generally an 8-hour workday, and all other time is protected and reserved for whatever one wants to do. This manifests itself in so many different ways – being in the nature sailing, or reindeer hunting, or spending the weekend in a hut… preparing a delicious home-cooked meal to enjoy with friends or family… doing a hobby like painting or knitting or working out… or doing nothing at all!

Let me back up a few steps…

What is the glorification of busy?

It is the view that always doing something is a good thing, whether that be work-related with tasks, projects, and business travel, or related to private life, with extracurricular activities, dinner parties, and other goings-on.

It is the putting of plans or work on a pedestal.

Where did this come from?

I believe first world countries these days are to blame for this glorification trend. When places get nicknames like “the city that never sleeps,” clearly being uber busy, stretched thin, completely over-worked, over-jetset, and always having a full social calendar has become the norm, and people love it because ultimately it is a status symbol. It means one is important, trusted, sought after, powerful, connected, needed, wanted. It means success.

But is busy synonymous with successful?

Research on productivity  in the workplace shows that no, being busy is not necessarily synonymous with success, at least not in USA. USA is arguably the busiest country in the world, but with converse productivity levels. It is the No Vacation Nation, as Americans are proven to take hardly any holiday time, to answer mails while ’relaxing’ on a white sand beach, or to simply not be granted paid holiday at all. I think we all can relate to the feeling that nothing gets done well when one has too many balls in the air at the same time. Have you heard of the phrase “work hard, play hard”? It’s a phrase that came into my vocabulary on Day 2 of undergraduate at the University of Virginia and pretty much never left.

What’s wrong with being un-busy?

What I wonder more and more is why people feel guilty about not answering an email after work hours, why someone feels bad to turn down an invitation for weekend plans because they want to do something else instead, why someone apologizes for doing what makes them happy.

I hypothesize that the glorification of busy also equally comes out of a fear of appearing lazy, uncool, unwanted, forgotten, solitary, and unsuccessful – especially on a personal level. A stigma associated with not being busy perhaps starts all the way back in grade school, a period when fitting in and being accepted are of the utmost importance, and carries through to adult life.

Professional versus personal success

I also hypothesize that the societies that glorify being busy are the same societies that primarily define success via professional indicators – job title, number of subordinates, sky miles, and income, to name a few, which then lead to a domino effect of commodity-based indicators of success like house size, car ownership and style, clothing, and so on ad nauseam.

In contrast, there are societies that define success in other ways, namely via personal indicators – quality of relationships, good mental and physical health, access to nature, becoming a parent, and the big one, happiness.

Greenland absolutely falls into this category. I’ve actually heard it said many times that Greenlanders just aren’t driven by earning money the way other cultures are, so one must incentivize through other means. I don’t totally agree with that, but certainly Greenlanders know that money doesn’t buy happiness and have harnessed the ability to seek pleasure outside the workplace.

My place on the busy-not busy scale

To be painfully honest with myself, I am on the busy side. When I zoom in a few levels and look at my day-to-day, I always have something whether it’s training, a brunch date, or a kaffemik. The week starts more or less open, but a free Saturday never stays so for very long.

Take this past weekend, for example. I’ve been out traveling for work for 6 weeks, and what do I do when I finally land in Nuuk? I drop my suitcases at the foyer and run back out to my friends’ house for the evening. Actually, it’s the family with whom I lived whenever I was in Nuuk for the past three years – my original host family, my family. And then on Sunday, I was on the go with training, brunch, an Art Walk around the city, grocery shopping, socializing with a friend, and picking up some new things I bought.

That being said, I don’t believe I necessarily glorify being busy because I also really love – and need – time to myself. While I suppose I can sustain extended periods of busy, I can also ‘crash’ really hard into periods of doing nothing. Believe it or not, I am an introvert, or so the Meyers-Briggs test has said several times since I was 15.

Hedonist, YOLO-head, dream-chaser

Busy bee or not, I have definitely internalized the Greenlandic mentality of prioritizing one’s own happiness.

As a highly independent individual from the start, going for what I wanted was never a weak spot, but I was always told I was a bit of a black sheep for it – the only one with such a strong will. Now imagine this personality being immersed in a culture that cultivates exactly this type of personal independence nearly to a fault and screams, “Do what’s best for you!” You can’t help but get an added jolt of chutzpah.

My decision to move to Greenland was the ultimate display of this. The reality is that I left all and everything and everyone in USA because I wanted to do what made me happy. I jumped off a cliff. I put myself first, and I don’t apologize for it.

Hedonist, YOLO (you only live once), and dream-chaser were the nicer insults some people gave me regarding my decision, but I also went up against “selfish”,  bat-shit crazy”, “abandoner”, and “mentally ill”. They said, sure, they might also like to jump up and move to Spain but obviously that was never going to happen because it wasn’t realistic. They said they didn’t agree with my decision and didn’t think I should go. And so on.

You know what criticisms people in Greenland gave me? None. I was met instead with congratulations from all and words of encouragement. Nobody I know from Greenland has ever made me feel bad about my decision, and that speaks volumes.

KangNu: 35 km Terrain Run in Nuuk

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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’s no way back now… I got my start number tonight, so I’m ‘ready’ 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, ‘Hey, it’s been a tough 1.5 months, so what’s one more tough thing on the pile?’ 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 – slightly rocky, slightly soft groundcover of crowberry and blueberry, with steady elevation maintenance. The first 5-8 km.

Frustration – But 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 – wet 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 – they 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. “

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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 grænser. 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.

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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.

INUA CHALLENGE is finally here!!

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The first-ever INUA CHALLENGE takes place tomorrow (Saturday 20 August 2016) in Nuuk, Greenland at 11:00 local time (GMT – 2).

Follow along with every lap, challenge, and drop of sweat via live broadcasts. Just “Like” the Inua Challenge Facebook page and tune in on Saturday!

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What is Inua Challenge?

It’s an every-man-for-himself strength/conditioning/endurance race that involves a combination of running + functional fitness movements that must be completed in a certain order… for time!

  • 900 m terrain run (0.56 mi)
  • Climb over a 2,4 m wall (8 ft)
  • Fill a large bucket to the brim with water, using a single cup
  • 900 m terrain run
  • Climb over a 2,4 m wall
  • Move 5 sandbags (each weighing 20 kg / 44 lb) a distance of 40 m / 132 ft each
  • 900 m terrain run
  • Climb over a 2,4 m wall
  • Drag a set of 3 car tires (tied together) a distance of 200 m (1/8 mi)
  • 900 m terrain run
  • Climb over a 2,4 m wall
  • Flip a tractor tire (weighing approx. 100 kg / 220 lb for women; 200 kg / 440 lb for men) 10 times
  • 900 m terrain run while carrying 1 sandbag (weighing 20 kg)
  • Swim 100 m / 330 ft

Check #InuaChallenge

Who’s behind Inua Challenge?

Crossfit Inua (i.e. my second home)! Crossfit Inua is the first and only CrossFit affiliate in Greenland, which officially opened its own box doors on 1 January 2016, though offered classes for several years prior in a shared gym space.

Crossfit Inua is owned by Coach Lasse Nymand Petersen (@coach_lassenymandpetersen) and Coach Charlotte Berglund (@crossfitinua_coachc), and loved by approximately 200 members.

Visit www.crossfitinua.gl to learn more.

Some good shots captured of me:

Inua Challenge 4 Starting line! We competed in several heats, each with 10 athletes. I was in the first heat. Photo by: Mette Steenholdt.

Inua Challenge 2Step nr. 9 out of 16 – pull three car tires (tied together) uphill 100 m / 330 feet, and then back downhill the same distance. Photo by: Vagn Hansen.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 19.36.17Step nr. 11 out of 16 – flip a tractor tire 14 times – it weighs around 100 kg / 220 lb. Photo by: @flindt.

Inua Challenge 3Step nr. 15 out of 16 – run 900 m / 0.56 mi with a 20 kg / 44 lb sandsack. Photo by: Mette Steenholdt.

Inua Challenge 13 Step nr. 15 out of 16 – run 900 m / 0.56 mi with a 20 kg / 44 lb sandsack. Photo by: Ulrik Bang.

Inua Challenge 7Step nr. 16 out of 16 – cross the lake and run a final 100 meters or so to cross the finish line. Photo by: Ulrik Bang.

For more photos of all athletes and steps, see:

Follow @Polarphile on Instagram!

Follow me on Instagram at @Polarphile to see what my daily life in Nuuk, Greenland looks like!

Here’s a few snapshots from the last week:

Golfing in Greenland

Same same, but different.

That’s a phrase that can be used to describe a lot of things in Greenland. In the Arctic, certain climate, environmental, and infrastructural facts of life just make some things more challenging. But not impossible.

Like golfing in Greenland!

This morning I read online at KNR (Kalaallit Nunaata Radioa / Greenland Broadcasting Corporation) that two American tourists were especially impressed by the golf course at Nuuk Golf Club, and I just couldn’t resist re-posting here. Who wouldn’t love to tee off surrounded by the iconic mountains in Greenland’s capital city?

It is these small elements which surprise people and make Greenland special. And if you can believe it, there even used to be the World Ice Golf Championship in Uummannaq, Greenland which Steve Rushin, a Sports Illustrated writer, wrote into history when he included a chapter about it, called “Winter Rules,” in his 2007 book, “The Caddie was a Reindeer: And Other Tales of Extreme Recreation”.

This morning’s article, written by Apollo Jeremiassen, is originally published in Greenlandic and Danish here, but I’m providing my own English translation below so you all can read it, too.

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AMERICAN TOURISTS IMPRESSED BY GOLF COURSE

By Apollo Jeremiassen. 16 July 2015.

As as foreigner or tourist it is hard to imagine that a golf course can be found so close to the Arctic Circle, like in Nuuk. But two American tourists are impressed that they found such a hard and unique golf course.

The two American tourists, from California and New York, played at Nuuk Golf Club this past Monday.

Tourists from all over the world want to see and experience Greenland in many different ways. Some want to see icebergs that drift slowly in the mirror-like sea where, every once in a while, whales come with an enormous blow in the vicinity of large cruise ships with thousands of passengers on board.

But others want to play golf.

One golfer was American David Bandley from Los Angeles, California, who has his own plane for transport when he goes to meetings in different places in the world.

His handicap is around 10, which is pretty nice for an older American man to have. He thinks it is totally great that a golf course can be found so far north.

“When you think about the fact that you are so close to the Arctic Circle, it is just fantastic that a golf course can be found in Nuuk. I really enjoyed playing here, and you all can be proud to have a beautiful golf course such as this one”, Bandley says.

The other golfer was Mike McKaskey from New York, who says that Nuuk Golf Club’s course is totally different than those he typically plays on in USA.

“This one is totally different and difficult to play on because there are lots of rocks around the course. But you all must watch out now. Now I will be able to beat you,” McKaskey says.

And, Bandley says just for fun, that he will be the all time winner for the Greenland Open. “I will win. I will win the Greenland Open for golf!” he says.

KNR journalist Apollo Jeremiassen teases Bandley saying, “Do you really think that you can beat a Greenlandic golfer like me?”

Bandley responded quickly and proudly. “You can think that if you want! But when I get on this course, you won’t be able to keep up with me.”

Henrik Skydsbjerg of Tupilak Travel, who arranged the golf trip, tells KNR that after Tupilak Travel has worked with tourists for the last 8 years, it is only this year that they could first notice an increase in tourists in Greenland.

PHOTO GALLERY: KangNu Race: Running in Nuuk Backcountry

IMG_0815Reality sets in when you pick up your race number and race shirt!

Greenlanders love to escape to the backcountry to have barbecues, hunt, relax, and even exercise! In Nuuk especially, there are quite many possibilities for organized runs like the Nuuk Marathon, a 120 km / 75 mi race from Nuuk into Nuuk Fjord, a mountain challenge to the tops of Ukkusissat and Quassussuaq (780 m / 2559 ft and 443 m / 1453 ft, respectively), and this very 20-35 km / 12-22 mi KangNu Race from Kangerluarsunnguaq (the next fjord south of Nuuk) to Nuuk.

Running Novice

Now, just because I participated in the KangNu Race, please don’t confuse me with some über-fit and dedicated runner. The only reason I felt comfortable signing up for the KangNu Race was because there was the possibility to hike the course – an option that 59% of participants opted for this year, actually.

While it is true that I love to get that post-workout high, a Runner I am not. In fact, the longest run I have ever done in my life is perhaps 10 km / 6 mi. And, a Trail Runner I am certainly not! As in, I have never run in the nature before. Herein lies the reason why the KangNu Race was such a personal achievement for me!

Believe me when I say that running the KangNu Race was never on my radar until the very moment the clock started at the starting line in Kangerluarsunnguaq, on 9 August 2014. perfect storm of motivations, and the coolest new friends, just made my feet start running. Even at that time, I never formulated the goal to run the entire race.

Mental Strength

Though I was by no means thinking to such a highly composed degree on race day, after 2.5 weeks of reflection I have come up with three mantras that quite accurately represent my mental state during the KangNu Race. Sorry in advance for turning into a life coach for a minute 🙂

1. You can do anything you put your mind to. Physical challenges are 20% physical strength and 80% mental strength.

I wish I could say I eat the world’s most balanced diet and that I had been training for weeks to conquer this run, but truthfully, it was all mental right there in the moment. I just took it from minute to minute thinking, “This feels okay right now. I could keep running”. So I did. I did not even listen to music during the run, and that is amazing to me, even now! What was I thinking of for so many minutes?? I cannot remember.

Instead, I watched my footing like a hawk, enjoyed the mountain- and fjord-view that literally never loses its impressiveness, and talked myself through sore hip flexors and heel blisters a few times. Suddenly, 3 hours and 8 minutes was over and I felt on top of the world!

2. Compete with yourself, not others.

There is something to be said about setting realistic goals and that all starts and ends with you. What works for someone else has absolutely nothing to do with you, so the only sustainable routine is to keep your focus inward. At the end of the day, you are your own biggest motivation.

There were one or two periods of the KangNu Race when I was totally alone in the nature, unable to see anybody in front or behind. At those times, how does one measure whether she’s going fast enough, pushing hard enough? You can’t. I couldn’t. I could only look at myself and ask – am I going fast enough for myself? Am I happy with myself? The answer was yes, so I was right on track 🙂

3. Every time you do something you thought you could not do, you set a new bar for yourself. Live life by constantly setting new bars and you will naturally evolve into the best version of yourself.

Sometimes these tests of character and willpower and strength come at the end of a long road of deliberate training and focus, and sometimes they fall into your lap out of nowhere. But no matter what, these events are monumental in shaping your person and eventually even a “new you”. Recognize that you have done something great, and give yourself every bit of the credit you deserve! Then promise yourself to always strive to recreate this experience with something a bit different, a bit bigger, a bit better.

As I said, before the KangNu Race I didn’t consider myself “a runner,” but now I am thinking about what races I can do in the future, both in Greenland and in the United States. The wheels are certainly turning, and so it seems maybe I am in the midst of creating a new Me…

Now for some pictures to show the day!

IMG_0882 All smiles here as we sail on Ivik from Nuuk to the starting line in Kangerluarsunnguaq, the next fjord south of Nuuk, on the morning on 9 August 2014.

IMG_0892 Passing Qinngorput, the most southerly development in Nuuk.

IMG_0902Kingittorsuaq is the landmark that lets you know you have reached Kangerluarsunnguaq.

IMG_0906 Eager participants at the starting line in Kangerluarsunnguaq. With participants arriving just 12 at a time via boat transport from Nuuk, there was bound to be a little bit of standing around and waiting. It’s all part of the experience!

IMG_0908 View from the starting line in Kangerluarsunnguaq. If you are ever so lucky as to stand here, please please take a moment to be grateful for everything in your wonderful life that has brought you to this point.

IMG_0914 A fjord ahead (Nuup Kangerlua)…

IMG_0918 … And a fjord behind (Kangerluarsunnguaq)…

IMG_0920 … And in the midst, one woman just running from yellow dot to yellow dot until she reaches the finish line! Photo taken after exactly 1 hour of running, 2 hours to go. Starting line was down by that island in the background.

IMG_0923 Seeing Sermitsiaq, Nuuk’s landmark mountain, means we are at the home stretch!

IMG_0925 After 2 hours and 45 minutes of trail running, one of my three running mates, Nivikka, and I are still in good spirits. We also know that we are VERY close to the finish line!

Of course, my adrenaline was so high at the end that I completely forgot to take finish line pictures, but Qanorooq, part of the Greenland national broadcast, actually captured me on film crossing the finish line (cue to 7:20). How cool!

PHOTO GALLERY: Paragliding in Greenland

IMG_0459Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a paraglider!

Across Nuuk’s treeless landscape one cannot miss the unmistakable half moon shape of a paraglider floating silently overhead! One afternoon when the wind is just right, look toward Tuapannguit road or Qernertunnguit neighborhood, or drive out to Qinngorput, and you will see these gravity-defiers launching from the rocky hillside into airborne bliss. I used to see them all the time a few years ago when I walked the dog in the afternoon. It was at that time that I made the mental note to put “Paragliding in Greenland” on my Nuuk Bucket List.

Max Petersen of Maximum Paraglider Sportsklub is the man behind all the colorful sails gliding over Nuuk. He is a competitive champion paraglider who has been paragliding in Greenland for approximately 20 years! In fact, it was this legend with whom I made my tandem flight. I couldn’t have felt in safer hands!

IMG_0467 Max Petersen sports his company gear.

IMG_0466Max Petersen and me after an adventurous tandem paragliding experience! I won’t soon forget it!

The thing with paragliding, and especially tandem paragliding since there are two people’s weights to consider, is that the wind rules all. It must be of a certain speed and certain direction, and if it changes too much then all bets are off. So when my friend sent me an SMS that the wind was perfect for tandem paragliding one Sunday afternoon so head toward Qinngorput, I did as I was told!

My friend had been paragliding himself that day with a GoPro style camera rolling, so my arrival to the launch spot is actually documented in full. Cue to 8:30. It’s just casual conversation and a few pointers about paragliding, so don’t make too much fun of me 🙂

IMG_0458Launch spot on the way out to Qinngorput, with Ukkusissat in the background. First the wing and its dozens of lines must be positioned for launch. 

IMG_0447 Then the seat is prepared. It’s like sitting in a backpack with a built-in foot rest.

Fortunately, there is no documentation of the launch! I said this to everyone I talked to that day, and I’ll say it here, too – the launch and the landing are very tough work while everything in between is a breeze! (No pun intended)

The moment the wing catches a bit of air, it wants to pull you up and all around, so I was instructed to use all my bodily power to lean forward, away from the wing. I’m a pretty physically strong woman so I felt confident in my ability to provide counter weight… That went out the window very quickly, even with two of us working together in a tandem rig. Nothing could have prepared me for how much force the inflated wing would have on my body!

The wing yanked us backward and when we got our footing again, we had to “run” sideways to get to high ground so we could launch out and over the coastline. To me, it just felt like we were getting pulled every which way. Thanks to a thick harness digging into my pelvis as the wing pulled us upward and we ran ourselves sideways, I was pretty much just using mental strength to get myself through these minutes!

IMG_0450 Airborne over Qinngorput.

IMG_0463So this is what the birds see!

Fortunately, once we launched and were floating above the coastline, the incredible physical activity was replaced with painless and effortless flying and only the sound of the wind. We sat back into our seats, put our feet up, and had fun!

IMG_0452 Airborne in the tandem rig!

IMG_0453 Looking up, there is only blue sky and colorful wing.

What goes up must come down. After probably 15 minutes of weightless flying, we came into a tunnel of cool air which carried us down closer and closer to the ground. I think if Max was alone, he would have just steered himself in such a way to stay up. He told me that one time, in a distance competition, he stayed airborne for over six hours without landing!

Not to worry for us, we just landed where the wind took us and carried our seats and wing back to the ideal launch spot to start it all over again!

IMG_0455 Max Petersen carrying the wing for us from our landing spot up to the launch spot.

IMG_0457Achieving something on my Nuuk Bucket List makes me one glad woman!!

Just another day in Nuuk, Greenland 😀

Greenland: A Great Place to Find Your Own Inner Greatness

Through my work interviewing tourists in Greenland, I have met many that “use” Greenland to physically and mentally test themselves. They consider Greenland an extreme – the farthest, the most challenging, the coldest, and so on – so if they can do Greenland, then they can do anything! It’s a bit dramatic, but to each his own. I could certainly empathize with them, but I, myself, never saw Greenland as such a “tool”… until this summer.

Without particularly aiming for it, this summer became one filled with firsts and personal achievements for me. Now, the feeling of pushing myself to go further, get stronger, go higher, or go faster is totally addictive! Read more about my exciting experiences below.

I have been thinking a lot about who influences who. Is it the person, with an internal drive for new experiences and personal development, that finds adventures wherever he goes? Or is it the place, with such magnificent beauty and aura, that can inspire anyone to seek such opportunities? I like to think it is a bit of both and, therefore, just one way to explain why I feel that Greenland is a perfect home for me.

Well, summer is not quite over yet, but here’s a look at what made the last few months totally awesome!

What will YOU accomplish when you get to Greenland!?

  • First time to hike to the top of Ukkusissat! (And second, third, and fourth thereafter 🙂 )IMG_9368
  • First time to do CrossFit training, ever! (Totally addicted from Day 1, by the way)10592925_10152616422178599_4777609839452747718_nPhoto by: Lulu Høegh

They say the gym is the best place to meet people. I was aiming to expand my network a bit, and the X-Fit NUUK community at Nuuk Fitness did not disappoint. It is full of friendly, open, fun, and tough-as-nails men and women with whom I genuinely look forward to spending five hard hours every week!!

  • First time to kayak, in Greenland!foto (2)Photo by: Malik Milfeldt

It is one thing to have a fjord- or bay-view from everywhere in town, but entirely another to be on the water… literally! With just a thin layer of plastic between you and the cold, deep sea below, and armed with little more than a watertight survival suit and a paddle, you are the master of your own route. How liberating! 

Read more about the experiences that still sit waiting on my Greenland Bucket List!

PHOTO GALLERY: Hiking Ukkusissat: Good enough to do 2x in 24 hours!

MadsPihl_Ukusissaq01The beauty of Nuuk is that one minute you can be in the city and the next minute you are in the great outdoors! Shot by Mads Pihl, Visit Greenland, on 20 June 2014.

If there was an official “Top 10 Things To Do in Nuuk, Greenland” list, hiking Ukkusissat (a.k.a. Store Malene) would be at the top for you Nature Lovers who crave an afternoon in the mountains and who will work a bit for a good panoramic view!

Ukkusissat has a strong presence in Nuuk as its snowy top can be seen from every corner of town. Whether you are sitting on the terrace of your AirBnB in Qinngorput neighborhood or are strolling along the pedestrian walkway in city center, Ukkusissat screams, ‘Get up here already! Come look out at all of Nuuk and Nuuk Fjord and pinch yourself because you are nearly at the top of the world!’ And for those whose eyes are always like magnets to the highest point wherever you go, well, you will probably set your sights toward Ukkusissat long before the Dash-8 even hits the runway.

Ukkusissat beckoned to me in this way for a looong time. In fact, one could joke it was like a 5th family member at the breakfast table because every morning over a bowl of müsli and a cup of coffee, I would stare out the window to its rocky slopes and promise myself that I would get there one day…

cropped-img_5392.jpgGreenlanders live a life close to nature, so we are lucky to have views like this even at the breakfast table. Ukkusissat shot from Qinngorput on 18 September 2013.

It took a full two years but I finally hiked Ukkusissat, and how glad I was for that! In fact, I was so glad that I did the hike twice in 24 hours! Someone asked me if I did that to represent each year I missed… that’s a good idea, but no, it was just a coincidence 🙂

MadsPihl_Ukkusissaq03Being in the Greenland nature with good company makes my heart happy. Shot by Mads Pihl, Visit Greenland, on 20 June 2014.

MadsPihl_Ukkusissaq06The water in Greenland is pure and delicious! Shot by Mads Pihl, Visit Greenland, on 20 June 2014.

MadsPihl_Ukkusissaq05Snow at higher altitudes provides a welcome cooling effect (and hydration source) while hiking Ukkusissat. Shot by Mads Pihl, Visit Greenland, on 20 June 2014.

Here’s the thing with having a professional photographer in your hiking group – he gives you great photos from the night, but he’s always working! Which means you, an unsuspecting model, are also working!

IMG_9344The talented (former) Visit Greenland photographer himself, Mads Pihl, still working at 780 m / 2559 ft, on top of Ukkusissat.

MadsPihl_Ukkusissaq04The sense of awe and accomplishment one feels at the top of Ukkusissat is enough to make one want to do it all over again the next day! Shot by Mads Pihl, Visit Greenland, on 20 June 2014.

MadsPihl_Ukkusissaq02One can easily find pleasure in solitude in this wide and untouched land. Shot by Mads Pihl, Visit Greenland, on 20 June 2014. 

Perhaps the neatest thing about hiking the very same route the following morning was seeing the stark differences in light. In the late evening, when the sun is quite low, the sky and mountains and sea are cloaked in a beautiful warm glow. In the daytime, when the sun is high overhead, everything is blue and bright! Both times of day are nice, but I think the evening light is the most magical!

IMG_9382When you are so high on Ukkusissat, you can scan the surrounding fjords for your next adventure! For instance, Sermitsiaq is another hiking dream of mine. Shot on 20 June 2014 at 22:40.IMG_9384Toward Sermitsiaq. Shot on 21 June 2014 at 12:00. 

IMG_9337Toward Kingittorsuaq, a delightful mountain to hike 🙂 Shot on 20 June 2014 at 22:40.

IMG_9380Toward Nuuk city. Shot on 20 June 2014 at 22:40.IMG_9388

Toward Nuuk city. Shot on 21 June 2014 at 12:00.

THE FACTS

  • Name: Ukkusissat means “soapstones” in Greenlandic. Sometimes it is also written as Ukkusissaq which is just the singular form. The Danish name (more commonly used) is “Store Malene”, meaning “Big Malene”.
  • Height: Ukkusissat is 780 m / 2559 ft tall.
  • Location: Ukkusissat stands behind the Qinngorput neighborhood, approximately 4.8 km / 3 mi from Nuuk city center.
  • Ukkusissat is the taller of two mountains in the immediate Nuuk area (Quassussuaq, a.k.a. Lille Malene, is the other at 443 m / 1453 ft).
  • Access: Ukkusissat can be reached using Nuup Bussii public transportation toward Stop 41 Qarsoq/Asiarpak (15 DKK / 2.75 USD per ride). Always consult a bus schedule first. The best bus to catch is the #1, because it runs directly between city center and Qinngorput, 7 days a week. The #1A is another direct bus between city center and Qinngorput, and it runs every day but Sunday. There are 3 other buses (#3, #X1, #X3) that reach Qinngorput, but they are either less-direct, only run on weekdays, or do not go all the way to city center.
  • Hiking Time: Hiking time always depends on one’s physical fitness/hiking experience, weather conditions, and ground conditions. From personal experience only, it takes approx. 1 hour 40 minutes to reach the top of Ukkusissat. The conditions were near-perfect, and I consider my hiking level to be Experienced on a scale from Novice to Experienced to Expert. For Novice hikers or for those who wish to stop and thoroughly enjoy the views, it could take nearly 3 hours to reach the top.
  • Difficulty: Difficulty depends on one’s physical fitness/hiking experience, weather conditions, and ground conditions. There are areas on Ukkusissat where one must use his hands for support to make large steps up (bouldering) and where one must walk in snow. From personal experience only, Ukkusissat has Medium difficulty on a scale from Easy to Medium to Hard (and again, I consider my hiking level to be Experienced on a scale from Novice to Experienced to Expert).
  • Route: Follow the route marked by Orange dots painted on rock or cairns. One can also buy detailed hiking maps for Nuuk (and other towns) in Atuagkat Bookstore.
  • Seasonality: The best season to hike Ukkusissat is summer / early autumn, when there is the least snow present. One should take the utmost caution when hiking in snow because rock crevasses may be present and the snow might not be thick enough to hold body weight. Snow also limits visibility of the marked route.

WHAT TO BRING

The weather can change quickly in Greenland, and one should be prepared for many conditions! Always check the weather before you start a hiking tour.

A really nice thing about being in the nature in Greenland is that you can usually find a natural water source to drink from directly! And if there is snow, you can just eat the snow 🙂

  • Water bottle
  • Windproof / Waterproof layers (pants, jacket)
  • Sunglasses
  • Suncream
  • Mosquito head net (If there is little wind, the mosquitos could be quite pesky)
  • Hat
  • Gloves (even if it is not cold, they can provide hand protection if you need it)
  • Extra quick-dry layer
  • Extra socks
  • Lunch (small sandwich, fruit, chocolate bar, etc.)
  • Camera

Last but not least… Don’t forget your adrenaline and sense of adventure !!!