Why I Don’t Want Greenland On Your Bucket List (*there’s a catch)

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Yes, Bucket Lists were virtually invented for once-in-a-lifetime experiences like travelling to the Arctic, glacier walking on the only Ice Sheet outside of Antarctica, and sailing under the midnight sun. So it sounds odd to say I don’t want Greenland included in that. 

And, given that I dedicate my professional and personal life to showing anyone who will listen that Greenland is simply the best land in the world, it sounds VERY odd that I don’t want it on your list. 

But here’s why.

Greenland deserves so much more than a line on a Bucket List and a little square waiting to be filled in with a red check mark and then left in the dust.

Because that very check mark indicates completion and finality. It means you have been there, done that, and are ready to move on to the next item.

If Greenland has half the effect on you as it did on me the first time, then you don’t simply just move on after experiencing Greenland. You don’t just go back to ‘life as normal’ and forget all about the peace you had every morning waking to such beautiful views like the picture above, or the human compassion you felt when you asked a local for directions to your AirBnB flat and she ended up walking you the whole way there. For many of you, Greenland will be your transformational destination

Therefore, I ask you to let Greenland transcend the bucket list. Don’t go because it’s on the list. Just go.

Take your time to plan the trip; live in the moment every day you have your feet on the ground up here; go home and continue to let Greenland have a place in your thoughts; go forth and be changed by your experience.

Winter Getaways in Greenland – a must do!

 

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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

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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!

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#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 🙂

A Snapshot of Internationals in Greenland (2016)

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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.

Cultural perspective: Violence is a cultural norm in USA

skaermbillede-2016-11-05-kl-19-54-29 Screenshot from a True Activist online article

There’s a whole line of sociology about getting perspective on the good and bad parts of your own culture only after you have traveled elsewhere and seen a different way to approach something.

After spending the better part of the last four years outside USA, a huge takeaway for me is that violence is a deeply-engrained part of American culture, so much that it’s a part of 18 everyday phrases (see the examples below). But I’ve also learned that it’s not necessary; everywhere in the world is not this way. There is another way to live!

Violence in the media

I stopped watching the news in USA long ago because the entire broadcast comprised stories about violence – murders, school shootings, fires, fights – and finished with a sweet little 2 minute spot with a feel-good story. Not just here and there, but every single night. I was over it – completely sick and tired of having such negativity in my life by way of the television.

Violence is not necessary

Hey newsflash, America! You know what’s NOT happening on a daily basis everywhere in the world? Pointless deaths due to gun violence, gun accidents, gun miseducation, inadequate screening for weapon ownership, or whatever you want to call it. People don’t come out of the womb wanting to kill people. People aren’t born as racists. They learn it from the society they live in, and then it is fostered and supported by their society’s laws and policies.

Thankful to get out

I’m so glad I now live in a place where people literally gasp in horror when they hear stories about the depravity in USA, because it is so far from what they know about respect for life and the treatment of other human beings. 

Violence engrained in American English language

I thought I was far enough away that I didn’t really have to think about violent USA anymore, but it actually started coming back in my thoughts through language, of all things. 

When you live abroad and use a foreign language or two as your daily communication, you often find yourself searching through the Rolodex of words flying around in your head in multiple languages. Often times what comes up are sayings – phrases that actually have no (or hard-to-see) relevance when directly translated. Lately I’ve realised that WAY too many times I’m pulling forward sayings that use death and violence nonchalantly, and frankly it is embarrassing! I’m ashamed that such phrases are in my top-of-mind vocabulary.

What kind of society is USA if daily language talks about death or killing? No wonder there’s so much violence and depravity in that country – it’s completely the norm! It’s so normal it’s mainstream. 

Here are 19 American English slang sayings that normalize death, killing, and violence in general. Do you use any of these? Have you ever thought twice about what you’re actually saying?

  1. “Killer” to mean either really cool or really hard
  2. “To die for” to indicate that something is highly desired or high quality
  3.  “Start with a bang” to say something had an impressive beginning
  4. “Kill me now / Shoot me now” to express boredom or displeasure
  5.  “I wanted to die” to express boredom, displeasure, or embarrassment
  6.  “[My legs are] dead” to say you’re exhausted and totally out of energy
  7. “My parents are going to kill me” to mean you’re anticipating being in big trouble
  8. “Like I need a hole in the head” to indicate something is unnecessary or undesired
  9.  “Making a killing on” to say you earned a lot of money from something
  10.  “I would kill for” to express an extreme longing/wishing feeling for something
  11. “Don’t shoot the messenger” to ask to be excused from fault
  12.  “I’m dying” to say something is hilarious
  13. “On my deathbed” to exaggerate a feeling of illness.
  14. “Kill time” to say how to spend a certain amount of minutes or hours until something else happens.
  15. “Trigger happy” to say someone makes quick decisions or simply does things on a whim without thinking them through.
  16. “There was a gun to my head” to express being coerced into something against one’s will.
  17. “Shooting himself in the foot” to mean someone does something that is not in his best interest and ruins things for himself.
  18. “Could die a happy woman/man now” to mean something was so perfect and wonderful that they don’t need anything more in life.
  19. “Backfired”, usually with reference to a plan, to say something went completely in the opposite direction it was supposed to.

The best thing about life in Greenland

What is the best thing about life in Greenland?

In a picture, this:

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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.

A Greenlander At Home in New York City

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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.

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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

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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. “

* / * / *

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.

* / * / *

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!!

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 18.33.54

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: