Saturday, December 22, 2018 - 10:11

PRO XC SKIING XMAS TALE: Inside the Aukland Expedition, part I

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By Teemu Virtanen

The battle against heavy storms, extreme coldness and imaginary beasts

We, human beings, are fascinating creatures. We are the only species capable of expressing a wide canvas of emotions. Love, hate, pleasure, pain and of course passion, these are just a few of those human characteristics that define us. Passion is certainly one of the most important ones as it is an emotion that drives us to push the envelope and discover new frontiers.

Hence, it is fitting to quote a famous German rock band the Scorpions and say that “passion rules the game!” They couldn’t have said it any better – or actually sung it any other way. For most of us reading this article, long distance skiing is a matter of passion, and we love going to extremes when putting our bodies to test in various ski races.

There are some long distance events that truly test our mental state and physical capacity such as Vasaloppet or Red Bull Nordenskiöldsloppet in Sweden or many challenging races in the Visma Ski Classics tour. But there is nothing like the Greenland expedition that the famous Aukland brothers did this May. And there is no one like these two brave warriors. Some may even say that these guys are aliens from outer space as they don’t seem to be from this planet. Therefore in the dawn of the Christmas break, it is time to work up an appetite and step into their extraordinary world and learn what they went through on their journey of self-discovery and human courage.

Jørgen and Anders Aukland set out to face their challenge at 00:10 am on May 18. Their aim was to ski across Greenland in record time, in less than six days. Besides these two skiers, there were two other men in their group; Egil Nielsen, an avid skier who had done the expedition twice and was the former record holder, and Eirik Bruland, a professional road cyclist who had done several mountain bike tours in Norway. The weather conditions were pristine at the start and their spirits high up.

“We started really well,” Jørgen admits when looking back to those hard days in May. “We were really ahead of schedule, and we felt that we had a real chance of breaking the record. We started out with three sleds, each weighing 28 kg. We skied with Fischer Speedmax skis and Fischer RC 5 boots. Some people may say it was crazy, but it worked for us. We had two pairs of spare skis and poles, but we encountered no accidents. We mounted the skis on our sleds on the first day after climbing up on the glacier. So, everything was great in the beginning, but in events like this, nothing really goes exactly by your plan.”

Indeed, you can, and you should, plan ahead and make sure that you are well prepared when aiming to attempt such endeavors. But plans are only plans, and the harsh reality can be something totally different. And no matter how much time and consideration you put into your preparation, it won’t guarantee a smooth ride when you are out there in the wilderness. Be ready for surprises and never trust Mother Nature to be on your side throughout your escapade.

That’s what Jørgen, Anders and the two other team members had to experience first hand even if they went through an excruciating preparation before embarking on their journey. The team had one training camp where they practiced on chores and duties of their upcoming expedition, such as putting up the tent and dragging their sleds. So, they definitely entered the challenge fully prepared, but the Greenland nature has its own way as they soon realized.

“A big storm kicked in,” Jørgen continues with a dramatic tone in his voice. “And we had to spend 36 hours in our tent listening to the howling wind around us. Everything was completely white. For four days, we stayed at an altitude of 2000 meters above sea level, and that was really challenging for our bodies. We skied between 15 to 18 hours every day and slept only about four to five hours per day. And that was no beauty sleep as we were freezing and really tired all the time.”

The cold weather, -25 C and below, and the extremely slow and dry snow slowed them down sucking all the energy out of them. The team had to make choices where the safety took priority over breaking the record. The gigantic nature of the glacier, as Jørgen described the surroundings, impressed the travelers and made them humble.

“Truly, the hardest part of the journey was lack of sleep and facing the wild and rough nature. When we arrived in our starting place Tasiilaq, we were told that they had shot 25 polar bears this season. We didn’t bring any guns to protect us from those unexpected visitors, but we had some hairspray and a lighter in case of polar bear emergencies.”


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