Expedition preparations are not all the glory it might look like on the pictures.
Finally, we were on our way and were going to have a few days together on Hardangervidda in Norway. Hardangervidda, is the largest national park in the Nordics and is known for having been used by famed polar explorers to prepare for their expeditions. Sir Ernest Shackleton traveled here for expedition training and described Finse as “Antarctica” in miniature. I found it quite fitting that we also did our training there.
First we should have met in Finnmark (northernmost Norway) in January. Then it was moved to early February, then late February. In the end, we could not do the practice weekend we had planned in Finnmark due to the current situation with travel restrictions and what have you. We had to make a new plan. Also during this same time-period we had learned that our plan to go to the North Pole this year was postponed until next year.
We managed to quickly change our focus from the North Pole to Greenland. Greenland was our next step and is a preparation for Antarctica later this year. I think the main reason we managed to make this major shift so quickly was both our mindset and our focus on our main goal, not on the three different individual expeditions in our "Dare to Dream BIG project"
Instead of a ski expedition with heavy sleds in the Arctic, we were now suddenly going ski-kiting in Greenland. Still in the Arctic though. This change of plans required a big shift in focus. Now we needed totally different sleds, kites, different type of skis and a completely different kind of fitness. A lot of the equipment we had spent time and money on we no longer needed at this point.
We live 1000 km apart from each other, so meeting up takes a little planning. It was the last weekend of February and we were finally doing our preparation weekend. Håkon had picked up our new kiting-sleds on. I, our new tent. We were both excited to test out the new equipment and to be kiting a long distance together for the first time.
Standing on the train station with all our gear ready to go to Finse, a location you only can get to by train, we were excited to see the train roll into the station. We headed for the cargo wagon with our sleds when a big train conductor jumped off the train in front of us. She brusquely asked if we had booked room for the sleds?
No, we had not. None of us knew we had to…. Normally you can buy tickets on the train. She started off on a tirade of arguments about why she could not allow us onto the train. It was almost like the story of the big troll that jumps out and tells you to not cross the bridge. Seriously, if she wanted to, she could have let us onto the train for the two stops to our destination, but she had decided she did not want to.
We were just too perplexed to argue or come up with any opposing arguments. So, there we were, at the train station, looking sulky at the train leaving. It was four hours until the next train…which ended up being one hour delayed!
To pass the time, we took a drive and ate some food. We also started to discuss an idea I had about how we could create a challenge for our sponsors and followers to join and do while we are on our expeditions.
At last we could take the train, with a booking for our sleds this time! It was a dark and beautiful starry night. We were finally on our way. We were a bit disappointed that we did not have time for all we had planned for the day, but at this point we were just happy we were on our way.
The rather short train ride to Finse changed everything. There it was full on winter, strong wind and lots of snow in the air. That’s winter expedition training for you. Check out the video from when we arrived.
Our first task was to find a location for our tent that had as little wind as possible… not easy in these conditions. After the tent was up, we had to build a snow wall to protect it from the wind. Finally, around midnight, we could crawl into the tent and make some food, all while the wind blew fiercely outside. It was a full moon evening so besides the weather it was really beautiful.
Before going to sleep, we looked at the map and discussed the route to our destination. I had kited the distance once before, but that was with someone who know the area so we did not do any navigation.
In the morning, we had a nice breakfast and agreed to do a little kiting before heading out. For my part, that ended up with lots of line trouble on my kite and then an issue with one of my skis. Something that took forever to fix. I think we both were really impatient when we finally could leave, even though none of us said anything about it.
It felt really good to be on our way with our sleds behind us. It also felt a little scary to head out first, navigating into the terrain with Håkon behind me. Basically because I did not want to screw up by taking the wrong direction.
I quickly got the hang of it, it felt very good, and I was confident after a little while. Suddenly Håkon came up on my side, yelled something I could not hear, and headed in a totally different direction. I got a bit annoyed that he just changed direction and seemed not to look back at all. I had no other choice than to follow him. Coming up on a small sadle onto another small valley, I lost pressure on the kite and it fell to the ground. Håkon was nowhere to be seen. I could feel my irritation building up on the inside. Where did he go, and why?
I would not be able to launch the kite as it had fallen down, so I had to change the direction of it. I took off my skis to fix it. More or less every step I took I fell through the snow. Arg…I looked at my phone. No reception, it was not possible to call Håkon. I could feel that I was hungry, too.
Suddenly he was there. He had finally noticed that I did not follow him and came back. He also lost pressure and his kite fell to the ground too. I asked him why he changed direction and he said we were heading in the wrong direction. He knew where we should go and that we should have taken a left further down. I told him I did not agree. He argued that he had put in waypoints on his map the night before. I had not done so, but I knew on the map where we should go and still did not agree. However, I was hungry, so instead of discussing it more, I voted for us having lunch before continuing. Håkon was impatient to continue. I just caved in and followed him without any further discussion.
The small valley we came into was “the valley of silence” - no wind. The moods fell a bit more. We skied until we could get some wind again. I was still not happy with the change of direction. I was pretty sure I was on the right path when he took off. For the rest of the day, the wind was very unstable and we did not get a lot of distance after that.
Inside the tent that evening, we had a discussion about what had happened during the day. To begin with we were both certain we were right. After looking into the details, we found out that Håkon had plotted in the waypoints of a summer route. Something that would not work well on skis with a kite and sled. An easy mistake to make if you do not know the terrain. My direction was the winter route. Now we were in the “wrong” valley, so finding a good way to get back to the valley we should have been in became the main topic for the next two days.
As you can see we had another windy night.
This just shows how important it is to be sharing why you don’t agree, not keeping your mouth shut because you don’t feel like having the discussion - like I did. And also, the importance of asking why someone disagrees when they voice it, instead of just focusing on what you think is right - like Håkon did. This combination will get you into trouble every time - just like we experienced. In an office, it might take a little longer before you see the consequences, but it will hit you just as hard.
A long story short, we had a few other important learning points too, and at the end result of this training was that neither of us were very happy afterwards. Håkon had to leave before we managed to have a proper debrief so I guess that added to the unhappy feeling we both had.
The following day we had a long talk and managed to both share how we felt, why, and what is important for us going forward. The result of it all is that we are happy the training ended up as it did, because we managed to use this experience for something good.
We got several important learning points and we are a stronger team as a result of it.
This is just another example of the importance of communication - in extreme environments it is more crucial than in every day life, because the consequences can be more extreme and in worst case fatal. This was also a good example of why we spend a lot of time to prepare for our expeditions.