In the latest of our series of chats with Steve Henry, one of the brave souls trekking to the North Pole for the Arctic Rugby Challenge, we caught up with him as he prepares to kick start his epic adventure.
— Arctic Rugby 2015 (@wsarcticrugby) April 23, 2015
Take The Three: Hi Steve. So you’re about to get underway – where are you now?
Steve Henry: We’re currently in a place called Resolute Bay, a small Inuit hamlet on Cornwallis Island in Canada. It’s one of the most northern most settlements on the planet and our base of operation for some last minute polar training. It’s a strange little town, known by the locals as the ‘place with no dawn’, with only a few hundred inhabitants, an airport, school, post office and one shop but no bars and to be honest not much to do!
Yesterday there was a strange situation where people were waiting outside the town’s one shop as it seemed that someone had lost the only set of keys. Something like that can only happen in a place like this!
SH: No, far from it! After flying from London we spent one night in Ottawa. Thinking it was our last night before leaving civilisation behind we went out to meet a few guys from the Ottawa rugby club and hit the town. The next day we were back at the airport a little worse for wear, but raring to go. Progressing north we touched down in Iqaluit but were told that the connecting flight to Resolute was cancelled due to bad weather and we’d be stuck for a few days before we could get out.
TTT: How did Iqaluit differ from Resolute?
Iqaluit‘s another small town, but huge compared to Resolute. The main thing though, was that it was cold, so a bit more like what we were aiming for than Ottawa, where it had been warm – relatively speaking. Making the most of a bad situation, we got kitted up in our arctic gear and went for a long walk to get used to the conditions, and learn to manage our temperature so that we don’t get too hot or cold. With little else to do we were able to get out on some Skidoos for a tour of the local surroundings, which were spectacular. That was a load of fun, though in hindsight it may not have been the most sensible endeavour as most of our team fell off during the course but we avoided any injuries and we’re all here, fit and raring to go.
TTT: So you finally made it to Resolute?
SH: Yes we’re here now and as soon as we arrived the intensity picked up steeply. We were straight out in the cold, setting up our tents which have been our home for the last few days. We’ve also been spending time indoors for training and kit preparations.
Fortunately we’ve been eating in the hotel as the food has been amazing and the whole team has put on a few pounds since departing London.
TTT: When you say ‘the cold’, what has the temperature been like?
There’s no denying that it’s very cold here, but we’ve been quite fortunate that it has “only” been around -20c and the sun’s been shining, so with the right gear it’s been pretty comfortable. What you do notice though, is that when you first get off the plane or step outside is that if you take a deep breath you can feel the cold penetrate your lungs which is a strange feeling. If you take your gloves off to do anything you also get a reminder quite quickly just how cold it is.
TTT: How are you getting on with the rest of the team?
SH: They’re a good bunch of similarly-minded rugby fans, all serious about the task in hand but up for a bit of banter at the same time. Since our plane from Iqaluit to Resolute was cancelled, ten of us ended up on a little charter flight. There was some jovial banter with the one air hostess and then she disappeared through a small door at the front of the cabin and down through the hold to the cockpit. We decided that by the time she got back we should all be shirtless. When she returned we were – and all singing “you’ve lost that loving feeling”. After the initial surprise, she cracked a smile and joined in with the singing!
TTT: That’s hilarious! We don’t want to be a killjoy but you mentioned the serious nature of the task – what has the final training involved?
SH: We’ve covered all sorts since we got here. A lot of it is simple things like setting up the tent, covering it in a protective layer of snow and how to get the stoves going – all things you want to be able to do with minimum of fuss at the end of a hard day trekking. We also covered things like the different types of snow – yes there are different types! You want to look for the right type to make camp on and there’s another ideal type to boil for water. We’ve done a bit more rifle training and been made to watch a polar bear video, we’ve practiced on the cross country skiis and gone for a little mini expedition overnight so now feeling ready and prepared for the main event.
TTT: And importantly, you mentioned food – but I doubt the food you’re taking on the trip is up to scratch with the hotel?
SH: Not quite! We were eating the food we’ll be using on our mini expedition and it’s a bit of a mixed bunch. We let Ollie [Phillips, former England Sevens Captains and one of Steve’s tentmates] cook for our tent for the first night and what wasn’t spilled on the floor was massively over poured and more like soup than dinner. But the chilli con carne was actually pretty nice. We’ve got a lot of chocolate and vanilla mousses for dessert, which seem to come out like cake mix, but taste okay. The worst of the bunch was a dehydrated cheese omelette mix for breakfast which smelled like socks worn for a month and tasted worse. We’ve now taken note and ditched all the nasty ones for the real trek and stocked up on some good desserts.
TTT: So all set then? SH: Absolutely. We’re all excited in camp and eager to get going now. The bags are packed and if the weather holds up we’re just waiting for the “OK” from the pilots and we should be good to fly out to start our trek.
— Steve Henry (@steviespolarfun) April 23, 2015
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