The Expedition Amundsen Series: Part 6

Racing to the Starting Line.

With around four days of travel, getting to the Expedition Amundsen, the race my wife, Elaine, and I had spent the winter training for, at times felt like it required nearly as much endurance as the race itself.

Traveling with two 90-pound ski sleds had been the biggest challenge. While in Oslo, getting from the train station to our hostel, only one mile away, entailed Elaine and myself carrying one sled a half block and then going back to ferry up the next. All the while hoping nobody would take the unaccompanied sled and end our adventure before it began. By the time we got to the hostel we felt like we'd been through the wringer already and the race had not even started yet. 

Catch Up: Expedition Amundsen Series Part 1, “Norwegian inspiration, the story of Roald Amundsen, and my wife’s aspiration to pull 80% of her bodyweight by sled.” 

We’d spent 24 hours in Oslo doing pre-race chores like buying gasoline, grocery shopping, and picking up mohair kicker skins you can't find stateside. Our plan was to camp overnight in Finse, a mountain village that sits along the railway line that leads to the Expedition Amundsen’s starting point. We could do a shakedown of gear and get collect our bearings. Winter camping the night before we check-in for a 62-mile Nordic ski race was a unique approach, but we wanted to feel prepared. 


Finse rests on vast plateau called the Hardangervidda. It's a barren and desolate winter landscape.

We got off the train and promptly began to freeze as a chill wind blew off a nearby icecap. Bags were re-packed, clothing changed and a terminally long two hours later we were pulling our sleds across a lake, into the wild, white world. 

It was getting dark as we skied to the other side of the lake. We set up camp and settled in. Our organizational system was noticeably a shit-show with stuff sacks scattered about the tent, some useful for winter camping and others not. But, despite it all, I was feeling good about things. We just needed to get ourselves to the race check-in the next day.

Into the night however, my stomach revolted. I had to make a running sprint into the frozen wasteland 12 times within one hour. By morning, I was lying on the snow, dehydrated, unable to ski anywhere. I mustered up enough energy to slowly ski back to the train station, with Elaine taking care of the sleds. The start of a race pulling a mandatory 90-pound sled 100 kilometers was 24 hours away, and I could barely move. We groggily got on the train to Voss, where we caught a bus to the race headquarters at Eidfjord. This involved yet more sled hauling across streets, not a fun task in my weakened state. 

She told us what to expect: the race is practically all uphill, melting snow is a way to get your weight back up over the mandatory 40 kg before the finish and in 2013, some people almost died because a storm blew across the Hardangervidda and didn’t let up for three days.

On the bus, we encountered two other folks heading to the race. One was a likable newbie from Oslo who wore the same nervous look we did and the other person, a pretty but very tough Norwegian woman name Kathinka, did not. 

It quickly became evident that this woman knew her stuff. Kathinka had done the Expedition Amundsen race four times, had skied across Svalbard and casually mentioned being part of an expedition to cross Greenland. She was no wilting flower—as she put a pinch of tobacco in her lip—and we tried to glean all we could from her. She told us what to expect: the race is practically all uphill, melting snow is a way to get your weight back up over the mandatory 40 kilograms (90 pounds) before the finish (we'd planned on hauling rocks) and in 2013, some people almost died because a storm blew across the Hardangervidda and didn’t let up for three days. By the time we got off the bus, we were thoroughly intimidated. 

Check in was a hub of activity in the town gymnasium. Teams were dressed in the fanciest outdoor gear available, often in matching outfits, with perfectly organized bags, multiple skis and an air of confidence. We felt like a rag-tag outfit, and we were. It took us a good hour to syphon through our gear well enough to officially check in, where we were greeted by Kathinka. She didn't cut us any breaks, but she also didn't raise a red flag when she saw our American gear and unorthodox food rations of high energy snack foods. Norwegians tend to bring full meals, not chocolate, Honey Stingers and caffeinated Jelly Beans. It was tough love and appropriate, because this is the kind of race where inexperience can lead to major problems. 

We tinkered with our gear to simplify and get the weight right. Three hours later we were sealing up our sleds and skis, where we would meet them at race start. The general feeling Elaine and I got from the race organizers was they were happy we were there, but a bit skeptical we would survive.  

We made our way back to our hotel where our hosts cooked us the most delicious (and only) moose stew I've eaten in my life. It was encouraging to know I could keep it down, it looked like my bout with food poisoning had finally passed. And then we set off to the pre-race meeting. It started in the most unique way: a man dancing solo in a building crescendo of hops, flips and feats of athleticism. I imagined it like the race, starting strangely and building in energy.

The meeting was short and sweet. The weather looked promising. By the meeting’s end, we were feeling better about what was ahead. Getting to the starting line was tough but then again, Roald Amundsen, the polar explorer who inspired the race, was all about overcoming obstacles to achieve the task at hand. We hoped to channel some of that spirit of Amundsen 12 hours later once we were racing...

 

Dan and Elaine Vardamis are self-proclaimed “Nordic nerds” living nearly off-the-grid in Eldora, Colorado. They were married at the top of Loveland Ski Area in 2010, have skied at least one day 75 months in a row, have podiumed in races like the Grand Traverse and obviously like to go on really long adventures. This series will follow their preparation and execution of The Expedition Amundsen. You can track their training on Instagram: @nomadwolf360 and @elainevardamis.