Day 1 – Five somewhat nervous but excited beneficiaries assembled at Gatwick airport. For Drew, Kenny, Benny, Tom & Danny it was their first Vetrun180 expedition. They were met by Team Leaders Ben & Mack. Introductions were made and the veterans initial trepidation began to fade. The team flew onto Stockholm and caught a connecting flight to Lulea. Upon arrival they were met by team leader Ross & beneficiary Sam. They drove to Aurora Safari HQ (collecting their cold weather kit) and then onto their accommodation in the village of Gunnarsbyn. The beneficiaries ate a hearty meal, got an early night and eagerly awaited the start of the expedition.
Day 2 – The beneficiaries woke to their first daylight view of the beautiful Swedish wilderness, with many experiencing Arctic temperatures for the first time. They were introduced to their Swedish guide Thomas. Briefs on cold weather injuries and the route were given. A full snowmobile familiarisation including the operation, basic daily preparations and how to strap their kit to their vehicle was conducted. Upon completion they rode to a deep snow area, here the beneficiaries gained experience in riding, manoeuvring and recovering their snowmobile. These newly learned skills would prove to be vital in the upcoming days.
They made their way across frozen lakes, along narrow tracks in dense forests and reached a stunning hilltop viewpoint. It would be here that they would get to first sample Thomas’s Swedish open fire cooking for the first time. After a wholesome lunch and plenty of photos the team hit the trail. The team’s ability and confidence grew as they progressed. A few got stuck along the way, but they worked together utilising the skills taught and quickly recovered their stuck teammates, laughing and joking as they did. A total of 46 miles was covered and the beneficiaries reached the riverside lodge at Spiken. Water was gathered for the sauna and food was prepared and eagerly eaten. The Northern Lights decided to make an appearance which was an exhilarating first for many. The team, tired by their endeavours got their heads down for the night.
Day 3 – The team woke reasonably early and had a large breakfast. They cleaned Spiken lodge and they packed and prepared their snowmobiles for the next leg of the expedition. Today would be the day they crossed the Arctic Circle. One of the highlights for many of the beneficiaries. The team quickly moved along narrow woodland tracks making steady progress. They eventually formed up in pairs and officially crossed the Arctic Circle flying the Vetrun180 flag. Lasting memories were created by the numerous photo opportunities. One beneficiary had concealed a T Rex outfit in his luggage, he burst from a cabin much to the surprise of the team and some locals and promptly fell headfirst into to the deep snow.
The team remounted their snowmobiles and navigated deeper into the Arctic Circle. Their lunch destination was a mountain that was dubbed “Michaels Mountain” by the Team Leaders because a number of the team got stuck there when “Michael” a guide on previous expedition led them there. The team moved through deep snow managing to avoid getting stuck. Lunch was cooked on an open fire.
They then returned to the Arctic Circle marker which would be their home for the night. There would be two cabins available for the team. It would be a cold night so the team would need plenty of firewood to keep warm. The team were delegated by Thomas (Our Swedish Guide) to chop down three dead trees. After some considerable effort the three trees were chopped down, chopped into manageable pieces and dragged back to the cabins by their snowmobiles. The wood was definitely needed. Two beneficiaries decided to get the full Swedish Arctic experience and sleep in nearby snowhole. The team decided to get an early night knowing that tomorrow was going to be their most physically demanding day yet.
Day 4 -The cabins stoves blazed through the night, with some finding it too warm. First up were the lads who slept in the snowhole, maybe it wasn’t as warm as they had thought it would be! The team ate heartedly knowing that it was going to be their toughest day. The destination would be Gorgiim, a set of lakeside cabins owned by the local indigenous Sami people.
They packed and mounted their snowmobiles looking forward to the challenges ahead. They moved quickly over frozen lakes and through dense woodland. The beneficiaries managed to get their first sighting of the native reindeer, following them for a short while before they disappeared back into to the dense forest.
The team reached Thomas’s (our Swedish guide) lakeside house. He and his wife prepared a delicious lunch for the team on their open fire overlooking the frozen lake. The beneficiaries and a family took advantage of the slope down to the frozen lake, sledging down it. Some might argue that the local children were better than the lads.
With full stomachs the team remounted their snowmobiles and hit the trails. The team stopped in the village shop of Gunnarsbyn to pick up some local souvenirs. They moved ever forward towards their destination. Thomas decided to take the team up a local hill for some hot drinks and the lads also had the opportunity to push their snowmobiling skills in the deep snow in the surrounding forest.
The team forged ahead, covering over 100 miles before reaching the Gorgiim cabins. The highlight of the cabins was a traditional Sami reindeer hut, it was a square building with a central fire with a opening in the roof. The team prepared their dinner on the open fire and sat chatting about the day’s events. Some beneficiaries opted to spend the night in the cabin sleeping on reindeer skins next to the fire. To finish off the day the Northern lights decided to make an appearance before the team got their heads down for some well-earned rest.
Day 5/6 – The team’s final destination would be Melderstein Manor. The terrain was initially woodland but then turned to snow covered frozen lakes, this open space allowed the team to pick up the pace. They completed 50 miles before reaching the manor.
The team were instantly impressed by the large traditional yellow and white building that was Melderstein Manor. Katarina our host greeted the team, offering refreshments. The refined splendour of the manor was a huge contrast to the log cabins the team had been accustomed too. Rooms were allocated and the team enjoyed their first hot shower in days. After their showers, the team congregated in the dining room. They were treated to a sumptuous three course meal consisting of reindeer, beef and panna cotta. Katarina told us how the manor had been built by her ancestor Carl-Johan Thingwall. She explained that in the 18th century iron ore had been found in Gallivare-Malmberget and that it was transported along the iron ore trail that the team had travelled along by the Sami people using reindeer. Profits from refining the ore built the manor. The Manor had changed hands and been used for various purposes over the centuries. It was repurchased by Katerina’s father and uncle in 1996 and restored to its former glory. The team spoke and celebrated completing the expedition. That night they retired to the comfort of their first proper bed in days.
They woke for breakfast and began to prepare for the journey home. Some of the team found time to enjoy “Fat Bikes” and Swedish “Kicksleds” in the snow. The snowmobiles were loaded onto the transport. They said their goodbyes to Katarina and thanked their guide Thomas for making the expedition an exceptional experience for all. The team flew back to the UK. Baggage was collected and they shook hands, hugged, said their farewells and went on their separate ways home. With many reflecting on what had been amazing experience.
If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you!