Race to the North Pole

FOUR men, one challenge - a 350-mile race to the North Pole. Back home, the team told KAREN HINDLE about their experiencesBEFORE they left, a team of Suffolk men knew they had the physical strength to complete a 350-mile race to the North Pole.

FOUR men, one challenge - a 350-mile race to the North Pole. Back home, the team told KAREN HINDLE about their experiences

BEFORE they left, a team of Suffolk men knew they had the physical strength to complete a 350-mile race to the North Pole.

But they believed it would be their mental strength that would be their advantage over the other teams so they could go on and win the race.

They were right.

While they did not win the Sony Polar Challenge race to the magnetic North Pole, it was indeed their mental strength which pulled them through one of the most gruelling events a human being can endure.

They achieved a feat not even the experts and highly trained could achieve.

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To survive in such extreme conditions was one thing but to survive, compete and look after each other was quite another. A team of marines did not finish the race.

Snape brothers Alex, 32, and Jeremy Hinton, 25, their Norwich team mate Andrew Vinsen, 26, and 41-year-old Dave Cook, of Aldeburgh, who formed part of another team, were told by the most experienced of Arctic explorers and their instructors that they would not normally race in such extreme conditions and would not set out to cover such huge distances in a day either.

The men have now all returned to East Anglia after the 12-day ski across some of the most treacherous terrain on the planet. The Breaking Trail trio were raising money for the British Heart Foundation and Aldeburgh Lifeboat crew member Dave was raising money for the RNLI.

Breaking Trail came third out of 15 teams and Dave's ITV Arctic Seals team came in fourth out of 12 teams. There had been 15 teams originally. So gruelling was the walk to the start line that three teams could not face the race itself and pulled out.

Over three legs they had to trek through furious snowstorms into raging winds with zero visibility.

The men travelled across northern Canada to the magnetic North Pole experiencing temperatures as low as -42C in a rare spell of bad weather lasting nearly eight days.

Coupled with that they had to be completely self-sufficient pulling their food, clothing and cooking equipment.

And then there were the polar bears. There are pictures of paw prints. Not small.

Dave said: “There were lots of things I knew I would have to endure and I did, but it was scary knowing you were out there on the ice all alone with polar bears around you.

“But we were out there seeing things that no-one else had ever seen. It was amazing.”

For the Breaking Trail team, the race got off to a cracking start. They reached Checkpoint One first, setting a new race record having skied for 21 hours non-stop.

Jeremy said: “It is a part of the race we shall never forget. We had broken the record for the first stage and we had all got there safely.

“We were tired but we didn't have any cold weather injuries.”

They had a bacon sandwich and a mug of hot chocolate. Simple fare, but just what the doctor ordered.

Jeremy said: “It doesn't sound that exciting but it could just as well have been Beluga caviar and champagne.”

With a 12 hour rest under their belts they headed off to Checkpoint Two but just seven miles out of the checkpoint they had to stop and make camp.

That was to be the defining moment, which changed the way the three men conducted themselves over the rest of the race.

Before that they had been out to win. Now it was about staying safe - and enjoying the view.

Andrew said: “We were really inexperienced in that environment. We were racing and we set out to win it, but when you get in to certain situations you have to think about what is most important and that was our personal safety and the safety of every member of our team.”

He added: “I would not race in that environment again. You forget to look around.”

Coupled with their unscheduled stop, conditions changed. The weather turned bad, blizzards raged, ice rubble and 500ft hills stood in their way of victory.

All these factors had to be endured in zero visibility.

Alex said: “It was incredibly difficult to keep focussed when there was nothing to focus on. It was incredibly draining and very tiring.

Dave added: “I had prepared mentally and physically for the race and that was fine, but what I had not appreciated was the barrenness and sparseness. I don't think anything could have prepared you for that.”

Jeremy said: “It was amazing how easily and quickly you would go off course. You would think you were walking in a straight line and then find yourself 90 degrees off course.”

He added: “One motivator was the top five teams were all in sight of each other.

Dave said: “We had an incredibly good time and lots of fun when we kept swapping places all the time. We would have a little chat and a dig at the team we were passing.”

Alex added: “It is incredible to think in that landscape there were so many routes you could take so many different directions and yet we often found ourselves going along the tracks of the team in front of us.”

Having had a change in priorities the Breaking Trail team were able to enjoy the wildlife and they learned more about the ways of the Inuit people who live in the Arctic.

Alex said: “The teams which came in after us had decided to stop racing and to let us go because they were not enjoying it any more. When they saw our tent there only seven miles out that changed their view. They decided to do what we did and keep on going for some 20 hours. But they looked pretty ragged when they crossed the finishing line.

“We wanted to make sure we looked after ourselves first.”

Jeremy added: “Very few people get to go to an arena like that. To hate every minute of it and be on the verge of frostbite and hyporthermia was not doing the environment justice.”

Their father paid tribute to the decision they made: “They were more aware of each other after the incident after Checkpoint One than they were before and it put it into sharp perspective. From our point of view it was marvellous what they achieved and how they achieved it.”

Alex and Jeremy have both rowed across the Atlantic, skied to the North Pole, but the next adventure for the two Suffolk boys will be their toughest yet. 2007 sees them getting married.

After that it will be a return to normal. Jeremy fancies completing a hideous number of marathons across the Sahara desert while Alex yearns for something less flat.

“Something with a mountain in it would be good.”

Weblink:

www.polar-challenge.com

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