It almost felt surreal waking in the tent that morning. It was our last night on the ice in our tent or at least we hoped so as we were only 10km from Pond Inlet. Going about our morning activities as we had for the previous 70 days in a now almost ritualistic and exacting manner. The only difference was there was no hurry. We lay in our sleeping bags drinking tea, despite the fact we had run out of earl grey and were now onto chai. Putting off the inevitable for once not because it was cold but more the fact that by the end of the day that would be it. This was quite a weird and in many ways a scary though as we had been consumed by this adventure from the early stages of congregating round maps in pubs and kitchen tables to where we were on the ice.
Finally escaping from the warm cosy environment of our down sleeping bags we began packing up. We had hoped to wake to blue skies to take us in the final few km’s but as we exited from our tent we were greeted to a grey dull sky. This was not going to help capture those last few photos and footage that we had planned. The tent went away for the last time it had kept us sheltered for the duration of the trip. Despite the fact that each night was only temporary it had become our home, everything had its place and even with the freezing temperatures it had a safe and almost homely feel about it once inside. There was even enough for a final snow angel before setting off for the day!
Trudging our way back onto the ice we could already make out the buildings of Pond Inlet with the low cloud behind them. We stopped occasionally to get a few photos yet as the hours ticked by and our supplies of flapjack and chocolate eaten, the community never seemed to get that much closer. There was a thick covering of snow on the ice which had been dumped by the numerous weather systems that had come over the surrounding mountains releasing their soft fluffy load over the area.
It still amazed us in this environment how the size and scale of everything around us twisted our perspective making covering ground always seem to be a slow process until you were almost on top of what you were aiming for. It was almost a surprise when we finally could make out cars, lorries and a few dogs on the outskirts of Pond. The buildings were perched on the shore line looking out over to Bylot Island. It must be beautiful in the summer without all the ice as a whole variety of wildlife come through the area including whales and narwhals.
We were making our way towards the RCMP building who had kindly been holding some of our gear for the return journey to the UK when we were met by a couple of skidoos. It was the same guys who had met us at our last supply depot on our way from Clyde River to Pond Inlet almost 3 weeks previously. To our delight we had arrived just before the dog sled race, which was due to start that evening. Out on the ice we could already make out a crowd gathering of dogs, people, cars and skidoos all congregating for the start of it. This included our friends Jake and Shari who we soon found out had been drawn to start last out of the 12 or so competitors.
The entries had come from far and wide across the territory ranging from Clyde River to Arctic Bay for this annual event. For some of the teams this year just getting to the start line had been a challenge with rough ice and poor weather coinciding together. You wouldn’t have guessed it as the sun was coming out and the temperature felt positively warm. The dogs would be struggling in the heat as they pulled some heavy loads despite it still being -20C. Most importantly it’s a time when family members can reunite, keep the old methods of travel alive and also the chance to win a cash prize.
We helped out for a bit, including when a dog managed to escape from its owner only to cause havoc with the other teams about it as each pack in turn tried to chase after it. Feeling the pull of the 10 dogs as we stood on their lines holding them back from joining in the chaos was seriously impressive. I thought at one stage it might take me off my feet. Fortunately the dog decided to hide under a sled before, with a bit of team work, one local inuit moved the sled whilst the other pounced on the husky as soon as it was out in the open. The atmosphere was incredible with hundreds of dogs barking with growing excitement for the race to start. It felt like the whole town was out in force with massive 4×4’s lining up on the ice as well as all the spectators young and old.
First to take off on the skidoo’s was an army of support team members carrying extra supplies, food and gear. Although each rider is self-sufficient in case of emergency or for some of the more secluded parts of the race, the skidoo teams set up camp for the dog sled teams each night. As the skidoos headed off into the distance the dogs pulled harder on the lines thinking that they were off next. One team managed to pull so hard it took their driver along the ground with them until others managed to help stop them all.
We weren’t able to see the start of the race as it was getting late and we needed to head back to our sleds and on towards the RCMP station. It was perched on the coast line with the Canadian flag flying high and proud in this glorious weather that had come out for the start of the race.
We had come to the end of our ski expedition and it was bizarre thinking that tomorrow there would be no skiing, although its not quite so strange as reaching the summit of a mountain where you still have to climb back down, you have in your head a big crescendo the reality is its just like any other day.
There is no big finish line, crowds of people to great us or anything like that. Just an imaginary point on the land. Standing outside the RCMP station we gave each other a hug and a congratulations before wondering up the steps.
We were greeted by the RCMP officers Paul, Jason and Andrew who were incredibly kind and looked after us throughout our stay in Pond Inlet.
Our next challenge…. returning to civilisation, starting with a warm shower and a comfy bed!