Norway 2: Bergen, Seafood Capital of Viking Land

During the rest period, Ang and Simon relaxed and enjoyed the cold humid weather by going into the centre of town and for walks around Paradis.

Gamlehaugen, the Norwegian royal family’s residence in Bergen Quite the statement
Fantoft Stave Church (rebuilt after a fire in 1992 started by black metalers) Note the fence and camera to keep an eye out for metal mayhem
Bryggen in all their glory
View towards ferry dock

After a relaxing and enjoyable rest period, including a great salmon dinner with Ang’s support family, Gunnar and Cecilie, Ang and Simon readied themselves for the challenges of the leg ahead. They were handed their next clue at breakfast by the lovely Chilean cleaners who work for Ang’s host family. Both Simon and Ang were able to converse in Spanish, an oddly unexpected thing to be doing in Norway. Their first challenge for the Bergen’s leg of the race was to travel to Urkien for the Over Vidden walk, a spectacular hike high above Bergen town. Simon and Ang were kindly given a lift by the cleaners to the chairlift.

The ride up to the top of the mountain was fun. The team burst out of the lift and commenced walking. They made their way through snow covered high peaks and past more waterproof Norweigns. The team took many photos and enjoyed the length of the walk before they began to descend towards Fløyen, the end of the Over Vidden walk.

Bergen from Mt Ulriken
Over vidden
Chilly vidden trail
Lake on the vidden trail
Snow on the Vidden
Comm tower and old world war 2 bunker Old world war 2 viaduct
Even more spectular Vidden

Arriving at the visitors centre, the team were told that they needed to make their way back town to the Bergen waterfront to the offices of the Brygen Preservation Society, where they would receive their next clue. After briefly enjoying the view, the team jumped into the funicular and rode down the hill. At the base they raced along the waterfront and ran into the old trading buildings.

Looking down at Bergen from Mt Fløyen
Looking down on the historic harbour
The racers pose for a Bergen promotional shot Performance art or a wedding?
Ang enjoying Bergen street art Ang!
Downtown Bergen Delicious Groovy?

Once there, the team was greeted by Mamma, and were each given a Jorgen costume to try on for the 17 May celebrations. With the fitting completed, they thanked Mamma and raced back to Ang’s host family’s house. On the way back, Ang, who had previously lived in Norway was thrilled. She explained to Simon what the day represented for Norway. Simon was suitably excited.

Bergen waterfront
Bryggen passageway Historic walkways
Weatherboard constructions

The next day was spent enjoying the great company, relaxing and eating delicious seafood.

Syttende Mai (17 May) is the Norwegian national day, which celebrates the birth of modern Norway in 1814 wtih the signing of the Norwegian constitution. Simon and Ang woke, and dressed. Ang told Simon that it was important to say Gratulerer Med Dagen (literally Congratulations on this Day) to everyone, which Simon tried as best he could. Ang’s host family looked fantastic in their costumes – suits for the guys and bunads for the girls. These intricate costumes are custom made and represent different regions. Once everyone was ready they all piled into cars and headed off.

The first stop for the day was a family friend’s place. There they all enjoyed a delicious brunch. After the meal, the team along with Mamma quickly changed into their costume and raced into town. They ran to the Brygen, where they sorted out last minute costume details and props and joined the assembled Brygena Preservation Friends, ready to march in the parade. Ang was appointed a drunken Jorgen. Simon was tasked with carrying Torsk fisk, a really stinky dried cod on a big pole with a friendly quiet Norwegian guy.

Ang’s wonderful host family in their splendid national costumes Syttende Mai breakfast
Preparing to take part in the parade

With everything organised, the drummers started and the team marched out of the Brygen and onto the street along the waterfront.

Initially there wasn’t much happening, a few people took photos and the marchers smiled and waved. It soon became clear that it was still early, and that they were marching towards the main square. Arriving there they were marshalled into their appointed spot and waited. Soon they were joined by thousands of other Norwegians organised into community groups and societies in varying costumes that would take part in the parade.

Gents waiting to be released to parade on their velos Friends of Bryggen association’s waiting to march
The racers pose for a promotional photo The group’s drummers
More velos

At the appointed time, the Brygen Preservation Society were released from holding by the officials and they set off. The previously empty streets were lined with an estimated 150,000 spectators turning out despite the light rain (Simon believes Norwegians are inherently waterproof) along the 4km parade route. Simon stumped people by not being able to speak Norwegian, responding to their next question as to why are Australians marching in the parade with that they are in a race and this is an amazing challenge to complete. The team also hammed it up by Simon holding his nose due to the stinky dried Torsk fisk and for Ang fake chugging from the over sized booze mug (both actions perfectly in character).

They walked back past the Brygen, turned and headed back along the parade route waving to the huge crowds. It was then they met the other paraders coming in the opposite direction. Simon noticed a cheeky Australian flag hanging out of the window of an apartment along the route. He decided to mess with their minds by mouthing the words “Aussie Aussie Aussie”, which drew points and exclamation from the Australian balcony spectators. The crowds loved the Torsk fisk, with hundreds pointing and laughing at the hanging stinky fish. Simon and Ang walked and played off the crowd, bringing their characters to life.

Ladies laughing in the parade Stinky fish frame spectators in their national costume
Happy Norwiegans wave to the parade Sneaky Australian ex-pats get in on the festivities

The steady stream of parade groups walking past the team seem to have no end. There seemed to be no end to the variety of groups walking in the left lane (such as the Buekorps https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buekorps). The scale of the celebrations was impressive.

Ang gets stuck into the good stuff Ang plays the cheery role well (photo Gunar)
Simon carries torskefiske proudly (photo Gunar)

Sadly, the drummers leading the group rounded the final corner and walked towards a Viking ship on the shores of a lake, the finish of their parade. The team joined together and along with Mamma, were met by Papa. He handed them their final clue.

Paul, Ang, Simon and Ragnhild pose seconds before the final clue is given Tasty Norwegian canapes
Gunnar and Cecilie enjoying the day

After 290 days of racing, they had reached the end. They were to make their way back to Brisbane! Their first flight of several would leave early the next morning.

The team headed back to Mamma and Papa’s house and spent the rest of the day and evening with Ang’s wonderful host family (Simon of course made celebration ice cream).

In a brief interview at the house, Simon and Ang were sad how their time in Bergen was so wonderful and far too short. They both were really grateful for the hospitality and the ability to spend their last leg staying with such fantastic folk. Simon and Ang both said “a big heartfelt thanks for having us stay”.

The team went to bed happy and content. Tomorrow would be Friday 18 May 2012, day 291 of the Amazing Exclusive Race.

… to be continued

Share

United Kingdom 2: Hexham, England to Oslo, Norway

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, Simon and Ang of Team Australia continued their massive unbroken run of victories by winning the Hexham leg of the Amazing Exclusive Race. Once again they were first to arrive, checking into the pitstop at 8pm.

After the optional 12 hour rest period, the team were the first to check out of the pitstop at 8am. The team were given their next clue. Tearing open the envelope the team quickly read the clue. They were going to Oslo, Norway!

The team grabbed their bags and raced off to the train station. They bought tickets on the first train heading to Newcastle, the nearby major northern English city. The team took advantage of the ride to borrow a commuter’s phone and determine the best flights. It appeared that by taking a train further north to the city of Edinburgh Scotland, they would be able to get on the fastest flight to Oslo in the evening.

Out of the commuter train they jumped at Newcastle where a station guard handed them a surprise clue. They would be required to complete some challenges in Edinburgh before boarding a plane to Norway. These challenges had been provided by Marguerite with Simon and Ang once again amazed that the producers of the Amazing Exclusive Race were able to keep the surprises coming after all these legs. Focusing once again, the team stepped onto the intercity train for the journey to their next destination. They sped north, through the lush northern English countryside into Scotland, hugging the coast for most of the journey. Simon and Ang enjoyed this train ride immensely. Ang mused that she hadn’t been to Norway for a number of years, and how excited she was to be heading back there.

Arriving in Edinburgh, the team dumped their bags in storage, and set off to complete the tasks and explore the medieval city. The first was to have a look at the Edinburgh castle. The team walked up to the top of the ridge line and checked it out. They then headed back down the Royal Mile and all of a sudden noticed the crowds that were milling about. They found out from some friendly paparazzi that Prince Charles and Camilla were going to watch some parade shortly. Simon decided he wanted to hang around outside of the Scottish parliament until the parade started. While they waited Simon kept Ang entertained by spotting the undercover security staff in the crowd and laughing at the guy on the velo who was peeved that his commute was interrupted.

Edingbrough’s Royal Mile Yes sar, standing guard sar
Royal lion
Waiting for something to happen
Security! Simon fails at being part of the paparazzi
Commuter security breach Dude was probably on a strava run

Shortly the royals wondered out of the castle, the parade started, the soldiers marched and the jets flew over. It was over in minutes. Ang laughed at Simon wanting to wait and watch, and Simon laughed at the absurdity of the parade. As the crowds dispersed, the team walked around the fence line of the stately home and joined the other plebs listening into the rousing music the band was playing for the royals as they went inside and probably had cucumber sandwiches. That distraction done, the team walked up to Arthur’s seat, the large hill that overlooked Edinburgh to complete the next task set by Marguerite.

Enter Charles Camilla cracks an inappropriate joke
Saluting the troops Queen’s guards chased by the airforce
Charlie meets a cross eyed fan Queen’s guard guarding the fountains

Hiking up to the top of the hill, the team was rewarded with a panoramic view of the town. They enjoyed the outlook then raced back town to the city. As it was lunch time, their final task was to eat a spud at Marguerite’s favourite veggie spud shop. Just before the final climb to Edinburgh castle they walked down a small side street and found the spud eatery. Simon and Ang both ordered a spud and ate the deliciousness, as they watched the Edinburghians walk by.

Edingbrough city scape
Edingbrough observatory
View from Arthur’s seat
Edingborugh from a slightly different perspective
castle and parliment

With this final clue completed, the team were given their boarding passes for the flight to Oslo Norway. The departure time was still a few hours away, so the team circumnavigated the castle, stumbled across a geocache, went into a pub for a drink before racing back to get their bags at the train station and boarding a bus to the airport. Dinner was had at a table in the top deck of the bus. Ang was particularly impressed.

Simon pays homage Simon hangs out on a rampart
Edingbrough castle, seconds before finding a geocache hide

At the airport they checked in and were quickly on their way flying across the North Sea east into the early evening.

Their plane touched down and the team followed the Norwegian duty free shoppers, potentially trying to win a trip into space for buying their duty free alcohol, out to the airport train station. They boarded the Flytoget bullet train (Norway’s one bullet train line) and raced into the centre of Oslo. Arriving at the right station, the team walked past some Russefeiring, past the royal palace to the Cochs Pensjonat. There they checked in to the pitstop for this leg of the race.

Unsurprisingly the team was once again the first to arrive.

Share

United Kingdom 1: Hexham

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, Simon and Ang of Team Australia raced from warm tropical lush Brazil all the way via Switzerland to cold lush Hexham England, the pitstop for that leg of the race. Simon and Ang were once again the first team to arrive.

Hexham green

After an optional rest period (and after Ang’s bags had arrived 24hrs later), the team were given their next clue. Leaving the pit stop, they read their tasks for this leg of the race. They were to complete a pub crawl, visit Bamburgh Castle and Hadrian’s wall, and finally, make ice cream and felt.

Pub that serves wine? Flower power
Ironic rabbit statue Beez!
Fantastic flowers Pretty

With the pub challenge complete, the team was joined by Janie and David in a drive through the pretty English countryside to the fantastic Bamburgh castle. A tour of the grounds was completed, along with a few walks along brisk nearby beaches before heading back to Hexham.

Fabulous pub lunch at the Rat
Resting after a pub feast
Sir Simon
Bamburgh sitting room
Coastal views
Mighty Bamburgh
The knights built this place for the beach views
Seaside England
‘Barmy’ seaside waterway
Mossy old England

A highlight for Simon and Ang was the chance to walk along Hadrian’s wall to Sycamore gap, where four years earlier Simon had proposed. Whilst the weather was not the same blue skies of that memorable day, the team had Northumberland’s iconic gap all to themselves. Simon and Ang enjoyed the brisk conditions and reminisced.

So pretty Northumberland farm along the wall
Sycamore gap!
Airborne racers next to the tree

The other challenges of ice cream making and felting were easily bested by the crafty team Australia over the next couple of days.

In and around completing the race challenges they even managed to squeeze in time to see a film, go for a run or two and help wrangle a bee hive whilst they enjoyed Janie and David’s wonderful hospitality at the pitstop. Simon and Ang both agreed that this time was excellent in its normality and a good reintroduction to post race life, which the producers had let slip would be in a little over 15 days away.

David and the hive
Tyne Green
River Tyne
Hexham church

With all challenges completed, the team returned to Janie and David’s house, the pitstop for this leg of the race. They were once again the first team to arrive and celebrated with delicious double chocolate ice cream that Simon made.

Share

Chile 4: Los Cuernos to Puerto Natales

After a windy, but restful night, the team once again made breakfast and packed camp.  They set off early as they hoped to make their way all the through to high Torres camp.  There they would spend their final night and attempt to see the sunrise on the Torres the following morning, the final element of the Torres Del Paine challenge.

Simon tucking into the remaining snacks

Owing to the damage to Ang’s feet from her undersized shoes, her pace in Simon’s ‘hand me down shoes’ given to him by Stefan (the solo member of Team Germany, last seen in Ushuaia and previously the Sans Blas leg, was slow. Simon’s pace was also limited as his feet did not like Ang’s smaller shoes as well.

Despite their slower pace, and Ang changing into her thongs for the last hour of the walk, the team was able to make their way to the short cut and begin the ascent to the high Torres camp.  They arrived before the other Exclusive race teams from the circuit and set up camp.  Then it was another 45 minute climb to the summit mirador for a view of the famous Torres. The afternoon was spent looking at the spectacular view and taking photos before they returned back to the campsite to eat and sleep.

Torres Del Paine watching in the afternoon (points for spotting Ang) Ang gazes at the towers
Looking towards the park entry Final night’s campsite

Excited and freezing (Simon only had a +5 degree sleeping bag) they tried to sleep.  Hand warmers were cracked in an attempt to get warm. Eventually they gave up and decided to get up and commence the final walk up to see the sun come up on the towers.

About 40 minutes later they arrived and were treated to a spectacular golden hour. There they watched the towers and took plenty of photos and tried to stay warm. With the sun fully up, they returned back to the campsite, broke camp and shouldered their packs for the walk back to the starting point to complete the circuit.

Dawn light, Torres Del Paine style The team keeps warm and watches the light change
Simon impersonates a cat burglar with a manly beard

Arriving back at the main lodge, the team received their next clue. With the completion of the full Torres Del Paine circuit, they were to make their way back to the Singing Lamb hostel in Puerto Natales, the pit stop for this leg of the race.  Excited, the team celebrated by drinking some wine that a friendly pair of impressed holidaying day walking tourists bought for them while they waited for the shuttle bus out of the park.

Simon and Ang both give the circuit the thumbs up and seconds later received their next clue

On the return bus ride, Ang expressed how she really enjoyed the whole hike, despite her shoe pain.  Simon was amazed at the tenacity of Ang, and agreed, it was a spectacular walk. They covered over 100km in six days according to this vaguely accurate map to complete the challenge. They chatted with Team Wales and another Team America as they made their way back to Natales.

Soon they arrived into the pretty township and raced back to the hostel dropping off hired gear on the way.  Once again, they were the first to arrive, winning this leg of the race.

Busy Puerto Natales
Share

Chile 3: Campamento Los Guardas to los Cuernos

After a hectic four days, Team Australia woke and prepared for the final half of the circuit, completion of the ‘W’ section of the Torres Del Paine hike. Simon and Ang got ready, broke camp and loaded up their packs for the walk to Campamento Italiano.

Morning Grey Glacier!

Their walk took them south away from Grey Glacier, along the left stroke of the ‘W’. Simon had commented that he was yet to experience Patagonian winds and was rewarded gusts strong enough to almost knock both team mates off their feet. Despite having the more aerodynamic pack, Ang fared little better.  The two racers were blown all the way to the bottom of the lake over the next few hours, but were glad the wind was at their backs.

Simon uses his awesome strength to kick a tree over

During this stretch, the team walked past more people over the course of the morning than they had seen in the previous three days. It was obvious they had arrived on the popular ‘W’. This was also the barren section of the Torres Del Paine park that had been burnt out by an Israeli walker. Both Simon and Ang were once again thankful they were walking in the direction they were as the ash from the fire was at their backs and not in their faces.

Left over blaze rubbish
Windy patagonia

Ang’s shoe problems had now become acute and she was in considerable pain. Not wanting to cause the team to forfeit the challenge for a time penalty, Ang soldiered on all the way around to the mid point of the ‘W’, to the free Campamento Italiano. Late that afternoon, the team walked into the camp.  Ang struggled in with tears due to the pain caused by her new shoes.

Simon in the wasteland

After a concerned Chilean ranger looked at her feet, he advised that Ang pull out and get the ferry by walking back the way they’d came.  Ang being Ang decided that they had come to far to quit and took this as a challenge, plus they were racing, so she didn’t want to give up. She reckoned that she could walk the short distance to Los Cuernos campsite where she would be able to rest her feet.  After Simon put the campsite together, he decided that since the majority of the walk was now complete, he would swap shoes with Ang.  To see if he would have the capability to walk the remaining distance in Ang’s shoes, and because the cloud cover had lifted, Simon headed up alone into the Frances Valley as the sun was starting to set.

Simon raced up the hill and took a bunch of photos before returning back down to the camp, completing a 20km walk. Once back at camp he had dinner with Ang and Teams Wales, UK/Australia, America and Germany and compared notes. Once again, sleep came easily.

Half way up Frances Valley, Simon realises it has been five days since he last shaved Frances valley mountains, the back end of the Torres

Waking, Simon and Ang made breakfast and broke camp.  They moved at a relaxed place over to the next campsite just 1 hour away to Los Cuernos. There they made camp, and rested. Simon occupied himself by building a sturdy rock wall to act as a wind break whilst Ang opted to stay by the warmth of the fire in the refugio in company of other travellers drinking wine and eating chocolate.  Teams America and Germany pushed on and continued to the Torres Del Paine.  Teams Wales, and the combined UK and Australian team spent most of the day walking up into Frances Valley, then they also made camp in Los Cuernos.

Patagonian lake
Humble tent with Simon’s rock wall wind break challenge effort

…To be continued

Share

Chile 2: Refugio Dickson to Campamento Los Guardas

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two set out on an epic hike around the Torres Del Paine national park.  After walking almost 35km, the team arrived at Refugio Dickson, a remote campsite on the fair side of the Torres Del Paine national park.

Waking early the next morning, the team quickly ate breakfast and broke camp. Because Ang’s feet were still sore from the previous day’s hike, the team decided to make their way to the next campsite and attempt the crossing of the pass the following day.

Paine plants Ang crosses the ranging torrent

They were once again joined by the solo members of Team America and Germany and set off up towards the campsite of Los Pinos. Walking, but still at a sound pace, the team marvelled at the spectacular scenery and almost complete isolation, as aside from their own company, they only saw the odd ranger.

Waterfall! Simon rests his bones
Vertical Torres Del Paine

Towards the evening, the team climbed upwards and at the top of a rock pile were greeted by a spectacular lake, glacier and mountain site. Then it was an easier walk along to the Campamento Los Pinos where they spent the night. Their camping neighbours in an enormous four person tent were a friendly pair representing Team Wales on their own Exclusive pedalling race around Patagonia. Both teams traded stories about their respective races and previous legs before it was time to cook dinner.  As the campsite was less nicer than the previous grassy Refugio Dickson and was permanently damp and without a warm refugio camp fire, the team headed for the tent straight after dinner.

Stunning lake An amazing exclusive coffee ad looking for a brand

Planning to make up time, and because they would have to summit the pass, they woke before sun rise. A quick breakfast was eaten and the team set off through the bog and fallen logs up into the top of the valley towards the top of the pass.  Ang and Simon were the first Exclusive race team to leave camp, but were over taken on the long climb by another team Australia and eventually team Wales.

Both Simon and Ang didn’t care at this point and were actually a day ahead on account of their mammoth first day. They instead enjoyed every moment of the views they had on the spectacular ascent.

Simon climbs up to the pass The view down onto Grey Glacier

Taking time to enjoy the view from the top of the pass, the team’s breaths were taken away.  Below them was the spectacularly enormous Grey Glacier, part of the massive Southern Patagonia Ice Field. For both Simon and Ang this section would be the least favourite part of the circuit as they entered the tree line and commenced a scramble down the steep slope. Simon had to brace himself with each step on account of his heavy pack and Ang’s feet were in agony on account of the ill fitting shoes. Eventually they arrived at the base of the slope and started the long but spectacular walk along the glacier edge from to Campamento Los Guardas.

Team Wales pauses to be part of a spectacular panorama of Grey Glacier

After stopping for lunch, Ang strategically suggested that Simon walk on ahead because the next campsite was a free site and slightly more accessible to people doing the regular ‘W’ walk.  Both racers were concerned that it may be packed.  Simon set off ahead and after a couple of hours of walking, that involved crossing hair raising ravines, he arrived at the site.  There he set up camp and waited for Ang to arrive.

Some racers stop for lunch in front of Grey Glacier The racers pose for a promotional photo in front of the Glacier
Another spectacular Torres panorama
Ladders on the circuit Ladders that have seen better days
Simon enjoys this panoramic view
The rough Torres trail Simon gives Grey Glacier the thumbs up

By this point, Ang’s feet were torture to her and she barely was able to walk the last bit into the camp, but was kindly supported by the friendly Team American and German girls.  Campamento Los Guardas was ideally located next to the tongue of Grey Glacier, so after dinner, Simon went to the nearby mirador and took some photos. Then Ang and Simon spent some time socialising with Team Wales, a Mixed Team UK and Australia and the other Exclusive racers at the small cosy campsite.

Sleep came quickly after three days of solid walking.

…To be continued.

Share

Chile 1: Ushuaia to Torres Del Paine

After the mandatory rest period, the team collected their next clue and embarked on the next leg of the Amazing Exclusive Race.  They were to make their way to the world famous Torres Del Paine national park in Chile and complete a full circuit, after which they would receive their next clue.

Quickly they ran down to the bus stop and soon were making their way out of Ushuaia.  Their bus wound its way through the Tierra Del Fuego, an almost unspoilt wilderness.  Their route took them across the narrow stretch of water that took them onto the mainland then on to the border with Chile.

The team races to their early morning bus Waiting to enter Chile
Tierra Del Fuego Ferry panorama

After an uneventful trip through customs, they arrived at Punta Arenas, the stopover before their onward bus to Puerto Natales. The team joined a solo racer from France for a walk around town and a quick dinner before they were back on the bus heading to Puerto Natales. The remaining trip passed without incident.

Patagonian puppy Punta Arenas sky

They arrived into Natales after dark and weirdly saw a giant Mylodon on a round about as they made their way into town. With the bus trip over and there needing to be some preparation time before they would be allowed to embark on the 9 day continuous hike around the circuit, Simon and Ang checked into the Singing Lamb Backpackers for the night.

Waking the next morning to homemade bread and gourmet porridge, they quickly set about acquiring the necessary camping gear and buying enough supplies to last them the entire circuit. As they were racing, both Simon and Ang decided to deliberately only buy enough food and take enough cooking gas to last 6 days. Ang said “we always complete walks faster than the advertised times and we were full of confidence after the Inca trail, we knew we’d have enough food”. They also decided to only take Simon’s big backpack and a smaller day pack and leave the rest of their gear at the most hospitable Singing Lamb hostel.

Next morning the team boarded an early morning bus to the National park along with a variety of Teams from other countries on their own exclusive races. Simon and Ang were both excited as they had planned an aggressive walking schedule for the first day which they were confident in doing. They had joined up with two solo member teams from Germany and America. Their first day’s walking would be approximately 35 kms.

Arriving at the park at 11am on the shuttle bus, the teams set off from Laguna Amarguna to Refugio Dickson in an anticlockwise direction around the circuit as the Torres were shrouded in fog and clouds.  The hike started easily enough.  Simon handled the 20kg+ pack well, but unfortunately soon Ang’s feet were hurting in her recently purchased (from Ushuaia), slightly too small for her feet, shoes.  The teams arrived at the first campsite at the 12km mark and were allowed to continue on to the next campsite.

The team pose for a photo before starting the walk
Paine panorama
That way!

They all kept up a solid pace and ate into the remaining kms. Simon and Ang were both amazed at the awesome view along the back side of the circuit. At one point, two majestic enormous condors glided overhead. Later on they were stopped and quizzed by two park rangers, as apparently their aggressive walking plan was frowned upon. Simon and Ang shrugged this off as they knew they needed to keep up a quick pace to win this race.

25km into the walk climbing a small unexpected hill
Simon’s enormous pack Ang’s… eh pack
Despite shoe pain, Ang is enjoying this challenge

After hours of walking, the team arrived just before dusk at their first campsite for the night, the Refugio Dickson. There they made camp, cooked up the first of their rather plain food and dried out in the Refugio by the warm fire, preparing for the next day.  Ang’s feet were not in a good state, so the team adjusted their plan for the next leg of the hike.

…To be continued

Share

Antarctica 3: Paradise Bay

The aptly name Paradise Bay was the Team’s icy anchorage overnight while they rested ahead of their eighth day of this first ever destination for the Amazing Exclusive Race. After their restful night’s sleep, the team was woken early the next morning. While they munched on yet another fantastic breakfast, the anchors were raised.

Ang and Simon, along with another Team Australia discuss the navigation Spectacular

The Plancius quickly got underway and steamed north around a spectacular headland and towards a distant bay.  Both Simon and Ang were amazed at the jaw dropping scenery as massive ice bergs and bergy bits floated by.  They marvelled at the lighting on the mountains and sea and enjoyed the whole navigation until the ship arrived in Neko Harbour.  There the anchor was lowered and Simon and Ang received their next clue.

Approaching Neko Harbour
Like a giant iced cake in the morning sun
Simply spectacular

Simon’s task for this challenge was to snowshoe mountaineer to the top of the hill overlooking the Harbour and take panoramas.  Ang’s was to get into a kayak and paddle around massive dying ice bergs that were stuck in the harbour.  Both team members joined the others in their respective challenges and set off.

Glacier up close Standard wind-swept ice formation

Ang said that “the kayak challenge was the most stunning ride I’d ever been on. The lighting was breathtaking and the birds were beautiful. At one point the winds picked up out of nowhere really rapidly and the group immediately turned in the opposite direction for safety and shelter”. Ang had a big grin from ear to ear when she paddled back to the beach at Neko harbour.

Simon found the climb easy, and took time to enjoy the view in the relatively warm temperatures.  He took the required photographs and joined the other hikeneers on the easy walk down the high hill.  On the return journey, Team Canada asked if Simon would be doing the swim challenge.  Having not yet received that clue, but keen to have a go, Simon said, “I will if you will…”.  Arriving at the bottom of the hill and at the beach, Simon watched as other Teams completed their polar dip challenge. Team Canada thought Simon had stitched them up. It wasn’t until Ang returned from her kayak leg that Simon and Ang were provided with their next task.

Hikeneers climb the hill
Panorama of Neko Harbour from the top of the hill
Simon tries to point to the ship (it’s so cold one of his hands are blue)

This challenge, a road block, required one team member to take a cool dip in the southern ocean.  Of course Simon said yes, and he quickly stripped down and changed into board shorts.  Putting on the Antarctica hat carried all the way from Brazil, he raced into the freezing water. Simon later said, “I had nothing to compare the temperature to, as the coldest water I’ve previously swam in was a barmy 16 degrees.  It burnt, but the worst bit was the cold sand afterwards on my feet!”. Ang was asked if she wanted to swim as well, just for the hell of it, but said “are you crazy!” in reply. With the challenge completed, the team was directed back the Plancius and given their next task.  They were to make their way back to Paradise Bay and go leopard seal spotting.

Simon completes the swimming challenge in style (photo courtesy Laurent Dick) Simon emerges from the water from another angle
Challenge completed, the next clue is provided

After yet another great lunch and an exciting navigation, the team arrived back in Paradise Bay.  The first activity was a zodiac cruise around the ice berg clogged bay.  After witnessing several carvings, some shy crab-eater seals, the team’s patience was rewarded by seeing not one but two leopard seals. Simon and Ang marvelled at these huge dinosaur like creatures.  They were stunned as one swam slowly around the zodiacs for a good half hour, almost sizing up the boat for potential meal or mating purposes.  With this challenge completed, the team were given their next clue by the boat driver.  They were to complete a bobsled challenge in Antarctica!

Iceberg volcano! More icebergs
Lone ranger penguin Plancius bow
Nose of the leopard Climbers at the peak

After being deposited at nearby Base Almirante Brown, the team climbed up the hill behind the base and Simon jumped onto a plastic bag for a bobsled by a friendly Team Ireland member.  He raced down the hill, hooting all the way, and quickly climbed back up again to give Ang the bag for her turn.  Ang shot down quickly and soon was running back up the hill.  They had completed the challenge, but since it was so fun, the team decided to do another run each! With the fun completed, the team headed back to the landing point and after a cool mini zodiac cruise, the team assisted Team France in the collection of a 30kg chunk of ice from the sea for delivery to the bar.

Base Brown and bobsled course behind
Simon jumps above base Brown Snow chicken!
Zodiac and ice Seal enjoying the hot Antarctic day
Rocket penguin! Icy!
Perfect for a cocktail The black sheep iceberg of the family
Simon lugging the ice for Team France Big hunk of ice in the bar

Following a delicious dinner while waiting for the next challenge, Ang, who was thoroughly  enjoying this leg of the race, organised a private zodiac cruise so she and Simon could experience five minutes of complete silence as promised in the welcome briefing. They would help drop off the campers then go for their cruise on the way back to the boat.

After dropping off one load, the team along with Jim, an expedition staff member, returned to the Plancius for the last of the campers. There they were given another surprise camping challenge by one of the Russian crew!  They were to spend another night sleeping outdoors, this time in Bivi bags.  Simon and Ang were ecstatic as this was completely unexpected. They quickly deposited the last of the campers at the landing site. Andrew, the Australia expedition camping staff member called the team ‘Silly Australians’ and accused Simon and Ang of planning this surprise camping challenge. The team was just as shocked, but were pumped at getting another chance to sleep al naturale in a polar region.  Plus, they still would be able to complete their private zodiac cruise, as Jim took them away from the camp landing site and into the dark.

Arriving in the middle of an ice field about a kilometre away from the Plancius and camp site, radios were switched off and the three humans floated and enjoyed the silence… of a huge amount of ice crunching and grinding against itself. Simon noticed fairly early that in the near distance an ice berg was floating towards their boat. He also noticed that this ice berg had a long black sausage like shape on it, suggesting a seal of some sort. Figuring that collision with the zodiac was likely, and probably on Ang’s side, Simon’s main concern was that the seal would be awoken by Ang’s scream of terror.

As the ice berg came closer, Simon’s eyes darted between the seal and Ang.  Suddenly, Simon could see the whites of Ang’s eyes.  She didn’t scream, but was obviously frightened.  Moments later the berg with the sleeping seal crunched into the zodiac.  All the team could hear was a snoring seal!  With that amazing moment completed, and the five minutes up, Jim started the engines and motored the team back over to the camp site.  There they went ashore, grabbed their camp gear and joined the other happy campers on the snow.

Unpacking the bivy The team prepares to sleep out in the open

Sleep came quickly after the action packed day and was only interrupted by the occasional carving of the massive nearby glacier.

…To be continued.

Share

Antarctica 2: Port Lockroy to Paradise Bay

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, Team Australia embarked an epic voyage south out of South America to Antarctica. After a turbulent and seasick mired trip across the infamous Drake Passage, the Plancius navigated the Neumayer channel and arrived in the calm waters around Goudier Island. There they embarked on a series of challenges including kayaking, hiking and finally an amazing night of camping.

Waking early the next morning, the team packed their bedding the set about enjoying the surrounding area. Many photographs were taken and, after Simon climbed to the top of the nearby hill, they returned to the zodiacs and the Plancius for bathrooms and breakfast. Receiving their next clue after eating, the team attended the photography workshop briefing.

Early morning at the camp site

Laurent, a French-American Associated Press contract photographer, provided the team with their next challenge. They were tasked with photographing wildlife in its natural environment focusing in on taking a strong photograph. With the briefing completed, Simon and Ang boarded a zodiac and were shuttled to shore at Dorian Bay. There they carefully made their way around the Gentoo penguin rookery and took the required photographs. Simon and Ang both agreed that they took too many photographs of Gentoos, that they poo a lot and they are completely awesome creatures.

Ice! Cool Gentoos in their cool home
A Gentoo takes time out of its busy schedule to pose for a photo Stretching Gentoo
The magical Antarctic landscape Malting Gentoo!
A penguin trying to re-evolve the capability to fly A Gentoo finishes its swim
Gentoo filth

Racing back to the Plancius, after a quick zodiac cruise to photograph some otherworldly icebergs clogging Dorian Bay, they had yet another delicious lunch and were given a road block. They were to complete a snowshoe hike to the top of a hill where one of the team members was required to build a snowman. As Simon had never built one before, he volunteered to complete the challenge. Reaching the top of the hill, Simon completed his snowman quickly, using algae smears for eyes, and the team was allowed to continue of the snowshoe hike. Half way up the next hill, another task was presented.

Swan ice berg
Rookery panorama
Simon and Ang celebrate completing the snow man challenge
Snow shoeing panorama

Three separate Amazing Exclusive race teams, Simon from Team Australia, Ray and Damo from another Team Australia and Ryan from Team Canada, were required to have a snowball fight. Each team fought valiantly and they were all given their respective next clues. After a quick visit to the old 1980s Damoy research hut and spotting of a lone chin strap penguin and random Chilean Navy ship, the team returned to the waiting zodiacs and headed back to the Plancius. Yet another delicious dinner was had along with great company and lots of wine, after which Simon and Ang retired for the night.

Moments later a snow ball fight erupted
Ang enjoying a moment on the rocks The Chilean navy arrives

In the morning, preparations were made for the Plancius’ departure. The previous nights camping had been cancelled due to dangerous winds so the crew was out early packing up the campsite and collecting the tents that had been blown off into the channel during the night. With one of the three missing tents recovered, the Plancius raised its anchor. A course was set for the spectacular Leimer channel and the team was tasked with enjoying this navigation in all its splendour. The weather was clear and the steep Antarctic mountains majestic. Most of the passengers were on deck and those who were not, were looking through one of the many windows so they could complete the Leimer Navigation challenge.

Ants in Antarctica! This photo completes Gail’s challenge More other worldly landscape
Recovery of one of the tents
Leimer channel panorama
Another amazing coastline
Layers of ice
Ice berg!
Blue ice berg with very little air in it

After this navigation was complete the Plancius continued on to the Argentine Islands. As the ship approached, the weather turned rainy. Simon and Ang were given two choices of challenges to complete. Simon elected to complete the hikeneering challenge and Ang went to complete another photography challenge by photographing the historic Wordie House.

Simon’s task was relatively straight forward and involved climbing a small hill that overlooked the Ukrainian Vernadsky Station, before walking down the hill to the station itself, whilst wearing snowshoes. This task was completed quickly by Simon, mainly because it was raining on and off and a little bit too cold this day. Simon said at the time that “this was a pretty easy walking challenge, but the landscape was still utterly spectacular due to the bleak weather. I just wish I had some way to keep the rain off the lens of the camera and a few more moments to make the snowman I made even more epic in size”.

Ang set out to complete her task and soon had taken some fantastic photographs of another historic British station, Wordie House. Unfortunately she was the last Exclusive Racer to leave the hut and was almost left behind on the little island. Ang luckily was able to hitch a ride on the zodiac that had come to close up the hut.

Classic Wordie House (as it was left) Wordie House pantry

Both Ang and Simon then completed separate guided tours of the working Vernadsky station. This base had been purchased from the British by the Ukrainians and includes a, until recently, working bar. Unlike the ice free Port Lockroy, Vernadsky had been isolated for most of the summer and so had only seen one other supply ship before the Plancius’ arrival. Simon and Ang both noticed the slightly scared and unusual way the Ukrainian scientists conducted their respective tours. Simon said that “I particularly liked the wall of over winter fame, with the crazy deranged types and one Ukrainian researcher who was doing an impersonation of a suave sea captain saying ‘hello ladies'”. After checking out the Faraday bar, the team completed this challenge. The damp team soon reunited back on the Plancius to trade stories.

Ukrainian humour at Vernadsky Station Simon completes the pour a beer challenge behind the Faraday bar in Vernadsky
Cracking jokes with the other team Australias on board the Plancius Another delicious desert

Overnight, to escape the wind, the Plancius motored north. Waking, the team found themselves floating next to a high Antarctic fjord. The challenge for today was to walk around the other worldly Petermann Island, whilst other teams attempted to summit Mt Scott.

The view from the deck outside the team’s cabin

Owing to the high winds, Simon and Ang, along with the other exclusive race teams, were rapidly shuttled ashore. There they completed an excellent hike that included photographing a variety of wildlife and unexpected animal behaviours. They also took a large number of stunning landscape photographs.

Happy feet! Damo gets told off by a Gentoo
Green Antarctica on Petermann Penguin egg!

After summiting the small peak on the island and observing a Gentoo build a wind break for its feet with specially selected rocks, Simon reunited with Ang and they returned to the ship, having completed the challenge for the morning.

Gentoo building a wall Seals and Penguins living side by side in perfect harmony
Seal portrait

Soon the mountaineers returned and the ship steamed north. The afternoon’s activities included navigation up the Lemaire channel to Paradise Bay, a calm, spectacular anchorage, where they spent the night.

Twin peaks panorama
Ice berg floats by the window

…To be continued.

Share

Antarctica 1: Ushuaia to Port Lockroy

In a first ever, the Amazing Exclusive Race is the first race to travel to the white Continent.  With such a historic and momentous race leg, Simon and Ang were exceptionally excited in the lead up to departure aboard the Plancius.

Finally the evening of the 27th of February arrived.  The team was collected by their agent and driven to right to the gang plank.  They boarded the ship, after taking a few photos to mark this momentous occasion, and were shown their cabin.  Soon the other remaining exclusive race passengers had boarded and the Plancius weighed anchor and steamed south towards the bottom of the world as the sun set over Terre Del Feugro.

After being introduced to the highly qualified expedition staff and hilarious Russian captain, the team completed their first challenge, a lifeboat safety drill.  With this completed, the team was given some free time to enjoy the navigation of the Beagle channel and prepare for the upcoming dreaded Drake Passage as twilight fell.

Simon particularly enjoyed the crew introductions and the hilarious typically Russian way the Russian captain said they were probably not going to get smooth water crossing the Drake, but that he was still hopeful.  With the formalities completed, Simon and Ang settled into life aboard the ship, exploring and meeting some of the other exclusive race teams.  After dinner, they retired for the night as the Plancius headed out into open ocean, toward the white unknown.

The second day of this historic challenge commenced with the boat formally in the waters of the Drake Passage.  The waters are relatively calm, but Ang, true to form, was not feeling the best.  She retired to her bed in the cabin where she would spend the next 48 hours.  Simon was relatively unaffected and entertained himself talking with the few other exclusive race team members who were not seasick.

By the afternoon of the third day, team found themselves in the waters around the South Shetland islands.  This was the first glimpse of land in two days and Simon joined some of the other passengers on deck to photograph the islands as the ship rocked by. At this point Ang was feeling better, but still is not in any shape to leave her bed.

The next morning, the team found themselves arriving into the smooth waters of the Neumayer channel and on final approach to Port Lockroy on Goudier Island.  After the ship ploughed its way though some brash ice, the anchor was dropped and the team received their first challenge.  They were to complete a kayaking challenge along with other experienced kayakers in the first group of exclusive racers.  Simon and Ang attended the safety briefing and donned their neoprene wetsuits, decking, safety equipment and selected their tandem kayak.

The Plancius breaks its way to Port Lockroy
Plancius clears the ice and approaches Lockroy

The kayaks were then all lowered into the water and Simon and Ang joined the other racers in the first group aboard the mothership zodiacs.  Deployment followed soon after and all racers were paddling around the amazing bay.

Ang and Simon once again in a tandem kayak completing the paddle next to ice bergs challenge Ang takes it all in
The team on the freezing waters are all smiles

After about twenty minutes, one solo member of a team America rolled his kayak.  He was rapidly pulled back into the safety zodiac and soon resumed paddling.  Simon and Ang were amazed at this, but focused back on their main task for this challenge and set about getting themselves as close to wildlife and bergie bits as safely as possible.  With this challenge completed, Pete, the kayak guide gave them their next clue and directed them to visit the Port Lockroy station where they were to send post cards.

Port Lockroy is a British station that is operated on behalf of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.  The station sees approximately 150 cruise ship visits per year and helps raise funds for the restoration of a variety of historic Antarctic structures.  The station is an operating post office and is staffed by three specially selected volunteers.  For the last two years, these have all been ladies.

Racing ashore, Simon and Ang were met by hundreds of hilarious Gentoo penguins and the odd seal. The team quickly made their way into the station where they each wrote a post card. As the station was being closed for the winter and the next mail ship wasn’t due until November, the team’s postcards won’t be delivered until Christmas 2012.

Noble Port Lockroy Inside Port Lockroy, the team correctly located the perfect fried penguin breast receipe
The team pauses for a photo outside of Port Lockroy These are British penguins
Simon conversates with a penguin Ang amongst the penguins

With this challenge completed, the team explored the rest of the preserved station and then went outside to watch the penguins do their thing.  Both Simon and Ang agreed that it was hard not to photograph the funny little guys, but as they were racing they had to pull themselves away and return to the zodiacs for lunch onboard the Plancius.

Antarctic bobsled team! Penguin audience

After a delicious meal, the team was handed their next clue.  They were to complete a hike around Jougla Point near the Port Lockroy station.  Sadly Ang had to return to the ship earlier in a hurry as bathroom stops are not allowed on land, but Simon carried on alone and soon completed the spectacular circuit. Near the end of the walk, Simon was approached by two curious penguins.  They kept on shuffling forward and pausing to turn their heads sideways to look at Simon.  Eventually they arrived at his feet.  Simon thought they were going to present him with a medal or at least some krill. Instead they promptly commenced pecking his boots.  Simon said of this encounter that “until they started pecking my feet I thought they must’ve been thinking I was a giant penguin. Hilarious!”.

Jougla Point panorama towards Port Lockroy Even more penguins
Pile of Penguins!
Moments later they pecked Simon’s boots Hello penguin!
Whale bones!
Penguin rookery
Plancius in the ice Flying penguin!

Back on the Plancius, the team settled in for a fantastic outdoor BBQ on the back deck.  This meal had been expertly cooked by hair dyer aided chefs. The meal had the added bonus of free wine and beer.  Simon and Ang mingled with the other racers, until they were suddenly handed a surprise challenge by Andrew Bishop, the Australian Geologist and Camping guide. This task required the team to camp overnight on snow at Damoy Point.

Easy BBQing with a hairdryer in the Antarctic Various smiling team Australias (and a snooty team America)
Non-local produce

After putting on more clothing, the team jumped into a zodiac and zoomed off into the night.  They were deposited at the campsite after zigzagging their way through bergy bits and growlers.  As other exclusive race teams had also been given this challenge, Simon and Ang had to walk around until they found a free tent.  There they assembled their bedding and helped another solo Team America racer assemble his. The two teams then fell asleep to the sound of howling Antarctic wind.  Ang had a great night’s sleep and said later that “it was exactly how i imagined Antarctica to be, with howling winds, I could imagine being an explorer. Such a truly memorable night”.  Simon, owing to the wine he had drunk at the BBQ, needed to pee in the night.  This challenge was just completed by filling an emergency pee bottle right to the top.  Simon later said that ”it was cold and I’m just glad the bottle I had was just the right volume, otherwise it would have been disastrous”.

The campsite Inside the party tent

…To be continued.

Share