On 8th–12th March 2018, a team of 18 industry individuals embarked on a challenge for a cause – aptly named Arctic Adventure – situated in the Arctic Circle of Kuusamo, Finland. Throughout the three days we endured various challenges including building our own igloos to sleep in, trekking for six hours straight in awkward shoes with two feet of snow and enduring near-freezing waters in the ice dip challenge. It’s fair to say that everybody very quickly learnt that this was not going to be a walk in the park, even though quite literally we were walking in a park, albeit a very large national park. Among the adventurers on the trip was myself and Mark Booth who approached me at the end of day one asking, ‘Is this what the rest of the trip is going to be like?’ I just smiled and replied, ‘of course, now get shovelling the rest of the snow for our igloo!’. Throughout the course of each day, the team faced new and ever-more challenging tasks. We learnt that we could not get a fire started in our life survival lesson and no one could go a full day without falling over, but one team member’s boundless enthusiasm really drove the team to try new things. Kate Menzies was always the first to stick her hand up for any task, and you only need to see her attempt at the Ice Face Challenge to see how dedicated to the cause she really was. Instead of molding her face in the powder snow she launched her entire body into it, making a new challenge called the ‘Menzie body plant challenge’ (I’m sure it will catch on!). Even with the team struggling to overcome various physical and emotional challenges, they all thoroughly enjoyed themselves and came together as teammates, friends and industry colleagues for the common purpose of helping this amazing family.
During this period Caz’s husband Mick, helped her through her struggles and kept her positive while supporting her three daughters. When Caz was transferred to the high care facility Mick would drive 2 hours each way to see her every day. His presence and her daughter’s had a positive calming effect on Caz. Throughout this time, the family struggled with the loss of Caz’s wage and the financial pressures of adjusting to a single income household. Just shortly after Caz’s arrival at the high care facility the family suffered another blow with Mick being made redundant from his job. This left the family without any income to cover the mortgage, hospital visits and other expenses. Resulting in them losing their family home in October 2013.
After checking into our accommodation in Finland at 1am, the team enthusiastically got up at the crack of dawn, kitted up in skis and learnt the basics of cross-country skiing – one of the most popular winter hobbies in Finland. For all of us it was our first time doing cross-country skiing and for many it was their first experience of skiing in general! This led to some hilarious falls during our relatively short practice tour through the flat pine forest as we tested what we’d learned. The most memorable occurred just before the entrance to the big cross-country track which had a large downhill slope. Kate offered advice to the team on techniques for going down the hill, likening the movement to dancing in Manchester. Mike Bernard, our most experienced skier on the trip, accelerated down the hill and I have to say it was like it happened in slow motion: Mike’s 2m of brawn went down like a giraffe creating a domino effect. I do believe some of us spent more time eating snow and getting caught up in branches than crosscountry skiing.
After getting back at around 4pm, the team were then challenged with making a quinzee – a type of igloo. Little did we know that this would involve a lot of work! The team had to build two quinzees, each requiring around one ton of snow! This took the team three and a half hours of shovelling and compacting the snow! It was a complete surprise how physically intense it was. Charlie Harwood used the task to get in a workout in preparation for his middleweight boxing match. On the double shovel he was a man on a mission – I’ve never seen anyone work harder!
We had to let the quinzee freeze overnight for the big dig-out the next day. Time for the next test! We asked our doctor to meet us at the lake for our Ice Dip Challenge! At -9° outside we all stripped off into our swimmers to take on the challenge. I really thought only a few would do it, but almost everyone completed the task! It was so cold it just took your breath away! You can watch it on Facebook (apologies for the colourful language). The champion of the challenge was Alan Plummer, who managed to stay in there for an incredible 2 minutes and 19 seconds! I just watched in amazement!
We all woke to aching muscles and a big dump of snow overnight. Putting on my ski gear physically hurt. I couldn’t even pull off my shirt when I woke up – that snow shovelling was a killer! We all pulled ourselves together and put on our snow shoes. This was the quite a challenge as some of our adventurers had size 14 feet! That’s three times the size of my feet! My goodness! As we walked out of the cabin area I was thinking, oh, this is going to be fine!
Shortly into our walk we hit the hill and had to climb up a steep mountain sinking with one metre of fresh snow from the recent snow fall! WOW, what a workout! We all huffed and puffed our way to the top and rested on a ledge overlooking the incredible national park. The landscape was idyllic and surreal, and I felt so incredibly lucky to be experiencing it. As we made our way up and down the mountain we finally stopped for lunch. Now it was time for us to get the fire started! All I can say is I hope you don’t get trapped in the Arctic with our bunch, as we were hopeless at starting a fire! Fortunately, Geoff helped us out with a lighter – apparently he doesn’t go anywhere without one and a few cigars! I felt like I was back in Australia with snags on a barbie! After lunch I was voted to be the guide (the first one to walk in the untouched snow, the hardest job). I took the challenge, like all in my life, with extreme enthusiasm until I physically couldn’t lift my legs anymore, collapsing and sinking into 1.5 metres of snow. The final challenge was the ice lake run, all standing parallel (so we all had fresh snow), and we had to run to the cabins! I have never seen so many people faceplant – we were exhausted! I use the term ‘race’ loosely as no one was physically able to run! Paul Rhodes won the race and we all headed straight to our quinzees to dig them out so we could sleep in them that night. Keith volunteered to do the initial boring through the entrance. Aptly nicknamed the ‘Mole’, he powered through the dig-out process like a champ. Kate and Paul soon got inside and both dug out the main sleeping area. Mark kindly supervised the entire build, giving structural advice to the team through strategically placed tubes. The quinzee was a structural and architectural masterpiece! We decided to treat the team to a sauna to soothe any aching muscles before dinner.
At dinner, Rachael and Jodie, Caz Dickinson’s daughters, presented a letter to each team member from Mick, Caz’s husband and their father. This was a very emotional moment on our trip. Rachael started to read out the letter but was overcome with emotions, then Jodie read it out loud to the team. Jodie was only 8 years old when her mother collapsed, but she read this letter with courage and strength that I’d not seen before in someone so young. I will quote Mick’s last paragraph of his letter: ‘If I was to thank each and every one of you every day between now and my last breath, it still wouldn’t come close to appreciating what you have all sacrificed for the Dickinson family. You have all given one week of your life, to improve ours for the rest of ours. An incredible selfless act that will change Caz’s life forever. I personally will never forget what you have done for us.’ I can tell you there wasn’t a dry eye in the room!
We then headed off to our respective quinzees to enjoy a night’s sleep in our handmade igloos! I was very warm in the middle, snuggling with Kate. Dave and Charlie decided they were going to play a prank on our quinzee at around midnight by pretending to be wild foxes scratching at our door and making howling sounds. They even got a small red LED light to make it look like evil eyes. Kate woke to a frightening experience and the rest of the quinzee completely freaked out trying to get out of the small opening. I on the other hand slept through all of this. There was no waking up this Aussie.
Our last challenge was husky sledding! We were told that it would be very cold, and it did end up being our coldest day at a crisp -21°. I was teamed with Andy on the sled. One person goes in the sled and the other stands up. I thought this would be the easiest day, but oh my gosh, I was wrong! I could see our dogs slowing down on the hills so we ended up having to push the sleds up the hills, dodging poo as we went. Doesn’t sound hard, but I was wearing nine layers and pushing 90kg up a hill, absolutely sweating up a storm! Paul Reeve was teamed with Mike for the last leg and all I was thinking was ‘Thank goodness I’m not pushing Mike!’ Paul was an absolute trooper! The dogs, scenery and final challenge added up to what was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Darren Wetherill: ‘The whole trip was well organised from start to finish, challenging and at times very emotional as we were really in touch with the reason we were doing the challenge and the reason we were raising money. I didn’t know what to expect when signing up for the trip all those months ago, but I couldn’t have wished for a better experience.’
Paul Rhodes: ‘What a great trip for a great cause, with great people. Have totally enjoyed the entire experience.’ Geoff Kerly: ‘What made the whole trip so special was having four family members on the trip. This really made it all so real, as without the family I don’t think you would have got the personal touch and emotion of the situation.’
Kate Menzie: ‘I had such an amazing time. Thank you to each and every one of you for making it such a memorable and rewarding trip.’
Paul Reeve: ‘The trip has been fantastic and, in various ways, a quite humbling experience. What a wonderful crew you all were.’
Geoff Kerly: ‘What made the whole trip so special was having four family members on the trip. This really made it all so real, as without the family I don’t think you would have got the personal touch and emotion of the situation.’