Welcome to the Striders blog! Get a whiff of nature, inspiration and fun with my blog on ultralight backpacking, outdoor experience, traveling and hiking with my pets and the adventurer state of mind! Life is an adventure - let's make the most of it!
Rovaniemi bridge. Monday 20.02. 5pm. I had dreamt of that
moment for months. The moment I would walk under the famous Rovaniemi Bridge,
on my way to the second half of the Rovaniemi 300! The moment I could decide to
stop and head for a warm and comforting bed in town. The moment I could decide
to keep on. And make it. And it was just some hundred meters away now…
On that morning, I have been on the race for nearly two days
already. Two year after entering for the first time what seems the craziest and
coldest competition of my entire life, the Rovaniemi 150, here am I again. But
this time, I have taken it to the next level: running the Rovaniemi 300.
Well it didn’t happen overnight. A year ago, one of the
Rovaniemi 2015 challenged me to enter the Rov300. I laugh about it, made some
jokes. And it stopped there. Later on, I heard that TyreLady, my fantastic yet
crazy Singaporean friend, was coming back to complete the 150. And many of
those I had met during the 2015 edition were participating in the Rovaniemi 300,
most on the fat bike. So when a French runner challenged me to enter it with
him early December 2016… I couldn’t resist long! All my fears and made-up excuses
were pushed aside rather quickly and within a couple of days I had written to
Àlex Casanovas, the organiser, and booked my flights to Santa Claus home town!
When shortly after, TyreLady told me she had rented a flat and there was room
for me, I knew it would definitely be a great edition! Unfortunately, my French
contact didn’t make it. So I will have to run it for him too!
What a pleasure to meet again with “old” friends back in
Rovaniemi! Racers, organisers but also people I got to know during my several
past trips in this city. And new faces too. I really enjoy the laid-back
atmosphere of this type of event. I feel it even stronger on the Rovaniemi 300.
No newbies there. People who know what they talk about, many who have been
there already or participated in even tougher races or expeditions. No useless
bragging. Just easy, authentic and friendly guys.
The pre-race meeting finished rather late on Friday evening,
as Àlex wanted to make things perfectly clear before letting us on our own out
there. Temperatures were meant to drop, which would help a lot with the track…
but would also mean extra care would be needed to handle the cold. Just before
leaving Pojhanovi Hotel, I came across my little “Czech sister”, Markéta and
her boyfriend. This year, they would try for the second time to complete the
Lapland Challenge …
The 150 loop
Saturday morning. 8.45 am. I can’t believe Rima (TyreLady)
and I managed to packed our pulkas!! The flat was in absolute shambles last
night! But eventually, probably with help of elves and fairies, we made it on
time. And here we are a few minutes from the start. It’s pure magic to be here
again. The rising sun illuminates with bright orange the nearby buildings.
Participants on fatbikes, skis and on foot are slowly gathering on the starting
line, taking pictures or warming up – probably those running the 66!
9pm. Here we go! Yes,
Rachel, I told myself, there you go
again, enjoy it, have fun, take it all in!!
CP1 - Rovaniemi 150
The first 10k to the first checkpoint went smoothly. The
weather is clear, with mild temperatures. I run nice and easy on the frozen
river. The pulka is clearly heavier with its 20-22kg but remains very easy to
pull. Very soon I lose track of others participants. The fatbikers are soon far
off, those doing the 66 too. I briefly met with the French TV guys at
checkpoint 1 – it seems pretty unreal to chat for the TV out there! I keep on
to Checkpoint 2, soon leaving the Ounasjoki for small roads and forest tracks.
I remember all this very well from the first participation. I feel good and
happy and decide not to take too much into account the heaviness and tiredness
in my legs (ladies, check the “not for men’s ears” post for further info!) –
this too shall pass!
Waypoint 2 arrives in what seems a very short time, just as
I remembered: in the middle of nowhere! Then comes the forest section. As last
time, I unfasten the stretchers to make the pulka handier to cross the woods.
Wahoo what a difference with last time! Hard-packed snow. Much easier. Much
faster. Even a bit icy and slippery at some points. I briefly meet with three
English and Canadian runners.And here
we are, out of the forest and on the Sinettajarvi, the 10k-long frozen lake. I
pushed on, walking and running alternatively. I want to make the most of this
first part of the race to have sufficient time to rest when the night comes. I
know I need sleep to be efficient. So I need to be fast when awake J.
The way to CP3 is long. It seems as if the forest tracks would
never end… I get there at the end of the afternoon. My stomach starts feeling
funny. I cannot eat as much as before, start feeling slightly sick. “No way. This will not happen this time
again! I told myself. Last time I had been sick and completed the 150
without any food for more than 100k… But it definitely wasn’t an option this
time. So I pushed on to CP 4, slowing down a bit and deciding to get some rest
at CP 5 Peujärvi, and get back on track. It seemed like a very long way to
cover the 20 something kilometres to CP 5. Luckily the track was really good
and I could walk fast, without using the snowshoes. I forced myself to gulp
down some liquid but felt everything was really at stake… I felt really poorly
and was so focused on “walk, walk, walk”
that I missed the only Aurora Borealis, these stunning green Northern Lights,
of the entire race!!!
But eventually the lights of CP5 fire appeared in the
distance. Heaven! I checked in and announced my “rest in” to the organisers,
set up my bivy under the plain shed and fell asleep for a good three-four hour.
It was more than initially planned in my race strategy but I didn’t care: I
knew that I needed to get my stomach back on track to stay in the race, so a
few extra hours didn’t matter at all. I woke up feeling clearly better. I
managed to drink some soup, sent the “rest out” message and set off onto CP6,
the famous Kuusilampi hut. I knew many participants had passed me, I even had
heard Rima’s clear voice while sleeping.
I feel much lighter, the “race start” pressure is now gone.
I am back to my usual self, more confident and calm. I am wearing 6 layers to
keep warm. The night is clear and cold. So beautiful. So quiet. I walk fast to
CP 6. The busy place is quite a contrast to the peaceful surroundings. People
chatting, warming up in the tiny and (so!!!) warm hut. Tyre Lady is here along
with a few others, some looking desperate, tired, cold... I hear some stories
about frozen food, frozen bottles, hypothermia... It all seems so unreal to me:
well, of course, it’s an Arctic winter
race… what else did you expect? I don’t talk much with people, preferring
to stay in what I call my “bubble”. I fill in my Thermoses, grab some food and
leave, feeling stronger now. I know what is now waiting for me: 36k on forest
tracks and hilly roads to Toramokivalo. Compared to 2015, the trail is much
easier. I walk at a brisk pace, quickly catching up with Laurenzo, the Italian
guy doing the Rov300 on skis. It’s nice to walk together for a few kilometres.
Nice guy. Nice chat in half English- half Italian. Shortly before reaching the
crossroad, Laurenzo stopped to get some sleep and I kept on. I won’t see him
for the rest of the race. This stretch where we pass near a reindeer farm, a
small town, and the bridge over the Ounasjoki is one of my favourite. Then on
the long and hilly road, Harold the Friendly Giant on his Fatbike passed me. He
had been really sick last night and took some good rest to get back on track. I
wish him luck and there he goes. Shortly after a Finnish runner doing his
Sunday morning jog passed me. We chatted briefly, he took some pictures. So
funny and friendly! This brief encounter cheered my already good mood and gave
me wings to push on to Toramokivalo.
It’s a very long way to it. The last 8km of forest keep on
and on. One curve. And other. Uphill. Curve. Downhill. Curve. 8k that seem like
20k. All of sudden, the CP is there with its welcoming tents and fire. As a
participant in the Rovaniemi 300, I am to be fully self-supported. So any
extra, from a fire to some hot water feels like luxury! What a treat! The
volunteers are so kind to me! We exchange some Finnish-English words. Ludovic
the French runner is here too; a surprise as I thought he was far ahead of me.I warm up some of my frozen dried-freeze
food, eat and rest for 30 minutes before setting off again. If I stay here too
long… I might well fell asleep on one of the reindeer skins under the shelter!
Waypoint 8 is 24.5km away. I plan to get some food and rest
there, the last CP before the second loop, before entering the wild… I now feel
really good, stronger than ever and so motivated to make it! My stomach is
still a bit funny but nothing serious anymore. My legs are back to their usual
self, yes! I know the way to CP 8 is long: forest and snowmobile tracks, the
frozen lake, more forest and snowmobile track before connecting with the
Ounasjoki for the final 2k to the CP. I passed a runner who seems tired not
long after leaving Toramokivalo. Then meet the French TV guys as I existed the
frozen lake. Nice to see them there and have a little chat! But I don’t really
stop, as I know the last stretch is long. Well, I didn’t remember how really long and boring it was.. There,
it is all in the mind: Walk. Fast. No
slowing down. I passed another runner.
Walk. Walk. This too shall pass. And finally, the lights. The small houses
on the river. The road crossing. The river. Shortly after I caught up with Sue,
the untiring English woman who ran the Rovaniemi 150 4 or 5 times! She is
unsure of the road, so I tell her that the CP is another kilometre away and we
kept on. I got to CP 8 at about 8pm on Sunday evening, placed my food to
defrost close to the fire and set up my bed to get my long-sleeves and socks changed
and get some sleep.
I am pretty happy of
these first two days. My stomach is now fixed. I am HUNGRY actually!! One of my
knee hurts so I do some of my “magic” on it to get it back on track for my
early start, I call home to give Marc some fresh news. After 3 hours’ sleep, I
woke up and changed my contact lenses. It’s bitterly cold outside. Every move
needs to be done quickly. The cold doesn’t leave much chance to one’s fingers…!
I set off at 3 am, in the cold night. Some 10k to Rovaniemi Bridge and the end
of the first “easy” part.
Àlexander riding the snowmobile meets me on the ice shortly
before the bridge. He tells me that the first 300 Fatbikers are expected in
Rovaniemi in a few hours only! Wahoo, impressive! I am happy they didn’t pass
me before Rovaniemi – it would have been pretty depressing J
Into the wild
I am aware that I am now entering the heart of the Rovaniemi
300. This second 160k loop is very different than the first 150. More remote.
No checkpoint. No marking. Use of the GPS. And I am excited. This is my thing.
This is what I like doing. I am also a bit nervous as I am not 100% sure of the
GPS map I have on my InReach Delorme Sat device and hope I will be ok. I am so
use to work with paper maps on my long expedition…
Never let doubt sink in. Fix it. Or it will always prove
I passed under the Rovaniemi beautiful bridge on the left
side of the Kemijoki, by the sauna and summer campground and soon am back on
the river. I keep looking for the snowmobile marking. Then I got to a crossing
on the river. And there stands… a drunken man! I am trying to check my InReach
for direction and this guy is buzzing around me. I start off, on the right… and
soon reach the shore again…Hum. Soon I must admit this is not the right road.
Damn! I checked my watch which got all the mandatory waypoint and as I am some
2.5k from the next waypoint, I decided to follow the direction on my watch with
my usual “Universe show me the way, I
want to go back on the track”. So I walk. Through the city. With my pulka. 2km. Going through parking lots, a cemetery(!),
large roundabouts… 1.5kmKeep on. I know that I am going to find
my way back on the river. 1km…800m.
There it is: the Kemijoki!! The waypoint is just a few meters on the left!!
Wahoo, huge relief. I’ve made it and without losing too much time.
Once at the waypoint, I check the InReach to see how I got
it wrong. And it still doesn’t make any sense. Map is too poor. Well, girl, you must to do with what you
have, now. No choice. No point in
I set off again on the river and it wasn’t long before I
come across a man. The drunken man! I cannot believe it! How come? What the
hell is he doing here again? The absurdity of the situation made me chuckle. I
walked on and soon left the city lights behind. The sunrise casts new colours
on the surrounding landscapes. In what seems such a short time I reached the
Laavu, where stands the next waypoint. And there I met Fraser, the most
laid-back fatbiker I ever met! He told me about the technical issues he had
with his tires from the start and that now, he was going to complete the 300
but at his own pace, having decided to make the most of these 5 days out
there.We chat a bit and then I set off
again. Apparently, there are two runners ahead of me. Oh well. I just keep at
my own pace and let’s see what happen next.
I passed by beautiful private houses, small cabins, barges
left on the shore. And eventually reached the forest leaving the Kemijoki
behind for good. The temperatures are slightly milder and I swap the very large
Salewa down jacket for the lighter North Face 800 Summit. I feel good, walk at
a brisk pace and enter the forest section in good spirit. The track is pretty
good, no need for snowshoes which is luxury! It is a long way to the next
waypoint. The distance on my watch seems to remain the same as I walk up and
downhill and wander in this endless forest. Eventually, after a curve, the
khota, the typical Finnish wood hut, stands there next to the track. I make a
long stop here as I need to boil water to refill both my thermoses and get some
proper food. I restart the fire in the hut to warm up the place. About an hour
later, as I was nearly done with cooking and eating, Fraser arrives on his
bike. I pack all my gear again and soon set off for some more hours on my feet.
I would like to go up to Purolan cabin crossing before taking some rest if I
Some 5 more kilometres of forest track and then I reached a
lake and not long after the frozen river. Fraser had overtaken me not long ago
and I can spot him in the far distance. It is getting dark and harder to
distinguish the tire tracks on the ground. I need to check the route on my GPS.
And here the fun starts again. It is so unclear on my tiny screen! I check and
double-check, try to make my way using both the direction on my watch and the red
line on my screen. I walk slowly, stopping often. I lose time. And then I go
under a bridge and another one... Àlex talked about one bridge only, am I
right? Is that the one? I feel I am on the right track but it is really
difficult to say. Hard to distinguish anything even though it isn’t night yet. Man,
my GPS track takes me right through bushes!! No that’s not the way, definitely
not! I need help. There is a solution. I
need help, I keep repeating. I turn and go back on my steps and there…
comes John! Wahoo, I am so happy to see him there!!! It means I am on the right
track! And it also means I must have been terribly slow in the last couple of
hours! John has the very regular pace, he is really good and strong. Soon we
reached the forest again. John stopped to change the battery in his device. I
pushed on, feeling suddenly tired. I guess these messy last 2 hours drained my
energy. I passed the waypoint just before Purolan crossing and walk on for
another 10k. But I am slow, tired. The last 2 kilometres seem endless… At the
waypoint 16 I decided to stop and rest. Just as I was setting up my bivy, John
arrived. He is feeling all right and will push on. Should I do the same? Eat
and then go? No, I need rest. And food. So I grab a couple of bars, lie down,
take off my shoes and fall asleep within minutes.
1.30am. Tuesday morning. I woke up, feeling refreshed and so
motivated to go! I packed quickly, everything is frozen and my fingers feel
stiff in seconds. I put all my layers on, 2 pairs of mitts and resumed with my
walking in the cold night. I like this, walking alone, in the peace and quiet
of the night, surrounded by nothing but nature. By 6.30, the light starts to
change, from pitch black to dark orange and… blue. For long minutes I was
surrounded by an amazing blue colour! The sky, the trees, the snow, everything
is blue. Truly magical
It is freezing cold, though. I walk, fast, even running at a
slow pace. The track is better now, nice and wide. One of my best memories of
the entire race. I go from waypoint to waypoint, kilometres after kilometres.
It is long but I don’t let myself start thinking of it. Waypoint. Walk. Look around. Beauty. Walk. Fast. The day goes
really fast. I reach the lakes and hills section. A nice and flat lake followed
by hills.Up and down. And another lake.
More hills. It is less remote now, more little houses, a few small villages,
reindeer farms, meeting some snowmobiles on the tracks…
I am good. I keep on.
The weather is beautiful. Cold but beautiful. I am really enjoying my time out
there! I start feeling confident that I can finish tonight. By 6pm I reached
the Bear Lodge, I am now only some 15k from the Ounasjoki and the famous last
and flat 20 kilometers of frozen river… At the Lodge, my GPS plays me one of
its trick again but I am soon back on the right track and checked in at
Waypoint 29. My fingers are getting cold and I try to keep as warm as possible
by not opening my jacket too often to check the InReach. So I place it in my
right side pocket and set off to Waypoint 30, Sinetta Laavu!!
The track goes up and down and I start running, slowly but
feeling good and strong. 7k to go… I reach a crossing and decide to check the
route on the GPS... Well, it is not in the side pocket? I unlock my harness and
double-checked. Triple-checked. Searched all my pockets, the pulka, everywhere.
It is not there. It must have felt. I have lost it. I can’t believe how stupid
I’ve been, acting precipitously as I so wanted to finish that night! I feel
hopeless. Need to get a grip. I give Marc, my husband, a call. Hearing his
voice cheers me up. He tells me that the tracker sent the last signal about 100
meters after waypoint 29, nearly 5k away… I want to return right now, to walk
those 5k, get the tracker and go. But I start feeling cold, andtired. A voice in my head tells me to get
warm first, rest and eat and then go back. Yes, wiser. So I run back to my
pulka which I had left at the crossing and set up the bivy. It was really
getting cold and everything needed to be done quickly. I hadn’t plan to sleep
another night so hadn’t packed my bivy as carefully. Anyway I managed to inflate
the mat, get into my sleeping bag and light the stove from there, despite the
terrible quality of the matches. I will
make it. I will make it. It is going
After having some food and rest, I felt much better, calmer
and walking back these extra kilometres didn’t feel as bad. Of course, I feel frustrated
and disappointed to have lost that precious time. But the most important at the
end of the day is to finish, to make it to the finish line. And with such low temperatures,
I couldn’t have taken it lightly. Early morning I walked all the way back. And
at 100 meters from waypoint 29, my InReach laid in the snow, untouched, undamaged.
Another huge relief! I took a few bites of an energy bar and run back to the
pulka, some 5 k away. I texted the organisation to tell them that everything is
sorted and that I am back in the race. I got to the Ounasjoki an hour or so
later, on my final 20k to Rovaniemi.
I passed Sinetta Laavu, waypoint 30, and started running
gently to soothe my legs. Then I spoted Àlex Casanovas arriving on his snowmobile.
How nice to see someone! We chatted a bit about last-night adventures, about the
other people left on the track and I pushed on. An hour later, he came back and
took pictures of me running. That cheered me up! It made thing a bit funnier on
this long and straight icy section. I kept walking and running. I want to be
fast. No stopping, no slowing down.
Waypoint 31. Last one. Walk. Run. Walk. Run. Then in the distance I saw a
strange person dancing on the river. Is she/he dancing? Is it a dog with he/her?...
I came closer and laughed when I recognised my friend Rima,TyreLady, dancing on
the ice! She is there to meet me with Lumi, the Finnish Tyre! We walked the
last 5 kilometres together, her telling me about the lastest events, me explaining
her my GPS divorce and other issues. Girls, even when fighting exhaustion, will
never ever stop chatting!
Finally, here it is: the Bridge!!
The finish line is in the
Pojhanovi Hotel. Go Rachel Go, don’t let
anything slow you down now. Just Go! I left the river, went through the traffic
lights and here am I, at long last, the finish line! Rovaniemi 300! I have done
it!!! First woman to complete it.
Àlex, Rima and some of the Dutch
guys for the Rov300 are there to greet me. I am so happy. I need a tea please J - and a shower with lots of
soap, would add Rima LOL
I want to thank Àlex Casanovas and his team for organising Arctic
winter races in Europe. It is a great opportunity to train and get prepared for
the famous tough Canadian and Alaskan ones.
A winter race is nothing like another race. I love them. It
forces us to be true to ourselves. One cannot cheat out there. Nature dictates
its way and we must do with it: cold or mild temperatures, soft or hard-packed
snow, always changing weather conditions… One can come with competition in
their mind. But in this end, nature will decide. I have learnt a lot. On gear,
on handling such cold temperatures, on myself. I’ve done many mistakes and I’ve
done many good things too. I can say I am proud of myself and the way I’ve copped
with the different issues met on the way. It might not have been the perfect
race, but I’ve had so much fun most of the way! For a first in these conditions,
I am truly happy. And I am back with all my toes and fingers, which is quite an
For those who are thinking of entering the Rovaniemi150 or
300, please remember it is not something to take lightly. It is really
different from other ultras or trail running competitions, marking is kept to a
minimum and expect to be on your own, completely alone for many hours. I need
to say that because I’ve heard people complaining about both the marking and
being by yourself for so long. I think that the organisation here is true
luxury compared to similar Arctic or survival races. There is often hot water on the 150 at the checkpoints!
And tents or shelters! We are spoilt, let me tell you! So please, if you feel
like coming and running or cycling the Rov150, keep this in mind: it is a race
for people who are not afraid to take their own responsibilities and want to
experience minimal support. If you are ready for this, then you will have the
time of your life! The scenery is impressive, the track amazing and people are so
authentic and friendly.
I am the first woman to have completed the Rovaniemi 300. I
hope that it will inspire more women to come and enter this fantastic race.
Come on Ladies, it is all yours now!!
Rovaniemi 300. My different approach to Finnish Lapland.