Into the blizzards

As I shared it 2 weeks ago on social media, my arrival in Chesterfield was delayed by several Blizzards. I continued skiing as much as possible, and took refuge in the tent when wind where simply too strong. 50 km before reaching town i was hit by 70-80 km/h winds, and decided to stay in my tent. Here are some footage of the experience.

Winds shifted direction during the night, resulting in a poorly orientated tent! When facing winds, my tunnel-shaped tent creates a snow channel around itself. However, this effect didn’t work properly : accumulating snow on one side of the tent and clearing any snow from the tent flaps on the other side. Tent flaps are the part of the tent you put snow on to stabilize and hold the tent. The poles you’ll notice around tent are part of my polar bear tripwire alarm.

When going out of my tent, I believed a wall could be build to protect it partially. Winds were too strong however, and simply blew the wall I started earlier away! Standing up or closing the tent door started being complicated. 30 minutes after shooting the footage i decided to move the tent’s orientation despite the blizzard… A tricky situation !

The next day I could quickly cover 15km before being hit and stuck for 2 days by an even stronger blizzard, 35 km from Chesterfield… 😉

Learn to Fly

Its 12h45, the sleds are ready and the police is here to say goodbye: its departure time! Last coffee, greetings and pictures. Lets hurry up, sun is already down: got only an hour and a half left of light… Will the +160kg sledges move ? I have no idea, this is a stressful moment, I never had such a heavy load to pull. 1-2-3 meters: they are horribly heavy but at least they move !

This is Wednesday January the 15th, I’m facing the Arctic Ocean, and after two years of preparation I’m finally making my first steps. These meters feel unreal and i can’t realize it has started yet. In 30 months I should be facing the Southern Ocean: from a polar Ocean to the Other.

I skied a very short distance and put the tent up for the very first time of the trip. Kugaaruk is still in sight, but I’m happy: I finally left! The last 10 days were very intense, tiring and stressful. The pressure in Kugaaruk has been overwhelming and it was time to leave. Everyone was very nice and helpful, especially the RCMP officers Serge and Nancy, but I could feel people constant concerns for my safety or being convinced I’ll fail. These negative energies started to harm my motivation and the project. Only hundreds meters after leaving an Inuit reacts: “You’re gonna fail and I’ll have to rescue you!” He probably doesn’t know I’ll keep his sentence in mind as a mojo, an everyday reminder and motivation to prove he’s wrong: I’m not gonna fail and You’re not gonna rescue me!

I didn’t take it personally, it’s just his way to express concerns regarding the polar environment. And he’s right: it is extremely cold, dangerous, and intense. But that’s why I trained, came for. I don’t know if I’m gonna succeed, but one thing is certain: I don’t feel insecure. Indeed, I have plenty of food, high quality equipment and first grade outfits to face any conditions. On the other side, I’m uncertain regarding my performances: the sleds are too heavy, I’m not physically trained enough, and heavy workload led me to underestimated the hills difficulties between Kugaaruk and Rankin Inlet. But who cares : one meter at the time !
However, the sleds are definitely too heavy, and only 2 days and 5 km later I decide to ship no less than 35 kg/day of food to Rankin Inlet, keeping a very safe margin to reach any village facing any troubles. Food is the main burden, I eat no less than 5000 Kcal or 1 kg of food per day, becoming slowly lighter. These super high fat meals are essential to survive the cold. Once unloaded, I directly feel better. If very slow, my body doesn’t feel on the edge of breaking anymore. The first days are the harshest! I have to adapt to my new environment and permanent below -30C temperatures. I need to find my rhythm!
Despite certain believes, days and nights aren’t so hard since you’re either on the move or tucked away from the cold in a warm cozy sleeping bag. The hardest time of the day is the one spent preparing stuff in the tent, trying to keep your extremities warm. Small repetitive gestures requiring light gloves might become pretty challenging and lead to sever pain. Each item you touch is below -30C and steals your hands heat instantly away. The only solution is to get good reflexes, be energy savy and smart: train to use your mitts the best you can, uncover feet at last , etc. This routine is frustrating at first, when your body cries for mercy, evolving in serenity later. Mistakes remains a daily danger and can be of severe consequences.
The 10 first days were constant learning and adaptation, my body transforming slowly as I engaged on the Kellet River. Kugaaruk people fish on this river and I still had the pleasure to talk a few minutes a day to local people. My progress was however chaotic, averaging between 5 and 10 km, much less than the 20km planned. I dreamed only of smow-kite, which wasn’t possible due to unfavorable winds and topography.

When the conditions where finally united I jumped on my skis full of excitement: the day had come ! During two days I covered as much distance as the last 13 days of back-country skiing. 50 km later I set up camp on the Arctic Ocean again, discovering a new environment full of surprises. Indeed, the sea-ice obeys to different rules. I learned it the hard way by making harmless but tiring mistakes. Sea-ice isn’t always flat, it can be very chaotic, full of blocks or compression ridges. It evolves quickly and you need either to know the land or to study satellite image to get the best out of the ice situations.
My biggest mistake happened the same day as my first kiting day. While I kept my feet pretty warm during the first 10 days I decided unreasonably to add a pair of socks. This resulted in reduced blood flow and without realizing the extent of it I ended up with half frozen toes om my left foot at the end of the day. I kept this system for a few days before changing definitely back to my first efficient dressing! Better late than never… but a frostbite + high continuous pressure resulted in a damaged big toe that’s still awaiting to heal.

Reaching land again, meant getting rid of the ice anarchy and increased my motivation again. I had 100km left to reach Naujat’s hot showers, 20 kg less of food load and finally a trained body! The distance was covered in 7 days, my performance is constantly increasing. If I couldn’t wait to rest 3-4 for days, I finally felt adapted and ready to cover larger distance at a faster pace. However, this was without accounting for the feet damage…

11 days later I’m finally ready to go again. My toe isn’t fully healed, but i believe that with extra care it can manage the next step.The extreme cold were equally harmful to my gear, and the extra days were precious to manage repairs. This last month has been very challenging, a constant learning and a delight. I didn’t failed and I wasn’t rescued. I’ll still be learning every day ahead, and that’s my upmost pleasure. I will certainly make new mistakes, but i guess that’s how you learn to fly!

Winter is coming!

Tomorrow is the big day, and I must admit, the last 10 days have been pretty crazy ! Preparing 90 days of supply, cold weather, rbnb, renting a car, another rbnb, flights… In other words: eventful!

The Edmonton experience was original in itself: first steps ever on the American continent and facing a completely different type of city. As you might know, streets and avenues have numbers instead of names and every home address refers to a pretty logical geographical situation due to it’s street number. It actually made my wandering easier than looking for every street name on a map.

Conditioning the food on the other hand revealed itself less funny. Canadian customs restrict food imports and the first step was to buy precise goods in a precise quantity. The challenge isn’t to buy a certain kind of grocery but to buy the exact amount of calories as you planned it Less will undoubtedly generate problems during the expedition. Backcountry skiing in cold condition (average -30°C) requires about 5000 Kcal of food per day while a normal diet average around 2000 Kcal. The simple reason for such meals is not only the effort, but the need to fuel your personal radiator: the body. Lack of food will make you feel weak and worsen the cold feeling, while sufficient calories will enable you to heat up and recuperate.

The quest began and after a few days of solitary shopping I started packing. I weighted more than 3000 ingredients and packed more than 450 bags in less than 36 hours. Once again I underestimated the workload and I finished the 90 day rations just in time to rush to the airport.

The flight for Kugaaruk was spread on 24h, I naively thought I would be able to stay in Yellowknife airport between flights at night. The reality is you can’t, and you don’t mess with Canadian rules! A charming person named Laila asked if she could help me, took me home with my 160kg luggage, gave me a bed, fed me and dropped me back at the airport the next day. Being helped out like this is always overwhelming, thanks Laila!

I encountered Kugaaruk’s police officer Serge on the plane, and the next day we reviewed all security and safety measure regarding my departure. Serge and Nancy made an outstanding job at warning every concerned authority of my departure. They are pretty anxious about my solo winter Canada crossing and are worried both by the cold and by wildlife… I have to admit: it is my biggest challenge so far!

On my side, I’m excited and stressed at the same time! Nothing is acquired until achieved and I can’t predict how this adventure will evolve. However, I’m prepared, I got all the equipment, knowledge, will power, and faith in this project. More important, I know where I enter a danger situation and when it is time to stop, those two save your life more than you know.

The Inuit world is harsh, the fact that they survived for centuries in these condition is outstanding! One thing is sure, I’ll discover very soon how I adapt to this unrealistic environment.

See you on the ice,


Road to the Arctic

Backcountry skiing and snow-kite technical preparations were a much more solitary road than my parallel learning to sail. No confined places and constantly overlooking teammates, instead: white landscapes, cold air, lots of snow and infinite “nothing” ahead. The polar cold is probably one of the harshest environment, but what an experience!

Except for alpine skiing, I’d never practice any serious Nordic skiing before, but I was very determined to learn it. We have all been inspired by: Nicolas Vanier, Borge Ousland, Mike Horn, Dixie Dansercoer, Alain Hubert and others explorers stories’ ! Happy enough my friend Gaël already practiced Backcountry skiing since several years, and when I asked: “where should I go lose myself for 2 weeks and then come back” he already had the answer: “Try the Kungsleden!”.

The Kungsleden, literally the Kings’ trail, is a Swedish path that covers several hundred kilometers of tundra, forests and mountains, including the magnificent Sarek national park. You can cross it by foot in the summer and on skis in the winter. I decided to give it a try, and thanks to two genius associations called “CapExpe” and “Oukiok” I was able to rent some quality equipment at a very reasonable price. After acquiring some skills and trying out the equipment in the French Jura for then days I was ready to invade Sweden!

I packed two weeks of food, and flew for the first time to Laponia, what a crazy experience! The four season tents I rented was attacked by a reindeer on my very first day which could have terminated the trip early, happily enough it hold. Contrary to alpine skiing, Nordic skiing requires to provide all the locomotion effort and downhills are real challenges since your heels hang loose. Moreover, if you pull a sledge or “pulka”, it will try to terminate you in every slope by running you over. Backcountry skiing is more like a daily marathon: you ski all day, you are slow, you can’t stop more than ten minutes since it’s freezing and at the end of the day you still sleep in a tent. Nonetheless it’s a lot of fun and you get to see mind blowing panoramas, I also got to see my first Northern lights (aurora borealis). Here is a little video of the reindeer attack.

These first two journeys were a big success, but I still needed to improve my skills and learn to use a kite! I decided I would go learn to kitesurf in Spain, manage snow-kiting in France, and depart for a one month trip in order to confirm all these competences. In February 2017 I was finally ready: one month to cross Lapland from West to East! I packed more food and more of everything, resulting in an 80 kg sledge to pull, and off I go. Again a crazy trip, resulting in the crossing of three countries; Norway, Sweden and Finland, and after more than 500 km and the loss of a few kilograms I reached my goal. Here is a little video of the trip.

Today, I’m preparing for the serious stuff: 2.500 km through Canada from Kugaaruk (by the arctic) to Winnipeg. The kite will enable me to take advantage of the wind, and I hope to succeed the crossing in 3 months. I’ll also have to deal with polar bears and wolves, which I hope won’t be interested into Belgian meat!

Learning to Sail

As most sports included into the Manneken trip, I didn’t knew much about sailing… But who has never dreamed of traveling on a boat?! Actually, probably a lot of people, but never mind. I was and still am determined as hell to achieve this part: sailing from Belize to Georgetown Guyana!

Nevertheless, sailing solo (or as a captain) requires some knowledge. I had some prior windsurf experience, but that’s almost useless on a sailboat and I had to get from scratch to autonomy in less than a year and a half. Three option were available: find a friend with a sailboat (but I didn’t know any), get some sailing lessons, or find captains looking for sailors to convey other people boats. The conveying option offers the interest of being cheap, you only pay for the board cash: drinks and meals. On the other hand, it is a real lottery! Some captains are going to be great teachers and companions while others are only interested into cheap labour. Let’s try the sailing lessons!

I looked up for the most demanding internship available to beginners and ended up at the UCPA organization from France in Lorient. It could have been another organization but the UCPA offers great price to quality, and I liked the spirit of it: one week cruising on a boat in Britain. You leave from Lorient on the Saturday and you come back on the Friday 6 days later. The itinerary is chosen all together according to weather conditions and adapted day to day. That is, you have to accept giving up any intimacy and live up to eight persons on an eleven meters long boat: not a problem!

I went on my first sailing trip during august 2016. We were eight people including the captain, it was a real success. The crew was great, everybody went perfectly along. Of course I only learned as much as one can in a week’s time, but our captain Jérôme pushed us further than I hoped and gave me the thrill. Here is a small clip of this first experience, which is also my first video (be tolerant 😉 )

After this first experience I decided to get in depth knowledge! The “Federation Française de Voile” (FFV)(French sailing federation) has five certification levels, 5 being captain. I just achieved the equivalent of level 2, and set a goal to reach at least level 4: “confirmed sailor”. The UCPA obliges to do the level 3 in two separate weeks, which meant I had still 3 weeks of internships before reaching my goal, consireing I pass each level of course. I enrolled for level 3 “cartography” in May 2017, we were three sailors plus the captain. Being a reduced crew we learned a massive amount of stuffs! Thanks captain Berenice for this intense week.

Later in August, I joined for the second level 3: “manoeuvre and technology”. The 6 person crew had crazy vibes, and made this week unforgettable. Captain Daniel, a real personage was for sure partly responsible. Hence, these weeks are more than sailing! You enter another universe made of water, reduced spaces, and closeness with strangers. After a few days you always become real teammates, and quickly learn to adapt and live together. I also had the pleasure to pass level 3 FFV for good and confirm the feeling I was on the good path!

The next step will be to engage and succeed level 4 next week starting Saturday 16th September 2017. The challenge, more than passing levels, will be to reinforce my knowledge and try to manage my weak points in order to be ready for The Manneken Trip!

Video Presentation of The Manneken Trip

I finally got the chance to turn The Manneken Trip vidéo thanks to my friend Julien Dereymaeker, who i believe did an amazing work! All sports footages are from previous trainings and previous expeditions. Unfortunately i didn’t had any horseriding quality footage to include! Hope you’ll like it, don’t hesitate to share.