The Growcer – Hydroponic Greenhouse

One of the expedition core goal is to  promote environmental projects in each country. The Growcer, managed by Carley Basler at Churchill Northern Studies Center, Canada, is the first of these clips.

The Growcer is a “sea-can” refurbished into a hydroponic greenhouse by the company of the same name. It allows Churchill to benefit from year long fresh vegetables despite the extreme sub-arctic winters. A very inspiring project, the study center is already considering buying another Growcer.

Kiting the Arctic

Small clip presenting unique views from my winter Canadian Arctic crossing by kite. 100 days of skiing from Kugaaruk, Nunavut, to Churchill Manitoba. Most of the footage were recorded in the Kivalliq region however, between Rankin inlet and Churchill. Milder temperatures (-20°c) allowed for easier handling of the cameras, compared to the -45°c from Kugaaruk.
I estimate to ski-kite one third of the +1.500 km I covered in total. Which means I had to ski most of my way through the Arctic. Kiting is crazy fun and an exciting sport! Travelling this way is a real pleasure and that’s the spirit of this video. It requires a lot of effort, caution and great conditions. Kites can be extremely powerful and wisdom is a key skill to adopt when snow-kiting. But when mastered it allows to cover great distances in a short time, my record being +100 km in a sigle day between Whale Wove and Arviat.

The kites used in this video are from my partner Flysurfer Kiteboarding. I used two foils single skin kites: Peak3 12m and 6m, and a third Speed5 21m. The foils single skin are super easy to use and quick to set up ! While the Speed5 21m, harder to master, allows to kite in almost any low winds. All crazy outfits are from my other partner Berghaus, thanks for keeping me warm ! 😉

“Know I’m Here”

While in Churchill Manitoba, I couldn’t help myself notice huge wall paintings. In fact, they where hard to avoid since my super hosts Patricia and Dmitry are living just across a huge psychedelic polar bear!  

Psychedelic Bear

Psychedelic Bear 2

The story between these beautiful paintings is linked, once more, to the flooded railroad… (see previous article) In order to bring awareness and joy to Churchill, Kal Barteski in cooperation with PangeaSeed Foundation and SeaWalls: Artists for Oceans, decided to set up the “Seawall Churchill Festival”. As a result, 18 artists from around the world came to Churchill and painted large scale public murals during 6 days.  

Polar Bear Prison painting 

Old plane

  The results are quite impressive and suite the city decor and spirit perfectly! The art pieces represent mostly wildlife and people, in an imaginary form or not. All have a link with Churchill of course. They are located all around the city and its surroundings as well, some as far as the study center 25 km away from town. Some are invested on abandoned buildings as the old army radar, while others are found on public buildings as the polar bear prison (yes Churchill has a polar bear prison 😉 ) or on public housing. Here is a great clip on the Seawall Churchill event.

“Seawall Churchill”

  One year later, the paintings continue to fulfill their role, since the city hasn’t yet any functioning railroad. Despite the selling agreement announced last may between railroad owner Omnitrax and Consortium Mississippi rail and Fairfax. This sad news probably means that it is too late to repair the railroad in time before the next winter. Consequently, Churchill might be condemned to another year without any train and ground supply.

Walking the rails

Old radar Station from the Cold War

  In the meanwhile, Kal Barteski and director Elbert Bakker, produced a documentary movie on Churchill Seawall project. The movie is currently shown at different occasions and will be broadcasted on CBC Manitoba on the first of September. The movie, as well as one of the paintings, are called “Know I’m Here!”. Only the most perfect and obvious name for a city abandoned too itself. Patricia Kandiurin, my former host, decided to print t-shirt using the same name besides Churchill’s coordinates. If you ever see someone wearing one of these t-shirt, be aware: you’re probably next to a Churchill resident, go say hello!  

“Know I’m Here” Trailer.

Patricia’s (on the left)  T-shirt : “Know I’m Here”

While cycling the railroad, I wrote to Patricia to let her know: “I’ll return to Churchill in 10 years in order to paint a HUGE elephant on Churchill grain port!”. Why an elephant at the edge of the Arctic?! Because the port is grey and it will save a lot of paint… The meaning will be: “Churchill remembers!”. I also thought that ten years would be a fair amount of time in order to learn how to draw a elephant.  

The port and grain Bank of Churchill

  Here you can find the full street arts made during the SeaWall Churchill Festival.

The Railroad

After skiing the Arctic for 100 days, I arrived in Churchill, Canada, only to discover the city had no more functioning railroad. The rails were flooded on 23 may 2017 after a huge winter storm hit the region earlier this winter.

The damaged rails suffered some washouts, which cut the city only ground supply and communication mean. Private owner Omnitrax, whom is legally bind to maintain the tracks, refused to repair the line, pretexting exaggerated costs and financial failure. The government refused to funnel money to the company, resulting in a political drama and no repairs. Churchill’s citizen are stuck with high prices, jobs cuts and a bitter feeling of being abandoned. The situation also impacted the whole Kivalliq region, Nunavut, which relied on Churchill rail supply line.

One year later, nothing had changed…

Since the rails were part of my itinerary and “The Manneken Trip” expedition, I decided to shoot this video while cycling the rails down towards Gillam and later Winnipeg. The idea was to generate some awareness and report on the state of the rails.

As expected, the damages aren’t that bad, and could easily be repaired. It was a horrible ride, but with its lot of nice surprises! Nature was super beautiful however : the taiga, the boreal forest and countless birds. Three days after finishing the trip, 41 communities joined together with private company Fairfax and AGT in order to buy the Hudson bay railroad and port. It’s an historic move from these communities which retransfer ownership into local hands!

However, no date has been set for the repairs yet… Due to intensive and long winters, repairs can only take place during the few summer months.If repairs don’t start soon, Churchill might have to face another winter without train.

Meeting the Arctic King

« The tent started shaking, waking me up from my heavy sleep. It took me half a second to understand what was happening :  POLAR BEAR ATTACK ! »

 After Blizzard sunset near Wager BayAfter Blizzard sunset near Wager Bay

It had been a long day under a grey sky, but I couldn’t complain, I was finally reaching my cruising speed goals: about 20km a day in a straight line. While the start had been slow and difficult, I finally adapted and felt « comfortable » in the polar environment. Despite my big toe frostbite, I had made good progress since I left Naujaat (or Repulse Bay). Crossing « Wager Bay » (Ukkusiksalik National Park), dangerous for its open waters and abounded wildlife, had almost gone along smoothly despite the Naujaat wildlife officer heavy warnings. “You should call your parents and say goodbye!”, did he tell me. Psychology was probably not his forte… It produced unnecessarily stress and led to several bad decisions or risk taking. None of consequence fortunately. The guy was right about wildlife however, even if hadn’t seen any, I could tell by the many tracks they were plenty, including bears!

Fox tracks

My progress had been particularly fast these last days. Once Wager Bay crossed, I had ski-kited more than 54 km in a straight line through canyons, passes, frozen rivers and lakes, under almost blizzard condition. My smallest kite (Flysurfer peak3, 6m2), untangled the day before in the tent, was barely controllable, but I succeeded however to reach the Hudson Bay again in less than a day, I was delighted! Jumping out of nowhere in this half-storm, I even had the chance to see my first Caribous. I had then continued along the shore, kiting when conditions allowed it. I hoped to reach Chesterfield Inlet in about then days if I could maintain the good rhythm.

Untangling my kite in the tentUntangling my kite in the tent

Even though I hadn’t seen any polar bears yet, I could notice more and more bear tracks… I had asked to Chris, police officer in Naujaat, what they looked like, whom replied: “Don’t worry, you’ll know it when you see polar bear tracks! Can’t miss them.”. Chris was right: they were huge! However, despite the few caribous I hadn’t seen any living thing since I’d left the hamlet: fine to me. Today, nonetheless, I had crossed the path of several big bears tracks, maybe a big male?! Once my daily goal reached, I installed the tent, ready to sleep.

Sea ice progression

For security reason, I was supposed to install my « Bear Watch » daily as well. A trip wire alarm for bears, made of four poles, two fishing lines and two booby traps for shotgun blanks. Its main purpose was to wake me up in case of polar bear intrusion in order to have time to react. In certain cases, the alarm blast could also scare the bear away. The bear watch had several inconvenient however, including the hard and too long set-up which I wasn’t mastering yet. I did a few unsuccessful tries during the early expedition, but after completely entangling the lines I had simply given up to set the alarm once and for all. Despite buying new fishing lines in Naujaat I discovered myself being too lazy to set them up, and relied on my luck: “So far so good! Why should I install a device that’s going to freeze me to death?”.

Hudson BayHudson Bay

I had the intuition however that my luck would probably fade away, and these bears track didn’t look good! But I survived to Wager Bay without Bear watch, and the bad weather would certainly hold the bears in their dens, right?!  I fell quickly asleep, exhausted by the day.

SunsetArctic sunset

The tent started shaking, waking me up from my heavy sleep. It took me half a second to understand what was happening:  POLAR BEAR ATTACK! The tent stood still, all at once, enabling me to better emerge. I read a lot about polar bears and studied the best attitudes to adopt in case of unfortunate polar bear encounter… none mentioned a tent attack! I was uncertain if the best solution was to scream or play dead. My two sleeping bags and VBL (damproof liner) were acting like a straitjacket, hindering me to move or grab my weapon. Each zipper had to be opened one by one in order to liberate myself, an incredible long and noisy operation considering the situation. I was trapped, powerless: “Damn, Arnaud you’re stupid! …”

The polar bear attacked again, only a second later, trying to drag the tent on the ice. His disproportionate force moved the refuge and myself over half a meter. The tent, firmly fixed to the ground had held up, but it would not take much to put it in pieces. I had chosen to remain silent until now, waiting for the right moment to react, if moment there would be… I didn’t know the bear intentions, it seemed clear to me that he could easily shred the tent if he wanted to. The heavy screech of his steps on the ice as well as the power of his breath were terrifying, taking full consciousness of the gravity of the situation. The bear was moving alongside the tent…

Inner tent ripInner tent & mattress tear

A few seconds only went by since my awakening, during which I had started liberating myself progressively and silently from the embrace of my sleeping bags. An ultimate shock hit the tent while the bear appeared to be further away: « He’s attacking the sledge! ». This was the moment of distraction I was looking for, now or never! I rushed out of my sleeping bag, grabbed the weapon. « SCRRRRR… » the rascal just eviscerated my pulka bag! By the time I was ready to face my enemy: I yelled as hard as I could, a roar of rage, of an animal ready to fight until the end… but nothing happened. Determined to take control of the situation I made a small opining in my tent zip and shot through the tent door. I carefully opened the door in order to face my opponent: gone!

Pulka tearPulka rip

The bear had disappeared in the night before I could see him. The tent did not look great and my pulka laid a few meters from the tent, now only held by two strap. The ropes linking the sleds to the tent had prevented the animal from taking them away, causing the ultimate shaking. The loss or destruction of on of my sledge would have been a tragedy, and would probably have put an end to the Arctic journey, anyway I was safe and sound! I had to hurry up, the animal could return at any time. I plunged immediately back into the tent and dressed warmly, it was three o’clock in the morning, I expected the night to be long. The priority was to install the bear watch I had avoided to put in the first place… so much for laziness. Once done, I put the tent back in place and analyzed the damages: a big tear into the pulka bag, a long rip at the end of inner tent, minor holes in the outer tent, and a big hole in the mattress… nothing serious! I couldn’t believe it, the outer tent had resisted the fangs of a polar bear, which probably saved my life. The impressive hole in the mattress also meant that my feet were close to be crunched away.

I cheered myself up with some chocolate and a Hudson Bay tasting salty tea, before entering a sewing frenzy. Hours went by whilst darkness gradually faded. It was seven and I was patching the tent up, my head buried in the back of the tent, when footsteps suddenly burst out of nowhere: “The polar bear is back! “. I seized the weapon and screamed as hard as possible! Nothing… I went out, ready for a second round, but the bear was already fifty meters gone, heading North. Good for me, I’m travelling south. He turned a few times, throwing me some disinterested glances, I was a just a curiosity at best!

Stressed by the events I accelerated the repairs, and around 11:30 I had patched most damages, the rest would be for later: “There is good wind, it is time to fly away!”. I ate a quick breakfast and packed up, eager to put as much distance as possible with the lord of the Arctic. Despite a difficult start and a few falls on the ice I managed my way between the ice blocks, and two hours later I had already kited 18km. I imposed myself a few more kilometers by ski, and at 4pm, exhausted by the eventful night I decided I was far enough to set up the tent for some rest. This time I even installed the bear watch… good night!

The Frostbite

What about the toe ?! Well, my foot is fine, thanks!

As you might remember, I endured a frostbite between Kugaaruk and Naujaat. It was end of January and temperatures reached -45°C by then, but my feet weren’t that cold into my crazy polar “space” boots. One day however I decided I would add a pair of socks to my dressing and it resulted in lower blood flow and three frozen toes after a long kite day. Big mistake ! I warmed them up in my hands and got two of them back… the damage was done however, and my big toe remained partly white. 

Half way between Kugaaruk and Naujaat, I couldn’t do much about it. The toe wasn’t painful and I didn’t had a clear idea of the situation. It wasn’t critical however, so I decided to move on, got back to my usual pairs of socks and didn’t had any problems anymore. My big toe remained partly white an some skin started to produce an unclear liquid… 200 km later I arrived in Naujaat, my feet had started to be a bit swallowed by then but the situation remained unchanged.

I took a well deserved shower, first in a month, and observed the tip of my toe turning to black! I knew enough about frostbites to know that this couldn’t be good news… Karen, hotel manager, told me there was a health center in Naujaat, and that the doctor was currently in town. The verdict was easy: “black skin is dead, you need to rest !”

Photo: Foot at arrival

The skin of a toe isn’t very thick, and is underlined by a bit of fat protecting the bone. Full thickness would mean I’d might need a little skin graft. There was currently no way to know how deep it was, the only way to discover it being to wait. Doctor R. Aspinall, recommend to stop skiing for a month… A month?! No way! After explaining my shoes were hot enough and that it resulted from a reduced blood flow, he told me I might be good to continue if I’d take very good care of it. He gave me some antibiotics and recommend to let it heal at least for a few day.

Photo: Daily visits to the health center

I took some pictures and sent them to my father, which happens to be a orthopedic surgeon. Hasard is that he actually specialized in foot and ankle! Couldn’t do much from Belgium, but I was eager for his opinion, which happened to be exactly the same: “rest + intensive care and you might make it through your trip.” Three days later I was ready to go. However, the next morning, I got up only to realize the toe got infected! Damn… I knew what was next: skin removal and more resting. Dr R. Aspinall was still in town and cleaned it perfectly, recommending five to seven more resting days. The nurses were super attentive to me and I received the best care ever during my daily cleanings.

Twelve days after my arrival in Naujaat, my foot was finaly good enough to depart. I packed sufficient medical supply to clean my toe daily and finally continued the expedition, next community : Chesterfield Inlet, 450 km strait from Naujat. The new challenge being to clean my foot by -30°C! It’s a three step process. First you need to unfreeze the healing balm and antiseptic in order to use them, secondly you unclothe and clean your bear feet, at last you rush to make a new dressing before your foot start freezing (again)! Day by day i got better at it, wrapping it up in 15 “only”.

Photo: Daily care in the tent by -30°C

The pain ?

What about the pain? Well happily enough I didn’t feel much in my toe… I feared the heavy skiing might result in pain at every step. Surprisingly it wasn’t the case at all, protected by my perfectly stiff boots. A relief! Taking daily painkillers during two month wouldn’t have make any sense, I was delighted not to use any. Eventualy my toe started healing despite the intesive skiing, a very slow process! I continued to send my father pictures and stopped in every healtcenter to resupply. Three month and a half later, my toe is almost good again. I lost my toenail in Rankin and a brand new one is taking over. You’ll find herunder a collage of the toe evolution along the trip, last picture was taken two days ago.

Photo: Toe evolution


The lesson

The arctic is an extreme environment! The story could have ended badly and I wont forget the silly mistake that lead to this situation. My first and hopefully last frostbite! Sub-zero temperatures expose the human body to many dangers, demanding 100% awareness and full time attention. Forget that and you’ll make a mistake, be aware and you’ll discover the arctic wonders!

The healing was only possible thanks to the medical staff that took deep care of me all along the way: big thanks ! Special thanks to my dad, a doctor as well, who supported and gave me many advices.

Photo: Super nurses Maria and Jannine in Naujaat.

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 Berghaus outfits to face any conditions. On the other hand, I’m uncertain regarding my performances: the sleds are too heavy, I’m not physically trained enough, and heavy workloads 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!

Video presentatie van The Manneken Trip

Ik kreeg eindelijk de kans om The Manneken Trip video présentatie maken. Hartelijk bedankt aan mijn vriend Julien Dereymaeker, die ongeloofelijk goed werk deed! Alle sportieve beelden zijn afkomstig van trainingen voor de Manneken Trip en eerdere expedities. Helaas had ik geen paardrijden kwaliteitsbeelden toe te voegen!/p>

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!