Rovaniemi, here we come…

Tomorrow, bright and early, we fly. First to Heathrow, then Helsinki, then the town of Rovaniemi, from where our trek begins. Rovaniemi (population 62,000) is the capital of Finnish Lapland. It’s located just south of the Arctic Circle at the confluence of the Kemijoki and Ounasjoki rivers. Blah blah blah. What really matters here is that Rovaniemi is the Official Home of Santa Claus.

Poor old Father Christmas. A man who receives thousands if not millions of begging letters every year, but I’m guessing not quite as many thank you letters. So on Friday, in between acclimatisation, last-minute kit shopping and a spot of dog sledding, I shall deliver two notes written by my girls to thank the big bearded fella for his unceasing generosity.

Speaking of which, there are a few people I also need to thank. Because there is no way I would be ready to take on this challenge if it wasn’t for them.

So here are my own short but heartfelt thank you letters…

To Kayleigh McCallum

For the beautiful illustrations dotted throughout this blog. (

To Pies, Nina, Sam, Cliff and Susan

For the various bits of essential kit including clothes, bags, headbands, glove liners, skin cream and hand warmers.

To Vikki

For the loo brush and the homemade, vacuum-packed, high performance energy balls.

To Christine

For the Percy Piglets and Colin the Caterpillars.

To Gordon at Helly Hansen

For donating the merino base layers.

To Gail Littlejohn

For all the massages – even the ones I needed gas and air for. If anyone is after health or fitness advice or some seriously good muscle ‘TLC’, Gail’s your woman. Ask me and I’ll give you her details.

To my lovely GP

Who didn’t bat an eyelid when I broke down in tears last week because I had a cold.

To Boots Opticians

For rising splendidly to the challenge when I phoned up to ask about wearing contact lenses in the Arctic. The receptionist asked the optometrist and the optometrist asked the contact lens specialist, and they all dropped what they were doing to look up the latest research. They got me an appointment that very afternoon, fitted me with 7-day-wear lenses (that’s the answer), and sent me away with all the tips, advice and spare lens solution they could muster. I was impressed.

To Fi

For lending me her amazing, top-of-the-range expedition kit. Also, for starting sentences with phrases like “when I did the Everest Marathon…”, but still managing to make me feel like I’m in her league – which I am most definitely not. For reminding me that everyone’s comfort zone is different; belatedly taking her English GCSE is apparently as daunting for her as this trek is for me. And for the nuggets of advice only a properly intrepid polar explorer can give you. If it wasn’t for Fi, I wouldn’t be taking superglue for cuts, dental floss as emergency string, or butter for slipping into hot drinks round the campfire.

To Story

For being a brilliant place to work, putting up with my tedious daily training updates, and supporting CHAS so generously.

To Rory

For not minding when I accidentally signed up to do this trek in the first place. For not complaining when I disappeared for long weekend walks. For the early morning planking sessions. For all the words of encouragement. For giving the girls extra cuddles while I’m away. For being you.

To Sarah (AKA Aussie in the Arctic)

While I have doubted the wisdom of taking on this challenge quite a few times, I have never once regretted my choice of trekking buddy. It’s fair to say Sarah and I have covered a lot of ground over the last 22 months – both geographically and conversationally. We’ve debated politics, shared secrets, discussed snacks, scoffed picnics, mapped our futures, got lost, crossed rivers on fallen tree trunks… yet never once come close to falling out. That may all change in the next 6 days, but something tells me she’s way too awesome for that.

To everyone who has sponsored us

When the going gets tough up there, with nothing much to look at except blankets of snow, we will picture each of your magnificent, munificent selves, recall your motivational messages, and imagine all the wonderful things that CHAS will be able to do with the money you have given. If that doesn’t keep us plodding onwards, nothing will.

My most conscientious readers may remember that in blog post 3 I set myself a target:  that by the time I stepped on the plane to Finland I would (1) have raised between £500 and £1,000 for CHAS, and (2) be able to do one full press up.

I’m happy to say that as of this moment our fundraising total stands at £1,968.24. So THANK YOU. (It’s not too late to add via JustGiving if you wish.)

As for the other thing…


Love, Olivia xxx

Can’t walk now, I’ve got a list to write

If you’ve ever dipped into the pages of Who’s Who, you may know that each eminent person featured gets to state their recreations alongside their professional or social importance. My grandfather (a diplomat) put ‘mending things’ amongst his hobbies. My dad (cathedral dean) has ‘playing the piano and looking out of the window’. Barry Humphries (no relation, but it’s my favourite one) says: ‘kissing, inventing Australia, painting beautifully.’

Should my life ever be big enough to warrant an entry in Who’s Who, I think my recreations might have to include ‘writing lists’.

Because I do love a list.

Crossing off
A tent is not all we share: spotted in the downstairs loo of my fellow trekker Sarah (

There are, of course, different types of list. There are the ones that read like collections, inventories or compilations. I keep a few like that. You know, my top ten favourite films, books worth reading, all the boys I’ve ever kissed.

The lists I really like, though, are the type where you can tick items off. Planning lists. Lists of intentions. To-do lists.

One of the best things about preparing for this trek is that I’m surrounded by lists. Checklists, kit lists, shopping lists. Lists of things I need to do, stuff I need to buy, questions I need to ask.

So many lists, in fact, that I’ve had to employ my very best list management techniques to keep me right. In case you’re not versed in superior list writing, I’ll quickly share some of my personal expertise in this area. It’s pretty useful.

The What’s What of list writing
Idealists: lists that begin with one item that’s easy to complete. There’s nothing more discouraging than a great long list with nothing ticked off. On a really busy day, start your list with ‘have a shower’ or ‘write a list’. Getting that first task ticked off will give you a disproportionate sense of achievement.
(Also, there’s nothing wrong with retro-listing: adding an item to your list after you’ve actually done it, then ticking it straight off. In my book, this is another excellent morale-boosting technique.)
Cyclists: also known as rolling lists. This method involves starting a new list every day and rolling over any uncompleted tasks (of which there are usually several) onto the new list. Some of these tasks may be rolled over for weeks or even months. I have a to-do list that has featured ‘get leaky shower head fixed’ since July.
Environmentalists: Tasks and reminders scrawled on recycled scraps of paper / old envelopes / the backs of boring bank letters. Positively encouraged if you’re employing the cyclist method above.
Realists: proper handwritten lists, as opposed to digital ones. I have tried keeping a few lists on my phone, but as soon as I’ve done something it gets deleted. And then I can’t see the thing I’ve done. This is deeply unsatisfactory. The true joy of list-making is seeing what you’ve crossed off, not all the stuff you’ve still got to do.
Vocalists: memos made with the help of an Echo or similar. Doomed to failure, as exemplified by this attempt made earlier today:
Me: Alexa, make a to-do list.
Alexa: What’s the to-do?
Me: Phone the plumber.
Alexa: I’ve added bread to your shopping list.
Me: Add phone plumber to my to-do list.
Alexa: The time is 2.03pm.
Pointillists: lists that feature bullet points rather than numbers. I prefer bullets as they don’t denote priority, so I can write down and tick off my tasks in any old order. They also look prettier.
Mentalists: memorised lists. Completely useless. What were you thinking?


But I have digressed. Let’s look at the most pressing lists I have on the go right now and see how I’m getting on. (Bearing in mind that I leave for Finland in 26 days.)

Today’s to-do list
  • Eat breakfast
  • Buy Arctic kit (see separate kit list below)
  • Phone opticians: can I wear contact lenses in the Arctic without them freezing to my eyeballs?
  • Phone plumber
  • Prune buddleia
  • Iron school uniforms
  • Go on long walk
  • Promote justgiving page (only £117 needed to hit fundraising target)
  • Publish blog post about lists
The kit list
  • Sleeping bag rated to -40°C (extreme)
  • Roll mat
  • Down jacket
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Waterproof trousers
  • Trekking jacket
  • Micro-fleece
  • Merino base layers – upper and lower body
  • Trail trousers
  • Boots
  • Outer socks
  • Sock liners
  • Thermal gloves
  • Glove liners
  • Hat
  • Buff/neck scarf
  • 120L pulk bag
  • Goggles
  • Sunglasses
  • External charger
  • Headtorch
  • Spare batteries
  • Dry bags (multiple)
  • Walking poles (buy in Rovaniemi)
  • Drinking bottle
  • Nalgene bottle for night
  • Spork/spoon
  • First aid kit
  • Wash bag/towel/toothpaste/baby wipes
  • Hot packs (heat activated hand warmers)
  • Mug
  • Dental floss (acts as string for emergency repairs, spare boot laces etc)
  • Loo brush (for scraping snow off boots before taking them into tent)
  • Snacks (nuts, dried fruit, Haribo)
The bucket list

I suppose the ultimate to-do list is a bucket list.

I’ve never had a bucket list. I wonder why not. Do I think I’ve done everything I ever wanted to? (Spawned two perfect children, swum with dolphins, met the Queen; what else is there?) Is it a lack of curiosity about the world and all the experiences it has to offer? Have I got so stuck in my own little rut I’ve forgotten to dream? Or do I have dreams, but am confidently assuming I will get round to fulfilling them one day, just not now?

Some people write a bucket list when they lose someone close, too young, too suddenly, and they are filled with an urgent desire to make the most of their time on this earth. And they’re right. Why wait? Why assume I’ll be here to enjoy a long, adventure-filled retirement?

I’m going to stop being so complacent. I’m going to start a bucket list. And, according to the rules of good list making, I’ll start it off with a couple of items I have high hopes of ticking off before too long.

It’s by no means finished, but here’s how it’s shaping up so far:

  • Trek across the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland.
  • Camp under the Northern Lights.
  • Drive a train.
  • Go to Jerusalem.
  • Write a novel. (Only the writing of it – no need to get it published.)
  • Dance a tango in Buenos Aires.
  • Keep an orchid alive for more than 3 weeks.

Funnily enough, I’m not tempted to add ‘make a million’, ‘become an establishment figure’ or ‘Get into Who’s Who’ to that list.

I have a feeling my life will be perfectly big enough if I just fill it with small but wonderful things. (Here’s looking at you, kids.)

If you’d like to, you can support me by donating to CHAS via my justgiving page 

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