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

The point of the exercise

The phone alarm pierced the silence while it was still pitch black in our bedroom. Rory and I groaned and blinked ourselves awake, then without a word tiptoed down to the sittingroom, deftly avoiding the creaky stairs, like naughty children in search of midnight snacks. Except, this was less about the midnight snacks, more about the early morning squats.

This is what happens when you have no time in the day to train: you’re forced to squeeze it into what I generally consider the night, i.e. before 7am. But perhaps this is no bad thing. No child should have to witness their parents in the act of bird-dogging. Imagine if they told everyone at school that they’d caught mummy and daddy planking together on the sittingroom floor? They wouldn’t understand. Truth be told, I don’t understand.

The thing I don’t understand the most is how anyone could ever enjoy this sort of thing.

On day 1 of the ‘Arctic Trek Training Plan’ we started with the plank. Propped up on forearms and toes, we each held our bodyweight for as long as possible. I managed 37 seconds, Rory 1 minute 28 seconds, before we both collapsed in an exhausted sweaty heap.

Moving on: the bird dog. This involves getting onto your hands and knees, then raising one arm horizontally in front of you (à la superman), while lifting the opposite leg straight out behind you. (I have to assume this is the dog bit. If only we had a lamppost in the sittingroom I could fulfil two early morning functions in one go.)

Oddly, I could do this no problem with my left hand and my right leg, but not at all the other way around. I spent a not-so-good ten minutes wobbling about on all fours, faltering, repositioning, trying to get my balance. I’d like to say this provoked a fit of giggles. It didn’t: it made me remarkably cross. So I gave up.

What’s next? Glute bridges. Modified bicycles. Leg lifts. Side planks. All miserable.

Shoulder alphabets: lying face down on the ground and making the shapes of letters with your arms. That sounded more promising, except they only wanted me to work with the letters I Y T and W. So I went a bit Countdown with it and added two more vowels and a couple of consonants. Now I can spell out SWEATYBITS. This might not be doing much for my training, but it keeps me amused at least.

Why am I doing all this?

Because of the pulk. For those unacquainted with Arctic trekking, the pulk is the sledge that carries the kit, which will be attached to a harness around my waist so I can drag it across the snow. For three days. Have you seen pictures of people dragging tyres across a beach? I’ve got a horrible feeling I should be doing that. For now I’m just concentrating on finding my core, and seeing if it will forgive me for ignoring it for 40 years.

Since our initial training attempt I have to admit some of the exercises have got easier. I can now manage over a minute of planking and perform a glute bridge without my leg going into spasm, so I guess I’m getting stronger. But none of it gives me a buzz. It’s still mind-numbingly boring. And I still can’t manage a single push up.

So that’s my goal. Something to keep me motivated when the 6am alarm goes off. By 1st February, when I hop on a plane bound for the Arctic, I will be able to do a full press up.

I have another ambition. I would also like to have raised between £500 and £1,000 for CHAS.

A couple of months ago I had the privilege of visiting Robin House, one of the two children’s hospices run by CHAS. What struck me on this visit – and I know I’m not the only person to find this – is that even against a backdrop of immense sadness and pain, the hospice is so full of warmth and laughter and creativity. Of life and hope and joy.

And yet, the heartbreaking truth is that CHAS can’t be there for everyone who needs them. They want to be, but they simply don’t have the funds.

Each week, three children in Scotland die from an incurable condition. Three children a week. Right now, CHAS can only reach one of these families.

To reach them all, CHAS need to double their fundraising income over the next five years. Some of it will come through hefty corporate donations. Some from big fundraisers like the CHAS ball. But lots of it will have to come from the generosity of people sponsoring fools who sign up for things like Arctic treks.

So: 1 push up and £1,000 raised for CHAS. If I can achieve both of those things, I’ll consider that this whole exercise will have been worthwhile.

If you’d like to help me with the fundraising bit, here’s my JustGiving page


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