14 kilometers left. Clip in and haul. The last push before normal life resumes, work, money and socialising. All so foreign after the past 9 days of shifting a deadweight. My mind begins to conjure up images of buildings, colour and food not in a foil wrapper but on a plate. Get to the finish line my body screams, worn down by this experience. My mind asking to slow down, savour these last few hours in the wild. All too soon it will be a dream and you’ll want to be back here.
As I plod along, a smoking tower becomes visible to the west marking Longyearbyen. No longer needing my map, I have my reference now i just need to reach it. The arctic has different ideas and within 5 minutes a whiteout has rolled in. Visibility down to a few hundred meters, as if telling me to enjoy these last few hours of solitude. The tsst tsst tsst of my skis on fracturing snow, the 4 stroke skidoos whizzing past me at a dizzying 40 km p/h have become my daily soundtrack.
As the distance between me and warmth shrinks, the noise of modern life intensifies. Huskies barking, the crunching of trucks through snow and the noise of the 1355 flight into Longyearbyen sounding like a rock concert after being deafened by silence for the past week.
The world begins to speed up as I near the city limits. Time for food and to take in the view. The Arctic is such a brutal and beautiful place, will I get to enjoy it again? As I rest chomping on salami and chocolate, I begin to prepare myself for city life once more. The colour, noise and smell. After being away from machines my sense of smell and taste have become more sensitive, I choke on fumes from the skidoos and feel the kick of pepper in the salami. The smallest change in air quality detectable. My hearing is sharper than before, as if reset by isolation.
As I pull into town, my pulk in tow. The colour of the houses and vehicles assault my eyes. Looking slightly alien to me after a week of white, pastel sunsets, blacks and hues of blue. The distance between me and my pulk now seeming a mile rather than 5 meters.
I remove my rifle from my pulk for the last time, removing the rounds in the magazine. Pull the flares out of my pockets and walk into the warmth of Paulsens. Safe.
Looking down at my watch 14.37. Expedition over.
Handing over the rifle, flares and other pyrotechnics, mixed emotions rush through me. I’m happy to be safe but disappointed to still not be out in the wild, testing myself. I walk out of the warmth and zip up my pulk. The moment has come for a shower, but first a walk to the guesthouse.
Walking toward my bed, I begin to plan my next adventure. I’m not a big fan of life without direction. Desert, Jungle, Mountains, UK or abroad? Somewhere warm, definitely somewhere warm. By the time I walk the 2 km to the hotel doors, I’ve decided on the next 3 adventures. Warm and abroad, Hills in the UK and a long swim, cycle and run.
In the evening after a shower and a fresh set of cloths. My body beginning to heal. Feet and hands enjoying air circulating around them after being suffocated inside socks and gloves. I turn on my ipod and pick one of my favorite songs, lie down and listen to the opening notes. Thankful that I don’t have to be on constant alert for the Isbjorn.
This adventure is done, but soon another will rise to take its place.