In March 2021, a group of determined scientists, explorers, and long-time friends set off on a mind-blowing excursion. Their mission; to cross Canada on the longest North-South crossing ever attempted.
7 months, 234 days, skiing, canoeing, and biking through polar bear territories, arctic windstorms, flooding, and non-stop days powered by nothing but sheer muscle power and determination.
In November 2021, the team made it back to civilization, accomplishing their astonishing goal and rewriting preconceived notions about human strength and will. We recently had the opportunity to speak with them, recounting their experiences.
“When you are carrying over 300 pounds of equipment across the Canadian arctic for more than 150 days, you are dealing with Polar bears, -35 temperatures, blizzards, rough ice, open water, injuries, flooded and broken rivers, broken equipment, food rationing and constant adaptation of the route."
"You are playing a serious game. Doubt and fear are part of the daily routine. You can let them overwhelm you and fail, or you can face it, put yourself together and keep pushing forward. It only depends on your capacity of adaptation and your mental preparation.”
A HISTORY OF EXPEDITIONS
The North-South crossing of Canada is not the first accomplishment of this brave group.
The AKOR team crossed northern Quebec and Labrador in summer 2018 by completing an original and courageous 1600 km route composed of 4 rivers and 2 oceans in 65 days. In 2014, AKOR member Jacob Racine crossed Quebec on skis from Montreal to Kuujjuaq. In 131 days, he and three of his friends covered more than 2300 km through the cold and snowy expanses of Northern Quebec.
It’s safe to say that the team has a drive and passion for exploration unparalleled to most.
Throughout their journey crossing Canada, many days were spent trekking through the polar bear highway, a vast area of the Arctic Desert frequently occupied by polar bears. With no absolute protection from the wild animals, the team found themselves fighting with their primal urge to make it back to safety. Instead, they set up camp and wished for the best outcome.
“Unfortunately, we had to ski across one of the more dense populations of polar bears on earth. That means skiing on a polar bear's highway. One night, 4 polar bears were sneaking around our tent. One came closer than 10 meters to us, and he did not give a F*** about our bear bangers or flares. We had no choice but to stay awake and do bear-watch all night…. After 12 hours of skiing at -25, staying awake with your 12 gauge shotguns to confront the biggest terrestrial carnivore on the planet is not a very interesting option.”
MOVING PAST YOUR FEARS
It's relatively known that the human mind is capable of a staggering amount of life-saving practices embedded deep within our spirit. At first, what might seem unfathomable can be stripped of its dangers through our human intuition to adapt to our circumstances.
Sadly, these effects may take years, even generations, to overcome. When you're an outsider camping your way across Nunavut with nothing but some sleds and tents, you can easily let these feelings get the best of you.
"I would like to say that after a couple of weeks you become used to that kind of situation, but it is not true: it actually becomes worse. You become very tired mentally and emotionally, and you develop some kind of hyper-vigilance."
"But this situation is particular to polar bears. We encountered thousands of birds, seals, caribou and musk oxen on our way south and it was absolutely extraordinary to be so close to such magnificent animals."
CONQUERING ARCTIC WINDS
Besides the wildlife, Arctic windstorms have proven to be a lethal enemy. These frigid winds from Arctic storms blast the body with enough force to chill you right to the bone, proving fatal if one is not adequately equipped to deal with them.
On top of causing body temperatures to plummet, these winds often damage the sea ice, breaking it up and moving it in different directions, making navigating across the landscape difficult and dangerous.
“Wind is the greatest danger up north. There are no bear bangers for wind. Only patience, resilience and opportunism.”
FREEZE-DRIED MEALS AND FROZEN BODIES
As if the elements alone weren't enough, it's also noteworthy that, during the 7-month long trek, flavour fatigue from the same freeze-dried meals and Cheetos reached an all-time high. The crew found salvation in their Näak Ultra Energy Bars, which they consumed three times daily.
The entire journey can play out two ways, like an adventurer’s dream, travelling a route across Canada that no one has ever experienced before. Or, it can feel like a death sentence. Where the only way out is to radio for help from miles away and hope that rescue can come in time to save you from becoming a human popsicle.
For the team of Expedition AKOR, although there were many sleep-deprived nights with mornings struggling to get out of the sleeping bag and keep pushing, it all paid off in the end. In our eyes, the entire team is coming out as Canadian heroes, a true inspiration to the perseverance of man versus nature, and the nicest people on top of it all.
The Power Of Community
“The community responded very positively to our expedition, which was very motivating for us. Knowing that a lot of people are following you may seem stressful at first sight, but in our case, it was just positive. It really gave us the drive to push ourselves."
"The beauty of Nunavut goes beyond words, and its pure and wild character bewilders. It was just like we had dreamed. Nature is very powerful out there, and this energy is now living deep inside us. We are very grateful to have experienced such intimate contact with this land."
"Impossible is an option. Don’t let anybody tell you something you are dreaming is impossible. Your will is your only real limitation.”