A teams journey across Greenland’s Arctic Circle
By Christine Amour-Levar
NO DOUBT, traversing the full length of Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail at the heart of winter on a bike will stand as one of the most extraordinary and unique experiences of my life. The journey saw my HER Planet Earth team and me push our limits to the brink of exhaustion on multiple occasions in extreme conditions and temperatures, across one of the most awe-inspiring and stunningly beautiful places I’ve ever witnessed.
The goal of this pioneering expedition was to raise awareness and funds (a team total of $50,000) for underprivileged women affected by climate change in the Asia region. We chose Greenland because it is one of the last final frontiers. Eighty percent covered in ice, its glaciers are contributing to a rise in the global sea level faster than was previously believed. As this accelerates, many coastal cities will be affected, and Asian cities will be hit much harder than others given their population, economic activity, and landmass. The processes that control sea-level rise are amplified in Asia. As a result, about four out of every five people impacted by sea-level rise by 2050 will live in East or South-east Asia.
Stepping off the plane in Kangerlussuaq, a small town in western Greenland with a population of a few hundred people feels like you have landed at the very edge of one of humanity’s last settlement. The minus 33°C temperature hits you in the face instantly. The dry air fills your nostrils and lungs, and it’s as if you are suddenly inhaling ice particles that freeze you from the inside out.
Waiting for us at the tiny airport terminal is no less than a giant of a man, Bo Lings. Standing in front of us with a warm and welcoming smile, the full length of his impressive two-meter muscular physique, the Greenlander is quite literally the largest man with whom I have shaken hands. Immediately, he inspires a deep sense of confidence and calm in our team. We understand that we are in excellent hands. And even though we have only just met him, I am reasonably sure that we would follow him, unquestioning, anywhere if he asked.
Thereafter, the biking expedition surpassed my expectations in terms of the scale and beauty of the landscape, the physical and emotional challenge of the experience, and the strength of the bond we formed as a team. Over the span of a week, we journeyed across the 200km Arctic Circle Trail from the Russell Glacier to the western coast of the world’s largest island, Greenland. We battled through temperatures ranging from minus 20°C to minus 40°C, ridding on all types of terrain, from hard-packed and powdery snow to slippery ice, mud, and rock. The team cycled up and down many hills and mountain passes and across vast frozen lakes and fjords. The days on the trail were long and tiring, with no shelter from the bitter cold and wind for up to ten hours each day. We kept looking in our goggles for Bo’s support vehicle to appear in the horizon, with some hot tea or soup, to give us a much-needed boost of energy and words of encouragement.
Some days were longer than others, and we would reach our shelter for the evening in complete darkness, shattered, cold, and wet, with every bone in our body hurting. Yet our hearts would be full from the stunning sceneries we had been lucky to behold that day.
We barely saw anyone on the trail, but one morning, the howling of dogs outside our cabin woke us up. They had arrived the night before at the helm of a sled piloted by a local Inuit couple. Inuit are the indigenous people of Greenland who make-up 90% of the population and who migrated initially from Alaska through Northern Canada.
One of the toughest moments during the journey involved getting up mountain passes. For sure, pushing a 13kg fat bike with oversized tires, while carrying a 6kg pack and breathing through a balaclava is an exhausting job! Once on top, however, we would always be rewarded with breath-taking views. And from those heights, the downhills were just formidable, a much-deserved reward after the long and hard slogs. Descending a snowy trail at full speed on a fat bike with towering mountains all around in the remote wilderness of Greenland, made me feel more alive than I had ever felt in a long time.
Despite the grueling conditions, the esprit de corps was strong. The teammates looked after one another with kindness and compassion, which makes all the difference. We encouraged each other, made each other laugh. A lot. The extreme environment emphasized the importance of caring for one another — there was no room for mistakes. We couldn’t afford to be complacent as the risk of frostbite was all too high. We disciplined ourselves to stay close together despite the different biking paces because if someone got lost, hurt, and left behind, they could freeze to death or die of hypothermia within hours.
During the long days on the trail, we had no contact with the outside world. The vast emptiness and isolation that envelope us inevitably made us reflect on our insignificance. We also thought about our loved ones so far away, but mostly, we focused on the person’s tracks ahead of us, and in those instances of deep concentration, it was easy to be present in the moment.
When at the end of our journey, we finally rode into the coastal fishing town of Sisimiut, the second-largest city in Greenland with a few thousand people, it felt so strange to be back to civilization after days in the vast emptiness of the Arctic Trail. There were cars, snowmobiles, dog sleds, people walking in the snowy streets, staring at our convoy of bikes. Suddenly we realized… that’s it, we had done it! We had succeeded in becoming the first all-female team to fat bike the frozen lands of the Arctic Circle Trail of Greenland. The sense of happiness and pride was powerful, and we were overwhelmed with emotion. Yet it was the experience as a team that bonded us, more than the achievement in itself.
There is no doubt that Greenland’s savage beauty has cast a spell on us. This land so wild and remote has a fragility to it that is calling us to wake up to a new world reality. We are all connected to it somehow, and our destiny seems interlinked with its very survival. Nations, like individuals, come to light at times of crisis. Indeed, what happens in the Arctic, does not stay in the Arctic, but will undoubtedly shape humanity’s future and survival, sooner than we think. The question is whether each of us will do our part to safeguard our planet and it’s most vulnerable, or just be a bystander.
Christine Amour-Levar is a Filipina philanthropist, adventurer, entrepreneur, and author. A passionate advocate of female empowerment and environmental conservation, she set up Women on a Mission (WOAM) and HER Planet Earth, two award-winning not-for-profit organizations. The organizations take all-female teams on challenging, often pioneering expeditions to off-the-beaten-track locations around the world to support worthy causes. HER Planet Earth’s primary objective is to raise awareness and funds for underprivileged women affected by climate change, while WOAM aims to support and empower women who have been subjected to violence and abuse.