Team Refuge braves cold and bears to lead Polar Race after second leg
OSBORNE ISLAND, Canadian Arctic, April 24 (UNHCR) - A team of two young Britons hoping to raise £250,000 (US$495,000) for the UN refugee agency are leading a gruelling 640-kilometre endurance race to the magnetic North Pole after braving cold and encounters with polar bears.
Team Refuge, along with five other adventurous teams, set out earlier this month from Canada's Cornwallis Island in the Polar Race 2007 and over the weekend finished the second leg of the four-stage journey, covering more than 120 miles in just a few days. Half the distance of the race, which is expected to last four weeks, is now completed.
According to the Polar Race website, Team Refuge is now in the lead with a race time of 8 days 4 hours 53 minutes and 53 seconds, ahead of its nearest rival, Polar Horizon, with a time of 8 days 11 hours 31 minutes and 24 seconds.
The team, sponsored by Arch Insurance Company (Europe) Ltd., is now busy repairing equipment and resting up after the rigours of the second leg at a re-supply point on Osborne Island.
"We've taken a bit of a battering over the last few days," said Team Refuge member Jake Morland, who has worked in places like Iraq, East Timor, Sri Lanka and the Sudan for the refugee agency over the past seven years.
"Rather than polar bears, the cold has been our biggest concern. The thermometer may only read minus 20 but with wind chill that's closer to minus 65! Just staying warm is a battle," Morland added.
Team Refuge member and teacher James Turner says he is dealing with the hardship of the race by dreaming of his arrival back in Ottawa after the race ends next month.
"A pint of beer and food that isn't boil-in-the-bag takes my mind off bruised feet and aching bones. It also allows me to open my eyes and enjoy the surroundings."
Trekking over the frozen Arctic by foot or ski, pulling heavy sleds carrying food and survival equipment, Team Refuge are learning to read the striations on the snow, using the sun to navigate and recognising snow which is safe to melt and drink rather than snow salty from the seawater.
However, encounters with local wildlife - three polar bears and two Arctic wolves - have been the highlight of the trip so far, says Team Refuge.
"My first thought was surprise, then I yelled, 'Bear! Bear! Bear!' The bear and I looked at each other, he sniffed the air, turned and disappeared into the ice rubble," said Turner recalling an encounter with a polar bear. "It was close."
Arch Insurance (Europe) has given Team Refuge £40,000 (US$80,000) to cover the costs of the race, which means that all additional funds raised will go straight to UNHCR. The public will be able to continue donating to the team through the rest of this year.
Morland says he wants to earmark £250,000 ($495,000) for a special trust fund to cover urgent medical evacuations for refugee children and a quick access fund for field officers to bypass too much paperwork.