We’ve always maintained that risk plus adversity, over time, equals resilience right?! Well, we’re super happy to say that we can now add accomplishment to the end of that statement!!!! Planning for this learning trip was nothing short of interesting!!! From the COVID restrictions changing what felt like daily to the shear logistics of actually getting to the beautiful area of Umea. After arranging and rearranging several times with the marvelous Toby Cowern we finally locked in our training in October! Even though there were still a lot of hoops to jump through, we finally set the trip in stone….. And booked our flights!!!
We couldn’t travel directly to Sweden so we chose to transit through Norway (which is where we are in January 2022 so it was good to get to grips with that airport!) From there we hired a car to cross into Sweden (permitted). This was a journey not to be sniffed at….. 13 hours of driving through the night on the other side of the road and on roads that were sometimes questionable as roads, well that was an adventure in itself!!! But, such adversity makes it all worth it right? Well, we weren’t disappointed, we arrived at one of the most beautiful areas. Robertsfors, just north of Umea. This was the start of our REAL training, everything we’ve been discussing and planning with Toby, changing and adapting to the seasons, and all made possible by adapting to change.
As you may be able to see from the photos, our team was sadly missing 2 members. Alison had work commitments she couldn’t get out of, and Nakita got ill on the eve of our departure, and the travel would have been impossible for her. So we proceeded as a 3; ready to soak up as much knowledge as possible to take back to the other girls.
Toby was kindly putting us up in his Air BnB, so we got there at 2.30 in the morning and were rather excitable and loud (sorry to Toby’s upstairs neighbour!). After some sleep we met Toby in the morning, and hit it off instantly, like we knew we would! He gave us a brief tour of Robertsfors, which is absolutely stunning and we we’re all blown away by the peace, calm and beauty. Toby apologised for the ‘traffic’ of which we saw precisely 4 people – a welcome level of traffic after the craziness of London!
Then he started to outline what we would be covering during our stay in Umea. On the agenda was sleeping systems, tent erection, cooking, camping duties & organisation, travelling as a team, cold injuries and casualty drills. Toby is a survival expert, and knowledgeable in so many polar scenarios and wilderness thriving, that we instantly knew we were in safe hands. He had put so much thought into our expedition, and how we would need to organise ourselves in order to be as efficient as possible – we soon found ourselves addressing tiny details that might seem trivial, but they can make or break an expedition. There is no ‘winging it’ in Antarctica; so we covered everything, and I mean everything!
Some of this comprised theory work and discussions around the most efficient practices, and there was also lots of practical work involving tent routines and camping that made us very happy to be out in the field doing things after so many months of planning! We did some exploring of Sweden and camped out one night to put our newly learned skills into practice, with Toby close by to start with to see how we got on – he recorded 11 minutes for the tent to go up and the stove on to get water boiling. Not too shabby but we can definitely cut that down!
Our final day was spent learning some camp craft skills, collective firewood and learning which trees to select for the wood & bark. We all made a campfire and collectively cooked breakfast for ourselves after our night camping out. It was a real back-to-nature experience and something we all immensely enjoyed!
As the day came to an end we discussed any questions and changes to our routines before our last supper with Toby and his daughter, where we ate Kroppkator (Swedish potato balls) which were the densest things we have ever eaten! During dinner Toby surprised us with exciting news that there was a very high chance of seeing the Northern lights! Something none of us had thought about and what an amazing surprise it was! Toby called us when it was starting, and we all rushed into our clothes and out of the door like it was a work shout! We spent over an hour watching the magical Aurora which was just mesmerising, and a lifelong dream come true for Nikki who studied planetary science at university.
The trip was a great success, Sweden a wonderful country and Toby a huge asset to us. It was a real family effort to make our trip so special as Toby’s Mum Patricia as a qualified photographer took some incredible photos for us, and with the help of Toby’s Daughter Angel (the significance of her name is not lost on us!) made the most delicious Swedish meals that we couldn’t wait to tuck into! We will be visiting again next year for more training with the whole team and hopefully Northern lights!
By Georgina Gilbert, Nikki Upton & Rebecca Rowe