Where is it illegal to die, and bears overcount humans, how to grow icicles under your nose, does it hurt to run stepping on hedgehogs, how to mark the planet and why am I a moron?

The Dream

As a child, I used to read a lot, as all my generation did, in fact. I was particularly fascinated by science fiction and travel stories. I often fancied myself a polar explorer skiing across the icy desert to the North Pole. After my expeditions, my mom wasn’t able to find the ironing board (the sledge I used to carry my provisions), and my dad regularly found his fishing rods broken (the ski broken by the polar bear).

As I got older, my dreams kinda got lost in a pile of more important things — family, career, projects, home, car and well-being. But when I heard of the North Pole marathon, I blew the dust off my shelved dream, rubbed it with a cloth and hung it on the wall in my office to see it every day and not forget it anymore.

For three years I used to look at it, then at the website, then at the price list, sigh and continue work, putting money aside. And finally I realized that I could not wait any longer – and I ventured upon it. I bought a slot and started to prepare.

Preparation for the snow marathon is nothing special – you just need to run a lot, preferably in the snow and cold. And that’s what I actually did, since I was in perfect condition after Malaga marathon. To feel the true winter, I flew to my parents in Orenburg, where I ran at -25 ° C in the snow, I also ran through snowy woods in Moscow, and in February I crossed 170 km in the Rubicon ultramarathon. In other words, I’ve had enough winter and snow…

And so, having celebrated the birthday of Simpals on April 1, I stuffed my suitcase with expensive clothes for temperatures of -100 ° C and below, and promising my beloved to keep my nose from frostbite, I flew to Spitsbergen to join a group of 60 people, who were shivering with impatience to run on top of the world.

Spitsbergen

Spitsbergen is an archipelago located between the North Pole and Europe. In Norway it is known as Svalbard. Eternal frosts, endless snowflakes and polar bears frequently encountered – that’s how Spitsbergen looks like in general. Here is the northernmost city in the world, here is the northernmost airport and here are the northernmost busts of Vladimir Lenin standing on the ground.

And so we arrived in the capital of the archipelago – Longyearbyen. Probably the weirdest city ever seen.

Weird but so cool!

The weird things started when I saw folks wearing guns— it turned out that you can not get out of the city without a gun, because you risk being eaten by polar bears. Especially because there are 4000 bears on the archipelago and only 2500 people. At the same time, you’re not allowed to kill the bears, it’s a crime. The question arises — …. well, you got it, a weird place…

Or, for example, it is illegal to die on Svalbard, because there is no place for burial – the bears come by the smell. I wonder, how are punished those who break this law? Community service?

Not to mention the “barefooted” rule—at the entrance to all public institutions you need to take off your shoes and walk in your socks. Well, at the reception in the hotel it’s ok, but in the restaurant my socks were streaming such an aroma that my waiter changed twice. But rules are rules,  I can not sit at the table in shoes like a fool. Well, where is my whale steak!

By the way, only here you can taste the meat of a whale, a seal and a reindeer. The latter is especially good, mmm. But the whale tastes a bit like liver. Quite an expensive treat  — 50 euros for a piece of meat.

No question about it, everything here is expensive. Bread, tomatoes, apples are 5 € each, a modest breakfast – 30 €, dinner – 70 €.  At first I showed off in restaurants (there are about ten of them here), but a week later, I went to the only local store, filled the 50 € basket and ate the whole day what I wanted.

I really liked the local people – they are open and friendly. The hostesses of the guesthouses in which I lived were friendly, as if I were their son —they would feed you, give you something to drink,  braid you, ask you questions, give you compassion, and put you to bed. I even managed to bake a cake.

By the way, in Longyearbyen no one closes the door – there’s zero crime rate. This means that someone can sneak up at night and, for example, leave some money on your windowsill. In the city there are no homeless people and beggars, all residents mainly work and have enough means for their existence. Kind of polar socialism.

The place is inhabited by 40 nationalities – such an impromptu Noah’s Ark. I’ve seen folks of all kinds – from Chinese to Mexicans, from white to black. It is explained by the fact that Svalbard is a visa-free zone under the Spitsbergen Treaty, and the citizens of all the states that have signed it have the right to visit the archipelago and live without a visa.

The name of arch is reinforced by the Global Seed Vault, where over 800,000 seeds samples from all over the world are safely kept in permafrost. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault’s mission is to provide a safety net against accidental loss of diversity in the event of a global catastrophe (for example, the fall of an asteroid or nuclear war).

In Longyearbyen, a full-fledged infrastructure for living and working has been created: a shopping center, a clinic, a kindergarten, a school, a culture palace, a sports center, a library and even a church. There is an airport, a hospital, two museums, a bus system, and a local newspaper. A university center has been built, where approximately 350 students are studying. It’s a miracle!

There are many tourist attractions for all: kayaking, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, ice caves, dog sledding, trips on icebreakers, museums, balloons – and that’s just what I know.

“Too bad I won’t be able to try them all in only two days” —I thought with regret, not aware I would soon receive a letter from the organizers. Having read it in the evening, I realized that there’s plenty of time for everything. The letter was saying that, due to weather conditions, the start is postponed for a week!

In fact, I was really sad.  It happened that I had to leave for a long time, but this time I felt especially lonely. Two days later, I already missed my family, my children and my wife —I longed  to prepare for Easter, to have fun on holiday, finally to plunge in spring and heat. But instead I will have to live in this harsh land for seven more days, away from family, friends and my warm, cozy swamp. And I’ll be alone for Easter. Brrr …

Hold on. You have to think positively.

— Are you stuck in one of the weirdest places in the world? — Yes.

— Is there anything to do here?  — Sure!

— Then why the f**k are you whining?

Sure enough… Let’s go!

So, first thing, I wanna make my childhood dream come true —I’ll go dog sledding. Husky dogs are incredible, so energetic and affectionate that you can only look at them smiling like an idiot.  I always thought all the huskies were black-and-white and blue-eyed. But in fact, they are very different, like humans. The only thing that unites them is love for people and running.

When it comes to sled dogs, in Svalbard no one prepares your “crew”. You have to meet the dogs yourself and fasten them to the harness.

On the magnetic board, the guide arranges chips with dogs’ names. Some four-legged friends have to rest after hard work yesterday, and others – to work harder.

After a briefing, it turned out that the dogs need to be harnessed, starting with those that run ahead. It’s not easy to get your crew right, finding the dogs by their name on the magnetic board – there are 150 there!

While some dogs are not yet fastened, others are already rushing to the road. At this moment, you have to be careful not to tangle the harnesses and have them all fixed correctly.

And finally, here we go! Video:

Then I planned to ride the snowmobile. I’m riding to the neighboring village of Barentsburg, the only Russian settlement that was preserved in the Spitsbergen archipelago after the collapse of the USSR. I’m not sort of an enthusiastic driver, even if I have a driver’s license – I still don’t get it, how I convinced the instructor to let me drive on our roads. But the snowmobile is quite different (I thought so), and so we’re riding!

After I drove the first 10 km, it turned out that I like to drive a car. The snow blizzard began – a visibility of 3 meters, the road is not visible, just rushing in the group behind the ones ahead, trying to keep up as you’re ju-ju-jum-ping-ping over snow bumps.

They stopped us and suggested going back because of bad weather, as there were 130 more cheerful kilometers ahead (70 km each way). We kept silence and looked firmly toward the horizon, as if in reproach to the guide:

— Stop shaking the air with meaningless words, it’s a long way to go!

He got it, sighed, and our sorrows continued. Twice my engine stopped, and the whole column stopped, too. A couple of times I almost turned over at a speed of 60 km per hour at a turn and bumps , once I lost sight and got lost. In short, I enjoyed it.

Of all the unforgettable landscapes, I best remember this one. As you’re admiring it, a whole story come sto your head: A man was riding a snowmobile and suddenly…

Three hours later, when I caught sight of the first living quarters, I was as happy as a husky when it sees its master. We arrived in Barentsburg.

There are only 450 people here, but anyway, it is one of the largest settlements in Spitsbergen. Earlier they used to extract coal here. Now, however, it is a place of observation and research for geographers, glaciologists, biologists and other scientists.

Then they took us for a bite to the only cafe in the village, where I, my hands trembling with tension, tried to bring a spoonful of soup to my mouth. After resting and relaxing, we met the locals who told us about the settlement.

Most of its residents come there for two to three years to earn money for living on the “big land”, but many of them bring their families to the village, and some remain here for decades. In Barentsburg, there is a necessary infrastructure for life: shops, a hospital, a canteen, a school and a kindergarten, a community center, as well as a coal-fired power plant and a boiler room. But most of all I was caught by the Soviet spirit, present in every yard of this land.

And then, when my butt stopped aching and hands shaking, I decided to have a trip on the icebreaker. In Svalbard, it’s as simple as limousine in our country. Sure, the icebreaker was not a nuclear one, rather a small one on diesel fuel, for thin ice and a warm water. But still an ICEBREAKER. We strolled up to the Pyramid and back, breaking the glacier and admiring the tanning seals.

In a word, the week went too quickly and finally the day of the briefing arrived. We were gathered in a hotel, treated to beer and given time to meet each other. Then they talked about the track, security, polar bears, the risk of frostbite, and gave us recommendations about the equipment.

And here I had an unexpected meeting. Incredibly, I met the girl with whom I ran the first Chisinau Marathon — Adriana Istrate from Romania. What a lucky meeting!

After we got our participation numbers and T-shirts, we went home, where Odie, our host arranged for us an amazing waffle-party (a national carbohydrate bomb) with homemade wildberry jam, and a welcoming atmosphere as an appetizer. Thank you, Odie – you were like a mother to us! We ate everything we could and went to sleep, because tomorrow we’re flying to the Pole.

In ten days at this end of the world, I adapted to the 24-hour-a-day shining sun, cold, weird customs and frenzied prices. But the epic views of snow-capped peaks, the sea, grazing reindeer, the clean air and the smell of adventure made me definitely fall in love with this place.

Now I’m your fan, Svalbard!

Barneo

You know, when the plane lands at the airport in Chisinau and there is a storm of applause, I always fancy the pilot standing up in his cockpit and bowing to the passengers. It always amused me, since nobody’s applauding the maxi-taxi driver, who actually risks just as much.

But when I landed on a glacier and the plane swung sharply, jumped on bumps, and the brake turbines howled in the voice of a wounded tyrannosaur, I really wanted to clap my hands. And now, for the first time I applaud the pilots, looking at the blue tents through the small window. It’s Barneo.

The drifting ice camp “Barneo” is- the only stopover on the way to the North Pole. It’s the only settlement in the world, located on a glacier, 50-100 km away from the pole. Moreover, it moves along with the drifting ice at a speed of about 0.6 km / h, approaching the North Pole or moving away from it, depending on the wind. The ice floe on which the camp is located is up to two meters thick, and there are four kilometers of water beneath.

The ice camp is set up annually, since 2000, by the Russian Geographical Society. It is built only for a month and a half, in April, when the polar day has already come, but there is not enough sun to melt the ice, the wind is not strong and the temperature does not drop below -30 degrees. The camp is built from scratch. First, the right glacier is chosen from the air, then the builders, the tractors and the fuel are disembarked. The guys build a landing strip, where AN-74 will arrive, carrying residential tents, equipment, supplies and people.

There are 12 heated residential modules, 2 wardrooms and several technical rooms installed at the camp.

For a month and a half Barneo is visited by about 250 tourists from around the world. All of them come from Spitsbergen, there is no other way. The most popular “entertainments” in the camp are ski trips to the pole, parachute jumping, hot-air ballooning, snowmobile, dog sleds, ice diving and, of course, the marathon.

We get off the plane and freeze: an endless snowy plain with piles of ice, a bright and cold sun. We are welcomed by the Russians. Everything is the way it should be — ear-flapped hats, felt boots and “Добро пожаловать!” (in Russian, welcome).

At once everyone goes to the restaurant. The northernmost restaurant is a large tent, heated by a gas stove. Inside is the kitchen and fifty seats on the benches. There are no waiters, tablecloths, glasses of wine, toothpicks and menus. But there is buckwheat, pickled cucumbers and rissoles. Simple, clear  and sincere. I’m telling you a secret – I always got extra buckwheat, more than anyone else, as I was the only Russian speaker among the marathoners.

We met the whole Barneo team, who told us the rules of local life and sent us to settle on modules.

A residential module is a stove-heated tent designed for 10 people.

The toilet is outside, of course, but pee and poo are done in separate places. Scary to sit at minus 30 on the toilet rim, as you can freeze there. But as you sit you see it’s warm. A miracle!

Not far from the camp there is a helipad, from where you can reach the pole in half an hour. The guys stand behind the tents and smoke. I come up and introduce myself, and suddenly one of them says he did military service in Chisinau in Durlesti, which is not far from my summer house. It was incredible to hear this word at the North Pole.

There is a strict rule at the camp: no garbage – the smell of food may attract polar bears, so everything is as clean as in a surgery room.  Garbage is taken from here by airplanes and transported to the big land.

Having settled in tents, everyone gathered in the wardroom, where they gave us the last instructions and wished us good luck. We met each other, once again had a meal, then went to get ready for the race.

Getting ready

The route of the polar marathon is uncomplicated – 10 circles of 4.2 km.  Of these, the 1 km distance must be crossed along the landing strip and 3 km in the open field. The route looks very unusual – because of the moving glacier, on which we ran. Its moving speed is about 100 meters per hour.

It all depends on weather. There are years with little snow, fast track and results two hours better than other years, when there is a lot of snow (as today), fresh and not hard enough. Therefore, it won’t be easy. But I got it only after the start…

The start is in four hours, time to get ready. First of all, food. The organizers told us that, for clear and cold reasons, there will be no hydration and feed zones along the route. That is why we will have to take the necessary things to a tent placed next to the route. Once in 4.2 km, we can go there to warm up, eat, drink, talk to other runners, change our clothes, and even sleep. Everyone has a place on the table to put his stuff. I took four gels, two cola jars and a bottle of water. Very modest by local standards – many people had hot food in thermoses, a lot of bottles with colorful liquids, plasters, warm clothes, some medicines. In short, folks got very well prepared.

Time to get dressed. True dilemma. Folks are dressed not just warm but very warm – 4 layers of clothes, 2 pairs of gloves, with a hidden face under a ski mask and balaclava, two pairs of socks and chemical heaters. Sure, most of them came from the Philippines, China, South Africa, Brazil. For them, zero degrees is already the limit of life and death, and -30 ° C is hard to imagine. But we are hardened Moldovans, eager to get on the pedestal, so we don’t need to carry extra weight. So, here we go:

  1. Warm thermal underwear;
  2. Primaloft insulated shirt;
  3. Windproof jacket and pants;
  4. One pair of merino wool socks;
  5. Footwear – lightweight Salomon S/Lab;
  6. Primaloft windproof gloves;
  7. A cap on my head;
  8. Glasses on my eyes;
  9. Adhesive band on my nose.

It’s going to be a bit cool, but I’ll be at least able to run as fast as possible. Most of the doubt is caused by the shoes – it’s not clear how cold it’s gonna be and, most importantly, how slippery and fast.

Here it is clearly visible that all adequate people run in balaclava and masks. Well, almost all…

15 minutes before the start, we were pushed out of the warm huts and lined up beside the starting arch.

The North Pole Marathon 2018 was dedicated to Alexandr Orlov, who died in April last year. Alexandr was in charge of setting up the Barneo camp every year, starting with the first marathon in 2002. A minute of silence was announced on the start line, and Ted Jackson sang in his honor.

On your marks!

Get set, go! Under the hooting and joyful cries of people, who have been waiting for this moment for a few years, the race started!

I was standing in the front row, that’s why I took off among the first. The task for the first circle is to run among the first three or four, which I did on the first kilometer. There’s a tough layer of snow beneath the legs, allowing for gentle run, though my face is slightly frostbitten. The weather was beautiful: -27 ° C, weak wind, sun and high humidity, which increased the frost and it felt like -35 ° C. By the way, it is very strange to run at midnight, squinting from the sun.

We’re running, crunching over snow.  I’m in the third position, the first two detached from the start. Well, let’s fight for third place. Another “polar explorer” is getting so close behind, but nobody is seen following him. Excellent. It’s easy to run, only my feet are getting cold a bit. But it’s my choice – reducing load on bottom part so as to run faster. That’s either fast or convenient – everyone chooses what he likes. But we, the Moldovans, love taking pains – for the same reason I decided not to wear a balaclava, as I can’t breathe in it. And I had to breathe a lot.

My inner dialogue was suddenly interrupted by a turn from the landing strip to the open field. And here came the nightmare: running on the snow crust that caved in, my feet sank about 15 centimeters deep into the snow. As I pulled out one foot, the other one sank, and so on. The tempo dropped to 7 min / km. Quite a surprise… My narrow Salomons broke the ice like icebreakers, and I realized that I got the wrong shoes on. Even more, trying to keep up with the first two runners, I raised my pulse to 170.

So, on the third kilometer, with a frozen nose, gasping for breath, skidding in the snow, I understood why the results of this race differ from ordinary marathons. It took me another ten minutes to calm down, quench my emotions and start my cold thinking. Fortunately, on the pole it’s possible due to the icy wind, whipping you on the cheeks.

— Get your shit together, — the wind was saying. — Use beam!

And I did. First —I need to slow down, otherwise I won’t get to the finish. Let the newbies rush forward, see them later. Second —I gotta change my shoes, since I took with me the wide HOKA sneakers, in which ran Marathon Des Sables.  Yes, I will lose time on this, but in the “icebreakers” I will lose even more.

Having left the first circle behind, I stopped and plunged into the tent. It’s good I got the experience of transit zones in the triathlon. And so I rush inside, with one hand I drag the Salomons off of my legs, and with the other I put on the Hoka pair, and in 15 seconds I’m back on the route. What a weird chill ran down my toes… Weird? But what did you expect of summer shoes with trendy ventilated mesh, and a pair of socks at the North Pole, Dmitri? Maybe a miracle?

As I was changing my shoes, I lost one more position, but now I was reducing distance. One more kilometer and I’ll bypass the guy. It’s getting harder to run – 60 runners have finished the first circle, leaving behind a snowy ruffled porridge, in which everyone got stuck like in a swamp.

Circular routes have one more minus, as you run you don’t know your position, and you don’t know whom you’re bypassing – a slow runner or number three. Because of my glasses, it was hard for me to see who was running ahead. Actually, I put them in order to see better. But now that they started to sweat, I had to wipe them permanently. I wiped them twice, then gave up and shoved them in my pocket. And so I ran up to the finish, enjoying a clear picture in front of my eyes.

Do you know how to grow a mustache fast? Go to the North Pole, run 20 kilometers without a balaclava, and I guarantee you a white smart ice mustache and a frost beard. I periodically “shaved” myself, but icicles under my nose would rise again in an hour. So I gave up the idea and  ran in Santa style until the finish. And it would have been all right if the slight  draft in the sneakers would not have turned into the breath of the Snow Queen. Thousands of needles stuck into my fingers, as if I were running along the hedgehogs.

I glanced at the watch and saw … the black screen. But how? I just charged it up to 100%. How could it run out of charge? Cut my legs off and call me shorty! In such brass monkey weather, my watch that I was wearing over my jacket sleeve “died” after 15 km. Cursing myself but without stopping, I moved the watch under my coat, on my wrist, in a hope it would start working. And really, after warming it up, I turned on my Fenix ​​5 and it started working. I set up a new training, because the battery was still 30%.

There was a white silence around us, interrupted by the crunch of snow and the jingle of icicles on the nose.

On the fifth circle I decided to go into the food tent to swallow a gel. To my surprise, the folks there were not hurrying at all – there were about ten participants who dried their clothes, slowly eating the snickers and discussing the marathon. Someone was changing clothes, someone was lying down and looking at the ceiling, and someone else flew in, squeezed the gel into his mouth, washed it with water and flew out like a bullet. That was me. But many come not for the result or position. For most it’s just a stroll on top of the world. Not for a Moldovan guy.

The next few circles I wanted to see a white bear on the horizon so I could move faster. But the horizon was clean, and the men with weapons hinted that there would be no live doping. At the briefing, they warned us that the bears are walking around Barneo and that we shouldn’t panic if we see a bear, because the guard does not sleep and will scare the beasts away.

My toes no longer ached – I just did not feel them. But I could not stop to warm them up and put on a pair of socks realizing that there was a prize-winning place at stake. Although I have long ceased to understand where I am now, and running past the finish line and asking my position while on the move, I received different answers – from the fifth to the third. I was guided by unusual characters whom I bypassed, amazed at their motivation:

Blind runner with his assistant

Husky with its assistant

Harsh Irishman with a non-racing appearance.

Four hours after the start, when the finish was less than ten kilometers away, I felt that one gel was not enough and I needed my cola, which was in store for me in the tent. My run was no more a run, although to be frank, I had not seen running people for a long time. Everyone was walking. Probably, to them I seemed like Usain Bolt, sweeping past them like a wind at a speed of 8 km per hour. Motivation grew weaker with every kilometer. Indeed, why run, if you can not catch up with the fore-running guys, and there is no rival from behind. But still, who is there behind actively bypassing the pedestrians?

At the turn I looked more attentively and saw that a fellow was confidently reducing the distance, about two hundred meters behind me.  In my head, frozen and stunted with struggle, some questions arose: where did he come from, why didn’t I see him running earlier, where he found forces on the 35th, and the main thing – what to do? The plan to run to the tent for cola does not work anymore, because in a minute he’ll bypass me. But running without carbohydrates will get harder with every step. Ahead is another circle of 4 km, and the rival “pretender” has reduced distance by 100 meters. I realized that it’s gonna be a life and death struggle, so, gathering the rest of my forces, I accelerated.

As long as I remember, I never stared at rivals during competitions – it seemed to me, it gives them a signal that you are afraid, have no more strength and you panic. They include the instinct of the predator, get new forces and bypass you. But today I unintentionally gave him a sign, and he came to life. My clogged and frozen feet could no longer run faster along this snowy tiny bit. I growled, trying to change gear, but the engine only snorted, threatening to completely die out.

There was one kilometer to the finish as we turned to the air strip full of trampled snow. The pretender was running fifty meters behind and I heard his heavy breathing. I often got a second wind during training, but now a third one came to me. Together with the fourth. And the fifth. I took off to the finish without feeling my legs. He also did. The intrigue grew with the frequency of breathing and the length of the icicle under my nose.

From the outside it looked like two unhurried joggers warming up before the race, but the reality was much more severe. We fought for a place in the Polar Marathon, the one we had been dreaming about for so many years.

The finish came ahead. Suddenly, I stopped hearing the heavy breathing behind. Looking back, I realized that the fellow gave up, apparently he also had a hard time. And so, on the last hundred meters, my fifth breath left me, then the fourth, third, second and finally the first left me crushed in front of the finish arch. Exhausted, I took the flag of Moldova, crossed the finish line with it and took the medal from Richard’s hands.

Congratulations, my friend! You are the second!

At first I didn’t get what he said. My decarbohydrated brain refused to work. But when Richard showed me two fingers and patted my shoulder, I finally got the meaning of his words.

Cut my legs off and call me shorty!  I finished second!!! Five hours three minutes. And 8 seconds later there finished my rival…

Cut my legs off and call me shorty! Twice!

So, it was right to fight fora place under the polar sun! People with a camera ran up to me and asked for a clever idea. After all, everyone knows that the first athletes, dying from overstrain at the finish, always have something to say to the world. I never heard Kipchoge’s speech at the finish line, but in my head it was empty. The maximum that I could squeeze out was an unconvincing “amazing”, seasoned with a couple of flat “wow”s…

And then I slapped myself on the ice cap on my forehead – My mom! It’s her birthday today!

Weird enough, but exactly a year ago I stood under the scorching sun in the Sahara Desert, at the finish of MDS, and wished a happy birthday to my mom. And the best gift for her was me – alive and unharmed. And now, today, I’m offering her the same gift again, only in the form of ice cream. She is very worried about me, but realizing that it’s my lifestyle, she allows me to attend all these crazy races. Because she loves me for real. The way only a Mother can.

— I’m alive, as promised, I love you and happy birthday !!!

As a proof, I broke off the icicles from my nose and smiled broadly.

The sun blinded my eyesight that I could hardly see the time on the watch — 4 a.m., time to go to bed. But first a snack. Cola, buckwheat, cola, a bar, congratulations, bread with jam, again congratulation. Again some food. And again congratulations. So came the morning, the “cafe” was getting more and more overcrowded. Beer and whiskey poured in streams. Nobody wanted to go to sleep. They would hug each other in congratulations, and everybody drank what they could and as much as they could. No wonder, as today we’re flying to the geographic North Pole!

The Pole

After dinner they told us we’re flying to the Pole. Hooray! At last! We warmly dressed, charged the devices and went to the helipad.

They stuffed into brand-new helicopters and, ears clogged with the rumble, in half an hour dropped us off on the pole.

The first thing I did was get my gps-navigator and found the very point I had been dreaming about for so long.

There they stuck the sign – and the whole thing started!

The Chinese raised up their cameras, the Irishmen sang songs and drank whiskey, and the Moldovans ran around the globe, crossing all the meridians in 10 seconds.

And so they’ve had enough roundabouts around the earth’s axis and plenty of pictures, everybody got on the warm helicopters. Only one person was missing. Hey,folks, who’s missing? Where is the Moldovan? Meanwhile the Moldovan crept up to the earth’s axis, opened his shop-door and…the skunk, marked it! Greeting laughter and “give me five” in the helicopter confirmed that my dream came true!

On the isle

Next morning we’re flying to Spits. That’s what we thought, getting into our sleeping bags and tossing about, already fancying ourselves in the bathroom or in a soft warm bed. But things went wrong, and in the morning we got up on an isle.

At “night”, the ice on which we were peacefully sleeping, cracked right across the runway and along our running route. It is not known what would have happened if this river appeared yesterday during the marathon … I think we would have jumped over it on every circle, and those who reached the edge would finish, and those who did not … well, let’s not talk about sad things.

As the runway turned into two banks of the river, no one is flying anywhere. The cracks made their way so that we were on a huge ice floe cut off by the river from the rest of the ice cap, drifting slowly at a speed of one hundred meters an hour in an unknown direction.

We gotta celebrate, that’s what we thought, because another day on the pole is not equal to one day in the office, so we need to get most out of the situation!  And so, while the Russian guys were building a new runway, I was thinking about a new adventure. Maybe I should…

Run about with a bare chest… No, in my trunks alone! Right. And, and… Riding a bike, yes! It’s a pity there’s no ice-hole and it’s strictly forbidden to swim, otherwise I would have a triathlon.

Although duathlon at the North Pole sounds fun, too!

And so, Yellow snow is not good snow!

Marathoners ran out of the tents, the Chinese clicked their cameras, the Irishmen ran into the tent to warm me up with whiskey, and the Russians offered me a double portion of buckwheat with meat. Thanks guys for support, and many thanks for help in filming to my new friends: Bogdan Bulychev from Russia, Eleanor & Stephen Pienaar from the ZAR, Alexander Rüdiger from Austria, Wojtek Wiwatowski and Joanna Medras from Poland.

Home

And finally, we’re flying home. Everyone is tired of the cold, deprivation and information hunger. A huge AN-74 lands and we get inside. Everyone sticks to the tiny windows and sadly bids farewell to the smallest human settlement in the world at the North Pole, with the hospitable Barneo, with the guys who remain here and, most importantly, with those crazy days that we’ll never forget. If only Alzheimer doesn’t get us…

The Irishmen pulled out another bottle of whiskey from somewhere and 2.5 hours went too quickly.  Longyear, civilization, 3 a.m., we’re going to our guesthouse, and there comes a surprise: our hostess Oddny found out when the plane would arrive and threw a party. After all, amazing people live on Spitsbergen…

After a short sleep I fly to Oslo, then to Warsaw and, finally, exhausted, land in Chisinau. After such a frantic voyage, I’m swaying as my closing eyelids do. I take my suitcase, crawl out to the airport with a single thought – going to sleep, and then…

I realize that I’m sleeping: a huge three-meter-high white bear with a poster is meeting me…

I rub my eyes and see that the bear is not alone —my family and friends are meeting me! What a great surprise, such a gift —kids rushing to embrace me, asking me questions, touching my frostbitten nose, congratulating me. And what’s there in the box? Wow, that’s my favorite treat – Kiev cake!

Everyone’s jumping around, the polar bear is trying to shake my hand, kids are pulling me home as I seem off amidst this hubbub and realize that for the sake of such minutes it’s worth running in one pair of socks, frostbiting your toes, starving, counting each calorie, breaking down at the races, fighting for the result.

After all, this is the feeling that can not be had for money, for which we are chasing all the time, ready to give everything in exchange. It’s a feeling that you live. You don’t exist but live life to the full. And there’s so much life in you that it splashes over the edge. And you… You greedily drink it with big mouthfuls, in a broad smile, and share it with your beloved ones.

PS: When I first went to the pool after arrival and told my coach about the second! place in the North Pole Marathon, he looked at me attentively, put his arm around my shoulder and asked:

— Want to hear a joke?

— Go ahead — I said with a smile, not aware of the tricky part.

— Come listen it:

The wife curses her husband:

— You’re a f*cking moron! At home you’re a moron, at work you’re a moron, in bed, too, you’re a moron!

If they had an international contest for morons, you’d get second place there!

The husband says aggrievedly:

— Why second place, not first?!

— Because you’re a moron!!

The moron sighed, plunged into the pool and started to swim lap by lap, imagining that he’s crossing the ocean aswim…

PS: After all, I got my nose frost-bitten, so I broke my promise, sorry honey. But all the rest is allright :)