Text: Julia Natasza Gundersen Photo: Caroline Coté and Vincent Colliard
Caroline Coté and Vincent Colliard packed their sledges and set out on a 63-day trip across Svalbard's largest island, Spitsbergen. From north to south, in the middle of winter, with the goal of being the first to cross the island self-sufficiently in the darkest and coldest season. The trip not only gave them a unique polar experience, it also motivated them to embrace the simple life, both for themselves and for the environment.
- On a trip like this, you learn to live with little, and you become good at appreciating what you have. This is an important lesson we have wanted to take with us into daily life. The fact that we have each other, that we can enjoy the little things and that we can enjoy the beautiful nature around us is the most important thing of all.
It was February 2, 2021 that the two adventurers left Longyearbyen and embarked on a journey that would take them 1100 kilometers over frozen landscape, for more than two months. They only had each other and 260kg of food and equipment distributed among themselves in the sledges. The project was called "Polar Shadows".
- One step at a time and one and one pole vault at a time until we reached the finish line. It was largely about putting our own egos aside, and working together for progress. A positive attitude will always win, cooperation will always mean victory. Preparation is the key to success. We had our goal as a guideline; to be the first to cross Spitsbergen from north to south, in the middle of the polar winter. The love for each other and for the fantastic nature on Svalbard motivated us going forward.
"A positive attitude will always win, cooperation will always mean victory."
There is something very special about leaving the camp, looking back and knowing that you will never return to that very landscape, to that very place. It is so overwhelming to stand in the contrast of leaving the security somewhere has given you, and then meeting the unknown that lies before you. Our whole trip consisted of that; set up the tent every day, pack it down the next morning with new energy and new courage. We were in constant motion for two months and we had to enjoy every moment. It helped us take away the unnecessary stress that we constantly carry with us in the modern world.
There are many things that have stuck in the memory after the long trip. Caroline and Vince created a quiet community, where they supported and helped each other at all times; even when it stormed the worst.
- There were so many contrasts in weather, temperature, landscape and emotions. It was always a struggle to adapt to the conditions the day would bring. Often there was too much weather, wind and sound for us to talk together, at times we were too tired to communicate in words. We had to help each other and show that we cared about actions and gestures instead.
There were great emotions at play. On March 20 at 13.15 we reached the southernmost point of Spitsbergen. In a fog of fear, joy and exhaustion, we hid under our windsock and shared the GPS coordinates with the rest of the world. April 5, 2021 we went the last 4km to the finish. We had to work to take over what we had achieved, what we had done in the last 63 days. It is a feeling that can not be compared to anything else. We were never in doubt, we were never afraid, the pain we were exposed to was only short-lived. Two months of hard work is nothing when you look at it in the perspective of a lifetime.
"We were never in doubt, we were never afraid, the pain we were exposed to was only short-lived. Two months of hard work is nothing when you look at it in the perspective of a lifetime."
What challenges will you highlight from the trip?
- The biggest challenge was to use the same socks for over a month, they answer in unison.
On the slightly more serious side, it was both heavy and challenging to film the expedition on top of being exhausted. Not least, it was tiring to spend an hour every single night brushing snow off our jackets, every day for two months.
Hunger was also a big problem. I had packed a little less food than recommended, in an attempt to make my sledge a little lighter, a choice that could have stopped the expedition. It was a ordeal for both of us, to deal with the challenge of constant hunger. But here too we worked as the world's best team. Instead of teaching me that I should bring more food, Vincent shared what he had. There was never any doubt that cooperation and love trumped all other emotions.
The adventurous couple shows a genuine love for each other. They live by and for adventure. For them, moving boundaries is a passion that comes from within, and a way to test and strengthen the relationship in challenging situations. Throughout the trip, good communication and mutual understanding were important measures to be able to reach the goal together. They have also managed to take it back to everyday life.
- We have become much better at ignoring trifles that can escalate and we work to avoid getting annoyed with unimportant little things. We rather focus on all the opportunities that being together gives us, we are really stronger together. Going forward, we envision a simple life, where we can be as close to nature as possible. We are building a house with sustainable techniques and materials. We dream of a garden where we can grow our own vegetables.
In addition to living a simple life with sustainable choices, Caroline and Vincent are keen to talk honestly and directly about the dramatic climate change the world is facing. Together with facts and research, they want to clarify the consequences this has for Svalbard.
- Svalbard is one of the places in the world that is most affected by climate change to date. Svalbard has had a large increase in average temperature since 1971, especially in winter ( Bjerknes Center for Climate Research ). The future of glaciers and wildlife is seriously threatened.
We want more people to realize how urgent it is, and that we all have to contribute where we can. We ourselves are concerned with eating organic, buying and consuming less and making good and responsible choices. We believe that difference comes from our own actions.
What is an adventurer for you?
- An adventurer for us is a person who lives in direct contact with the natural elements. There are also some who go on self-sufficient expeditions.
What are your goals for the future?
- We hope to be able to reduce our footprint even more, through the daily choices we make and the life we choose to live. At the same time, we want to continue to go on expeditions and trips together.
I think we all have a special bond with nature, that we are naturally drawn to wetting the outdoors. At least that's where the two of us, Vincent and I, belong, and it's close to nature that we should continue to live our lives.