Skiing: When a bright green unicorn stopped me dead in my tracks

PUBLISHED: 11:27 10 February 2006 | UPDATED: 21:40 28 May 2010

THE extreme cold, isolation, physical exhaustion and threat of meeting bears along the trail of the 320-mile Yukon Arctic Ultra can have serious effects on the race s participants. Briton Simon Howell, who attempted the course on skis, was forced to retir

THE extreme cold, isolation, physical exhaustion and threat of meeting bears along the trail of the 320-mile Yukon Arctic Ultra can have serious effects on the race's participants.

Briton Simon Howell, who attempted the course on skis, was forced to retire from last year's race at the same point as March's Sean Brown.

Here, in an extract from his post-race report, Howell reflects on the effects of the race.

THE trouble, however, was just beginning. The terrain became progressively harder, with endless small hills that required the release of both skis to pull the sled up.

As a result my hands quickly became wet and extremely cold from the endless removal and attachment of skis, and the constant interruption of pace and rhythm had a significant psychological effect.

I stopped occasionally to knock accumulated ice from my balaclava, which was threatening to block the hole cut for my mouth and nostrils.

The thermometer taped to my ski pole showed it was 27 below.

As night progressed, a combination of constant effort and dehydration triggered hallucinations that anyone familiar with extreme exertion will recognise.

They started with the vague outlines of human faces, and then the shapes of animals in the trees and branches around me: a small elephant lay on its side, the prone body of a large woman nearby and a baby cried in the distance.

In that dim and dismal light (of dawn) I was somewhat surprised to encounter a bright green unicorn among the scattered bodies and faces camouflaged in the branches and undulating snow.

It stood there, blocking the trail completely. Stopping dead in my tracks, I spent some time asking permission to continue, but every time I attempted to move forward, its horn went down in a threatening gesture that kept me routed to the spot.

I won't recount how long I stayed there, or what I offered in appeasement. I can assure you the unicorn was there, and when I eventually passed it, my triumph was marked by the arrival of a Russian accordion player who followed me for the next five miles.

And I can assure you, it's hard to ski with any rhythm when Russian folk songs are all you can hear.

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