Former England rugby captain Lewis Moody is in a dark place at the moment. Literally, not mentally.
Whilst the rest of the rugby world is enjoying another Six Nations competition, he is in the north of Canada - where at this time of year daylight is at a premium - to take part in the Yukon Arctic Ultra. This is how the event is described by the competition website:
"The world's coldest and toughest ultra"
This is not idle bragging. I have just looked at the temperature for Whitehorse (capital of the Yukon) and it currently sits at -19. This is positively balmy compared to the -50 that the mercury can drop to. With a distance of 300 miles to be covered in 8 days, Lewis and his team (he travels alongside polar adventurer Alan Chambers and Phil Wall, founder of the HOPEHIV charity) will be walking/running/crawling? the equivalent of two marathons everyday. Let's hope the training they have put in pays off (hopefully they won't be sidetracked helping stranded drivers in the Yukon - see video below for more on this...)
The first time this part of Canada really became part of the world's consciousness was in the late 19th century. Lewis and co may discover something they never knew about themselves whilst making there way through the Yukon, but back in 1896 the discovery was far easier to quantify and started a rush to the region that would dwarf the Ultra race. It was, of course, gold. It was already known that there was gold in the Yukon, but it was only when it practically started gushing out of the Klondike river that the hoards started descending. It is estimated that about 100,000 prospectors headed up the 'Klondike Gold Rush' between 1896 and 1899, but because of the hazardous journey, only around 40 thousand every arrived. Of these, about 10 percent of them found gold. These days, travellers can retrace the stampede steps, but it is far less treacherous. I have done it myself, and it led to one of the most obscure bar room experiences I have ever encountered. Even stranger than singing karaoke at the wake of a member of the Tongan royal family (all you need to know is that as I sung Suspicious Minds a chair narrowly missed my head.)
Anyway, back to the Yukon - or Dawson City to be more exact. If all goes well, this is where Lewis Moody will finish the challenge. If he does there is only one real way to celebrate, and that is with a sour-toe cocktail. The recipe for this spectacularly un-PC beverage, are as follows:
- Take one drink of choice (originally a beer glass full of champagne, but this is not the most important ingredient so there is room for improvisation)
- Add to the drink one human toe.
- Drink, making sure to touch the toe with your lips.
No, you have not misread this. Go to the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City, and you can drink a cocktail with a REAL human toe. Don't panic, it has been dehydrated and preserved in salt and does not come attached to the owner.
Of course, I had to try it. Carrying on in the proud toe sucking tradition of the Brit (fans of the early '90s should consider the cases of both Sarah Ferguson and Antonia de Sancha) I headed for the bar. A crowd gathered. The pressure became intolerable. I chose my drink (to be honest I can't remember what is was, everything was a haze) and in dropped the toe. I enquired of its origins. I was told it was sent to the bar in a medical jar by a mysterious donor along with the sobering message "Don't wear open toed sandals while mowing the lawn."
The crowd roared. Could I let them down? Of course I could. I had never met them and they were bullying voyeurs at best. But could I let my country down? I imagine Lewis Moody had this precise feeling when facing Australia in the 2003 World Cup Final. Lewis came through a champion, yet he was assisted by Jonny Wilkinson's foot. All I had for company was a shriveled toe. So did I man up, or eschew the toe? Did I do it for Blighty, or did I betray my nation and embrace a growing appetite for a new life as a tea-total vegetarian? To be honest, the memory has rendered my typing fingers impotent so you had better watch the video.