Arctic for amateurs
Sheldon Maxwell has never stepped foot inside a dogsled.
So at first glance, it might seem bizarre — even crazy — that the 23-year-old West Linn native is competing for one of two spots in the North America region for the Fjällräven Polar, an "international polar expedition" that covers 300 kilometers of Arctic wilderness by dogsled. But inexperience is exactly what drives this particular opportunity; when Swedish founders Åke Nordin and Kenth Fjellborg created the event in 1997, they aimed for it to be an "Iditarod for ordinary people."
While the Alaska-based Iditarod, considered the world's toughest dogsled competition, has been known to break even the most seasoned of competitors, Fjällräven Polar offers a safer, guided introduction to the dogsledding universe. As soon as he learned about the event, Maxwell knew he had to throw his name in the mix.
"My whole life, it's been a dream to go dogsledding," Maxwell said. "And I love traveling … I'm always looking for something new to do."
Once he learned about Fjällräven Polar, Maxwell quickly set off in search of votes. As of Monday, Dec. 11, he ranked 6th in the North America region with 1,432 votes.
"There are two people from each region," he said. "First place (in votes) automatically goes, and a jury chooses one more person from each region. You write a short paragraph about yourself, send four pictures and a video, and a list of five things you'll contribute to the team."
And unlike others, Maxwell has some experience with similar competitions. In April 2016, he took part in the Red Bull "Can You Make It?" challenge — a race from Berlin to Paris that has an interesting twist.
"They take away all your money, your phone, everything, and all you have to get there is Red Bull — they give you Red Bull for currency," Maxwell said. "You have nothing but Red Bull to trade for traveling, lodging and that kind of thing."
Maxwell's three-person team ended up taking fifth place in a field of 165 teams from 50 different countries.
"It was incredible," he said. "I didn't eat a lot, didn't sleep a lot, (but) everyone who was chosen was super cool."
Fjällräven Polar is similar in that participants are asked to show up practically empty-handed.
"Each person gets their own sled, six dogs and they give you all the gear," Maxwell said. "They say to only show up with a toothbrush. And you're with 20 people from around the world, chosen from each region, and some experts. They teach you how to survive, how to build a shelter and how to take care of the dogs."
For Maxwell, who earned his undergraduate degree last spring and is now a master's student studying sports product design at the University of Oregon in Portland, Fjällräven Polar is another opportunity that simply wouldn't be possible in his everyday life.
"The last one I did and this, they're opportunities that are really hard to do by yourself," Maxwell said. "You need a lot of money or time off work. These opportunities are nice because I just have to put in a bunch of effort at the beginning — it consumes my life during the three weeks of voting."
While it was unlikely that he would pass the top vote-getter by the Dec. 14 deadline, Maxwell hoped he might be selected by the jury — which accounts for other qualities besides raw vote count.
To learn more or cast a vote, click here.