Facing bitter cold and encountering polar bears, a British duo seeking to raise almost $500,000 for the United Nations refugee agency leads the Polar Race 2007, as the grueling 640-kilometre endurance race to the North Pole has reached its halfway point. Team Refuge, comprising Jake Morland and James Turner, is leading its nearest rival by almost seven hours after setting out from Canada’s Cornwallis Island earlier this month. “We’ve taken a bit of a battering over the last few days,” said Mr. Morland, who has worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees over the past seven years in places such as Iraq, Timor-Leste, Sri Lanka and Sudan. Mr. Morland hopes the money his team raises will be earmarked for a special trust fund to cover urgent medical evacuations for refugee children. “Rather than polar bears, the cold has been our biggest concern,” he added. “The thermometer may only read minus 20 but with wind chill that’s closer to minus 65! Just staying warm is a battle!” The team must pull heavy sleds carrying food and other survival items over the frozen arctic, and is learning how to use the sun to navigate and also how to differentiate snow which is safe to melt and drink from snow which is salty from the seawater. The duo is now busy repairing their equipment and resting at a re-supply station on Osborne Island, as they gear up for the second half of their journey. To deal with the demanding challenges of the race, Mr. Turner, teacher and long-time friend of Mr. Morland’s, said that he is dreaming of his arrival back in Ottawa, Canada, after the end of the race next month. “A pint of beer and food that isn’t boil-in-the-bag takes my mind off bruised feet and aching bones,” he said. “It also allows me to open my eyes and enjoy the surroundings.” However, the highlight of the race so far for Team Refuge has been its coming across three polar bears and two Arctic wolves. Recalling a close encounter with a polar bear, Mr. Turner said, “My first thought was surprise, then I yelled, ‘Bear! Bear! Bear!’ The bear and I looked at each other, he sniffed the air, turned and disappeared in to the ice rubble.” He added, “It was close.” Team Refuge, one of six teams competing in the race, is being sponsored by Arch Insurance, a European company, which has given the two men $80,000 to cover the costs of the race, allowing all funds raised by the pair to be donated directly to UNHCR. The public will be able to continue donating to Team Refuge for the rest of this year. The winning team of the Polar Race 2007 will be awarded the Wedgwood Blue Ice Trophy. 25 April 2007Facing bitter cold and encountering polar bears, a British duo seeking to raise almost $500,000 for the United Nations refugee agency leads the Polar Race 2007, as the grueling 640-kilometre endurance race to the North Pole has reached its halfway point.