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From OC to the Arctic

WEB-EXCLUSIVE: An Orange County adventurer participates in a unique contest through the Arctic Circle.

For many Southern California residents, real cold is a foreign concept. Even saying the word “snow” can strike fear into the hearts of beach-goers along the coast.

There are some, however, that love the outdoors and adventure, despite any freezing conditions they may bring. One of these adventurers is Fountain Valley resident Michael Angelo Ruffino, the number one ranked contestant in the United States and the world for Fjällräven Polar 2013. With a total of 4,362 votes, Ruffino has won the popular vote and gained entry into the competition.  

But what exactly is Fjällräven Polar? This unique competition takes contestants, ordinary people from around the world, 330 kilometers (205 miles) through the Arctic Circle. From April 9-13, contestants will ride dog sleds, which they are taught to handle before the race begins, through the unforgiving Arctic tundra. Participants are also taught how to survive in extreme temperatures (including identifying the signs of hypothermia), manage the sled dogs, build a camp in the winter wilderness, and other basic survival skills.

All of these skills will be needed for Fjällräven Polar. Though weather conditions should stay pretty stable through the duration of the trip, contestants will most likely be met with a few severe weather storms — and we’re not talking about a little rain. A blizzard is not an uncommon event for this part of the world. According to Fjällräven’s website, “in bad weather there is nothing to prevent the wind and snow from sweeping across the tundra.” On top of this, contestants will be followed by a steady ground frost and will also have to cross a frozen lake.

Why would a Southern California resident, a lover of sun and surf, be happy about all of this?

“I stumbled across this contest they were having,” Ruffino says. “I’m exactly the kind of person to do this weird thing.”  

From an early age, Ruffino loved to travel. At first, it was only vacations with his family. Then, after a fallout with an attempted music career, he began traveling on his own. His first stop was Argentina.

“I just needed a giant change... so I bought a ticket to Argentina for six months,” Ruffino says. “I’ve been traveling as much as I can since then.”

That experience opened a floodgate of travel for Ruffino. He began staying in hostels across the globe and learning languages.  

“I’ve been to Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, a bunch of the states, Jamaica, San Martin, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Amsterdam, Scotland, England, and France.”

In the past three years, Ruffino has spent 21 months traveling and learning languages.  As a result, his travels have become less like an extended vacation and more like a way of life.

This style of life, Ruffino says, makes him an excellent candidate for Fjällräven Polar.

“[Fjällräven wants] to do this with people who are proper travelers and I am very much that,” Ruffino says.  

On top of learning a new skill through this experience, Ruffino wishes to learn about the area's culture and people, as he's done in all his other travels.

“When I was in Argentina, I met this American, this Swiss girl and this French guy, and they all met that same night,” Ruffino says. “[The American] actually married [the Swiss girl]... and the French dude officiated the wedding.”

With so much travel experience under his belt, one would think Ruffino might own his own private plane. After all, how else could he afford so much travel? Surprisingly enough, Ruffino’s jobs include teaching English for an online language school, a gondolier in Newport Beach and an art model throughout Orange County and Los Angeles.

“There’s a million opportunities out there for people with maybe a lack of money, a lack of time... to travel and have all kinds of adventures,” says Ruffino. “The biggest thing stopping people is themselves.”   

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