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Arctic Challenge

WEB-EXCLUSIVE: Michael Angelo Ruffino returns from an adventure of a lifetime.

Contestants make camp on a frozen lake in the Arctic forest, build a bonfire and eat smoked reindeer.

The Fjällräven Polar isn’t your typical outdoor adventure. But then again, Michael Angelo Ruffino isn’t your typical Orange County resident.

“They (Fjällräven) wanted to show that given the right equipment and training, anyone can enjoy the outdoors in the most extreme conditions,” says Ruffino about his 205-mile dog sledding trip through the Arctic Circle.

Contestants learned to ride dog sleds and manage sled dogs, survive extreme weather and other basic survival skills. Ruffino gained entry into the competition - which is open to ordinary people from around the world - after accumulating 4,362 votes through various self-promotion methods, including Facebook, and even went as far as printing 3,000 business cards with the contest QR code on them, asking random people around Orange County to vote for him right then and there.

“I’ve never worked so hard in my whole life,” says Ruffino. “I sent so many messages to friends on Facebook that they shut the message feature down every day.”

The effort paid off and he claimed a spot in the April 9-13 competition.

The temperature ranged from -15 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, not including the wind-chill factor, throughout the event.

Ruffino quickly learned that the warmest thing out there is you; so if you have to dry anything, or keep anything from freezing, you must keep it near your body and keep your body moving.

The most important skill Ruffino says he learned was on how to properly manage his body temperature in the cold. It is important to make sure your body stays cool and cold without becoming warm and never hot (sweat will quickly turn cold); and you cannot allow yourself to become too cold for the obvious danger of frostbite.

Contestants slept in snow shelters, without tents, which required careful construction and placement of certain protective snow walls and caverns.

“I felt that I did a good job of constructing the various places we needed so that we could sleep as comfortably and as safely as one could expect in such an environment,” says Ruffino.

Managing diet was another important lesson learned. Extra calories become extremely important when living under such harsh conditions. The locals eat several fatty kinds of meats and consume an incredible amount of calories per day just to keep themselves going, says Ruffino.

“On average, we were consuming 6,000 calories per day while on the trip, and we were still losing weight,” says Ruffino.

This was by far the most extreme competition Ruffino has ever taken part in. At the end of the trip, he says, participants had to pass a test based on the survival skills they learned. One part of the test included having to build a fire from things contestants found around them in five minutes or less.

“It was tough, but thanks to the training we received, we did it,” says Ruffino.

Fjällräven Polar contestants traveled from all over the world to take part in the five-day adventure. And Ruffino found many people like himself.

“All of the participants were the same type of people: adventure hungry and more than a little crazy,” says Ruffino.

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