Offbeat adventurer hopes to make dogsledding history
Erik Claster plans to become the first Israeli to compete in a 200-mile race across the frozen Arctic tundra.
The debut of the Jamaican bobsleigh team at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary is forever immortalized in the movie "Cool Runnings." If Erik Claster has his way, his own story might be similarly screen-worthy.
He's hoping to become the first Israeli to compete in a dogsled race across the frozen tundra of the Arctic.
He loves the outdoors, was a Boy Scout, and often seeks out high adventure. "Israel is very adventure- and outdoor-friendly," he tells From The Grapevine.
A fifth-generation Kansan, Claster has Midwest ruggedness in his blood. He moved to Israel in 1999, attended college and met his wife Keren, another American expat. And while working at an artificial intelligence startup and parenting his five children may keep him busy, the 36-year old dad is not one to rest. He's a vintage motorcycle enthusiast. He favors artisanal meats so much that he makes trips to a special butcher and buys cows right off the rack. His friends call him Erik the Viking.
"I'm like if Paul Bunyan and Erik the Red had a baby," he says of his Brooklyn hipster meets "Game of Thrones" look. "I've had a beard since middle school."
And now he wants to become the first Israeli to compete in a polar dogsled competition, which traverses nearly 200 miles of Arctic wilderness, beginning in Norway and ending in Sweden. The cold and snow remind him of his upbringing in Kansas. "I enjoy the starkness of it," he says. "It makes me feel like you're close to the original nature of the world. It's just so vast."
The race is sponsored by one of Claster's favorite brands, Fjällräven – a Swedish company specializing in outdoor equipment. Each competitor will be partnered with a professional dogsledder and outfitted with equipment from Fjällräven.
"They want to show that with the right equipment, you can do all this crazy stuff," Claster explains. "When I saw that, I said, 'Hell yeah!'"
But before he can take part in the race, he's got another uphill challenge just to get there. The folks at Fjällräven only allow a limited number of people to participate, and Claster is seeking your help. He needs to receive about 30,000 votes before the mid-December deadline. The trip itself is scheduled for April, 2017.
So, assuming he gets in, how is he preparing for such a journey? He's been training three days a week mostly doing resistance exercises, free weights and squats. He's also hired a retired boxing coach from Russia to whip him into shape. "He's doing old-school 'Rocky' style stuff," Claster says, referring to the out-of-the-box exercises Sylvester Stallone's famous character did in those boxing movies. "He's a magician. He's a pro. He's been tearing me a new you-know-what."
All that being said, Claster does admit this one important tidbit of information: "I have never actually gone dog sledding." Thankfully, a friend of his works at a dog kennel facility in Israel. He's considering training with some Huskies there and tricking out a sled with wheels. (While it does snow in the Mediterranean, it's not enough for him to train on.)
"We're Israelis, we have a bobsled team, and this is just like that," he tells us. "I would love nothing more than to represent Israel in a seemingly strange setting."
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