Erik Claster is a man of the great outdoors. The 36-year-old with the vaguely Norwegian name rebuilds vintage motorcycles, chooses artisanal beef for his barbecues, and hiked around Africa this past summer with his wife and five kids, ages 5 through 11.
Now he wants to become a dogsledder.
There’s only one hitch: there’s no dogsledding in Efrat, the West Bank town where Claster lives. In fact, there’s no dogsledding in Israel at all.
No matter. Claster is hoping to become the first Israeli to participate in a polar dogsled competition, crossing nearly 200 miles of Arctic wilderness from Norway to Sweden.
It was only two weeks ago that Claster read about the competition, which is being sponsored by Swedish outdoor gear company Fjällräven.
“The founder of the company, the whole idea is that he’s a dog sled enthusiast,” said Claster. “He’s like, listen, with the right equipment and a little bit of guidance, normal people can do this. So many of the competitors are alpinists and extreme adventurers, which is kind of against the whole concept. It’s really for regular people like me who enjoy the outdoors and dogs and say, ‘This sounds like a hell of thing to do.’”
The decades-old company sponsored the competition as a means of expanding its recent foray into a less specialized market, offering its high-end gear to regular folk “like people in New York,” said Claster, or anyone willing to pay $300 or $400 for specialty gloves.
There’s only one catch: a limited number of people will be allowed to participate, and Claster needs to receive at least 30,000 votes before the mid-December deadline. The trip is scheduled for April 2017.
Claster figures his unusual provenance — Jewish, Zionist, American and Israeli — can easily snag him the necessary 30,000 or even 40,000 to 50,0000 votes needed to “seal the deal,” he said.
There are the top contestants from countries such as the US and UK, where experienced dog sledders actually live, and then the “other” 250 countries, said Claster, places like Mongolia, Taiwan and Greece, and it is these “other” countries that Claster is competing against.
He sees his endeavor as the Israeli version of “Cool Runnings,” the movie about the unlikely debut of the Jamaican bobsled team at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.
Claster, or as he’s calling himself, Arctic Erik, does have a decent voting base. An American married to an Israeli who was also raised in the US, he and his wife have a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, partly from Claster’s network of colleagues in the high-tech industry. His wife is the deputy CEO of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
Claster noted that he doesn’t require any funding for the trip if he wins, as Fjällräven sponsors the entire trip, including equipment, training and flights.
“I’ve always had a penchant for adventure and crazy ideas,” said Claster, who grew up in what he described as a rural part of the Kansas City suburbs. He is a lifetime Boy Scout and an honorary member of a Native American tribe.
His move to Israel in 1999 arose from that adventurous spirit, said Claster, who described an immersion process for his first years in Israel, which included putting himself in an-all Israeli environment rather than hanging with fellow English-speakers. He also served in the Givati combat unit for three years.
“I moved to Israel because I figured that growing up as a Jewish person, I had to give Israel a try, at least,” he said. “Has it ever been easier in the course of our 3,000 years to live here? And it’s the ultimate adventure.”
Dog sledding in the Arctic scratches the same itch for Claster. And the cold weather is only part of the appeal for a man who wears shorts and short sleeves in the Israeli winter, “bewildering” the people around him.
If he does get to go, Claster said, he sees some positive Israeli public relations material coming out of the experience.
“It’s an amazing feat,” he said. “An Israeli going to do dogsled competition and we will have won out over every other country in the world? We’re known for a lot of things, but most people I’ll be in contact with will know nothing about Israel. It will be great PR for Israel.”
In addition to tirelessly casting for votes, Claster has been training with his personal coach, a Russian ex-boxing coach, who does all ”this ridiculous old school stuff,” said Claster. “When he heard about this competition, he went apeshit on me.”
That included having Claster jump into freezing cold natural springs at three different elevations.
Help me become the first Israeli Dog Sledder by voting for me NOW
Posted by Arctic Erik אריק קלסטר – הוויקינג הישראלי on Friday, 2 December 2016
“I’m a hairy beast, but this was absolutely freezing,” said Claster. “I was back at the office in Herzliya and my back was still spazzing from the cold.”
As he sits in his so-called war room at home, with friends calling and scanning social media for votes, he’s dreaming about dog sledding.
“It would be a peak experience for me,” he said. “I love the outdoors, love talking to people, love meeting people, and I get to be in the outdoors, and I get to keep all the equipment.”
And next year? He’s hoping Israel will have five contestants.
In order to vote for Claster’s dog sledding dream, go to the Fjällräven website and Claster’s personal page.