Ready for Antarctica – expedition summary

Now that the Breaking the Cycle Yukon expedition is complete and successful, I thought it might be useful if I posted a summary.

The expedition 

After preparing all equipment, food and clothing in Whitehorse, Bob and I, drove 550km to Dawson City and then to the start of the Dempster Highway, about 40km from Dawson. From there I began a three day acclimatisation ride in an attempt to get accustomed to the cold. Coming out of an Australian summer, the 60C difference in temperature was a huge shock to my body. I suffered a lot from the cold on this ride, but enduring the shock was a necessary step to be ready for the main challenges. In Fort McPherson we were joined by expedition filmmaker, Claudio von Planta, and Bob’s wife Theresa. 

Our first plan was to follow a recently made snowmobile track to the remote community of Old Crow, 250km to the west. Old Crow is normally only accessible by airplane or, in winter, by this snowmobile track. The first stage, 56km up the valley of Stoney Creek, was magical and the conditions for cycling were favourable. Near the creek’s headwaters, the route became impassable by overflows and we were forced to take a diversion over high open plains. The landscape was carpeted with high tufty, spongey grasses that caused the snow cover to be pocked with deep holes. The surface was virtually unrideable as my wheels would sink without warning into sometimes knee-deep soft patches. I struggled all day and pushed for all but 2-3km.

We then found that the next creek was also not navigable by snowmobile (Bob and Theresa had scouted ahead and both had experienced mishaps trying to get through the creek). The alternative was to traverse many more kilometres of the tufty grass plains. I would have been pushing for several days and then been confronted with a mountain pass. As Old Crow is not accessible by any other route, we would have then had to retrace the same path back again. We decided to return to Fort McPherson and adapt our plans to be able to cover more territory and make better use of out limited time.

From Fort McPherson, I took a little-used ice road, following 160km along the meandering Peel Channel to the indigenous community of Aklavik. Essentially we approached the original route that Bob suggested from the opposite direction.

From Aklavik I embarked on the main challenge of the expedition, to make the first bicycle journey to Shingle Point. In summer, the rich fishing waters around Shingle Point are a four hour boat trip from Aklavik. In winter, snowmobile is normally the only way to access the region. Locals tend to use the route for hunting game. The winter route followed softer snow up the wide Peel Channel. We then turned west into Moose Channel, a much narrower waterway that wriggled across the western periphery of the Mackenzie River Delta and eventually out to the open sea.

2017-03-25_MacKenzie-River, Peel Channel, Aklavik to Shingle Point, day 1

For me this was the most special part of the expedition where I was confronted with conditions most similar to what I am likely to find in Antarctica. Up until this point, my body had been suffering from the cold; my legs were constantly swollen and my face was puffed up for much of the time. Somehow, on the most physically demanding part of the journey, where the energy requirements are probably 3-4 times higher than for normal cycling, my body seemed to respond positively. The swelling vanished. This was a great result and despite many bruises and a strained ankle from a series of heavy falls on the glare ice on the Beaufort Sea, I came through fitter, stronger and unscathed.

2017-03-29_Kate at Shingle Point copy

The final phase of the expedition was to cycle the Aklavik ice road to Inuvik and then the famous ice road along the East Channel of the Mackenzie River Delta to Tuktoyaktuk. Although the surfaces are different to what I will experience in Antarctica, I was still faced with piercing arctic winds, especially on the final day to Tuk. It was a privilege to cycle the 187km length of the Inuvik – Tuk ice road in the last year of it’s existence. The all-weather Dempster Highway is being extended from Inuvik to Tuk and will be in operation by next winter.

Standing at the end of the ice road in Tuk copy

In total I cycled a distance of about 900km. Here is a map of the route.

Claudio has made a video of some of the images taken during the expedition:

I look forward to doing another Polycom session to discuss the expedition after Easter, once I have returned to Melbourne.

The Final Push – Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Ice Road

The final push was a three day journey from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk, the most northerly town accessible by road in the Americas. The road is a 187km ice road that follows the East Channel of the Mackenzie River Delta. The ice road has been made famous by the “Ice Road Truckers” programme (not that I’ve ever watched it). This year will be the last time the winter road will be in use. From next season, the all-weather Dempster Highway extension will be complete and ready for use. This was a real opportunity to cycle the ice road before it melts in a couple of months and flows out to sea via the East Channel. Many others have come to drive, and a few to cycle, the ice road in it’s final season of existence.

As we’d all had a massive day on 1st April (Claudio and I driving/cycling from Aklavik, and Theresa and Bob driving back to Fort McPherson to collect the bus, utility and gear and then driving along the Dempster Highway to Inuvik), I decided to do a short session, about 50km to Reindeer Station for Day 1.
 

I left from Arctic Chalets, where we were staying, starting at kilometre one. It was a little surreal cycling past all the boats and barges iced in along the docks of the channel outside of Inuvik. It was lightly snowing for much of the day, the snow blanketing the ice surface for much of the way. After 30km I passed the turn off to the Aklavik ice road, where I had stopped cycling the previous day. We camped on the edge of the road, which is very wide, just outside the hamlet. We had hoped that the 300-strong reindeer herd was within viewing distance from here, but there was no one around and no reindeer to see nearby.

On Day 2 I scored almost perfect weather – no snow and even more importantly no headwind which typically whips down from the northeast. The road/channel was flanked to the east by a small treed escarpment; to the west, the vast floodplain. As I headed north, the vegetation became lower and lower and the escarpment dissipated. Overnight I had added two rows of studs to my front tyre (a very laborious task), and that proved to be a good move. I gripped the ice with more assurance, though I still treated the surface with a lot of respect. I didn’t fancy any more heavy falls on the rock hard ice.

It was a beautiful light for most of the day, but particularly in the long twilight. The evening Arctic light has been a feature of this journey, with each day longer by about 8 minutes. I ended up covering 88km, more than I had planned because I felt it important to make the most of the calm conditions. 
It was just as well I only set myself around 50km for the final day, because overnight the wind picked up significantly. The ambient temperature was around -13C but the wind chill made it closer to -30C. Snow drifted across the ice making it appear as a steamy swamp. I was given a new face mask to try and that proved to be very timely. Within an hour of setting off I managed to ‘grow’ my best icicle, a double spiked ice beard, about 7cm long! It may have only been a short day in distance, but the northeast headwind was brutal and I quickly decided to approach the task as I would any other full day. There’s always a sting in the tail!
Theresa is a keen mountain biker and so she decided to ride the spare bike and did two significant sessions, one starting out from the bus, and then again when she was a little closer to Tuk. There were also a couple of others from Yellowknife riding the road. They’d taken 4 days and this too was their final day. They started about 16km ahead of us and earlier as well, but we all reached the destination at a similar time.

Tuk felt like the end of the world, the end of the road at least. Claudio and I spent some time to record the moment and the remote town. I’m sure with the new all-weather road soon in service, life will change there. There will be little use for the barges that currently line the docks outside Inuvik now that goods and services will be transported via the new road all year round. 
 

We headed back down the ice road a little way and camped before heading back to Inuvik in time for Claudio to fly out tomorrow.

Aklavik to Inuvik Ice Road

As Claudio is due to fly out from Inuvik on the 6th March, we decided, rather than doing more of the same on the return journey, to drive back to Aklavik and then we’d have five days to create part three of the expedition. 

Yesterday I cycled 90km in light snow on an ice road from Aklavik to its junction with the famous Inuvik – Tuktoyaktuk ice road. Our aim now is to finish this expedition by travelling from Inuvik to Tuk (as it is commonly called), a distance of almost 200km, visiting Reindeer Station on the way. 

It’s a different type of challenge, cycling on ice roads. The surfaces are as hard as asphalt, but the biggest worry is slipping; either when it becomes glare ice or when snow drifts accumulate across the road (loose surface over slippery surface). Using a fat bike with extra wide tyres isn’t a very efficient set up for hard roads, but the extra surface area from the tyres add some stability. Yesterday, with snow settling on the road, I kept the all-wheel drive system on to reduce the chance of slipping. 

The distance between Aklavik and Inuvik, as the crow flies, is 55km, but ice roads are built in winter over the waterways which here meander across the Mackenzie River Delta, so the distance between the two towns is 110km. The terrain was deadpan flat following the channels, only the wind changed the level of resistance.  Crossing the main channel of the Mackenzie River, itself several kilometres wide, it was interesting to see barges and boats docked and frozen in for the winter. 

It was a long grinding day cycling across the delta. When I arrived at the junction at about 9pm I had had enough and there was little daylight left. Claudio took a photo to celebrate the day’s achievement and we headed for Inuvik, about 20km to the south. We had an address for accommodation just to the south of the town, but we had difficulty finding it, eventually arriving at 11.15pm. Bob and Theresa had driven 160km from Aklavik to Fort McPherson to pick up the bus and truck (pick-up) and then drive almost 200km along the Dempster Highway to Inuvik. They arrived at about 1.30pm. Eventually the owner returned from a day off and she provided the last available room for the night – it was a late one with no supper!

 

Aklavik to Shingle Point (Days 3,4 and 5)

Posted by Gary Schultz for Kate

Each day on this journey to Shingle Point presents different landscapes
and obstacles On Day 1, I pushed over the soft surfaces of the Peel
Channel; Day 2 we turned in to Moose Channel, a much narrower, windy
frozen waterway. On Day 3 I continued for a while along the Moose
Channel, eventually leaving the channel and up into a vast expanse. Most
of the day was spent riding through terrain carpeted with stunted willow
bushes covered with snow. The trail was just compact enough for me to
push through, occasionally sinking into holes.
The best way to cope with this challenge mentally is to break it down
into smaller more manageable sections. Claudio would usually drive his
snow machine about 8 – 10km ahead and wait. It has been really important
to eat regularly to keep my strength and energy up and as more
resistance against the cold. That night we made it to a hunters? refuge
cabin, a lone hut on the western periphery of the vast Mackenzie River
Delta. It was a treat to have a warm cabin to arrive to, rather than
spending an hour or so setting up the Arctic Oven tents, get fire wood
and sort everything out.
Day 4 was probably the toughest day of all so far. The aim was to get to
Shingle Point by day?s end. The first 16 km were the worst. The path was
over snow-covered low willow bushes and then grassy tundra; both
surfaces were a nightmare because the snow does not settle into a firm
surface. It was completely energy-sapping. I walked about 2km in total,
the rest was a hard grind. The frozen sea between the flat islands was
generally much easier and I could move at more like 8-9km an hour.
As I headed west, the path was intermingled with patches of sea ice. It
was rather beautiful browns and blues glimmering in the afternoon
sunlight. The clear blue ice however was also treacherous. Essentially I
could not divert my tyres at all going over the ice. I just tried to
stay completely upright and mostly tried to glide, barely pedalling to
avoid slipping. After one nasty fall I became very tense crossing the
ice patches and moved very cautiously. The route edged closer to the
coast and there were some really technical sections to negotiate.
At the mouth of the Blow River, Bob managed to run his snow machine into
an overflow. Only experience got him out of it, though the his machine
did get wet. Theresa and Bob were probably two hours ahed of us, so when
we arrived at that point, we were able to follow a diversion as the
water was rising.
I was cycling late into the evening. In the distance I spotted two
massive fuel tanks. Just behind the cliffs was a DEW line station. DEW
stands for Distant Early Warning – the radar stations were set up during
the Cold War, spread out across the Canadian and Alaskan Arctic to
detect whether the Russians were about to attack. The station is still
maintained.
From there, in the distance, (about 5km away), I could see a small line
of five cabins and the faint line of a long spit protruding into the
sea. It wasn?t actually Shingle Point, but another peninsular. Bob and
Theresa had already set up camp there in between the derelict wind-
blasted cabins. Shingle Point was visible to the west. We decided to
camp here for two nights so that I can have an easy day, just cycling
the 8km to Shingle Point and back.


It was a great feeling today to reach our destination, 160km from
Aklavik. It was an amazing experience to cycle over the Beaufort Sea!

In the summer, this place would be completely different. It is a 4-5
hour boat trip from Aklavik and locals come here to fish its fertile
waters and hunt beluga whales. In the winter, hunters travel with snow
machines through the region, trapping and shooting game; caribou, arctic
foxes, musk oxen, even polar bears. No one however has ever cycled from
Aklavik to Shingle Point before! Its a very different world out here.
Now I have to do the return journey, so tomorrow will be a big day.

The Fort McPherson – Aklavik Ice Road

Re-energised, the team set off from Fort McPherson, heading north towards Aklavik on an ice road. As the crow flies, the distance between the two towns is about 80km, but the road is built on the Peel River which meanders its way through the Mackenzie River Delta. Locals tend to measure the length of these roads by the time it takes to reach a destination rather than in kilometres or miles, so we did not know exactly how far the ice road route over the river would be. I assumed it to be about 120km.

Day 1 on the ice road was a beautiful sunny day, about -18C when we left. I was able to make good pace along it, careful to ride along the edges, or where the ice was scratched by machines and thus avoiding the clear, slippery surfaces.

On our first brief break (breaks are always brief because I start to get cold pretty quickly), we agreed to meet every 15km or so. I set off ahead of the others and a few kilometres later came to a branch in the road; both paths looked about equal in width, so I opted for the road that looked more recently used. After 20km, there was no sign of the team and I started to doubt whether I’d made the right choice…as the road meandered with the river, it was difficult to tell whether I was heading for Aklavik or maybe the road was turning east toward Inuvik, the main town. After 32km I decided to turn around. I always have to think of the worst case scenarios. At 43km from Fort McPherson, I would have enough food and water to get back to where I know if something had happened to the others. I reluctantly started to retrace my route, but 2.5km later I was very pleased to see Claudio, then some locals and Bob and Theresa showed up. I was relieved to find out that I had made the right choice of road, so I only ended up doing an extra 5km…it could have been much worse. After 63km we made camp thinking we should make Aklavik in good time the next day.

Making a campsite using the Arctic Oven tents is a time consuming laborious task. On the positive, the tents are very spacious and with a wood-burning stove in the middle of the tent, as the name suggests, they are very warm…if the stove is kept topped up with wood. Once the tent is erected and the stove in place, the next job is to find, cut and split the wood. After the first night when we didn’t understand how much wood we needed to use for the fire and got very cold, Claudio has become an expert with the chainsaw and then the axe, splitting the wood. This system would not be suitable for Antarctica given the lack of wood and the time and effort it takes to set up and then break camp, but for now it is a warm, comfortable oasis where we can dry clothes.

Day 2: The weather wasn’t so conducive yesterday. I left ahead of the others to get some good distance on the board. It was an overcast day that gradually deteriorated into light snow and a bone-chilling arctic wind. The team caught me up after 43km and we assessed our position. On the map, the distance didn’t look to be that far and we were hopeful that I only had about 30km to go. The wind intensified and snow drifted, at times completely blanketing the ice road. With no direct sunlight, it was impossible at times to differentiate the depth of the snow drifts over the ice. These were treacherous conditions on the bike because it was difficult to balance when I couldn’t make out what I was cycling over. I fell heavily on the ice at least a dozen times. Falling on straight snow always means a cushioned landing and I can generally control the fall. On ice, I had no time to control anything. I’ve hurt both knees a little, but the worst injury is my right ankle which I think I’ve badly strained. (It’s very bruised right now.) I adopted a ‘ride to survive’ mode, dropping into a lower than usual gear to navigate the snow-covered sections, as if I was riding over eggshells.

Once we thought we were within range of Aklavik, Bob and Theresa went ahead to organise our accommodation. But there was a real sting in the tail. After I’d done about 80km, and thinking I was almost there, Bob returned to say there was still a further 15km to go. I was just about out of steam at that stage but was determined to make it to Aklavik. I kept taking in small amounts of food and some tea from the thermos and kept turning the pedals. Finally we could see an antenna in the distance and a few lights further a couple of kilometres on from that. I was exhausted and pretty sore when I arrived after a 95km day.

Aklavik is a peaceful fishing and trapping community of some 600 Gwich’in and Inuvialuit. Gwich’in and Inuvialuit have traditionally gathered here to trade for goods from as far away as the Pacific and Arctic coasts. In winter overland access is by ice roads from Fort McPherson and Inuvik. In summer the only access is by boat and plane. The town motto is: “Never say die”!

We decided to take a day off to let me recover, and hopefully for my ankle to improve. From here we leave the ice road for now and head towards Shingle Point on the Beaufort Sea. The others have gone ahead on their snow mobiles to check the route which from here will follow the Peel Channel to the sea, while I rest. Its a route that will no doubt be much softer and slower. The blizzard continues today, but the weather is forecast to be better tomorrow, which should help.

You can find out more about the mighty Mackenzie River and its Delta here: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/mackenzie-river/

Challenging days and Northern Lights

After a couple of brilliant and successful days riding from Fort McPherson, up Stoney Creek to it’s headwaters, I hit some tough times. The usual trail would have continued up the creek, then follow another waterway before a difficult mountain pass. The path was diverted because the creek has overflows, meaning that water flows over the ice and makes the trail dangerous to follow. The alternative was a steep climb out of the valley and on to a hilly, treeless undulating expanse. The main issue was that the ground was covered with dense tufty grasses, covered with sugary snow. There was rarely a solid surface because in between the spongey grass it was very soft. Snow mobiles can still make it over these surfaces, even if it is an uncomfortable ride, however for me it was generally unrideable.
We met a small group of dog mushers travelling in the opposite direction and were told that these high plains covered in the tufty grasses went for about 10km or so. I started pushing, my feet regularly sinking deep into the snow. My cycling boots are not made for walking; the soles are extremely hard, which is good for cycling but to walk I may as well have been walking on planks of wood. Every time the surface looked like I might have a chance of cycling, I’d give it a try, but mostly it was very short-lived, very taxing energy-wise, and I would more often than not end up falling. Still, I was prepared to push through it thinking that would be just a few uncomfortable hours. Claudio would go ahead and wait for me to catch up. He managed to get some amazing footage with his drone, showing the contrast between me struggling through a harsh but beautiful landscape.
It was getting late and we finally could see the decent (after 14km) to the next stream, however we were met by Bob and Theresa who had gone ahead to investigate. That creek to was blocked too with overflows and they had both come off their machines. The alternative was much more of this kind of terrain followed by the mountain pass. I was prepared to keep going, but at the speed I was travelling, we would have spent too much time just trying to get to Old Crow, and as there are no roads in and out of the village, we would have only had time to turn around and retrace our route, rather than heading up to the Beaufort Sea, as planned, with potentially much more of this surface on the route north. There is also no wood in these parts which we need to stay warm at night in the ‘Arctic Oven’ tents.
I had my heart set on cycling to Old Crow, so I was very reluctant to change plans. Decision making was even more difficult for me because I had been slogging it out all day, was tired and starting to get very cold standing while deliberating on the high ground. In the end, I know we’ve made the right decision to adapt out plans.
We returned to the cabin near to our campsite from the previous night, then today we’ve retraced our route back to Fort McPherson. We now plan to head north to Aklavik tomorrow on an ice road that largely runs along the Peel River. We will check with the locals, but we will aim to head to the Beaufort Sea, Shingle Point and if going well to Herschel Island. This is the northern section of the route I had planned with Bob. We may also then have time to travel back to Aklavik, and follow the ice road to Tuk (Tuktoyaktuk) at the head of the Mackenzie River Delta. This was also in my original plan if we had time. This year will be the last time this famous ice road, built in the winter months over the Mackenzie River Delta, will be in operation. Next year it will be replaced by a proper road. The 3000-strong reindeer herd will cross the road at about the time we will be on the ice road, so that should be a great spectacle.
Last night Claudio managed to capture a spectacular display of the Aurora Bolealis from our cabin. Here’s a link to his first video for this expedition:
Difficult time with tufty grass and soft, sugary snow on the high ground

Made a Start

We made a start on the main expedition, the first leg is to follow a newly made snowmobile trail from Fort McPherson to Old Crow. According to the locals, this is a traditional route but the trail had not been made for ten years. It is certainly a privilege to be able to follow this route, a journey of around 250km. 

As Theresa and Claudio did not arrive in Fort McPherson until after midnight on the 17th, we decided to take our time to get ready to set off. There was much to do – organising and loading equipment and supplies has been a huge job for Bob and Theresa. Claudio had a lot to do too, organising his kit, ensuring there would be a satisfactory system for charging all his gear and that he had the right clothes to stay warm while riding a snowmobile and filming in the extreme cold.

All these preparations took most of the day and we didn’t set off until 4.30pm. It was important to make a start on the trail. We managed 16km as a team in two hours; one snowmobile had to be pulled out of a deep bog.

Day 2 

It still took half a day for everything to be packed, but I managed a steady pace from 2pm – 8pm. Our aim was to reach a cabin at the base of a mountain pass, which we did, but unusually it was taken by a team of mushers who are travelling in the opposite direction. 

Our route has been stunning so far, following the frozen Stoney Creek, a tributary of the Peel River (runs beside Fort McPherson). The creek is flanked by sheer cliffs for most of the way. The trail is firmer than I expected which means I can move along at a steady 9-10km/hr. The temperature has been steadily rising from about -20C to -10C maximum, but down to -30C at night. 

The general way the team works is that Claudio and I set off once we’re ready while Bob and Theresa finish packing up camp. They will meet us once or twice during the ride and then go ahead and prepare the next campsite, when we’ve established how far I can get. 

So far this has been as good as it gets; two sunny, clear days, a reasonably firm trail (still hard work though) following a stunning frozen creek with gorges either side. Tomorrow is going to be a real challenge though with a steep pass in front of us.

Pulling a snowmobile out of a deep bog.

Claudio lining up a shot at our first camp.

The Dempster Highway

Dispatch created from email

Posted by Gary Schultz for Kate.

Bob and I set off on Monday after a quick visit to the Icycle bike shop
for some final adjustments, mainly to change the grease in the headset
so I can steer in the extreme cold?rather important. We are travelling
in Bob’s converted school bus – I like to call it the ‘Adventure Bus’ –
that he’s fitted out with kitchen, sleeping bunks and wood burning
stove. The bus has so much character, it could almost talk! We’re towing
a trailer loaded with three snow mobiles.

The 520km drive to Dawson was a great drive. The route through the
realms of the Yukon River was grander than I expected. Rugged high
hills, cliffs dropping down to the Yukon and other major waterways.
Light snow was falling when we left Whitehorse, but the skies cleared up
and the late afternoon had a beautiful low light. We spotted four lynx
nearer to Dawson; one group of three.

Dawson is a very historic town, its name synonymous with the Klondike
Gold Rush which began after alluvial gold was found in Bonanza Creek in
1896. Over the next few years the discovery caused a virtual stampede
with apparently one million people intending to try their luck on the
gold fields, 100,000 attempting to make the journey but only 30,000
making it due to the difficult conditions they had to endure to get
there. The most prosperous mine was Eldorado. Gold and other minerals
are still mined in the region.

On the way into Dawson, population about 1350, we passed row after row
of dredging heaps, covered with snow of course, the remnants of the
systematic combing of the Yukon and Klondike rivers for gold. Bob parked
the bus beside the frozen ferry terminal, close enough to town so we
could easily walk in the following morning for breakfast and a quick
look before driving 40km back to the start of the Dempster Highway.

The Dempster Highway is a 670km all-weather gravel road built on
permafrost which keeps the surface hard. It is the only road link
between Dawson and Inuvik on the delta of the MacKenzie River which runs
into the Beaufort Sea.
As filmmaker Claudio von Planta could not make it until the 15th March,
I thought it a good plan to do an acclimatisation ride along part of it
to get used to the cold, my new bike and the clothing systems that I’ve
brought along to try. I started out wearing the same type of ensemble
that I?d been wearing around Whitehorse in -15C – essentially winter
cycling attire – tights and leg warmers, five layers on the top, good
liner gloves that were protected by my handlebar mitts, buff, two layers
on my head, -31C rated Wolfgar cycling boots, Julbo goggles. I started
out at 1.30pm, but into the second session at -20C, much colder with the
wind chill, I was freezing!

On went a whole different set of gear including my newly modified Mont
outer shell and a different concoction of layers. I felt warmer, but
could barely move. Over the next couple of days, I tried various
combinations but now I have an issue because my legs swell a little in
the extreme cold and the outer shell salopettes which are usually
comfortable and are excellent at keeping out the wind, are a bit tight.
It means I am cycling with what feels like double the resistance, which
isn?t what I need where I’m going. The wolf ruff which I had attached to
my outer shell in Whitehorse has been brilliant. It creates a micro-
climate around the face, protecting eyes and any gaps in my face
protective face gear.

The temperatures I have been facing in the four days on the Dempster
Highway have been no higher than -20C, and starting out in the
morning, it has been around -30C and much higher when taking into
account the wind chill. Despite travelling through a stunning
location, through the Richardson Mountains, then the aptly named
Tombstone Pass (1220m), it has been a serious shock to the body –
coming straight out of an Australian summer and temperatures of around
+30C the week before I left.

In talking to several experts, I understand that the weather conditions
that I am facing here will be colder, or at least feel colder than they
will be in Antarctica. It is a ‘damp’ type of cold rather than the ‘dry’
cold in Antarctica. Of course there are a few other factors to consider,
but if I can get through this here, it will stand me in good stead.

I covered 154km up the Dempster Highway, which was enough of an
acclimatisation ride. Today (Friday) I decided to have a full day off as
we had a further 500km to drive, crossing the Arctic Circle to reach
Fort McPherson. Claudio and Theresa will arrive any time now. Tomorrow
we will start the main expedition, heading towards Old Crow about 270km
away to the west. We only had confirmation today that a snow machine
route has just been put in. It was a joint venture between the people of
Old Crow and McPherson. Apparently the caribou are roaming further west
this year, so it will allow better access to hunting grounds. I believe
we will also meet some dog sleds on the way, which will be a great
spectacle.

Claudio will be bringing the Iridium Pilot which is what we plan to use
for communications in Antarctica. We thought it a good plan to practice
using it, so from now on we hope to be in more regular communications.

Arriving in Whitehorse, Yukon

Whitehorse
Temperature: -16C
The most memorable part of my 25 hour journey from Melbourne-Brisbane-Vancouver-Whitehorse was the beautiful light and constantly changing cloud formations over the vast Pacific Ocean. I entertained myself for at least a couple of hours snapping many photos on my mobile phone.
I left Melbourne at 9am on Wednesday 8th and landed in Vancouver 6.30am the same day, then on to Whitehorse, arriving mid-afternoon. Bob Daffe, our guide for the expedition met me at the airport and I am staying at his place until we are ready to set off on Monday. I really knew I was in Canada when Bob served moose for dinner! In Melbourne, the temperatures hovered around the 30C mark in the week before I left; arriving in Whitehorse, the maximum temperatures have been around -16C for the first three days.
Steve Christini has made me a new bike – the third incarnation of his patented all-wheel drive fatbike. The bike I trialled in Greenland last year was pretty good and could have done the job here in Yukon, but as there were a few small improvements that could be made, and because I should take two bikes to Antarctica, it seemed like an opportune time to test Mark III. There were a few worrying moments over the last couple of weeks as to whether the bike would be ready and sent to Whitehorse in time. However, it arrived just before me and we were able to collect it on the way out of the airport – very exciting!

Yesterday was all about setting the bike up. I took it to the aptly named Icycle bike store where it could be efficiently set up for the extreme cold conditions. The bike needed to be ‘winterized’ meaning that the hubs and bottom bracket had to be prepared with special grease that does not freeze. Without changing the grease the hubs and bottom bracket the bike could be rendered useless in the cold (The bottom bracket connects the crankset and allows the pedals to be turned freely). I watched and learned as Josh, the mechanic prepared the bike. By changing the grease and then leaving it outside to cool down for half an hour before testing, the friction when turning the pedals was reduced by about half.

One of the main changes that Steve made was to the frame so it could accept the widest tyre possible on the rear for maximum flotation. The Snowshoe 2XL by VEE Tires is a whopping 5.05″ or 13cm wide! The front tyre is the same as before – 4.8″ or 12cm in width – though I am trialling the newest ‘Avalanche’ model made from an improved silica compound (that sheds snow better). It isn’t possible to fit the 2XL tyre in the front because of the carbon forks and how the AWD mechanics need to be set up to work.

Secondly, Steve has made a small ski for the front. Josh had to enlarge the slit for the tyre to fit through using an angle grinder. We now have a unit that is worth a try. The ski has an adjustable height and is removable. The idea is to trial it in the soft snow. Any extra flotation could make the difference between cycling and pushing, but we won’t know how successful it will be until we give it a go.
I gave the bike it’s first test, a short 5km ride into town to find someone who could attach my wolf ruff to the hood of my outer shell jacket. That was just on the road, but the bike is amazing – it looks like a tractor but is surprisingly nimble. I have the tyres pumped up for the hard surface, but on the snow I will have to do a lot of testing to work out the best pressures to run it on. It will be a balance between gaining enough traction and flotation over the snow and minimising energy expenditure.
I’ve really enjoyed giving my first virtual presentations to school students here; one update to classes in Australia and today I gave a talk to students in Canada and the USA via a great initiative called Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants.