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
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.