WINTER BIKE RIDE ABOVE THE ARCTIC CIRCLE

March 2006

Pat Irwin & Kathy Sarns Irwin on vacation with Puglsey and Porky written by Kathy Sarns Irwin ~ photos by Kathy and Pat Irwin

1.Kotzebue

We were the only white people at the tiny airport in Kotzebue as our beat up bikes boxes were pushed through the little baggage window. It was very quiet, folks here don't talk as much as we do. Some smiled, some nodded their heads. No one asked why we had bikes. That's OK. We did not have a good answer.

Pat had been searching all over Alaska for a unique place to ride our big fat SURLY bikes. I have the purple single speed Pugsley bike with SURLY Endomorph tires and Pat has a Surly 1X1 that he modified ...welded and beat with a hammer until he could fit the Endomorph tires on. He named it Porky. Its a fine pink bike with black welding blotches.

We just needed to find a trail that is used by snow machines on a regular basis and a good weather window. Good luck in Alaska in March with rising gas prices.
After many phone calls and emails, Pat found a possible trail from Kotzebue to Buckland and then a good chance of a trail from Buckland to Koyuk, then the well used Iditarod trail to Nome. The internet showed smiley face sunshine for the next 8 days in that area.

To find this route Pat called many villages –talking to store clerks, dog clubs, whoever he could reach to get any info he could. He reached a man named Billy who worked for search and rescue in Kotzebue. Billy wasn't real excited about us doing this trip. He insisted on meeting us in Kotzebue to see for himself how crazy we really were.

As we flew over Kotzebue I looked out the window at pure flat white. No trees, no mountains, no trails, no roads. Then it really sunk in that this is above the Arctic Circle and it really is exposed out here. Duh. Open and frozen ocean on one side, frozen ocean inlets all around. Wind, COLD wind, wind and more COLD wind.

Billy showed up as we were putting our bikes together and we planned to meet him for breakfast. We followed him on our bikes as he drove to a restaurant with a 4 star view of the frozen, white, wind blown Kotzebue Sound & Chukchi Sea. The air was biting cold. I felt a little trickle of fear as I breathed in the arctic air and the inside of my nose froze. We passed a mother rapped in fur pushing a stroller, the baby completely hidden under a thick caribou hide. Dogs barked at us as they strained on their heavy chains, the snow squeaked under our tires.

Billy showed us on the map where we were going, we never would have figured it out on our own. His instructions were like: when you get to the big flat frozen ocean turn right at the cliffs, watch for snow machine trail. Don't take the real sharp right hand turn a ways up from there -you don't want to go that way- it would be real bad. ..those kind of instructions. He showed us a shelter cabin on the map. He asked us if we had done anything like this in the REAL cold before. and asked if we had a radio and GPS. We did not.If anyone only reads this far...do not travel this far north without a VHF radio and a GPS