WINTER BIKE RIDE ABOVE THE ARCTIC CIRCLE
written by Kathy Sarns Irwin ~ photos by Kathy and Pat Irwin
We cycled all day long at about 5-6 mph. After the man said we could not bike to Buckland, we did not see anyone else that day. There was no trail to speak of. But thank goodness for the very obvious Baldwin Peninsula cliffs on our right to keep us pointed in the right direction.
Billy had thought we would make it to the "Shelter Cabin" that night maybe. We looked at the map around 5 pm and realized we were not even half way to the cabin. Even though the snow was mostly hard, it had varying layers of loose sand-like snow on top and sometimes it felt like I was spinning in place. For more excuses :the load, the wind, and the far below (our zipper pull thermometer) zero temperatures added to the slowness of our single speeds. Around 4 pm I also vowed to train more next time. Nordic skiing an hour, walking the dogs, and eating bon-bons does not prepare one for this type of event. But heck its not a race, this was our vacation and we were supposed to be having fun.
The sun would be setting around 9 pm so at 7 we started thinking about setting up camp. We would see something ahead that looked like it could be shelter from the wind and when we'd get there 20 minutes later it would turn out to be a WIND TUNNEL funneling hurricane force winds from the Kotzebue Sound. Nope, not a good place to camp. And there were no little AAA camp site markers on our map.
At some point I was walking my bike through a sand-snow trap and I felt or heard some movement. Looking up I saw a black Fox walking on the higher ground to my right. The sun was setting behind him and he had an orange aura around his fuzzy body. The wind was spinning snow all around him. Suddenly he saw me and almost flipped over with fear as he scampered up and out of sight. In the wind I heard a noise but it was hard o tell what.Then another black fox popped out of the bushes and ran after the other into pink and orange blowing snow haze. I stood there absorbing the experience for a moment. It was really a neat feeling to see those animals. I looked around and saw their little tracks all around. Then I realized the wind was not pummeling my head. This was a little alcove of sorts from the wind. It was still windy but not as bad and we were tired. We decided to camp there. Thanks to the Fox who pointed it out.
We set up camp and we soon found out our stove pump was not working. Pings of fear started again. Ping. Ping.
But Thank God Pat is so calm and clever when I go Pinging. It took some time and it was hard to use his hands in the cold but he figured out that the pump had ice in it. Before we left home to get rid of the gas smell from our stove (for the airplane security) we had washed out all the parts and thought we had dried it thoroughly. But a little bit of moisture in the tube was now a little ice cube that clogged it. Once Pat got that fixed, with great relief I made dinner and lots of hot tea.The snow was very dry and sugary and took a about 20 times as much snow to make a quart of water. We realized that we would have to watch our fuel closely.
We then got into our bags and had the coldest night sleep either of us had ever had. I was in a forty below bag with all my layers and coat on and I was shivering and putting hand warmers in my socks, hat, pants, gloves, everywhere. When I would doze off, my feet would start to get numb from the cold. I would wake up wondering if a healthy person could actually die this way in her sleep. Ping. I got up once to go outside and saw the most vivid northern lights I've ever seen, I could even hear them crackling, or maybe it was my brain freezing. But THANK FULLY the wind remained a low roar and did not get worse. This was our vacation and it was fun.
red line is our route