The right STuFF.. moRe or leSs and what we learned cycling in the Arctic.
Training near Anchorage, warm day -20 degree F. Favorite fleece hat and neoprene-like jacket (which later I had to SEW a hood on in Buckland from a second hand ski jacket) Must always have a hood on your jackets in the North! Camera is in ziploc bag in front pocket. Wind front ski pants and baggy bike shorts underneath. Gloves liners that go under wind proof mittens not gloves. Eating high calorie food as usual
First of all we don't really recommend riding in the Arctic in the winter..but if you do find that you are insane and need to do this..here's a few things we learned. It is not for the faint of heart and people die up there all the time.
This chapter is about our gear and food and any stuff we had or wished we had more or less of and this was written in 2006 so times have changed since then with more high tech stuff.
The temperatures varied from 5 above to -50 below F
I rode the Surly Pugsley with Surly Endomorph (gum walled) tires on Surly Large Marge wheels. Single speed, 22x16/18/20. We mostly used 18 and we used 16 once on the frozen flat Buckland River. Pat had his lovely Pink Surly bike 1X1 that he converted (hammered and welded) to fit the Surly Large Marge wheels. He used the Surly black walled Endomorph tires. (I am getting black walled tires for next time) I can't believe I said NEXt time..
We both used custom Nitto Albatross Cruiser handle bars that Pat heated and shaped for comfort (no worries about wind resistance at 5-10 MPH). On the handle bars we each had a set of snow machine Pogies - big giant warm pockets for our hands - these are a MUST.
We purchased awesome Frame bags that fit in the triangle part of the frame from Wildfire Designs. Also available from Revelate Designs. These frame packs were a great use of that normally wasted space. We loaded all our heavy meals in them.
We had a rack on the front and on the back. We each had ONE pannier on the back frame. We each had a sleeping bag. Mine was -40 below but did not keep me warm (since this trip , we returned it to North Face and they sent us a new one that is absolutely HUGE but looks like it should work) Pat used a REI -20 below synthetic bag and he was not warm ever. The zipper was also hard to work from the inside of bag and he ended up ripping the bag trying to open it. So we returned that bag too.
We each had a Z-Rest sleeping pad. They are big and bulky but they are light! Next time though- we will bring 2 each. Sleeping on the ice will teach you that!
We boiled water, put it in our water bottles and slept with the bottles. Caution: We've heard about HARD plastic nalgene bottles cracking when you do this! A man did this during a race up here and he soaked his sleeping bag! So we used the SOFT (not hard-and sort of a white transparent ) that mountaineers use. We found some at a hunting/sportsman type store.
We each had wide platform pedals for our big giant warm boots. In our experience, we have not found any clipless pedal set ups that keep our feet warm in -40 temps. Well unless you have the circulation of a polar bear. We just felt safer with our set up, since these would be our ONLY shoes and also we were not sure how much walking/pushing we would be doing- which was alot.
I wore knee high wool Norway red boots 3 sizes too big. (I bought them on sale at Pia's Scandinavian Woolens) Many of the Iditarod mushers wear these boots too! I put 3 insoles in them. I wore a thin (Surly) wool sock , then a thick either wool or Gator fleece pair, then Gator neoprene socks over that. Gator makes the neoprene socks that breath sort of - not sure how- but they are very nice..your feet don't get too sweaty.
Over the Norway boots I had Neos Over boots, waterproof and windproof. My feet were as big as snow shoes, but they were warm MOST of the time. Since I have frozen my feet in the past I had to be very careful. And I did not freeze them on this trip.
Next trip I will bring FOOT warmers-the kind that stick to the top of your socks - not hand warmers for my feet. Foot warmers are MADE to work with less oxygen than hand warmers. We tried to save money by just getting hand warmers at Costco but it was very very scary when the hand warmers would NOT get warm in my boots and I had no feeling in my cold feet one morning. Now I buy FOOT warmers and HEY they really work quick ! Could save a foot or 2.
Pat wore a pair of high top light weight winter boots (not leather- they were a nylon breathable material) 3 sizes bigger (13), that he has worn for 100s of miles since he came to Alaska to win the Knik to Mcgrath winter bike race. For socks he wore thin wool and then thick fleece. he also had a pair of Neos over boots to protect from wind and water.
For shoes; circulation is more important than insulation so BIGGER is better for cold temperatures!
I do believe I was more stylist than Pat in my RED high top boots.
Our tent was a Go-Lite Hex pyramid tent with one pole and a separate floor attached to it. It's a great tent, but not for this kind of camping. It must be well staked out to pitch and stay up in the wind, so we took tent stakes for hard pack and 11 small nylon bags to fill with snow and bury for anchoring in loose snow. Our first night on the frozen ocean had a hard snow crust with soft sugar snow underneath. We managed with a combination of both stakes and snow anchors but it took forever and it would have been hell if a storm had come up. We went with this tent for it's lightness and 1-pole design, but next time we'll take a free standing tent. We have a Bibler that's ideal, but a bit small for 2 of us and gear, so we're planning on getting another, bigger model.
We both were very happy to find Lands End down jackets on sale at Sears for $49! I Had to get a large so it was long enough to cover my butt. But I have nothing but good to say about that jacket. I did have to sew the hood on ( for some reason it was a snap-on hood ). But other than that it kept me warm when I was very tired and cold. I was able to sit on the frozen Arctic ocean at -30 below in the wind and cook dinner and I was warm! Lands Ends latest version down jacket looks even better now. Its important that your down jacket is long enough to cover your butt and that it has a permanent (not detachable) hood. Update we are still using these down jackets in 2021.
We each had 2 OR insulated water bottle carriers that each held a quart. WE'd fill with boiling water in the morning and the water would begin to get ice in it by 3 or 4 pm.
If we did this again, we would bring VHF radio for emergencies. This far north - its the only way to maybe call for help. Or a satellite phone - but would make sure it works in that region.