After 15 months of adventures following my compass bearing north from the bottom of South America I reached the start of Canada’s Yukon Territory, about to set off into a world that was frozen, foreign and feared. I’d decided whilst cycling through Chile’s Atacama Desert, a year earlier, to ride to the Arctic Sea in winter. Over that year the idea had slowly grown into a reality as the kind guys at Fatback supplied me with a steed suitable for the snowy conditions of the north, the Corvus fat bike. And so, as I rode out of Whitehorse it was with a heady concoction of both a very genuine sense of fear and excitement. Did a young man from England really know what to do up here in the wintry far north?
I’d decided to follow in the footsteps, or rather the paw prints, of the Yukon Quest race, an international dog sledding race that followed meandering historic trade routes through the great expansive wildernesses of the Yukon and Alaska. But rather than a team of dogs hauling me through the hundreds of miles of trail I instead had my trusty carbon steed underneath me, eating up the well compacted snow along the roller coaster trails. It was breath-taking. Never had I thought that I would be in this landscape, a landscape consisting of collaged images and imaginations from a youth spent reading adventure tales, and never on a bicycle!
After arriving in Dawson City I bade farewell to the Quest route as it crossed the border into Alaska and took to the Dempster highway. This was to be the real progress into the far north; a road that pushed deep through mountains, forests and tundra alike. Again, the first few days were breath taking but relatively straight forward and it wasn’t until I crossed the Arctic Circle that things really began to get difficult. The mercury in my thermometer plummeted, and as I rode over the Richardson Mountains, through the aptly named ‘Hurricane Alley’, I was fighting a growing storm. Winds were beating me back, white out conditions limited visibility to a matter of metres and I was really beginning to wonder what I was doing here. This part of the highway is infamous for closing for days and even weeks at a time. I guessed that the road would be closed within a few hours, but without food to sit out the storm in my tent my only option was to fight through and hope to pass over the mountains before all hell let loose. It was a difficult decision to make, but that was the very reason I’d come on this journey.
As I lay in my tent one night along the Peel river, listening to the faint howl of wolves in the distance and being reminded of the strong words of advice I’d received before setting off down the river, “don’t worry about the cold, it’s the wolves you need to watch out for”, I must admit I felt very alone. Suddenly my mind would zoom out from where my tent was and reveal the enormity of the desolate landscape that surrounded me, and instil the sense of just how small I really was. A very humbling thought indeed. But, I began to struggle to hear the sound of the wolves over the flapping of my tent. The wind was picking up and shaking both the tent and my nerves alike. My mind raced to all sorts of scenarios, let loose on its rampage of imagination and what could happen being stuck out here in an Arctic storm. How long would the storm even last? Fortunately, after some terrified hours the storm passed and both my tent and I got through bruised but not broken. However, as the sun rose to mark another day I stared out to what was supposed to be my ‘route down the river’ and saw only unbroken snow. Tent packed away I took my bike onto where I thought the route had been but no luck. Deep soft powder that a heavily laden fat bike could certainly not plough through. I was stuck, in the middle of the river, in the middle of the Canadian Arctic, in winter, and I could no longer cycle. I was screwed.
All that remained was for me to reach the finish line, the frozen Arctic Sea and the remote town of Tuktoyaktuk. I was shaken by the events on the Peel River and definitely considered ending my trip there, but I’d started at the tip of South America and so I was definitely going to finish at the tip of Canada! Riding over a frozen ocean was a bizarre experience. When the land falls away from around you and you are left with just the vast emptiness of frozen sea, stretching unbroken to the North Pole. It’s an image seared into my memory, an experience that will stay with me forever. And the emotion, coursing through my body as I saw the scatter of buildings rise up into the horizon, realising my finish line was in sight. It was incredible. Simply incredible. I never thought that I would ever make it this far, to reach the Arctic Sea and the end of my second continent. As I rode into the village, sun setting over one of the most inspiring vistas I’ve ever seen, I looked for something to celebrate with. Unfortunately, being a ‘dry’ town the beer would have to wait, and so instead I settled on some fruit juice and a packet of crisps and went in search of a warm place to sit and reflect. Unfortunately the only place that I could find was the grocery store toilet.
After getting Ben his bike, we were getting frequent updates from him on the first half of his journey north, but then communication just stopped for months. I have to say I was a little worried. I sent one more email to check in and got a response about a week later(what a relief). The plan was for Ben to finish his ride North on the Corvus, then ship his "Touring" (maybe make note of what that is? Im assuming its his drop bar Surly.) bike up to the shop in Anchorage, and trade back to continue riding across each Continent. Plans change and after this long pause in the conversation, he sent this:
Sorry for the lack of correspondence from me recently, it's been a hectic past month! I'm currently in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia riding west across Asia on the Corvus after finishing my Arctic ride at the beginning of April. The Corvus coped perfectly with the wintery northern environment and my time up there was definitely a hell of an adventure! I'm riding the Corvus across Asia now since it is far better suited than my Disc Trucker to tackle the tough trails and pathways I am taking - and I'm being joined by 3 mates on fatties too! I am hoping that this will be the first time that a Fatback has been ridden across Asia, and maybe even the first time across a continent!
Ben has now completed Asia, and has set off from the tip of South Africa heading north, still on the Corvus! We will update with more once we have it!