Yesterday was a busy day. The main project was to drive down the Alaska Highway to meet Brek Boughton, the cyclist who’s headed for Tuktoyaktuk, NWT but that had to be fit in among other things.
This is what our weather station looked like at 10:09, a minute before sunrise. It’s very unusual to get wind when it gets cold, but the radio was reporting wind chills of -39°C (-38°F) in town.
When the temperatures get very low, our oil furnace occasionally fires up, but the wood furnace does a very good job of keeping the large house warm. We used to cut own firewood, but the quality of the wood within a reasonable driving distance of Whitehorse is now very poor, so we buy it from suppliers who are cutting lodgepole pine trees killed by beetles out Haines Junction way. We have a good stock for this winter, but are adding another 6 cords to the stock to keep a year ahead.
We did used to rather enjoy getting our own firewood. It’s a great way to work together, and to get some real exercise out in the forest, but the cost of fuel alone can get very high when you have to drive 60 miles to get a cord at a time. This photo was taken in my wood lot at Tagish on November 3, 2002.
I headed out to meet Brek just before 11:00, stopping at the Yukon River Bridge to get a few shots. The wind had pretty well cleared a path up a ridge towards the viewing platform where I shot this from.
From the same spot, this sundog was visible, though the hill blocked sight of the matching one to the right of the sun.
I went down to the Lewes Dam, but the fog was too thick to do much shooting.
Freezing fog does a good job of turning a chain link fence into a wall!
Continuing down the highway, I saw Brek in the distance just before noon, and pulled off to get some photos as he approached. His progress is slow because even with good wicking and insulating gear, he cannot work up a sweat at these temperatures. He has lots of merino wool layers for body, hands and head, and Baffin boots rated to -100°C. Although I met him on the Skagway Road, his official start this year was at Jake’s Corner on the Alaska Highway, about 20 km from this spot – that was where he quit last year due to equipment issues.
The logistics of doing anything on a journey like this are much more difficult than in normal life. Brek will be camping when necessary, and that could be a lot – setting up camp along the highways takes a lot of time and effort. But even the effort to stop is considerable. Think about “going to the bathroom” to get an idea of some of the challenges. I’m now comparing his journey to climbing Denali (Mt. McKinley if you prefer) – a multi-week slog in difficult, sometimes brutal conditions. No technical skills are required, just dedication and endurance. One of the big differences is that a Denali climb is a group effort – Brek is largely on his own.
A closer look at his Surly Big Dummy bike, with front and back racks, built for carrying lots of weight and cargo. He’s going to stop in Whitehorse for a few days – one of the jobs to get done there is to put lighter grease in the bike, as the cold is thickening his current fluids and causing too much drag.
One of the goals of Brek’s journey is to help raise the money necessary to send bicycles to Africa. Organizations such as BEN (Bicycle Empowerment Network) provide bicycles to health and education workers as well as bicycle-ambulances for villages in southern Africa . These bikes allow people to access hospitals and health care providers. The result is that maternal and infant mortality rates are reduced. The containers the bikes are shipped in have been converted into bike shops in some communities.
Last year, Cap’s Bicycle Shop in New Westminster was able to collect enough bikes to fill a container and local Rotary clubs assisted with the funding and logistics for the container and shipment to Africa.
To deal with icy roads, Brek has Schwalbe studded tires on the bike, and as much of his riding is in dim light or dark, there’s a dynamo hub to power a Trelock light and USB charger.
Off he goes – just as big mountains create their own weather patterns, big trucks create their own whiteouts for oncoming traffic, and turbulence if you’re on a bike. As I mentioned, Brek is largely on his own on this journey. There is virtually no cell phone coverage on his route from Whitehorse north so he’s not even carrying one, but he does carry a SPOT Satellite Messenger which allows him to send “I’m OK” as well as “SOS” messages to his contacts. You can find out more about his journey on his Web site at Cyclingintothedark.com and a Facebook page that’s linked from there.
I couldn’t resist stopping at the Lewes Dam again on the way back to town to meet Cathy for a late lunch. The fog in the valley was still too thick to do much, so I drove up above it for a look.
I shot this short video to give you a better idea of the conditions than still photos can.
Trucking the Alaska Highway, with a light snow falling, and the wind chill still being reported as -39°.
As I usually do, I stopped at the Whitehorse airport to see if anything interesting was happening, and lucked into seeing our second jetway being installed. Passengers on the second, third and/or fourth airplanes in at a given time have to walk across the tarmac to and from their planes. I recall what that’s like when you’re returning from a warm-weather vacation in January! Whitehorse will now be removed from the list of “quaint” airports with a single jetway (there are very few in the world).