Part 5 - Welcome to the icy part of the trip
The bikes are running, the road is open. The studded wheels bite their way across Tuktoyaktuk. The streets are neatly covered with snow - like all the rest of this place. We meet the Tuktoyaktuk mayor for a quick shake hands. Nice riding conditions today. We pass the cemetery, heading out of town. Out to the Beaufort-Sea, to the ice road. The sweeping road swings through the white with grand air. Never really straight, here and there snaking around some twisted heaps of ice shards. Looks like someone was having fun building this road. So, how's the driving on the ice? Let’s ask the guys who did it:
PAUL: "Handling is much harder with those studded tires, since steering feels quite twitchy, which prohibits speeds above 40 mph. The ice road is - naturally - far from being perfectly smooth so you have to constantly watch out for cracks, holes, grooves etc."
PETER: "The ride was better than expected, I hadn‘t thought we could go that fast with studs on ice. But you have to be quick on the brakes, because of very rough parts of the road, that appeared especially on the open sea; riding on the river was much smoother."WOLFGANG: "It felt sometimes like an off-road bike on the beach. Gues that was due to the long metal spikes on the tires. The cracks in the ice running in your driving direction are tricky. If the front tire slips into one of those, the bike just tries to follow the crack. Got to fight your way out of these. Other than that, driving was fine."However, each of them gets his share of testing the windchill at minus 35 degrees Celsius and 60 k/h.
What to wear when it feels like 57 °C below zero?Apart from some fashion details it was the onion-style that was the choice of the thinking traveller. Multi layers of breathable cotton and quality wool, all with long sleeves. On top of all that went the Canada Goose Resolute Parka. Woolen socks to stick them in arctic-proof boots. The head protected by a balaclava, and a woolen hat, parka-hood optional. What about the hands? Snowboard-gloves scored best on our field test: reassuring thick quality that still leaves some sensitivity to the fingertips. This is enough for those who don’t ride. But what is the world class biker wearing for the ride on the Polar Sea? At speeds up to 60 kph the wind shouldn’t be underrated. We had prototypes of Aerostich overalls, result of a longtime personal relationsship between Aerostich and W&W. Another layer in our onion clothing concept. But there’s one trouble spot we didn’t have on our list: the hands. Sure, there are gloves. Gloves that promised to stand any weather. There are special wind deflectors fixed to the handlebars. Plus heated control grips. Doesn’t sound too bad. But it isn’t nearly enough. Which needed some miles of riding to find out. The first miles are pure pleasure. More: mind-blowing. The road, the ice, the landscape, the vastness, the endless white - blanking out little things like cold fingers.
But you can’t deny it for long. The cold creeps in with every ridden mile, through every kind of material or fabric. Heated controls just slow down this process, but there’s for sure the moment to come when the cold starts biting into your finger. First it hurts a bit. The man in you keeps on riding. The hurting grows. And at one point - the hurt is gone. Not because the cold is gone, it’s your body that starts disconnecting your finger. And only if, as it happened to us, the bike runs out of gas and you have to stop for refuelling and therefore change your gloves maybe then you realise, that one or two of your fingers have already gotten frostbite. Looks like a good moment to put the riding on hold and get the bikes and the fingers back into the warm. Some minor technical fumbling. Some major steaks.
Good night, don't count every fingerGooood morning! The two fingers don’t feel too good. Numb on the outside, the interior throbbing madly. The skin pale. A bit like a burn. But there are still eight fingers in mint condition. So back on the bikes, out to the ice road. Temperatures as we know them. We are late today. It‘s close to 10 am. The sun is on the way up and out soon. Killing that unreal light that makes this place up here so special. It’s not dark as long as we expected, given that it’s dead mid winter now. The big difference is the extended dawn and dusk. Rather early the sky starts to glow in a deep dark blue. Far out. Like someone turned on a lamp that slowly warms up and brightens. An unreal, a mysterious light.
The Wrecking Crew clocks up some miles in the meantime and both Harleys already shine their tail-lights at the Beaufort Sea. Waiting ahead: the Mackenzie River. On the frozen river we ride mile after mile between the white, the endlessness and the vast nothing. Suddenly, as if somebody switched them on crippled conifers pop up on the snowy banks. It's life vs. climate 1:0. That’s when we enter the Mackenzie Delta, stretched out 50 km wide.