Burnt Toast & Bicycles
We moved out of the Mountain Ridge Motel, dubbed Bates Motel by me, and into a B&B on the other side of town. La Bicicletta. Not your average, kiss me quick, along the seafront, British B&B. Run by a Croatian who, in the cycled around the world and his wife and children it was actually a two bedroomed house attached to their own. We had the run of the place most of the week and were made most welcome by the cycling Croatian, Ante, who insisted that he make us Turkish coffee at least once a day. This gorgeous creation would be served with a dollop of ice cream floating on the top. Not only did Ante make us welcome with fabulous coffee his largesse stretched to offering us the use of the sauna he had built himself in the garden, complete with liqueurs, soothing music and tea lights to ease away the aches of the day. One stipulation; we had to roll around naked in his snow filled garden to get the best from the treatment. We did however decline the invitation to beat ourselves senseless with the spruce branches he had chosen and tied specifically for this purpose.
Burnt Toast is a restaurant that serves food from breakfast till late on 2nd Avenue near Main Street. It is more than a diner although not quite a restaurant. The staff are effervescent and were keen to know why we were in town. Most of our food has been cooked by ourselves, well Jo, up to now, but we did manage to visit Burnt Toast twice in one day and have to say, thumbs up to the lamb shanks.
As well as visiting eating establishments we have been supporting the local economy in other ways. Kit shops, of the outdoor persuasion have taken a hammering from us. The credit card is filling up nicely and I fully expect a Christmas card next year from Mr Visa. Along with Coast Mountain Sports, Canadian Tire (apologies for the northern American spelling) has proved popular. This is a true Aladdin’s cave, and yes you can buy TYRES here, as well as washing machines, duck tape, and tent cord, has been the source of hours of wonderment.
But we didn’t come here to shop. We came to train. After my bout of illness last week it has been Jo’s turn this week. The lurgi has been going around Whitehorse with 15% of the school population missing lessons as a result. The beginning of the week saw us out on the groomed trails around the Mount McIntyre Ski Club, me hopelessly trying to keep up with Jo and despite the minus 14 degrees Celcius ending a frustrating 10 miles in an absolute bath of sweat, my clothing soaked through and to be honest, thoroughly knackered and demoralized.
So I was booked in for another lesson with Mike Gladish, the Ski Club guru, in the hope that a fix could be given to help me. We went out for an hour, just the two of us and chatted about snow coefficients, returning polar maritime air mass and tackled the complexities of angle of lean versus fall line when herringboning up a hill. It was all about minimizing the amount of energy I expended whilst skiing, trying to keep my body temperature down and still moving at an acceptable pace. In the race we will have to be able to keep up a 5-6km an hour pace for 10 to 12 hours each day. At the end of that we will be sleeping out in temperatures of at least -20 degrees Celcius. If we are soaked to the skin with sweat we will be spending a very uncomfortable night as well as running the risk of frostbite.
Thursday saw a once in ten year event in Whitehorse, 14cm of snow in one dump. Jo was ill and advised to stay away from the slopes, I was desperate to try out my new skills and headed of into the white. I started on a narrow snow shoe trail, skiing through the snow, having to break trail with every step and unable to see the tips of my skis which were beneath the snow. These trails are only three to four feet wide and snake through the trees. This was virgin powder and I felt elated to not only be in the snow but breaking trail. I really felt as though I was on my own in the wilderness. There was absolute silence as I pushed on through the trees. Fresh coyote and deer prints wound their way around and in and out of the dense spruce trees, criss-crossing my path. For nearly four hours I pushed on with a steady rhythm, completely alone and with a big grin on my face. I felt that despite the conditions and falling snow I was skiing well and although not fast it was the best I had felt. Thanks to Mike’s patience I felt I had turned a corner and that maybe, just maybe 300 miles of the Yukon Arctic Ultra was achievable.
Today, I am sitting writing this in a log cabin, 8 metres by 4 metres on the edge of the frozen Braeburn Lake. Outside it is -24 degrees Celsius but inside, next to the wood burning stove crackling beside me, it is warm enough to be just in my long johns and a t-shirt. The next phase of the training has begun. We are now 100 miles north of Whitehorse, on the trail which we will be racing on in two weeks time. We have with us our pulks, the sledges which will carry our equipment on the trail and tomorrow we will harness these up and start to get used to skiing whilst pulling them. They have both been named. Jo has named hers “Bob Sled” and I have named mine “First Steps”. For me this trip is exactly that, my first steps towards realising the goal of the ITACE 2014 team crossing Antarctica. The days are getting longer too, with it being light just before 10am and not getting dark till nearly 5pm. This is the week to test all our equipment and ourselves in this harsh climate. Every drop in 10 degrees of temperature brings new challenges. The snow changes, becoming gritty as it gets colder. Skin exposure has to be monitored more closely as it can become frost nipped without you even noticing. It takes longer and longer to warm up.
Taking a glove off to do something like a ski binding can mean 10 minutes before fingers are warm enough to move again. The air is so dry as well as cold that nose bleeds are common, often being brought on by a sneeze.
It’s a daunting task ahead and as it draws near the enormity of it is sinking in. Just beating the climate alone is a challenge. “Cometh the hour, cometh the man”. We shall see, but after this weeks training I feel just that little bit more confident that we can do it!