January 25, 2008, Fairbanks, Alaska, -15 to -30F, 66 miles, 5,000 feet climbing: Camping trip in the White Mountains
Temperature is -15 as I head out on the snow and ice covered road to the trail head in the White Mtns, where my friends Tom and Malcolm will park and ride the 12-mile sled dog and snow machine trail into a USBLM cabin I’ve rented for Friday night. North winds wail, air temperature is sinking and the January bloodless sun is scraping across the top of the Alaska Range, 100 miles to the south, providing only psychological warmth. The road part of this 9 hour freeze fest is one of snow packed or ice covered surfaces, but after 5-plus hours of crossing snow choked Tanana Uplands hills, Boreal forest, the ice-locked Chatanika River and climbing the Eliot Highway to Wickersham Dome I pull into the trailhead. Two mushers with their sleds and 20 or so dogs are returning from a romp on the trail.
The spell of darkness is upon me, along with an oppressive -20 F or less as I deflate my WTB Weirwolf LT 2.55s. These fat badboys are the super in dicey conditions. Unless you want to go for a fatbike, Weirwolf 2.55s are the best 26 or 29er tire: it’s directionally stable, floats well, and has strong, supple sidewalls. I’m going to need all the float I can get on these trails. The next 12 miles takes 3 plus hours, but to my thrill: I’m ridin’ it!
The red moon is slowly rising and the temperature is slowly dropping. Hoar frost glistens in my headlight as I alternate in awe between the absolute desolate, white indifference and the deafening silence of this black spruce-covered permafrost country. Tires crackle out a report that tells me that this snow is COLD.
I make the cutoff to the cabin, pushing the steep, barely broken trial to Eliazar’s cabin. I haven’t seen any sign of people for nearly 4 hours, only two sets of bike tracks laid down on the Wickersham Trail on sled tracks.
Tom and Malcolm have a fine fire crackling, invite me in for a hot drink and we while away the night telling trail lies and watch the scarlet moon carve a path.
Riding the 12 miles out in the morning light is an entirely different world from the dark eerie isolation of 12 hours earlier. Rolling is tough at -25 to -30 F, but because of these frigid conditions we see not a soul.
Once at the trailhead I have enough sense to ride home in the truck. My brain isn’t completely frozen.
Note: Rocky Reifenstuhl is preparing to race the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational. The event, which starts on February 25, will be Rocky's 21st year competing in the Iditarod Trail bike race. He has won the prestigious event eight times.