Bears, bike failure & tears above the Arctic Circle

I’m now back in Fairbanks after my 10 day / 500 mile cycling expedition from the most northern tip in Alaska.  I’ll be posting a second report with details of the “tent mauling” incident after this one (this was kindly executed by a black bear at around midnight near milepost 22 of the Dalton; mildly inconvenient to say the least as it left me without shelter & sleep for the last couple of days!).  I’ll hopefully be posting it once I get an outtake of the interview I had here on the local radio KSUA 91.5FM.

In summary, this first stage of the trip has been incredible and lived up to every expectation.  Phenomenal scenery and sensations of remoteness combined with numerous challenges; it was a gruelling but enlightening 10 days.  Arriving back in Fairbanks has been immensely rewarding  and I’ve been getting some good rest in before the next adventure in Denali National Park (as you may know, the highest peak in North America). The first few days were relatively easy but as the days moved on it seemed to get progressively harder and more challenging as I became fatigued.  Here are some of the highlights:

– According to my odometer, there was a total elevation gain of well over double the height of Everest; something I hadn’t quite appreciated beforehand. Hill after hill after hill, some 8 miles long with several hundred metres change altitude. Steep ascents followed by steep descents on loose gravel / pot-holes;  fairly treacherous on a loaded touring bike. There must have been a series of about 20 on the second half from coldfoot onwards…just relentless… sometimes achieving a mind bogglingly slow 2.5 mph. Day in day out this can start to wear you down physically and mentally.

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– Mosquito torture like you wouldn’t believe; the worst place on earth for this?

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– Major mechanical bike failure (rear derailleur / gear shifter bent to an inoperable angle requiring some very ad hoc repair work). I had to sit down on the side of the gravel road and start reading the manual. Unfortunately it happened at 10 pm after a long day’s cycle.  Once I had managed a very amateur-ish fix, I had to continue cycling for 5 miles; no sleep until 4 am that evening. Although I did see this impressive sunset:

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– A huge variation in road surface: from reasonable road surfaces to pebble-sized loose gravel (unbearably slow) to a wet clay like surface that inconveniently tripled the size of my already large tyres.

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– Massive deficit of calorie intake; burning so much energy each day makes it hard to keep up with the required food intake.  Fairly shocked looking in the mirror on my return!

– Hauling far too much kit; not helpful for those hills!

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– A fearless black bear deciding to completely mangle my tent whilst I was 20 metres away at 12.30a.m. leaving me with no shelter for the final evening (more later in future post). Thankfully I found shelter on the final night at this cabin (kindly lent to me by Trading Post, a quaint  general store at around milepost 55 on the Elliott highway; right near the end of the trip. I recommend stopping by if you’re ever in the area, a very friendly bunch)

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– Long periods of solitude – cycling into brutal headwinds. Although the scenery and beauty more than made up for it.

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The experience was magnificent; I wouldn’t have changed a thing…

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Video taken from my go pro camera:
Approaching Atigun Pass
Downhill before Coldfoot
Poor road surface
First day from Northern tip of North America

20 thoughts on “Bears, bike failure & tears above the Arctic Circle

  1. The “Alaskan Bear Hunter look” looks great on you – its a good looking beard! I am sitting on the sofa in our cold house looking at these pictures and see you were wearing a woolly hat just the one I’ve got on.. sibling synchronicity in action across the globe! Sounds like you need to do some serious fattening up before embarking on your next adventure. Looking forward to the Bear Instalment and radio outtake. xxx

  2. You’re a brave man, what unbelievable hardship you’re going through. Pictures and video are great, they give a good feel for what you’re experiencing. Was gripping listening to your bear story live on Alaskan radio, very well told. I managed to record it on my phone as a video, but it’s about 250meg, let me know if you want me to put it on dropbox or something. Congratulations you’re already almost 10% done aren’t you, and presumably it is the worst bit? Don’t forget to replenish your stock of bear mace. When are you setting off from Fairbanks?

    • Thanks tom! Heading out tomorrow or Saturday. Next stage has quite a few more grizzlies and wildlife (and hills!) so I need to bear that in mind. Likely to be heading to Denali national park, then east along Denali highway (gravel road with minimal traffic then south down the Richardson and then north-east up to Tok. 500 to 600 miles depending how far I go into the Denali NO. Did the video links work at the bottom of the post? Did you capture the whole interview? I’ll give them a few more days to come back to me with the recording but keep it just in case. Wonder if there’s a way of reducing the size of the file…

  3. Congratulations on completing the first leg of your journey! Mechanical failure, mosquitoes, thin air at high altitude and starvation all sound excruciating but you seem fulfilled and exhilarated to have met the challenges that this landscape threw at you and I’m very pleased to hear that! Pictures are beautiful. Look forward to hearing more xx

  4. “…quite a few more grizzlies..so I need to bear that in mind…” haha! I got everything from when you started the bear story, so it’s in two segments. Yes, if anyone knows how to strip out the audio only from a 13min 250meg mp4 video, please advise!

    • you can just play it and record it with windows mic app.
      Launch – Windows – Sound Recorder
      Open MP4 and Hit record on Sound recorder.
      There will be lots better ways that this that really reduce file size but that will bring it under 10mg.

  5. Erm. . .post the video on Youtube. I believe it handles video quite well. Without creating an audio file- which you can do via Real PLayer- you could use iTunes to create an ipod or iphone version which will crunch the size.

    In addition- your adventures are epic. Were trucks bombing past you then on the Dalton thingy? Fairly lucky to be away from your tent at that time of night I suppose- looking forward to hearing about the beast incident. Take more video! The video clips work well bit are short. Video diary us up/off etc.

    • Cheers doom, really great to hear from and very encouraging! Have just posted full details on the bear accident. Trucks were random and would pass at anything from 5 minutes to an hour.Noted, re video…

  6. Nick, you’re a legend! What a hideous/brilliant experience…Keep the updates flowing for the desk bound amongst us…

  7. WOW! What an epic start to the trip, Mr Gault! Blog and videos are great by the way.

    Few questions:
    1) how quickly has the bike fitness built up during the trip ie hills that were beastly at the start are now managed with ease?
    2) How often were you having contact with other people? Do the truckers stop and have chat asking what the fre@k you’re doing out there?
    3) Is there a link to hear your radio interview?

    Best of luck. Would love to be there as well.
    Cheers
    S

    • Thanks Steve!
      1. Loads fitter now. Did 50 miles yesterday after 5 days rest and felt fairly easy. Going to back it up with a 70 miler today so will see how that goes. Heading up to take a look at the highest peak in North America.
      2. Occasional people and couple of chats with truckers, most reasonably friendly,a couple fairly hostile to cyclists! Generally they were pretty cool. the few vehicles that did pass were generally going at high speed and there only a couple of services on the whole road so that was the only place I’d talk to them. In fact I tried to wave then down after the bear incident but none stopped – guess they were scared as it was late at night in fairness to them.
      3. Tom Gault, the legend, recorded the interview. The link is on the new post that I’ve just uploaded. Not actually had a chance to hear it, let me know what you think!

  8. Hi Nick – Dudley sent me your link… I too am a mountain bike rider but nothing compared to the adventure you are having. Truly inspiring. Congrats on the first few sections, shame about the bear mauling the tent, but hey it’s all part of the experience. I look forward to reading more and wishing you safe travels…. Cheers Di (from Sydney)

    • Hi Di! thanks for getting in touch. Yeah the bear thing was definitely part of the experience. Guess I have to accept that I am in bear country & these things can happen (even if they are rare and I was unlucky to encounter such a mean bear). Keep up the biking and look forward to future comments. 🙂 nick

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