Kim and I pushed our bikes out of the Koyuk school into a ground blizzard. In 2014, we traveled the overland trail from Koyuk to Buckland, over the Seward Peninsula, on a near perfect trail. This time we had a bigger challenge.
The first day of our traverse was almost surreal: the wind was in our face and the light snow swirled all around us. Several hours into our “ride” two hunters on snow-goes stopped and were beside themselves. “Are…you okay?” Translation = Are you insane?? Despite it all we could see our trail and the markers and for the most part we could ride, albeit in low gear with low tire pressure.
The following day dawned clear and without a breath of wind. A stark contrast. We’d intended to divert off the straight trail near Haycock and head up to Granite hot springs but the primary trail was hard to find, as it had been obliterated by wind driven snow and we worried that if we left it we may have a hard time reconnecting. Sadly, we made the call to continue north and miss the rejuvenating soak.
All day as we pushed and rode over the continental divide we were like blood hounds sniffing out the trail - finding it, riding it, losing it, and sniffing it out again. Typically, the snow-go track offers a contrast to the all white world - some ripple shadows against the sea of sameness but on this day there was nothing. We pushed on into sundown over the divide and into a small patch of willows that we could burn in our stove and shelter behind if the north wind returned.
In the morning we had two cups of coffee, pushed over the last biggish hill and onto Bear Creek Cabin and decided to rest. The wind had returned and we knew that very little wood existed for us between there and Buckland. Bear Creek is the last sliver of northern taiga forest and we took advantage of its heat calories. The afternoon was spent cleaning the shelter and harvesting wood. The rule with shelter cabins is to leave it better than when you found it. In this instance Kim and I went several steps beyond. Hopefully the next users will feel the vibe and begin to treat that little sanctuary better.
Another long day put us within striking distance of Buckland Village. The trail was more visible but sastrugi snow covered much of the trail. The riding was technical and bumpy - fun and entertaining but not fast. Again, we found a small patch of willow. When it came time to set up the shelter we both commented on the cold. We have of course gotten used to the cold and wind in our faces but this felt different - more cold. As the stove came to life and began to roar inside the shelter the frost continued to creep in, up and all around. We slept in our down clothing and bundled up with everything we had. Not until we reached Buckland the next day did we find out that it had dipped to -30º.
Just outside the village we spotted a herd of musk-ox and we walked off the trail to get a better view. They are a local herd that winters in the area. We’d seen wolverine tracks, including wolverine with a kit, moose, ptarmigan, fox sign, ravens, and a few other mustelid tracks on our traverse but only two people since leaving the Koyuk side of the divide. The landscape is so massive and lonely but incredible beyond description. Once again, we have been granted the luck and opportunity to traverse this prehistoric land.
Our hope from here has always been to detour to Selawik and Norvik villages before heading to Kotzebue but there is a new storm on the horizon. In this land a couple inches of snow turns into incredible drifts and travel by bicycle becomes fantastically difficult. We may opt for the direct path across the sea ice to the Baldwin Peninsula. As I write this we are still weighing our options.
Most likely we’ll post again from Kotzebue - anywhere from 3 to 6 days from now.
Regardless of our trail, we will be crossing into and above the arctic - awesome!