Here in the Yukon you’ll find Midnight Sun roasters (the best coffee in town), Midnight Sun Gift store, Midnight Sun golf course (with after midnight tee times), and plenty of signs welcoming you to the “Land of the Midnight Sun”. This begs the question: how the midnight sun managed to so effectively steal the spotlight from it’s twin brother the noon sunset? There are no cute cafes celebrating an all dark day, no billboards that welcome in tourists with the promise of a 4:00 o’clock sunset. Are Yukoners just naturally glass half full kind of people? Or are we all suffering from selective memory.
For every amazing post-midnight ride in the summer, there is a winter day that you need lights at 4:00 pm. It’s easy to brag about bountiful light in June, but it takes a little more effort to find a way to celebrate the dark. In Whitehorse, we do this at the 5+ Hours of Light, the sister event to the 24 Hours of Light bike festival. Both are no-lights lap races that are based on available light.
Like its summer counterpart, the 5+ Hours of Light is meant to be held on solstice weekend. The race is run from sunrise to sunset, which translates to 10:09 am, to 3:47 pm. This year, we had to delay due to -30 temperatures, even though we ran a mere three weeks later, we had gained 40 minutes of sunlight. We decided not to change the start time, and instead take advantage of a little bit of extra sunlight to get the course set up.
For the second year in a row, Biathlon Yukon let us use their facilities for the event. Not only does this provide a great groomed double track for the mass start.
It’s also a great finish line area for intense sprint finishes.
But, the greatest thing about Biathlon is the warming shelter, with a nice wood stove and electrical outlets to plug in the essentials.
Like all Yukon events, the 5+ Hours is a very serious affair. Thanks to years of running lap races, the local mountain bike club have become experts in timing and recording.
Although the system was slightly compromised by colder temperatures, it was discovered that white board markers e placed underneath the armpit for 2-4 minutes will completely thaw.
There is always a wide variety of riders that come out to 5+ Hours of Light. As part of the event, local bike shops bring demo bikes for trial which attracts plenty of curious locals who have seen the fat tire marks and want to know more. There are folks who come out to ride a lap or two, eat some granola bars and enjoy socializing in a bike saturated environment. Then there are the few who arrive with the intention of riding as many laps as possible in 5 hours and 37 minutes.
This year, I started with the idea of being a casual participant, figuring that as one of the organizers I wouldn’t actually have time to do too many laps. But, thanks to some stellar volunteers, I found myself with nothing to do, and the opportunity to just ride. Each time I arrived at the finish line, I found someone else willing and eager to go out for a lap. By the time I was on the 4th go round, there didn’t seem much point in stopping anymore.
Although, I’m fairly well-accustomed to lap races, I learned that winter riding is a bit of a different beast. In the 24 Hours of Light, the only real clothing concern is weather to wear clothes or try for a bonus naked lap. In the winter, I found myself wearing a different outfit each lap. I started with a thin jacket and gloves; and ended up in a down jacket with my big fur mitts. Even though the temperature never actually dropped, cumulative sweat and a course that had large sections of climbing, followed by fast descending made me progressively chilled.
My biggest challenge in a lap course is keeping boredom at bay. Re-riding the same trail over and over takes more than legs, it takes attention span. This is particularly hard on a trail that you already ride regularly. But, there is something magical about winter and the way a couple of inches of fresh snow can powder the trees like a mini doughnuts.
And a boring old trail, suddenly becomes a tunnel of snowy branches.
By the time the sun was setting, I was finishing up my 6th lap, and feeling a little disappointed with the disappearing light and the end up of a great day of riding.
If I’m only going to get 5+ hours of light, I want every minute of them to be spent on a bike.