Between last year’s Dawson Overland adventure and the Mr.’s North Canol adventure this summer, the idea of longer bikepacking adventures has been lingering in the back of my head. Over the course of the summer, the idea transformed into credit card bills accompanied by a cold weather sleeping bags and a bivy sack. Eventually, I found myself with a tupperware full of gear and no more excuses. It was time to put it all to the test, and go out on a mini-winter camping adventure.
First step was packing up all my stuff. My matching frame bag arrived last week from Porcelain Rocket, but my seat bag and handlebar bag aren’t ready yet, so I borrowed Mr’s. I managed to fit 2 sleeping bags (both for me), 2 bivy sacks (one for bike-wife, one for me), an air mattress, a change of clothes, a stove, a camera, some food, a mini-speaker and an iPod into my bike bags and a back pack.
My adventure started on a well packed route beside the Yukon River. I was surprised how well the bike manoueveured even with the extra weight. There was very little difference in steering, and unlike panniers, the more evenly distributed weight had less impact on my speed. Everything was going well until my first major challenge – a large river crossing with open water. I was worried I’d need to turn around and come back with a pack raft, but thankfully found a decent crossing point, with a makeshift bridge.
Happily on the other “right” side of the river, I headed towards the next challenge, a hike a bike section that I purposely chose to check how much more difficult scaling cliffs would be with extra weight. I was able to pick out a well established route, with good foot holes for a long climb.
The hike a bike was definitely harder then the riding, but manageable even in Xtra Tuffs. Once at the top of the cliffs, I only had a short distance to my camp spot. I purposely chose somewhere with a nice warming hut, so that if things went awry I’d have an out.
It was at the warming hut that I met up with my winter camping partner and bike-wife Jenn. Before enduring the harsh realities of a -20 Yukon night, we took some time to enjoy some hot tea and chocolate. Then with the clock ticking away, we forced ourselves to get the bivies set up on flat area we had scouted out nearby. We were a little worried about wild animals, but managed to keep them on the inside of the hut.
The evening was a roaring success. That is as long as you don’t use any official definition of the word success, and instead think of it as attempting a goal, instead of accomplishing one. Bike-wife and I found ourselves warm enough inside our little shelters, but at about 3 am, we decided that since everything technically worked, we were free to go inside and enjoy the comforts of forced air.
The morning went surprisingly well. The warming hut had a coffee grinder, a toaster, and lots of cheddar cheese. After a good breakfast, I packed everything back into the bags and headed home. I decided to take a shorter, less scenic route; hoping to catch second breakfast at my house before all the bacon got eaten.
In the grand scheme of things, my first winter camping adventure did teach me several important things. First, always plan a route with a warming hut or cabin. There is a big difference between surviving a winter night outside, and enjoying a winter night outside. I can’t really imagine having a restful sleep on a -20 night, although I am happy to discover I wouldn’t die. Here in the Yukon, finding adventures that include cabins isn’t actually that limiting. Second, testing out gear on a backyard deck, 4 km from your house is a far smarter option, then waiting until you are out on a snowmobile trail out of cell range.