Saturday, March 13, 2010

On the Yukon

On Saturday afternoon, Mike moved through the first real town he has seen in several days — if you can call it a town. Ruby, Alaska, population 188, is a native community on the Yukon River. In town, you can probably buy all the canned salmon you can eat, along with canned goods, a few packaged supplies, and, on a day well-timed with the mail plane, a non-wilted head of lettuce or a $9 gallon of milk. But Mike managed to ignore these temptations and kept pedaling right through town without stopping.

Even though the offerings of Ruby aren't exactly luxurious, it's still hard to imagine bypassing yet another opportunity for fresh food, a warm room to rest tired legs and a sponge bath next to sink in a small village school. Mike hints that he's preparing for a bigger trip in the future — presumably a trip through a large swath of frozen wilderness where there is no opportunity for resupply or even trees (rumor has it that Mike refuses to even build fires to warm himself and cook food in the evening, because he is preparing for a situation where there is no wood.) Still, the fact that he is presently moving through places where resupply and wood does in fact exist, and still has the capacity to ignore them, seems (to me) even more impressive.

After leaving Ruby, he turned west on the frozen Yukon River, where he will follow the superhighway of Alaska's Interior for a couple hundred miles. The Iditarod Dog Sled race is now in full swing. The leaders have already driven past Kaltag and are bearing down on the coast. Mike's probably had the opportunity to see a lot of the mushers go past, although I'm guessing he's looking forward to the no longer having to listen for those little dog feet padding the snow behind him. (Little dog feet, however, do help pack down the trail.)

Racers have reported temperatures as low as 40 below on the Yukon River. The dynamics of 40 below make things that much more interesting on a bicycle. For starters, even grease with a lower freezing point starts to thicken, which makes everything from the crank to derailleurs to the hub turn that much slower. Headsets freeze, making it hard to turn handlebars. The rubber in tires hardens and cracks. Tubes start to lose air, and if the temperature drops much more, they begin to come apart at the seams. Bodies move slower at 40 below as well. Even encased in a lot of clothing, at 40 below, a person's body has to work so hard to make heat that it's difficult to generate power. Muscles won't warm up and limbs move like they're pumping molasses instead of blood. It's all about survival at 40 below, and the mantra is, "Just keep moving."

And Mike seems to be doing just that — and moving really strong on the Yukon. As of 10 p.m. Alaska time he was still pedaling, making what looks to be some of his fastest average times on the trip. He's now about 575 miles into his 1,100-mile trip. I believe this is day 13. He should reach Galena sometime early Sunday.

River travel can be monotonous — wide, white and flat. But if Mike needs a little boost, he can always break out his secret stash:

— J.H.

6 comments:

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  3. Thanks for the continuing write-ups Scott & Jill. This is a great adventure to follow. Keep on keepin on Mike.

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  4. Half way, way to go mc.

    Thanks Jill and Scott.

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