Currently as I write this I am in a warm van leaving Gillam Manitoba. We have just finished up riding over 700km on the Wapusk Trail (worlds longest winter road). We flew into Peawanuck on Tuesday March 10th, built our bikes, loaded and double checked the bikes again, then set off into the Hudson Bay abyss. We departed around 330pm. The sun was out, the wind light and our spirits high and full of excitement for the ride ahead. We found a good spot to camp around the 42km mark. Our systems were a bit sloppy and slow the first day as we were still getting into our trip “groove”. We made dinner, set up the polar bear fence, and went to bed.
The next Morning was cool but not crazy cold. We were slow getting going as we slept in and were tired from the travel days getting to Peawanuck. Up in the north the sun rises much later then home but seems to set later in the day. Shortly after leaving camp we came across some very fresh Polar Bear tracks that were scattered along the winter road in the snow. We all kind of chuckled about how much of a good idea it was to set up the bear alarm fence!
All day the sun was out, the wind was lightly at our backs helping us move towards our first stop, Fort Severn which is the most northern Town in Ontario. We had a fun day of riding and rolled into our camp spot around with about 94km on the gps for the day. At this point we had only seen one truck on the road. We were camped in an old forest fire and just west of a creek that coincidentally had some very large polar bear tracks in, albeit a few days old. The stars put on a beautiful show as we made our way to our warm sleeping bags. Shortly after going to bed, the crew who maintains the road from Fort Severn to Peawanuck (200km) passed by us and stopped shortly to say “hello”.
The next day we had around 65km to ride to Fort Severn, where we would resupply on our riding food. We were now pushing a cross headwind which made the riding a bit trickier. The landscape we were riding through was truly amazing. We were three people riding our bikes in one of the most remote areas of Canada and it was mind boggling to think that for these communities this is there home. Beautiful, remote and very isolated. It’s a much simpler way of living in the north. Everything takes more effort to survive and to do the day to day chores.
We hit Fort Severn early in the afternoon, filled our bikes and panniers and visited a bit with some of the locals from the town. Everyone we had met up to this point was very warm and welcoming for us. I also believe they were thinking that we were lunatics for what we were doing too!
We managed to get around 30km after our resupply in Severn before making camp. We also had a magnificent tailwind helping us as we started our way towards Shamattawa, 320km away. The 50km/hr winds made finding a spot to set camp a bit tough, but we managed to find a small tree island in a land of muskeg that offered some shelter from the wind.
The next morning we awoke with a cold frost covering all our gear and bikes. After breaking camp we started the ride across a day filled with wide open swamps and a ruthless head/ crosswind that would be present for the majority of the day. Being a group of 3 riders we were able to rotate who was at the front and creating a bit of a draft for the other two riders behind to have a bit easier of a ride without the full wind smashing you all day.
The riding on the road so far was tough. It was snowy, rough, and had a lot of small ups and downs as it meandered across a land of muskeg. We were pretty tired by days end after 85km of dealing with the wind and just as we were starting to look for a place to camp we found a abandoned cabin that we made home for the night. It was ripped apart from polar bears and lacked any source of heating it so it was a cold bivouac but was made somewhat easier because of not having to set up and take down the tent. We all awoke having a terrible nights sleep and pondered why? We were all warm and seemed good but were unsure why we would all sleep restlessly and agitated. We would later find out from the locals that the cabin we had slept in was deemed to be “full of bad spirits”. Yikes!
The day leaving the haunted cabin was similar to the day before, filled with lots of big swamps and a crosswind. The day was uneventful as we were falling into the rhythm of the day to day routine of wake up, eat, break camp and load bikes, ride all day then make camp, eat and sleep. We ended the day with around 95km on the gps. We made it to the Manitoba/ Ontario border which was pretty cool! We could literally see the distance we have travelled moving west, on a global map. We made camp by the road crew who were in charge of clearing the 320km section of road from Fort Severn to Shamattawa.
The next morning was by far the coldest starting out. It was about -36 Celsius without the wind as we slowly rolled out of camp. After crossing Husky lake which was the first lake crossing of the day, we were now in Manitoba and around 100km to Shamattawa from Severn. The day was filled with lots of big swamps and muskeg. We rolled into Shamattawa at the end of the day and were tired, hungry and ready to make camp. The grocery store was closed as it was Sunday evening so our only resupply option was some chips and candy from the local gas bar. It was still delicious and we had enough food to keep us fed until the end. We rolled about 5km west of Shamattawa towards our final destination of Gillam Manitoba and found a sheltered spot to camp. The day was our biggest so far, reading just over 105km.
At this point we had thought the cross winds were tough, little did we know what the next and last two days would bring… The next morning we were on the bikes early as we were going to try to get the 200 plus Kms to Gillam done in two days. As we slowly started our day on the bikes we were greeted with a steady 40-50km/hr headwind.. it was relentless and cold. We were literally riding straight into it for the entire day. The bikes were wide and seemed to add even more drag and resistance as we slowly pressed west. By days end we were gassed and tired. We made camp around the halfway point for this leg of the journey. Our daily total was a hard fought 85km.
The next morning which would be our last was the coldest yet. It was also the windiest and was planned to be the longest at around 120km. We were very cold starting out. Our hands were numb and lacked feeling as we rode. We made a routine of stopping every 5km for a quick 1-2min break. We’d have a few bites of whatever snacks we had left, adjust any clothing and be off into the wind again. We were taking 5km pulls at the front and rotating through. It was soul crushingly slow as we crawled our bikes west. At around 20km to go until the end of the winter road, Ryan’s bottom bracket had a bearing crack which was slowly seizing up on him and added to the already tough going. With 10km to go, we improvised a quick solution to help take the work of the added friction the seizing bearing was creating. After almost 11hrs on the bikes and around 120km we finally hit the end of the winter road!