Eureka Dome is one big hill.
It’s late on day six of my ride in the Yukon Arctic Ultra from Whitehorse to Dawson and I have just crested the summit. A gentle breeze moves the -10 C air, triggering little notice on my part except the brief recognition that the weather is mercifully mild compared to what it could be at this elevation in the Black Hills of central Yukon.
The miserable cold that marked the first three days on the trail is a distant memory. My strategy – to literally race ahead of the warm front before the trail became too “punchy” for efficient travel – is working so far.
RELATED: View slideshow of Derek’s adventure.
Spotting the campsite of a Yukon Quest musher, I pull over. It has become routine to use these sites as rest stops, gathering the dogs’ straw under my sleeping mat and reviving the musher’s unused wood to spark a new fire.
I awake from a sound sleep to a sky awash with faint aurora. Kenji, a cameraman from Japanese broadcaster NHK, is nearby filming the scene. My light is on and I begin to break camp. As Kenji’s video light illuminates my tasks, we maintain silence. He has his job, and I have mine: to pack up and ride away down the crest of the Dome. Kenji leapfrogs ahead with camera to capture this strange scene of a man on a bicycle with five-inch tires, rolling into the richest valley in the North. Before long I’ve descended to Indian River, winding through the claims of Tony Beets of reality TV show Gold Rush fame, and ultimately arriving at the Arctic Ultra tent camp.
It’s a perfect day in the goldfields, and I revel in the history of the trail rolling under my wheels: Indian River Bridge, Granville, Dominion dredge piles, Sulfur Creek Road, the towering hulk of King Solomon’s Dome. Distracted by the beauty, not to mention sleep deprived, I mistakenly drop my camera while attempting to return it to my jacket pocket. Ridiculous! I’m several kilometres down the trail when I make the discovery, and have to backtrack to retrieve it. My legs are still working but my mind fails to fully grasp simple tasks.
Another film crew sees me through a large section of overflow, virtual ice swamps that form when meltwater meets snow and ice. My overboots go on, and I think back to Pelly Farm. Upon asking longtime resident Dale Bradley if I could leave my overboots behind in a drop bag, he had remarked, “lots of water in this country,” and shared an anecdote about a previous racer who traveled light and nearly paid the ultimate price. Thanks Dale, I think to myself.
I head up, up, up King Solomon’s Dome, the highest summit on the Quest trail, and my food situation is at the forefront of my thoughts. I’m low on carbs, brain food. I start counting jellybeans and peanut butter cups, and there aren’t enough. Will this hill ever end? No doubt this thought has crossed the mind of many a Klondike wheelman who rode this same stretch of road during the gold rush – so close to the comforts of Dawson yet agonizingly far away.
I stop for a final favourite dinner, spaghetti with meat sauce. With meditative focus, I submit to routine for the last time: melt snow, inhale food, go. The film crew captures all of this, and the start of the descent. I know this section of trail well and am not surprised with the uphills and traverses. I am surprised with how rideable it is, however. Never have I seen this little snow here.
At Discovery Claim, I encounter a massive section of overflow and the boots go on again. It’s deep and I’m wading, balancing on fragments of ice and using my bike as an outrigger. When I arrive on the other side, my bike’s wheels are now coated with a thick layer of ice and instantly pounds heavier. I try in vain to chip it off. Rolling slowly, too slowly, I crawl towards Dawson.
Finally the dredge appears out of the darkness, then woodsmoke. A dog chases me, but I don’t care if it bites. I wheel down the highway, crossing the Klondike River past Crocus Bluff, with no one to witness my arrival. I walk on the flat dike.
At last, I turn the corner and greet the sight I’ve been awaiting for a week: the S.S. Keno and the finish line. The end of my journey marks what I believe to be the first ride by a Yukoner from Whitehorse to Dawson via the Overland Trail in over a century. A small group of Yukon Arctic Ultra volunteers greets me with a finisher’s medal, which is surprisingly heavy. The jubilation and relief of finally arriving after 7.5 days, 700 kilometres, -45 C temperatures, jumble ice, and overflow is quickly replaced by dismay as I realize the terrible truth: I have missed last call at the Pit by a mere half hour!