I linger at the breakfast table, trying to avoid the inevitable: I must leave this morning to continue my journey. The outdoor thermometer reads -33°C. Needless to say, focusing on statistics like that is not a great source of motivation. But I chose this.
My spontaneous hosts have been warm and welcoming; a Dutch couple who’ve done their fair share of adventuring. Franz had been on many mountain-man-style forays in his earlier years, in the Yukon, Lapland and elsewhere. A few years back they’d cycled part of the Great Divide off-road route in the US, and their fantastic photos from the trip reminded me of a desire I’d long held to bike the route myself.
So it’s late in the morning when I finally set off into the chill air. Temperatures this low seem to take on a malevolent, invisible life of their own; tentacles of ice swiftly wrapping themselves around your more exposed parts, sucking the heat and life away unless kept carefully at bay. It’s astonishingly beautiful as I ride east up the valley, but it carries a dim threat.
As I ponder my night’s camp, clouds appear over the hills ahead. I’m halfway through pitching my tent when the first gust of wind hits. I get a faceful of ice crystals and my tent blows over. I hurl obscenities at nothing in particular and consider packing it up and continuing to ride into the night until the wind has settled. Then I notice my tent bag has disappeared from where I’d hung it on my handlebars. It’s nowhere to be seen and darkness is falling fast. More obscenities.
I force myself to dig deep, and restore some semblance of order to my camp. In these conditions, everything takes an agonizingly long time to accomplish; thick gloves and deep snow and gusts of wind all conspiring against my efforts. I finally manage to get my tent planted and partly-buried in defiance of future wind, blindly cook a pot of crap convenience food, and dive for the cover of the tent, within whose toasty confines it is a balmy -10°C.
And here I sit with laptop and headtorch, listening to more flapping canvas, wondering what’s in store for tomorrow and hoping I can finally get some distance under my wheels.