Arctic Everesting part 2
In the northernmost town in the world. In harsh Arctic conditions. More than 20 hours of riding in -15°C. For the safety of Ukrainian refugees. This is Arctic Everesting part 2.
We are in the icy 2.6 km long Everesting hill from road 400, close to Longyearbyen airport, and up to Mine 3. This is about as close to the North Pole you can find a road.
Today’s first sunbeams warm in the cold. Not on the body, but in the heart. The temperature is just as low, it is still -20˚C/-4˚F and when heading down to turn for a new lap, the speed approaches 45 km/h/28 mph. The 'feel like’ temperature is down to -35˚C/-31˚F. The sun aren't making the temperature rise, but it is good for the mind.
- It's so beautiful here. I can't keep my eyes of the view. From dawn at the start at 5.15 AM, until now at 7 AM, it has been magical. Steep mountains raises straight up from the fjord. The Arctic air makes everything look clear and clean.
- I'm lucky to do this.
I'm cold, once again. The first hours of cycling have been better than I feared, but I constantly have to stop in the warming room in Mine 3. I can not get a drink while riding either. Going downhill, the water in my bottle freezes, and uphill I then carry half a liter of ice.
- It's warmer in Kenya. Antony, a cycling buddy of mine, challenged me to go there instead. Next time, I'll go to a warmer area, I reckon. What about Hong Kong, where my cycling clothes are produced? Everesting up to Victoria Peak.
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My mind wanders, and I just let it happen. I do not have to control my thinking. Daydreaming helps me mentally escape from the suffering.
No need to hurry. Patience is a gift.
Now I have done more than 1000 meters elevation. That equals three times up to Tryvann, Oslo’s toughest climb. That means it is still 21 times up to the tower north of Oslo city center. Or, back to the Arctic reality, 35 times to Mine 3.
The finish line seems far away. It’s many hours until I reach 8850 meters of vertical gain. Pretty depressive thinking. I have to split it up. Take one part at a time. Not think too far ahead. Live in the present.
The next time at the top, I make a stop in the mine and get in some water and food. My feet are frozen. I have to insert the insoles with heating elements from Heat Experience.
- You have a good pace! It is Håvar Fjerdingøy. He comes out of the darkness with his white mining helmet with flashing bright light. He makes me smile. Gruve 3's general manager has been out one stormy day before. Rumour has it he has several times been less than recommended corona safe social distance from polar bears.
He creates a good atmosphere in the authentic, yet spartan room used for warming and dressing for the miners. He gave us access to a warming room in the closed mine. Soon there would be tourists here and now we had to move the base into the warehouse.
- I have started the stove, so it will be nice and warm there too, he smiles.
Coal is the what provides electricity and heat on Svalbard. Mining has a 100-year history. Even though Mine 3 no longer extracts coal, Store Norske still has operations in Mine 7. On the other hand, there will be an end to this in 2023, and 50 miners will have to find new professions. Some fear for Norway's sovereignty in the area. To be in line with the Svalbard Treaty, mining activities must be conducted. When this is shut down, other countries can in principle claim the areas.
Today, coal is used for the city's own energy power plant, and the remaining coal is sold to Europe. Coal from Svalbard that has completely unique properties. Some say it creates less emissions than what is extracted elsewhere. When coal mining stops, large quantities of diesel must be imported by ship as alternative fuel until a more environmentally friendly alternative can be set up.
The temperature is rising in the warehouse. I'm taking on a few new laps in the hill.
- We will follow you down, say the polar bear guards. They explain that they have spotted a seal down by the fjord, and then polar bears may be nearby. Polar bears love seal for dinner.
- Okay, I answer, and continue without thinking more about it. I remember an article in a local newspaper that a polar bear had been spotted on the other side of the fjord, just the day before. And polar bears are great swimmers. They can quickly cross the fjord. People in the area were advised to keep eyes open and guns prepared.
Seconds when the Arctic wind bites in my face, a cold chill comes over me. If a polar bear runs towards me, what do I do then? Trying to ride a bike from it? It can run up to 40 km/h, and if I'm on my way up I can not do it. Maybe I should lift my bike and scream towards if? I have heard that one should try to scare the bear, not run from it, but I have no idea if that works in practice.
Polar bears can kill. A number of people have lost their lives after surprising encounters with the polar bear. The probability of a surprising meet is small with around 3000 polar bears on the entire Svalbard's 61 045 km². The polar bear is curious and unpredictable, and outside Longyearbyen you should always bring a rifle with a caliber .308 Win, 30-06, or even more powerful. I pour ice water in my veins and ride on cold blooded. I cross my fingers inside the glove, and hope my German Unis students today’s polar bear guards have their eyes open.
The car follows closely, but no polar bears are seen. The seal is also gone. An animal that does appear, however, is the Svalbard reindeer, the world's northernmost living grazing mammal. It is adapted to Arctic conditions, with a compact physique, short legs and neck. It is well covered by a thick layer of white, insulating fur. I have a black jacket, but cycling in a down jacket also makes me look a little chubby and blubbery.
Not long after, a mountain fox runs across the road. We are truly in the wild. I have received comments on social media that I am not completely tame myself either. I take that as a compliment.
I’m counting my laps. It takes me about 22-23 minutes to ride up and down. I stop quickly as I’m passing the car to get a sip of unfrozen water and an energy bar. The banana I had in my small handlebar bag has become hard as stone. My dentist would hardly det me permission to eat.
About every fourth lap, I take a break in the mine to get warm, change into dry clothes and eat. Nutrition is key. Such an everesting can quickly equal 10,000 calories burned - or five days of energy need for an adult! It's important to eat enough to not bonk. The body temperature drops if your energy is low, so I can with good reason eat candy, chocolate and coke. However, I try prioritise oat bread, salt tablets and dried fruit, not just sweets.
Hopefully, I will not have to go to my dentist with caries either. And my stomach needs more than sugar.
As I go out for a new lap, a selection from the Governor of Svalbard approach me. The Governor is the area’s supreme police and environmental protection authority. I stop to say hello and I tell them I’ll serve them a coffee cup after the next climb. They smile and come with encouragement for my Everesting attempt. Before I reach the top, I meet them driving downhill, passing me with thumbs up.
Maybe they just wanted make sure that everything was in order? Check that I had polar bear guards? I wonder. Either way, now I’m free to keep riding!
I'm getting tired and remind myself why I ride. The project has a higher purpose, to support the work of Hope for Justice, which works for the safety for Ukrainian refugees not to be caught in human trafficking. Refugees, in a vulnerable situation, can be an easy prey for criminals. It's tragic, but true. Refugees have to flee from home, family and their own country, and then someone also try to lure them into forced labor or prostitution. I get angry and pedal harder. This is worth cycling for.
Want to support? Fundraiser Arctic Everesting
It is still a long way to go. The sun is now high in the sky, but the steep mountain sides towards Platåfjellet means that the road is in shade. I pass halfway. The temperature has been stable -18˚C for the last hour. Will it be warmer? Hardly!
I have to be prepared for a long and hard day in Arctic.
To be continued April 17.
Did you read the first part? E1 Arctic Everesting