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 1.
A Norwegian version will be published April 22nd.
I'm in Santa's country, but this is serious. The my energy is depleting. I'm confused. I'm on the penultimate lap up the hill. It feels like I'm starting to ride backwards. Or maybe zigzag. I'm not sure anymore. Yes, I’m moving forward. I'm close to the goal, but still so far away.
The cold bites me in the face. Maybe I'm getting frostbites. My legs hurt. But I have to do this.
- Remember why! I remind myself.
I have been working on this project for several months, and yesterday at 2 pm the team and I arrived in Longyearbyen, Svalbard. With me, I had the experienced photographers Joakim Birkeland and Kent Erik Harridsleff. This time I also we were accompanied of my girlfriend, Hanna Ersvik. A perfect team.
We are in Norway, but outside Schengen. People speak Norwegian, but walk the streets with rifles. The signs have Norwegian text, but warn of unfamiliar dangers. Danger of snowmobiles? Danger of polar bears? The biting Arctic breeze warns that we are in unknown territory. -15°C or 5°F.
Thom Christian, or TC as everyone calls him, including himself, had achieved a legend title even before we met him. The former police superintendent, with experience as a hostage dealer, is now working as a security chief at the university. Now he was standing at the airport waiting patiently for our incoming flight. A big and strong guy, with a burning commitment to the project and a heart like few others.
TC loves cycling and wanted to support the cause. This is not a project for self-realization, but a stunt to create awareness for the work of Hope for Justice and secure the safety of Ukrainian refugees. The non-profit organisation wants to put an end to human trafficking and prevent vulnerable people from being exploited by criminals. An important issue that I look forward to suffer for. The goal is to raise NOK 50,000 (€5000) for Hope for Justice.
We were accommodated at Unis Gjestehus, the University of Svalbard's own guesthouse, and soon ready for a trip to SvalSat.
I cross the road after a truck full of coal passes, and step over the doorsteps of the Sportcenteret.
- Stig, I have a problem, I tell the kind gentleman I only had meet over the telephone network.
The post office did not manage to deliver the heating soles from Heat Experience in time. Do you have any tips? I am a bit stressed about this.
- Hmm, Heat Experience, you say? We have them here, Stig smiles. He is from the Northern part of the mainland of Norway and has lived in Longyearbyen for the past 28 years.
- That is amazing! I became enthusiastic. They could prove to be crucial for tomorrow's cycling. It was reported even chillier. Physically, I felt confident that I could handle this. But this cold…
- You must also have a snowmobile mask to cover your face, Stig assures, and I know to embrace the local knowledge and buy a mask.
Soon I have mounted the bike, dressed in all kinds of winter cycling clothes and then we are on our way to SvalSat, KSat's satellite station.
The we drive up the Everesting climb, yet continue furter up, passing a security station. The road up to the antennas is steep and slippery. We meet a car that just went off the road a few minutes earlier. Originally, I wanted to ride Everesting up here, but the avalanche danger made it impossible.
We are arriving Platåberget at 460m amsl. It's freezing. There is the satellite station.
We are welcomed by Maja-Stina. She is the general manager. A nice lady. She says they have 100 antennas, 200 employees and customers worldwide, including NASA. SvalSat is the only satellite station in the world that can have contact with the North Polar satellites on each of the 14 circles they take in a day.
What a place to have your office. This is truly a spectacular area. The view is absolutely incredible, and the antennas look like oversized golf balls and look really futuristic. But it is cold, below -30°C (-22°F) and the ‘feel like’ temperature well below -40°C (-40°F).
We capture some photos, but it does not take many seconds before tendencies of frost bites appear and I have to jump back into the vehicle.
If this is the case tomorrow, would I be able to manage the Arctic Everesting?
The day flies away. If you are smart, you ensure a calm day as a lead-up to an Everesting - perhaps the World's toughest one-day cycling challenge.
Everesting was invented to be the ultimate physical and mental cycling challenge. Cycling 8850 meters up and down in the one single hill is the recipe for physical and mental failure. I've done it before, but never this far north. Nobody has. Were I on thin ice?
READ ALSO: Everesting the tunnel
I barely manage to get a slice of oat bread before we have to get down to the University (Unis) to meet Anny and Jonas Dube. We need to get rifles. Weapons are completely banned in most schools, but not everything is normal in Svalbard. Here it is not allowed to go outside the small Longyearbyen without a gun. TC has recruited the two German geo-students as my polar bear guards.
Weapons loaded and with promising snipers in the team, we drive over to the Everesting climb. I unload my bike from TC’s pickup truck, and get on my first pedal strokes in the Arctic conditions. Time to test ride the climb.
The new winter clothing from CCN Sport arrived the East just in time. In Hong Kong it is rarely below +20°C (68°F). Here it is 40 degrees celsius colder, and hot and humid monsoon has been replaced by Arctic breeze. Dry and biting. The jacket has heating elements in the arms, chest and the back.
This is the climb. 2.7 km (1.7 miles) to Mine 3 and 230 meters (755 feet) elevation on the each lap according to the the Komoot app. I need to climb 39 times. This evening it is enough with one test lap.
The clothes work! A base layer, thin wool layer, fleece sweater and thin down jacket from CCN. Cycling bib, wool stilongs and winter tights with windproof front. Thin wool socks and winter cycling shoes. Gloves and insoles from Heat Experience. Buff, fleece buff, winter hat, fleece hat, and a snowmobile mask.
I am sweating. Something you do not want in the Arctic, is to sweat, as wet clothes means a highway to hypothermia. I have to plan for frequent clothes changes tomorrow, and avoid getting too sweaty. After all, it's going to take many hours before I'm done. Maybe 20?
The bike jumps on the gears. I had some recent problems with worn bearings, but did not have the opportunity to fix it before departure. I cross my fingers that it will not get worse tomorrow.
The road is mostly frozen, and studded tires are required. That would make the bike at least 600 grams (1.3 pounds) heavier. I get a pretty good tire grip when I sit down on the saddle, and some parts have been so exposed to wind that the snow and ice are gone and I get in contact with the asphalt surface. There I can variate the position and pedal standing up.
The gradient is steady at about 7-8 percent. The view over Advent Fjord is fantastic, and I am starting to look forward to tomorrow.
After 15 minutes I'm up. We get a quick tour of Mine 3, where we have borrowed a warming room and a toilet. Håvar, general manager of the old mine, which is now a tourist attraction, shows great fascination for the project. He has worked for many years as a miner, but believes that my challenge is even more demanding. More challenging than lying on the cold ground and working in a small cave in bad, raw air for a whole day?
Soon I'm on my way down the hill again. The cold hits my face. It's starting to bite. This hurts.
I ride the last 5 kilometers to the guesthouse in Longyearbyen with the polar bear guards in a car behind. It is evening, even though the sun is still up. The body is warm, the face and feet are cold. Pulse low, legs are good. Excited. Nervous.
I do not know what I'm facing, but I'm looking forward to get started. This is an adventure. I feel a bit like Amundsen or Nansen, the famous Norwegian explorers chasing untouched ground.
Now it's time to fuel up with chicken and rice, and try to get some sleep before the start of Arctic Everesting.