Arctic Everesting part 3
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 3.
It’s afternoon in the Arctic. We are in an icy cycling challenge on Longyearbyen, the northernmost town in the world. I, Jonas, is aiming to climb 8850 meters of elevation for the safety of Ukrainian refugees by supporting the work for Hope for Justice and the fight against modern slavery.
Yet another time, I am approaching the top of the 2.6 kilometer long hill towards Mine 3. To my left is the Global Seed Vault. In an unstable world, it is good that someone thinks about safety. The Norwegian government has obtained samples of seeds from all over the world and stored them in the permafrost in the bedrock.
The Vault is the ultimate insurance policy for the world’s food supply, offering options for future generations to overcome the challenges of climate change and population growth. It is the final back up.
More than 4,000 plant samples are hopefully on the Doomsday Vault. The World faces many challenges, but there is hope. One of the reasons I wanted to ride a bike was precisely to inspire others to challenge their limits and understand that we can do more than we think.
First, I have to complete the challenge. It’s still bitterly cold. The sun, which either way gives no warmth, is setting. I have climbed up and down for 15 hours.
My rear wheel slips, but with quick handling I manage to keep upright. It is slippery. A crash would be a sad way to end this. I have to stay focused all the time. Don’t make any mistakes.
The chain still jumps on the cassette on the heaviest gears, but fortunately it does not look like it will get worse. In general, I only need the lighter gears on the way up, and downhill I can roll, but it’s even colder not to pedal.
My biggest fear now is not the cold or the polar bears, but that the bike will stop working. I have no spare bike. I have electronic shifting, and the cold take a toll on the batteries. I have changed the batteries on the derailleur twice. The phone, which I have in my rear pocket, and the cycling computer have to be connected to an external battery.
I change lights continuously. At all times I have a couple charging in Mine 3. I only have one set of insoles with heating elements, and when these need to be charged, I rather put heat packs in the shoes. It is not as good, but works. It is the feet that are getting the coldest. After every fourth lap I have to go into the mine to warm my feet.
When having a break, I make sure to add a good layer of Vaseline around my eyes, so that the wind in the downhill will not cause a frostbite. The rest of the face is well covered by a snowmobile mask.
A snowmobile passes by. Soon after comes another. There are about as many snowmobiles as people in Longyearbyen. 2100 scooters, 2400 people. They are absolutely crucial for the inhabitants to be able to get around on the island. The scooters pollute more than the coal-fired power plant, so many are swapping them to electric scooters. I wonder a bit what environmental benefits it has, but at least the noise is reduced.
Further up the hill is the Unis car the polar bear guards use. I feel a little sorry for them, but they smile and say they think it’s fun to be part of this. No polar bears have entered the course yet.
I ride my bike. Even in the biting Arctic conditions, it is possible to cycle. The Oslo winter is nothing against this. Maybe this cycling can inspire more people to ride to work in the winter?
I meet the tourist bus to Mine 3 for the third time today. I wave again, but get little response. I can understand that, not everyone likes to strangers who seems a bit off. Even though it’s for a good cause, I understand that some people think it’s a bit too special to cycle an Everesting here. It does not matter, through the struggle, I love this.
I jump as Joakim’s drone whizzes past me. He has been filming and taking pictures on the ground all day. Now, he is capturing Svalbard from the air. We are a few kilometers away from Longyearbyen Airport, so he had to apply for a special permit to fly. Not that the airport is particularly busy, there are about two daily arrivals, both SAS and Norwegian have routes.
The inhabitants of Barentsburg are using Longyearbyen airport too. The Russian city is only 40 kilometers west of here, a city with both Ukrainians and Russians living side by side.
The sunset feels never-ending. The sunset has lasted over two hours now, and the red sun is not completely gone yet. The sky is in beautiful colours of orange, red and purple. This is surreal. Riding up and down the northernmost hill in the world. 39 times. The locals say that Santa Claus lives in Mine 2, just outside Longyearbyen.
Even though my legs are sore, I wonder if I’m dreaming. Everesting, almost at the North Pole. The cold bites my face as I turn at the bottom of the hill for another climb. It hurts! I do not have to pinch my arm to know I am awake. Only 10 reps left.
– Pizza! Hanna shouts as I reach the top.
I feel hungry for something else than sweets and energy bars. We gather the gang around the table in the mine. Even though I’m the one riding, we are doing this together.
We work as a team and I could not have done this without them. At the same time, it commits – I can not give up now.
As I get out to the bike, a car appears. A character jumps enthusiastic out of the car and embraces me as if I we know each other. He says he knows me from the Cyclocross race in Spikkestad October 2020, where he and his friends made a real festive.
I went to thank him and the group after the race for cheering, and the character, named Eirik Johannessen, has since followed me on social medias. Now, he works in Longyearbyen. He had to get up to cheer for me, yet this time in a calmer manner.
I thank him before I keep riding. I get praises and thumbs up also the following lap, before he disappears.
Nine rounds left. Then eight. Soon seven. Eirik’s car is back. I pedal past and wave. Suddenly he approach from behind with his own bike! Winter dress, polar hat and in a good pace, and yes – he has an e-bike. What a fun guy! It is nice to have some company in the climb after all those hours alone.
Eirik talks about how the job gave him the opportunity to work partly in their office in Longyearbyen, and that he also has a fat bike for winter cycling. But he prefer snowmobiles. I heard the same from others. They live here, but cycling here is too cold. This is only for the special ones.
Just before reaching the top, the battery on the electric bike is empty. It could not stand the cold. I give Eirik a helping push the last few meters, before he decides to stop and captures some pictures.
The sun is going down now, but there is not going to be a dark night. In a few weeks there is midnight sun.
– I’m gonna make it, I think as I start last four laps. I decide push a little harder the last ones. The legs hurts, and it is almost impossible to go harder now. I manage shave about 30 seconds per lap.
So, out of nowhere:
– Puff. I bonk. I’m completely depleted.
All power is gone. What is going on? The penultimate lap. It feels like I’m starting to ride backwards. Or zigzag. I’m not sure anymore. Yes, I’m moving forward slowly. I’m close to make it, but right now I feel so far away. Will I be able to do this?
I look out the window at the breakfast buffet. There, a couple of Svalbard reindeers stroll past. The sun is shining. The snowy mountain peaks light up, as I remember from yesterday. I only reminisces fragments from the last two laps. I was out of gas. I remember downing a can of coke. I remember I was helped on by the team, and that I reached the Everesting finishing line after 19 hours and 22 minutes.
I rode for Ukrainian refugees and their safety against traffickers. We raised NOK 40,000 for the work of Hope for Justice.
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I challenged myself and did something was not sure would be possible. The World’s northernmost Everesting. In the Arctic. In biting cold. Through pain and exhaustion. In the most beautiful surroundings. We did it!
Arctic Everesting, is history. A story I will never forget.
Thanks to everyone who made this possible.
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