After several false starts I find myself heading up the M6 in search of cold weather, hills and snow. Normally when I’m in search of such conditions I have my crampons or board packed, but this time I have 2 bikes stowed in the back of the van. This story started just over a year ago on a sofa in Corby after a few pints of the local brew at the 2008 Singletrack awards. The then marketing manager of Trek Bikes suggested we should help out this guy called Shaggy who was planning to ride in a race in Alaska in 2009. Fuelled by fermented cereals this all sounded like a good idea at the time.
So here I am driving up the M6 on my way to pick up Shaggy from Edinburgh airport to go for a training weekend in the Cairngorms. On route we’ll also hook up with Angus a finalist in the 2009 Trad Films competition. The plan is for Shaggy to get some time in the saddle in the snow on his specially build snowbike prior to setting off for Alaska and for Angus to film the story of why he wants to put himself through it. Shaggy finally committed to riding in the 2009 Iditarod Trail Invitational back in October. Choosing to take part in the 350 mile race across Alaska, which follows the same route as the famous sledge dog trail, he will face temperatures as low as -40ªC and gale force winds on the edge of the Arctic circle in winter. Competitors can take part on either bikes or skis alongside the real crazy guys who run it!
The more I learn about Shaggy, the race and the equipment he’ll be using the more absorbing the story becomes.
Let’s start with the trail… This is no snow ploughed flat road. It snakes its way across the heart of Alaska over two mountain ranges. Originally opened up 100 years ago the gold rush trail continues to provide vital links to remote villages and stations. The historic sledge dog race that follows this trail also celebrates its fiftieth year in 2009. Competitors competing in the Iditarod Trail Invitational can choose to race the short course from just outside Anchorage north to Mcgrath, a total distance of 350 miles. Or for the real enthusiasts you can compete in the full length of the trail, a staggering 1100 miles.
Shaggy rides as part of the 69’er Collective, a rag tag band of riders who all ride Trek 69’ers for fun as well competitively. He has never learnt to drive, deciding instead to commute to work by bike often taking the long route home. He is extremely modest about his racing successes, double winner of the Mountain Mayhem, 3 time winner of World Team Challenge where he raced for team Airbus, etc etc. His front room is a mecca to bikes of all shapes and sizes and sports a bike stand instead of a 3 piece suite.
The equipment… The easiest way to describe his race bike is to call it a monster bike. It looks like like something felted by an Icelandic rally driver. When you get on it, you feel you can ride anywhere and over anything. The rims weight in at 1kg each and support special 4 inch wide snow tyres. Both the front and rear hubs have freewheels so if one freezes he can swap them. There are no front or rear duraliers to keep things simple. Instead each hub has two single speed sprockets fitted, so changing gear is a very manual affair. The bike will carry all the equipment he’ll need for the race but because he’ll need to push the bike a lot in the race panniers aren’t an option. Instead it is distributed in specially designed saddle and frame packs.
Now up to this point there had been and was no talk of snow falling anywhere in the UK other than Scotland. Skiing conditions in the Cairngorms the weekend before our trip had been windy but good. As we pulled into Aviemore there didn’t seem to be much snow on the ground. Apparently the area had suffered a sudden temperature rise that day which had put pay to all the low lying snow and freezing temperatures. To find the conditions we wanted we would have to head up into the mountains. So we spent a couple of days on Cairngorm with Shaggy pushing his iron steed fully loaded up the mountain. He is expecting to have to face several hours of this mind numbing pushing in Alaska so this was perfect training. We also headed up to the Lecht plateau where we found a route that he could ride around several times to get used to the weight of the bike, how it handles in the wind and on the snow, ice and frozen tundra.
As we loaded the van to head home the clouds opened and the snow started falling, sods law hey!
Read more tales Shaggy’s preparations and exploits on his blog Daze of Tundra