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Waiting for it to get cold enough for a fat-bike expedition in Ontario and Manitoba’s Far North

Three riders will cover 752 km on the world’s longest winter road in mid-March

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On Tuesday, Buck Miller was gluing beaver fur to the grips of his fat bike, hide side in. “I got the fur from my mom,” Miller said. “She learned the Cree-style of mitt making and all the traditional ways. It’s from her scrap-fur bin.”

Fur-wrapping grips is a trick Miller used on his last trip to Ontario’s Far North, a 638-km fat-bike expedition called the James Bay Descent in February 2019. On March 10, Miller and two other members of the James Bay Descent—Ryan Aktins and Eric Batty—are going to set out on their latest fat-bike expedition. (The fourth member of last year’s trek, Ted King, can’t make the 2020 trip as he and his wife, Laura, are expecting their first child soon.) The trip is called the Wapusk Trail fat-bike expedition. It will start in Peawanuck, Ont., south of Hudson Bay on the Winisk River. They’ll head to Fort Severn, Ont., and then head more inland to Shamattawa, Man. The final destination is Gillam, Man., on the Nelson River. It’s a trip of 752 km. It will be the first self-supported fat-bike trip along the world’s longest winter road.

Miller had wanted to start his trip earlier, deeper in the winter but couldn’t. He blames global warming. “The winter road just opened this past Saturday,” he said of the surface they’d be travelling on. The winter road is made by bulldozing snow and letting it freeze solid. (“It’s like a flat ski hill,” Miller said.) “They had enough snow, just not enough cold temperatures. You need really cold temperatures because we’re going to be crossing big rivers. And the wet muskeg needs to be solid.”

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Photo: Eric Batty

The warmer-than-normal temperatures did promise to make the trip a little easier for the riders themselves. Miller expected the mercury to hover between -15 and -20 C. That range means the riders don’t have to worry as much about sweat freezing within their clothing. Their gear and their own body heat should be able to clear excess moisture, allowing them to stay warmer and more comfortable.

The team was packing light. They planned to wear their clipless boots (45Nrth Wolfgar boots, their only footwear for the trip) on the cargo-plane ride to Peawanuck. They’re packing down-filled coveralls and jackets for around camp. “When we’re not riding, we’ll look like mountaineers,” Miller said. The three riders will have food for 14 days. Millar was thinking they could do the trip in 12 days, 10 if the conditions are fast. The extra food is in case the weather turns against them. A snowfall of 30 cm would make it impossible to pedal along the winter road. In such a scenario, the riders would be better to wait for the snowcats to come and groom the road instead of burning calories by pushing the bikes through the snow.

An important part of the Wapusk Trail fat-bike expedition is fundraising for True North Aid. The organization provides support to indigenous communities in the North in the areas of reconciliation, self-determination, water, food, hope, health, education and housing. Miller, Atkins and Batty are hoping to raise $10,000 and direct it to one of the communities on their route.