Saturday, January 19, 2013

Real Winter

In the beginning of the week I came up with a cunning plan. My intention was to take Friday off and ride out with my bike on Thursday evening, spending the entire Friday riding on firm snow on the big mires. The night between Tuesday and Wednesday we got 10-15 cm of new snow making everything look like a winter paradise. This would affect my plan, though, by making it harder to ride and possibly softening the snow underneath. The weather forecast on Thursday, just a few hours before I left, showed that Friday would be an excellent day, starting with a temperature of about -20°C (-4°F) and then late in the evening a slightly warmer weather would come in. Toni also though the weather looked excellent and decided to join me.

I started at 19:30 and had 37 km ahead of me mainly on small roads. The temperature was about -13°C (8°F), but it dropped noticeably during my ride.

Arriving at the Vajosuo shelter after two and a half hours. Toni was supposed to be there and have a fire ready, but things don't always work out the way I would like.

I started a fire myself and grilled a few sandwhiches and drank hot chocolate while I waited for Toni. He turned up around midnight. It was already colder than forecasted.

We went to sleep a little before one o'clock. The night was a bit chilly, but I slept quite well and wasn't actually cold. At 7:30 I got up and made a fire. The temperature was now around -23°C (-9°F). This time my food was mainly sandwhiches, which in frozen form were rather hard to chew. Over the fire they became very tasty.

Toni was a slow starter and I went ahead to enjoy the sunrise at 9:20. It was a really crisp and beautiful morning, so please excuse the photos, or rather the amount of them.

It was perfectly possible to ride, but the amount new snow on top of the firm snow base made it fairly hard work.

A half hour later Toni joined me.

We rode on the Vajosuo mire for a while, before taking a "shortcut" through the forest surrounding the mire. Unfortunately I started about 500 m too much too the south (not too many reference points on the mire), and  we got our share of bike pushing.

The somewhat optimistic plan was now to enter the Laidassuo mire, in order to follow a circular bog traverse route I did two years earlier.

In order to get to the open mire we needed to go through a section with forest as well. It was very slow going and after a while we decided to turn back. While we've gained a full hour of daylight since the winter solstice, the sun is still up for less than seven hours, so the daylight is a limiting factor.

It was early afternoon when we had lunch, freeze dried outdoor meals. We also made more water from snow. The temperature was now the highest of the day, about -17°C (1°F).

My bike in winter bikepacking mode. In addition I had a Lowepro Photo Sport 200 AW backpack with camera gear and a down jacket.

We continued on a short road section that took us the the Kurjenrahka mire, just in time for the sunset at 16:05. It was beautiful.

Soon the sky in the north turned purple.

We continued on a snowmobile track, which probably would get turned into an xc ski track this weekend. Riding on ski tracks is of course unacceptable, but we judged that tire tracks in loose snow would do no harm.

This was one of the occasions when you could feel the temperature dropping rapidly. I don't know how much is what you feel on the skin or how much is from experiencing similar conditions before, but it could easily be noticed without a thermometer.

We arrived at the Töykkälä shelter just before it became totally dark. The first thing to do was to start a fire, to warm food and fingers on. The fire doesn't give any warmth into the shelter, probably because they don't want people to use up the firewood for that purpose. Despite the temperature, we had no real problems with the cold. I did pay attention to my poor frostbitten (last winter) toes, but everything was fine.

Time for food: Sandwhiches...

... and behold! A pizza!

The rest of the evening was uneventful. After having eaten I became really tired and tucked into my sleeping bag already a little after eight. My sleeping bag wasn't really good enough for the temperature we now had, so I took a little heat pad and put it next to my feet. It was supposed to give heat for up to twenty hours, but in practice it cooled off after seven hours. If I had known it would be this cold, I would have taken my new Enlightened quilt to put onto the sleeping bag. It should have been more than sufficient.

I slept fairly well until around five in the morning, when it got a little cold. At seven I got up and started a fire. My thermometer was inside the shelter and showed -27°C (-17°F). The shelter probably adds a degree or two, so it was probably close to -30°C outside. We might again have had the coldest night of the winter. Toni had been smart and brought his new overbag and hence was warm and cozy in a similar sleeping bag as mine (same make and model, but mine is long and his regular).

You could here the cracking noise of the trees in the cold.

About 9:30 I started my 40 km ride home, mainly on roads. Toni decided to melt snow and have another cup of coffee before riding home.

The going was slow in the beginning, since I regularly stopped to walk a bit to get some blood and warmth into my toes. I even stopped a few times and took of the boots to check out the toes. I didn't feel the toes, so I got a little worried. Riding on road in this cold weather is really cold for the feet and my toes are no longer as warm as before the frostbites, and it is also difficult to know if they are really cold. During the last hour of my ride I could feel the temperature rise and it was only -13°C when I got home in the early afternoon.

This was an excellent trip in rare conditions. I would need warmer boots, which will be difficult to find, but otherwise I should have the gear for these temperatures. Thanks to Toni for joining me.

Check out Toni's report here.

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