Getting Ready for '02

Snow covers the bikes and gear at Finger Lake. some slept out on the ice but Andy and Al made for the treeline and less wind.

Matlock in the heart of the English Peak District is home to both Andy Heading and Alan Sheldon and their families. Although it can get some severe weather in winter nothing here compares to the conditions that the pair will meet on the Iditarod trail. Snow comes to Matlock and other Peak towns every winter but it rarely stays around for more than a few days.

In Alaska winter is different.

Al tries on some Salomon Boots rated to -40

At it's worst conditions can give a mean temperature of -40. Add in some wind chill and the cold is mind numbing and dangerous. Even a short exposure to these conditions will render unprotected flesh frostbitten. The two riders are using bikes but for much of the route they will be done pushing them through deep snow drifts and across the slick surface frozen rivers.

Al recounted how difficult it was to ride a bike across the frozen ice "if you hit a small bulge the front wheel just went and then you with it. you could see where other riders had hit small rises in the smooth ice and gone flying."

The sleeping bags are huge and are carried on the front pannier rack. A small Karrimor front bag is fitted and on the back pannier there are two Vaude panniers and room for a top bag too. Not a lot of room when the team expect to be travelling for 25 days or more.

Weight is everything, the pannier racks have had holes drilled in to every panel to cut down on the load. The bikes are from Orbit Cycles and have been 'winterised'. Standard grease is ok for the UK but it just turns to treacle at low temperatures, or even worse siezes solid!

I know that Alsakan dog mushers always carry a firearm. Wolves, bears and even moose can be a danger and often the only way to protect himslef and his team is to use a gun.
I asked if they took a gun. No, too heavy. Al told of their slog over Rainy Pass, a long 15 hour push in blizzard conditions. They reached the next checkpoint where a camera team were resting after flying up. One of them asked Al and Andy about the wolves. "What wolves?", "the two that were following you guys over Rainy Pass" came a reply. "We just didn't see anything but snow" said Al.
Al did see two wolves cross the trail later on in the race. Al opened his hand to indicate the size of the paw prints left in the snow.

Andy Heading unpacks some more kit for the trip.


With the experience gained in the 2001 race the pair are confident that they will both reach the finish line this time round. With his injury from last year fully healed and the reason for the problem, frozen boots, now addressed Alan is ready for the long leg to Nome which eluded him last year.

Although the organisers call it a race, and someone must inevitably arrive in nome first, the team are very aware of the fact that it is a wild adventure too. There view is like that of a famous climber who stated that the 'summit was just another point on a map', not what it is all about.
Just like the finish line at Nome, good to get there but being first is not the object, it is to have a great time doing it.