Fortunately the bike and I survived the flights. In London, I stayed with documentary filmmaker and team mate, Claudio von Planta and then we were joined by remote locations photographer and filmmaker, Phil Coates. I thought I had a lot of kit, but by the time these two had laid out all the cameras, batteries, hard drives, sound equipment, etc, barely a square inch of space was left in Claudio’s office. Sony, Manfrotto, Nexto Di and Kata had generously supplied cameras, tripods, a memory card back up system and purpose-made bags to be tested in the extreme cold conditions.
The flight from London to Svalbard was the first endurance test. It was a bit of a ‘milk run’ – a short hop to Copenhagen, then a seven hour stop over (and a kip on some comfy lounge seats), a further delay for bad weather, another hop to Oslo followed by a mad scramble to retrieve all our gear and ensure that it was safely loaded on to the domestic flight bound for Longyearbyen via a brief interlude in Tromso. The flight in to Longyearbyen over the snowcapped mountains and fjords of Spitsbergen, the main island in the Svalbard archipeligo was spectacular. Though I was expecting it at nearly 80 degrees North – virtually on top of the world – stepping off the plane in to the bracing winds and -7C was still a shock. I had left Melbourne amidst a heat wave with +37C temperatures, so I was hardly acclimatised. But -7C was positively balmy compared to what was to come over the next week on the training run.
Polar explorer Eric Philips, our guide for the expedition met us at the airport. This was the first time the whole team was together and everyone was excited. Eric had rented space in a warehouse in Longyearbyen where we were able to spread out and start to organise ourselves. Of course the bike was the star of the show – my team mates could not wait to help me put it together.
As you will see from Claudio’s video, we are already starting to gel as a team.
A day and a half of preparations followed; organising to hire two snow mobiles and the support equipment from Ingeniør G Paulsens, Eric had to gain official permission from the governor to take us into the wilds of Spitsbergen, I had to buy food for the week which we then sorted into individual food bags. Anything liquid freezes and so even chocolate bars had to be broken up into small squares. I wasn’t looking forward to having to eat cubes of pure butter as a way of keeping the energy up. This diet was to be another shock to my system.
By the time we got it together it was late on our the second day in Longyearbyen. I set off at about 6pm flying along the only tarmac strip east and out of town. On ‘normal‘ road, the bike was quite quick, though I was so ecstatic to be finally setting off on this little adventure, and to be with such an incredible team, that I may well have been pushing harder than normal.
After about 10km I flicked the AWD switch and turned off into the soft snow for the first time. My natural reaction was to brace, expecting the front wheel to slip, but with the wider tyres and both wheels gripping I was able to carve a path through much softer surfaces. From the outset it was evident that this was by no means going to be easy, but the new technology was making it just possible to move forward on surfaces that other bikes cannot do. This promised to be a tougher physical struggle than anything I had done before, including cycling through the desert sands.
By the time I caught the team who were setting up camp, I was perspiring heavily. This was my first mistake as any moisture freezes. The last thing I needed was a frozen layer next to my skin. Eric explained that the art of polar travel was to be able to control airflow using vents in my clothing so that I could then control my body temperature so not to perspire. I had a lot to learn.