Into the Beautiful North!
Smithsonian Magazine purchased a Yukon Animator photo for an article on Ed Jesson who bicycled 1200 miles on the Yukon River, from Dawson City to Nome, Alaska in 1900. “Jesson was hunting caribou near Dawson City in 1900 when he decided to join the gold rush to Nome. Ed bought a bicycle and after practicing for a a few days in Dawson, to learn to keep his front wheel in a sled track, he took off down river.
One day the temperature was 48 below. His rubber tires were frozen hard and stiff. Ed wrote in his diary, “The oil in the bearings was frozen. I could scarcely ride it and my nose was freezing and I had to hold the handlebars with both hands.” All the way down the Yukon people thought Ed was crazy for riding a wheel, especially since he owned a good dog team, but he said he didn’t have to cook dog food for the bicycle at night, and on good days he could cover 100 miles. After more than a month on the trail, Ed pulled into Nome, and except for the bruises he had from constantly falling down, he and the bike were in good shape.” -From “Gold Rush Bicycling” by Terrence Cole.
The following winter, 250 men followed Jesson’s tracks and bicycled down the frozen Yukon River. The bicycle was invented by Baron Karl von Drais of Germany in 1817, but it was still considered a technological wonder in Jesson’s time. General A. W. Greely, the Arctic explorer for whom Fort Greely in SE Alaska (“home of the rugged professional”) is named, thought that in the future, high-speed Army communications would be carried long distances by men on bicycles.
Kevin Vallely, Andy Sterns and Frank Wolf recreated Jesson’s journey in 2003 for the Bikes On Ice project. YouTube videos record their grueling trip.
The Iditasport is an annual winter bicycle race in Alaska that assembles “a cast of athletes: locals, international and “Lower 48ers” to test their winter skills and see what Mother Nature will bring them.” The 200 mile race takes mountain bikers over parts of the Iditarod Trail. Entrants should be self-sufficient in temperatures as cold as -50F. Join the frozen fun on February 5 to 9, 2016. “Water will be available at all checkpoints, so you do not need to thaw your own.”
My friend John Slocom writes “Now they’re making bikes for snow. In Sun Valley last winter, I rode one of these. “
The top photo is in the Smithsonian Collector’s Edition: The 100 Greatest Adventures in American History. Special thanks to Gary Braasch (Gary Braasch Photography) for photo sales advice.