Photos: Oliver Solaro
How’s this for a problem: Picture yourself stuck in the wilds of northern Manitoba, mid-winter, on a motorcycle with a snow track kit installed. Your bike is stalled, thanks to frigid Arctic temperatures and water in the fuel line. Your two friends, who decided to follow your adventure in their 4x4s, are stuck solidly in the snow beside you. And even more improbably, you’re hauling a thousand pounds of dog food, which you’ve got to camp beside for the night … and you’re surrounded by wolf tracks.
That’s where Oliver Solaro found himself earlier this month. Canada’s infamous ice-road rider’s plan to reach the town of Churchill, on Hudson Bay, and deliver a load of much-needed supplies by snowbike looked like it might not come through, and he and his friends were now in serious danger.
How did they end up in this position? The story starts a few months earlier, when Solaro began planning his annual midwinter motorcycle trip.
When Solaro was making his plans to ride north this winter, as he always does (see past stories for more on his two-wheeled adventures on Canada’s ice roads), he wanted to try something different. Instead of studding up his KLR’s tires and riding ice roads, he decided to see if it was possible to reach the town of Churchill, Manitoba, via snow bike. For months, Churchill has been without a real land transportation link to the rest of Canada, as the railway that serves as the town’s lifeline was destroyed in flooding last spring. A couple of adventure riders made the trip up the severed line in the spring, and Solaro wanted to know if he could do the same in the winter.
This time, he’d be back on board the CCM GP450 he’d ridden last year — the KLR wouldn’t run in the extreme cold temperatures of Churchill. He installed a track kit from Camso, welding a set of cast-off kitchen-table legs into duty as mounts to fit the CCM.
And he decided he’d do more than just zip up for a quick touristy trip. Churchill is in a bad spot, as all supplies must come in by air or snow machine, and with essential supplies hard to come by, dog food — especially the calorie-rich dog food needed by the town’s sled dogs — is hard to come by. So, Solaro lined up a load of Inukshuk dog food, donated by Corey Nutrition, which makes it in New Brunswick. He wasn’t sure how much they’d give, and was surprised when the company sent a whole pallet with half a tonne of food to his house.
“It was so heavy, I had a hard time getting it up my driveway on a 4×4 pickup, and now I had to get it to Churchill on a motorcycle,” Solaro says. The solution? A sled, to tow behind the bike. He built it over the winter in his living room, right on top of the fresh laminate floor he’d just installed.
The last piece of the picture was Solaro’s sidekicks, Philip Thomson and Andreas Neidermeyer, who wanted to see how they could make it up the broken rail line in their 4x4s. They helped haul supplies as far as the Gillam, Manitoba, terminus of the Churchill rail line, and then unloaded the bike off Solaro’s truck to start the trip north. The plan was to stop for the night at the abandoned McClintock rail depot, but they missed it in the dark, and ended up past it, stuck in the wilderness, still about 105 kilometres south of Churchill.