Destination: The far, far north

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.

 

The plan

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.

Life Pro Tip: If you don’t have a heated workshop, you can assemble a snowbike in your living room.

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.

As if the ride north wasn’t challenging enough, towing a sled loaded with hay and dog food added to the difficulty.

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.

4 thoughts on “Destination: The far, far north”

  1. Our crew was fortunate enough to cross paths with Oliver on his first voyage aboard Agatha several cold winters ago. It was a friendship born of necessity to help him safely home to his nervous and likely angry wife….bless her soul.
    We are excited and proud to be a part of his support now…go forth good lad…

  2. Although he isn’t named in the article I want to shout out to the fellow on the left, a.k.a. John Fry.

    John has also had a bit of experience driving transport on the “ice roads” and was critically important to the infrastructural support of the #SunDog project. Unfortunately he could not carry on beyond the first leg of the endeavour but without his help this all may well have ended rather differently.

    Thanks again John!

  3. Great adventure. And very well written Zac. Really enjoyed reading it. Even though I knew how everything turned out – I was still on the edge of my seat. Thanks!

    Mike

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