Trouble on the trail
After Solaro and his buddies lost a day trying to extract the trucks and restart the CCM (they burned out winches and bent farm jacks, to no success), Solaro decided there was only one way out: he packed his shotgun (for protection from the wildlife in the area) and hiked back the way they’d come, looking for the rail station. After a few hours of slogging in the snow, he found it — just a couple of abandoned buildings, but the group could rest there, warm up by a woodstove, and even have something to eat, as someone had left a frozen quarter of a caribou in one of the sheds. Solaro figured they’d be waiting here a week or so, but help would arrive.
But it didn’t take that long, because behind one of the buildings, he found a way out: an abandoned skidsteer, on tracks for the snow. He didn’t know how to drive it, but he figured out after he started it, and headed back up to extract his friends. By the time he got there, they’d managed to get the trucks unstuck with the help of an airbag, so he used the skidsteer to haul his motorcycle back to the station. There, his two friends headed south — they didn’t have time to push farther — and Solaro prepared to ride the rest of the way alone, north to Churchill, towing a load of dog food on his sled. He only took part of the food on the first load because he didn’t know what conditions lay ahead, and he figured a smaller load would be more manageable.
Things didn’t get any easier. While Solaro is an experienced winter rider, he wasn’t expecting the mid-winter humidity he encountered, with liquid water vapour hanging in the air, freezing as soon as it hit his skin and clothing, cutting visibility.
“There was no contrast — the sky and the light were the same colour,” he says. “It was impossible to see. I would keep catching ruts and falling into holes. I had no idea where I was on this planet, so I gave up trying to look ahead. I lifted my shield and looked right down at my GPS and tried to keep the bike on the blue line. I would say I went between 30 and 40 kilometres without looking up, just looking down at my fuel tank, not knowing where I was going.”
And so, peering down, he crashed, leaving him out cold on the trail.
“I went down really hard, and then the sled came up behind me and it conked me. I’m pretty sure I got a concussion, because I woke up realizing half the fuel that was sitting in the jerry can on the back of the bike was emptied, and the engine was cold, so I must have been out for a while.”
But he carried on for the rest of the unplowed 105 kilometres to Churchill: the bike sliding around in front and the sled sliding around in back. The sled was only tied to the bike with a cheap tow strap, to avoid driveline damage, but that meant constant delays when things came untied and fell apart. Still, that’s fixable in the north, and a transmission failure isn’t. Despite all the parasitic power loss, despite the ever-present danger of the bike’s torque limiter exploding, Solaro kept pushing.
“I just figured, this is gonna wreck, and I don’t know what Plan B is, but I’m going to have to prepare for it, and shocker of all shockers, I didn’t need a Plan B,” Solaro says. “In fact, I saw a ton of winter-road-specific equipment that was wrecked and sinking into the permafrost and being absorbed by the muskeg, just left out there to disappear into the earth, because the conditions were so bad, and unbelievably, a motorcycle did what a whole bunch of ice-road equipment couldn’t.”