Adventure cyclists Ryan Atkins, Eric Batty and Buck Miller, known as Expeditions Ontario, have successfully navigated the entire length of the world’s longest winter road – the Wapusk Trail – which is 750 kilometres from Peawanuck First Nation in Ontario’s Hudson Bay region, through Polar Bear Provincial Park, Fort Severn First Nation, Shamattawa First Nation and ending in Gillam.
The team rode fat tire bikes loaded down with high-tech outdoor gear to safely accomplish their goal of raising money for True North Aid, a non-governmental organization that supports remote Indigenous communities.
“It was a wonderful and an amazing experience,” said Miller. “Truthfully, I’ve spent a lot of time in the James Bay side of Northern Ontario. A lot of time. Tons of time. I've ridden all the winter roads on that side. And the Wapusk trail side was beautiful.”
Even though Miller is one of the few experienced winter road cyclists on the planet, he was surprised by some of the terrain.
“It was actually a little bit different, I anticipated it to be more low-lying swamp,” he explained. “There was a lot of swamp, no two ways about it, but there's still high points and little ridges. Our total ascent was 8,000 feet over the 750-kilometre ride. You're constantly moving up and down. We were all really surprised because we were expecting the long, 300-kilometre sections of dead flat, you know, swamp, low-lying swamp, but it wasn't like that at all. It was constantly rolling all day long. The only real flat spots were the big lakes and the large swamp crossings.”
The team set their pace and navigated with a Global Positioning System (GPS) “every single kilometre,” explains Miller.
“We did 48 hours of total pedalling, with 58 hours of bike time – meaning, another 10 hours was stopping, stretching, eating food, drinking some water, adjusting your bike and falling off and crashing. We also took some photos and did some filming … that was an extra 10 hours. The actual pedal time was 48 hours to do the whole trip.”
Meeting two generous strangers on the trail was the highlight of the trip.
“We only passed 16 vehicles, private trucks travelling the winter road,” explained Miller. “And of those 16, Robert Thomas and Jordan Chookomolin were in one vehicle, and they gave us $100 to donate to True North Aid – right on the spot – on the side of the road.”
Miller said the team remained comfortable in the life-threatening temperatures.
“The coldest night was about -38,” he said. “And we were nice and warm, no problems at all with the tent. Our bikes were absolutely perfect. Couldn't have asked for a better scenario with the bikes. Truthfully, I think we're getting pretty good at this. Nothing really didn't work. We have enough experience now that we kind of anticipated any problems and fixed them during the gear selection process.”
Even though the team’s equipment functioned flawlessly, the omission of one simple item plagued them while on route.
“One thing we didn't do, that we maybe could have in hindsight, is vapour barrier liners for our boots,” Miller said. “Our feet were getting really wet from sweat. We were riding for 10 hours a day for eight days. That would have helped a little bit. We did have cold feet. So, next year we’ll combat that with plastic bags over our feet before we put them into boots – then your boot’s dry.”
The team fell short of their fundraising goal.
"This year we promoted and worked really hard and we hit $6,000. Our goal was $10,000 – but one dollar is better than nothing.”
In addition to successfully raising funds for True North Aid, Miller is celebrating the adventure with his family.
“Our families are super proud of us,” he said. “Without a doubt, my wife is happy to have me home and is eager to hear the stories. I'm going to pick up my daughter and my son right now. They're at the grandparents, so everyone is excited.”