By Tuesday morning, Fairbanks was Fairbanks once again. Daylight was still gaining at a rate of seven minutes per day, but all the heat faded from the glaring March sun. I'd hoped to embark on a long solo ride in the White Mountains while I was up north, and wasn't going to let subzero weather deter me. Still, the prospect was intimidating. As I drove to the trailhead at the relatively late hour of 9 a.m., I saw the temperature fall to as low as 23 below zero in a low-lying valley.
I packed up all of my camping gear, mostly for safety, but also included a few comfort items in case I actually did decide to camp. I knew the prospect of camping by choice wasn't likely given the possibility of minus forty, but adventure hopes spring eternal. All of the cabins in the Whites had been booked that night, so any "camping" I did would mean unrolling my bivy bundle and taking a desperate nap in the snow. Not actually fun, but it would allow me to ride farther into the Whites. I was still torn on the decision to camp or not, so the down booties came with. So did a gallon of fluid, because when it's that cold I'd rather go thirsty than stop and melt snow, but snow biking is hard work and I tend to get terrible headaches and feel chilled if I don't quench my thirst. The result was a ridiculously heavy bike, but I did feel prepared for the worst — a good feeling to have when I'm alone in the Arctic cold.
The trailhead sits at 2,400 feet near the top of a high dome. In this region, higher elevations generally mean more wind and higher temperatures because cold air sinks. It was still seven below zero at the Wickersham Dome, and breezy. Back in December, Beat and I went on an overnight trip where we saw eight above at the Dome and 25 below as soon as the low winter sun went down and we dropped into the Wickersham Creek drainage. I braced myself for this kind of temperature swing.