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Brek's Arctic bike quest beaten by cold again

Brek Boughton face and balaclava are completely encased by frozen sweat during his winter cycling trek to the Arctic Circle. He had to abandon his second attempt to reach Tuktoyaktuk because of a persistent cough. - PHOTO CONTRIBUTED
Brek Boughton face and balaclava are completely encased by frozen sweat during his winter cycling trek to the Arctic Circle. He had to abandon his second attempt to reach Tuktoyaktuk because of a persistent cough.
— image credit: PHOTO CONTRIBUTED

The first thing Brek Boughton wanted to do when he returned to the Lower Mainland from his second ill-fated cycling adventure in the far north was go for a ride.

After all, Vancouver’s rain and winter cold are downright tropical compared to the -45 degree windchill he’d endured pedalling into Whitehorse.

Once again Boughton’s quest to ride his specially equipped Surly Big Dummy bike to Tuktoyaktuk in the dead of winter came up short. His latest attempt ended Jan. 7 in Dawson City when he couldn’t shake a persistent cough that sapped his energy. He’d covered about 1,400 kilometres up Vancouver Island, over the White Pass from Skagway, Alaska and into the Yukon.

In 2012, Boughton had to abandon a similar trek from Cap’s Bicycles in Sapperton, where he works, to the Arctic Circle because of frostbite and creaky knees.

Boughton, 41, took on the challenges to test his own physical and mental endurance, as well as to support an effort by Cap’s and the Royal City Rotary Club to collect used bikes to be sent to Africa.

Using the lessons he learned from his first attempt, Boughton made some modifications to his bike to better withstand the rigours of extreme winter riding, packed warmer sleeping bags and wore warmer boots and gloves.

Still, the far north winter proved too formidable a foe.

“It’s not very pleasant,” said Boughton of riding into a 50 km/h headwind in sub-zero temperatures outside Whitehorse. “I was frustrated with the slow speed, I was pushing too hard. It was just a really horrible day.”

In fact, the sweat he worked up froze his shirt to his skin.

Getting off the bike wasn’t any easier, as Boughton camped alongside the road for the majority of his route.

That meant setting up a tent and cooking his meals in the extreme cold and sometimes without the shelter of trees.

“There were a few points where my hands weren’t working so well,” he said.

Approaching Dawson City the rest of his body started to break down. The cough settled into his chest. He couldn’t get warm, even after he was offered a ride in a heated car. He couldn’t stop shaking. He could barely talk.

“That was kind of scary,” said Boughton, who ended up leaving his bike on the side of the road.

Though Boughton was able to retrieve his bike later and eventually ship it back home, he knew his ride to the Arctic was over.

“That is the closest I have ever come to hypothermia,” he wrote in his online diary.

And while his dream of reaching Tuktoyaktuk by bike in the winter isn’t completely dead, he’s got his sights set on someplace warmer for his next cycling adventure, like Vietnam.

Maybe in the middle of monsoon season.

 

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