Preparing: it’s a context thing

Winter trip preparedness

Wheels are of course only part of what’s required for a bike trip. Admittedly a very important part. For if there were no bike it wouldn’t be a ‘bike trip’. OK, poor humour aside, preparing for a 12 500 km cyclo-australis whilst some 200 odd kilometres above the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland and a kool 13 500 crow-flying kilometres and 26 years away from Australia does present a challenge. Or two.

Hannukainen to Perth, W.A. More than simply half a world away.
Hannukainen to Perth, W.A. More than simply half a world away.

After two decades in Europe and the majority of that in northern Europe and 10 full years above the Arctic Circle my concept of Australia is simply out of date and out of context. I have to relearn the cultural, geographical, climatic and meteorological context of my own upbringing.

Winters, for example. I have this vague memory of winter in Perth Western Australia. It goes like this: I would replace my thongs with shoes. Flip flops in Australia are called ‘thongs’ which does allow one the amusing opportunity everynowandthen to describe the liberal if a bit odd Australian cultural habit whereby not only are men (and women) completely comfortable to wear thongs, they are completely comfortable to wear thongs completely exposed in public. Then point out that ‘thongs’ aka Australia refer to flip-flops. The relief on people’s faces is palpable.

I would put a jumper or micro-fleece on over my t-shirt. And use a rain coat if it rained. If. It. Rained. Not always sure it would.

So that’s it: shoes, jumper, rain coat. My concession to winter aka Perth Style.

Here I am, in the photo, at the start of a July hiking trip along the Bibbulum Track just east of Perth. I am in full winter regalia. Basically the same time of the year and the same place I hope to start my cyclo-australis circa 2015.

Julu 1989. Start of a winter hike, Bibbulum Track.
July 1989. Start of a winter hike, Bibbulum Track.

Here, in Hannukainen, Finnish Lapland, shortly after we moved in and conscious that Chicco our retired husky has no idea of what a road is nor what a car really is and we now have a (relatively) busy road running past the house, I supervised him for his morning pee.

Chicco on Linkukero, Lapland. "Car? Wot's a car?"
Chicco on Linkukero, Lapland. “Car? Wot’s a car?”

Just to walk out the door and stand around for two minutes to make sure Chicco did not wander towards the road I had on a pair of Sorel Caribous over two pairs of socks, thick insulated trousers over windproof trousers, merino wool thermal top covered by a micro-fleece, down vest and large winter jacket, thick gloves and a decent mutts (beanie). Good job too coz not being quite coherent early in the morning I forgot the door was auto-locking and sure enough I found myself locked out. And it’s -20C.

No problem. Even on Early Morning AutoPilot I had dressed following the 1st Law of the Arctic: always be prepared. Just to supervise the dog for a two minute pee!

Consequently the 300 m walk to the neighbours where I got coffee whilst we contacted the owner to turn up with a spare key, posed no problem.

Winter in Lapland is simply too long and too dark to allow it to deter and perturb people from doing ‘normal’ things. The photo below, taken at 1930 in late January, shows a group of us enjoying a BBQ. Pitch black – I had to keep the shutter open for like 10 minutes to capture the image – and -33. The battery of the camera froze immediately afterwards. That’s the moon in the photo. We don’t ‘do’ the sun in January.

January 2014, enjoying a BBQ at -33, near Äkäskero.
January 2014, enjoying a BBQ at -33, near Äkäskero.

That’s the winter context I’m used to now.

So, I am going to start my trip in deep winter. Head south away from the Equator (remember we are Australia) for some 500 km until I hit the coast on the Southern Ocean. Next land mass is Antarctica. An ocean and prevailing winds coming up from Antarctica in winter means some pretty nippy weather driven by strong winds.

My problem is that I am so conditioned by Arctic winter preparedness that I can’t find in me the southern Australian preparedness I used to have. I have vague memories of light sleeping bags, no thermals, sleeping naked, no gloves and so on. Even in summer hiking in the mountain-wilderness areas here in the North I make sure I can cope with the odd random blizzard, damned cold rain hammering in on 15 to 25 m/s winds and a temperature range from -10 to +25. I simply can’t remember such extremes in winter hiking in Australia. And the advantage of winter hiking in Australia, aside of lower risk of heat exhaustion, sun-burn, dehydration and general brain-frying is more frequent availability of good quality surface water. Means I don’t have to carry so much water.

So the How To Prepare is giving me no end of headaches.

Under-prepare and I’ll freeze (OK – be pretty cold).

Over-prepare and I’ll be packing waaay tooo much stuff which I’ll barely use.

Till next time … M

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