Written By : Sierra van der Meer
Photos By: Tony Gonda
It’s easy to forget that the land of the Midnight Sun is also the land of the Midday Sunset. All summer, Yukoners celebrate long days with midnight bike rides on flowy singletrack. Our biggest event of the year, the 24 Hours of Light is a testament to the never ending daylight. But, after summer is over and the tourists have headed home winter arrives and the days get progressively shorter. By the time December 21 rolls around, the only real daylight falls right in the middle of a regular workday. But, instead of morning the winter solstice, the Yukon fat bike community celebrates with the 5+ Hours of Light festival.
The 5+ Hours of Light started in 2011. Whitehorse had seen an explosion of fat tired bikes since 2009, growing from 3 to 40 bikes in just over 2 years. While tire sightings had increased, there still was no official fat tire events. A couple of fat bikers on the Contagious Mountain Bike Club board, the local bike club, decided to host a race. It seemed fitting that a town celebrated for their summer solstice event should host a sister event in the winter.
In the spirit of the 24 Hours of Light, the 5+ Hours of Light would be a no artificial light event. This meant it had to run from sunrise from sunset; to be precise from 10:09 am until 3:47 pm on the shortest day of the year.
The 2012 event was scheduled for December 22nd. Unfortunately, temperatures dropped to -30C (-22F) and we were forced to reschedule until after the holidays. On January 12th, fat bikers headed up to the Whitehorse Biathlon Club to test their tires.
Since 2011, the community had doubled, with around 80 fat tired bikes in a town of 28,000. While there were noticeably more participants, the most obvious change difference was in the variety of bicycles. In 2011, options were limited with mostly white and grey Surly Pugsleys, and a couple of blue Mukluks adorning the bike racks. Just over a year later, there were bikes in every color with bright rims, rainbow pedals, and neon pogies.
Thanks to the Whitehorse Biathlon Club, the event had a cozy warming cabin, and fabulous groomed track for the start and finish. At 10:09, the first riders started through the biathlon club. The course, which started on wide ski trails, continued on double track multi-use trails on Grey Mountain before moving onto fun, fast, downhill singletrack and finally climbing back to the biathlon facilities on a wide snowmobile trail.
Sierra van der Meer
After the forced delay due to the cold, it was nice to have temperatures closer to -15C (5F). Although that’s mild for a Yukon winter, it still meant plenty of frosty faces, and as the laps wore on riders added more and more layers to keep warm. There was also plenty of delicious granola bars, hot spaghetti, and specially made espresso drinks courtesy of stellar volunteers.
The sun started to fall down the horizon as the clock neared 4:00 pm. With the only a couple minutes left, three riders Derek Crowe, Jonah Clark and Matt Schenk were tied with 7 laps. Last year’s winner Clark, had already put away his bike and was enjoying some hot chocolate inside the warming hut. Matt Schenk and Derek Crowe were both on the course, trying for an 8th lap. Schenk crossed the line a couple minutes ahead of Crowe, and ended the day as the 5+ Hours of Light male champion.
On the women’s side, last year’s winner, Sierra van der Meer, (me) took the prize with 6 laps, adding a second sparkly femo medal to her collection. With more than half the field female, Whitehorse maintained its reputation as a lady-centric mountain bike mecca.
Another successful event finished, Whitehorse once again proved that if you are only going to get 5+ hours of light, you might as well spend them on a fat bike.
Editor’s Note – You can read more from the author at – http://northsixty.com/