A quick hour of time, a fat-tyre bike, a big flat glacier, a 10 Km. flagged trail so you can get home in a white-out; all the ingredients you need for a bit of adventure.
Fat tyre bikes sadly seem to be fading in popularity. Luckily Union Glacier Camp, Antarctica is very much their ideal home. With 5-inch wide knobby tyres, the bike geared to deal with drifts and ice, a fast pedal after dinner is the best form of exercise. Of course you don’t normally go riding in a down jacket and face mask, but it certainly helps here.
Starting from Camp you make a quick radio call to sign out, just in case a blizzard hits or you slide foolishly off the trail. A long straight-away then leads out the airport road to the Christmas tree. Why there is a Christmas tree I never learned, but it is certainly a good marker and let’s you know you are a good 2.7 km into your loop already. And road needs to be loosely interpreted, because underneath is over a kilometer of ice and with a bit of wind the ‘road’ can vary from snow drifts, with icy patches, to hard pack.
You hang a hard right at the Christmas tree and settle into the top of the back straight, my favorite section as you are out of sight of Camp, the low mountains of the wind-scoop are over your left shoulder, Mt. Rossman towers up on the right, and ahead is nothingness. Ice and more ice rolls out to a faint horizon miles away.
The clouds create a soft haze, a light breeze blows up, and serious pedaling can commence. Should you pedal alone there is a feeling of isolation, a hint of polar exploration as the tyre knobs grip the ice and the bike crunches noisily forward. In the absence of sound, every sound is magnified, tyre on ice, breathe into frosted air, the quiet clinking of the chain.
More fun perhaps is to loop with a friend, discussing bitcoin with Joby, pizza with Sergio, and Alpine routes with François, Heinz and Robi. It certainly makes the wheels spin faster.
At the end of the straight you are well over half-way and another hard right leads back over the end of the ski plane runway, with a quick check of the sky and then you are around and into the home straight. The final km. takes you alongside Mech. land where all the vehicles; big Tuckers, groomers and snow mobiles live, a meca of snow machines to facilitate life on the ice.
With a final spin of the pedals you arrive back in camp, slotting the bike into a rack, alongside a building or outside your tent.
The bike policy has always been ‘find a bike and ride it like you stole it.’
There always seems to be a bike just around the corner when you need it for the 10 km. or a quick scuttle across Camp.