Bike (USA) - - Grimy Handshake -

THAT’S HOW LONG IT TAKES TO GET TO the near­est hospi­tal when you’re 750 miles from the North Pole on an un­in­hab­ited is­land in the Cana­dian Arc­tic.

Dar­ren Ber­recloth, Cam Zink, Car­son Storch, Tom van Steen­ber­gen, pho­tog­ra­pher Blake Jor­gen­son and the Red Bull Me­dia House/Freeride En­ter­tain­ment crew spent three weeks on Axel Heiberg Is­land, Canada’s sec­ond north­ern­most is­land to the North Pole, with a land­mass the size of Switzer­land. They were at 80 de­grees of lat­i­tude north of the equa­tor. Here in San Diego County, we sit at a measly 33 de­grees. Up near the North Pole this past sum­mer, the sun truly never went down.

It av­er­aged 0 de­grees Cel­sius (32 de­grees Fahren­heit) dur­ing their stay. June and July are the only two months the ground is vis­i­ble. Dur­ing win­ter, it’s -50 de­grees Cel­sius. Ber­recloth and Zink had scouted the lo­ca­tion along with the Red Bull pro­duc­tion crew dur­ing the brief snow-free win­dow in 2016. For 2017, it was on.

Axel Heiberg’s glaciated moun­tains dwarf south­ern Utah’s red Ram­page cliffs—the same hucks and slopes we’re now ac­cus­tomed to think­ing of as ‘big moun­tain.’ Each rider’s Arc­tic line av­er­aged three times the ver­ti­cal of a typ­i­cal Vir­gin, Utah, run and was any­thing but or­di­nary.

“Thirty-five-hun­dred feet of sus­tained ver­ti­cal—the steep­est you could ride— turned out to be din­ner plates of shale,” Ber­recloth em­phat­i­cally stated. “Zink was ab­so­lutely con­vinced he could ride it but I had to tell him, ‘Look, I love you, you can’t ride this.’”

The un­known al­lure of a larger-than-

life land­scape can also be its down­fall. “We’re look­ing for the steep­est ter­rain and the most open ter­rain,” ex­plained Ber­recloth. “But it of­ten means softer dirt.” Be­yond un­cer­tain ter­rain, med­i­cal at­ten­tion can be hours—or days—away and ques­tion­able if found.

Hunt­ing for un­rid­den freeride lines is noth­ing new for Ber­recloth, who’s known for un­re­lent­ingly push­ing the lim­its. In 2012, Ber­recloth mapped out lo­ca­tions for “Where the Trail Ends,” trav­el­ing in search of big, alpine-desert ter­rain in Ar­gentina, the Gobi Desert of China, Nepal and Bri­tish Columbia’s Fraser Val­ley with Kurt Sorge, An­dreu La­con­deguy, James Do­er­fling and other prom­i­nent freerid­ers. Axel Heiberg Is­land had been kick­ing around on the po­ten­tials list but proved too big and ex­pen­sive for a multi-stop, best-hits list. It needed its own trip, its own film.

“It’s an eye-opener,” stated Jor­gen­son. “Once you’re there, it’s a big sense of self-re­liance.”

It proved to be a com­bi­na­tion of on­the-spot think­ing and a re­spect for power of en­vi­ron­ment. “When you put your­self in a vul­ner­a­ble state, you’re much more aware,” ex­plained Jor­gen­son.

Ber­recloth wit­nessed this first­hand, as soon as the DH-6 Twin Ot­ter whined its way be­yond the is­land’s reaches for good, as he and van Steen­ber­gen stood atop a sur­round­ing peak, ready for their in­au­gu­ral de­scent. Van Steen­ber­gen, they quickly re­al­ized, had for­got­ten his ped­als down at camp while hur­riedly assembling his bike and jump­ing aboard the he­li­copter. They re­boarded and then from camp be­low, Ber­recloth watched a blast of wind heft his hel­met off the up­per ridge—his one and only hel­met on the trip. It soared and bounced its way back to­ward base­camp smack­ing its way through the rocky land­scape, bat­tered but very thank­fully not bro­ken. Not how one hopes to start a three-week trip. Ber­recloth im­me­di­ately felt small within the sheer power of the Arc­tic’s in­dif­fer­ent enor­mity.

“You’re prob­lem solv­ing non­stop,” elab­o­rated Jor­gen­son when asked about day-to-day chal­lenges. “You can do as much lo­gis­ti­cal plan­ning ahead—a full year’s worth—but you have to per­se­vere through chal­lenges.”

They cer­tainly did. Early on, the camp wit­nessed a pack of a pure white Arc­tic wolves kill a ju­ve­nile muskox nearby. Later, while line scout­ing from the he­li­copter—what the group pri­mar­ily used it for—they found their den. For pru­dent safety pur­poses, ev­ery­thing op­er­ated as an Arc­tic ex­pe­di­tion: Sur­round­ing camp was a po­lar bear fence and an Inuit guide hol­stered a ri­fle, on alert at all times. As riders trudged up un­end­ing slopes in search of lines, the he­li­copter waited pait­ently if needed in the event of an evac­u­a­tion. They even had an ER doc­tor from Whistler on hand but thank­fully, nei­ther the doc­tor, nor the ri­fle was nec­es­sary.

Fol­low­ing is a photo es­say from Jor­gen­son cap­tur­ing the haunt­ingly huge, dy­namic land­scape the crew and riders en­dured for three weeks, sub­sist­ing solely off of freeze-dried meals and an ap­petite for true ad­ven­ture.

“North of Night­fall” pre­miers in Bend, Ore­gon, on May 30 with a dozen more show­ings to fol­low through­out the sum­mer. Find out more at northofnight­ —Will Ritchie

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