South Pole Ride Report

January 18, 2000
Gerald Przybylski

I'm sorry I didn't have a chance to put out a notice on the exploder inviting others to join me, but this ride happened on pretty short notice.

I started this ride kind of late, 1:30am local time. I didn't take a light either, who needs one... There are no street lights. In fact there are no named streets. The angle of the sun was about 20 degrees above the horizon.

I borrowed the CARA (an experiment here) mountain bike. It's a Raleigh with a Tange tubing frame. It has no front brake... but then, who needs one. The snow slows you down pretty well and there is only one down-hill, the main entrance to the Dome, and that's only about 15 feet of vertical. Well, that's not quite the only hill.... All the other hills are built up by Caterpillars and are off limits anyway as part of the construction site for the South Pole modernization.

All that aside, I first road part way up the entrance ramp out of the dome. I sort of stalled and lost my balance. The Northern Outfitters Snow pants kept my jeans free from moisture. (I didn't opt to wear the polypropylene thermal bottoms, or the poly fleece bib underwear either, since the temperature was only about -20F.) The wind pants and parka kept the 15 kt wind out quite effectively.

There had been blowing snow lately. The upper half of the rampway had a light dusting and the rear tire failed to grab very well. If the ramp way were better packed I am sure I would have made it the rest of the way. I got a picture at the geographic pole (another picture) about 300 yards from the main entrance, then proceeded to my 'digs' in hypertat Betty room 6. There I exchanged my inadequate leather mittens with ragg wool liners for a pair of those full arctic gauntlet mittens that go half way up the forearm and have that nice furry outer side. I added a pair of light polypropylene gloves too. That kept my hands toasty most of the rest of the ride.

From there I road farther through summer camp to the storage berms where a fellow got out of his Cat and walked toward me. I thought he might be chasing me off, but no, he only wanted to see who I was. He said he rides down there pretty often himself. He took another picture of me. I made a loop between the second and sixth storage berm circling one of those piles of snow the Cats are moving away from the station.

I rode back past my dorm, and out onto the taxiway of the airstrip. At the runway I made a left. My goal was the down-wind end of the runway. As I rode the runway my glasses fogged up under the Smiths brand yellow ski goggles. I had to prop them up on the red quilted cap with the ear flaps and tabs that ran under the chin. I had the neck gaiter to keep the wind out of my collar. While riding down-wind I could unzip the bright red windproof parka (Snow Goose brand).

I was cruising, hardly sinking at all into the snow of the well groomed and packed runway. It's partly packed by the landing airplanes, but mostly by Cats early in the season, with constant upkeep from the Cat Challenger towing a land plane on skis. The pedaling is easiest if you look for a Herc ski track or a land plane ski track. Sometimes they break down so you have to find a better one.

At the end of the runway I took a picture looking back toward the dome. I looked off the end of the runway for the tail fin of the Herc (C130 Herculese) that crash landed into the snow a number of years ago. I hear it's an eerie place to visit. It is on the list of recreational activities here. I couldn't see it, but took a picture anyway. I also took a picture of how the tire sinks into the snow (and my left "FDX" boot (mukluk)). In fact, that boot, plus the quilted inner boot liner plus the thick ragg wool sock over my regular sock did keep my feet warm for the whole outing. (Another picture of me at the runway end.)

The bicycle which does so well on the packed snow sinks about two inches into the unpacked snow and becomes unmanageable. So I turned around to face the length of the 13,000 foot runway.

Cycling into the wind required an adjustment of clothing. The goggles were back on over the glasses. The 'Masque" brand face shield went over the nose, mouth and chin (and beard). Again I tried to follow the best tracks, sometimes sweeping a few yards to the left or right to pick up the best one, the one that was the least work.

I reached the other end of the runway in a half hour or so. Both ends have a loop groomed out to make it easier for the Hercs to turn around. I took another picture toward the dome.

From there I rode about a third of the length of the runway to the packed footpath leading back to the Dark Sector (the experimental area where unnecessary electronic emissions are minimized so as not to interfere with the radioastronomy experiments). I took a right onto the path gaining on a pedestrian on his way to the Australian telescope seeing project building. (They built an atmospheric monitoring station for tracking the clarity of the atmosphere for telescopes). I rode on a few hundred yards farther and parked the bike by MAPO, the building that houses CARA.

The whole ride was completed in about two hours. I didn't want to overdo it at the 10,300 foot physiological elevation and in the cold where working up a sweat can be dangerous. I didn't, however, exhaust the possibilities. For instance, one could ride between all the berms, or out to the clean air facility by the packed road. In the coming years, with the modernization, there will certainly be more opportunities to cover new roads.

I did have a chance to ride a somewhat more unusual bike from the hypertat in the dark sector to the dome. In reflection, I found that the 26" wheel deep course tread of the mountain bike handled the packed and loose over packed snow better than the special bike did. The 10" wide, 10" diameter tires of the other bike didn't have a tread which was aggressive enough to push the front wheel over even moderately small snow drifts on the packed road. Also, the fixed ratio was a tad too low. One tended to spin out too much. The seat height wasn't adjustable, and the seat would not have been comfortable for extended riding, in spite of the extra layers one had to wear. Perhaps with an upgrade here and there it would have been competitive.

Gerald Przybylski for the Grizzly Peak Cyclists

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Last modified 2000-02-02 22:30