After the crazy ascents of Atigun Pass and the shock of “The Hand” I slept, for the first time, with temperatures above -11º C (12º F).
The rising temperatures make non-slippery patches for riding.
It was impressive how the temperature became such an important environmental issue for me.
In the morning, with my watch in view, I was waiting for the temperature to reach the delicious high of -4º C (25ºF) to be able to put my arms outside my cocoon (aka…sleeping bag). Normally, this happened around 7:30 in the morning. Until that time a bear could even try to attack me but I’d just remain an immense, unmoving, yellow worm inside my tent.
The yellow worm already with an arm out! (Denali Park)
The quantity of animals that can be seen on the Tundra is incredible! I was able to see an Arctic Fox, (Vulpes lagopus), so white that it was only possible to see him when he moved; a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) running fast and very sure of where he was going; a Moose (Alces alces) that was surprised by me (he surprised me, too) who went running off down the highway; a lot of a species of what is known as Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus sp.) and their endless trails in the snow and an imposing and tranquil Snow Owl (Nyctea scandiaca).
“Sunset” – in this photo it was about 10:30 at night and almost time to stop riding…
Dark line cutting through the snow. I thought it would be easier to see any animals as they got close, but no…the majority are incredibly white and it’s only possible to see them when they move.
On none of these occasions was I able to take any photos. Take a picture means: stop the bike, take off a glove, get my camera, put the batteries in and then take the picture. Because of the cold, batteries run down fast and because I didn’t know how long it would be before I had access to an electrical outlet, each time I took a photo or made a video, I removed the batteries and put them in my pockets to keep them next to my body. I wouldn’t have had much of a chance with animals that moved any faster than a sloth.
And, as you know, there are no sloths here and predators run a lot.
Well, there are live organisms there that I was able to photograph.
As the chance of a good photo, under these conditions, with animals popping up by surprise along the highway, was remote, I accepted that it would be hard to get animal pictures. Still, I continued riding along looking at everything as if it were an animal about to appear. It was almost always a branch with a strange shape, a leaf blowing in the wind, or a fallen sign, covered in dirt. On a straight stretch of road of about 30km I saw a “pile of brush” out in the middle of the snow. I thought it was strange that the pile of brush wasn’t covered in ice but everything else around it was, but from a few miles away, it seemed like immense branches, it could only be a pile of brush.
When I got closer to the brush pile, I saw it had a snout in the middle of the brush! And horns! I couldn’t believe it!!! It was an enormous Musk Ox!!! He seemed to be sleeping. I immediately stopped about 50 meters from him. I got out my camera, put in the battery (this takes a little longer that one would think) and took some photos. He looked at me, still lying down and raised his snout to catch my scent. I was against the wind and then he got up and began to slowly walk in my direction. He was like a tractor! He walked through half a meter of snow (1 1/2ft) as if he were walking through grass. It was time to get going again…
The moment the Musk Ox got up I got an impression of his size, he was huge! He had been lying in at least .05m of snow (1 1/2ft).
Days later I read that Musk Oxen travel in large groups and one rarely encounters solitary individuals. Normally, males in social disputes or those that are very old are separated from the herd to die. It’s very detrimental to protect older individual under such inhospitable conditions.
This particular one is an animal that has been separated from the herd for 1 ½ years and is already about 18 years old (life expectancy for these animals is around 20 years), he was expelled from the herd to die alone. I nicknamed him Stubborn…
Stubborn’s “profile”, the charming old one who finally let me photograph an animal!