"Rub Snow In It"

Night on the Ice Road

One Man's 8,000-km Journey to Fort Severn by Motorcycle. In Winter.

Rest and relaxation don't make it onto the itinerary when Oliver Solaro takes a vacation!



Editor's Note: To put it in perspective, Google Maps cannot even calculate the directions from Owen Sound to Fort Severn, Ontario—two dots at opposite ends, south to north, of Canada's second-biggest province. But Oliver Solaro made the entire 8,000-km journey (there and back, via Manitoba) on his Kawasaki KLR this past winter, documenting the entire trip. After a certain point, there are no paved roads connecting the two locations—only an ice road in the dead of winter. Two YouTube videos, known as the Brokentooth Project, reveal his incredible journey, complete with mechanical breakdowns, physical injuries and heart-wrenching moments of intense human connection. Read on for his personal account of this epic trip. His riveting videos of the experience are shown at the bottom of this article.

“You simply rub snow on the cut until it’s numb enough to start stitching it up”

Ask anyone what a good tool for long distance winter travel is and I’ll bet you a bushel of Speedos the list will include snowmobiles, 4x4s, and tracked ATVs. But how many would look you in the eye and suggest…a motorcycle? The automatic response usually includes a spasm of laughter or a long low whistle that really means, “Hope I’m in the will.” So I’ll be the first to admit that yeah, OK, it may not be the best choice, but with a bit of planning and the right gear it can be a truly remarkable experience. This past winter I took off on a ride from Owen Sound to the desolate, windblown western shore of Hudson Bay and the tiny town of Fort Severn.


View The Brokentooth Project in a larger map

Including the return leg, I covered a total of 8,000 km in two weeks while enjoying temps of +5 to -34c with pelting rain, stinging hail and drifting snow. But why? Really, what ludicrous goal would drive someone from the fireside warmth of loved ones and home to rest his cramped, cold hands on a metal bar and follow a slippery salt-grey asphalt ribbon to a realm of almost unfathomable white endlessness? Perhaps that’s just it. Not so much the idea of how far I can go, but rather—given our collective need for digital tethers and incessant communication—a need to be alone for a bit with all those little voices in my rattled cranium.

In a weird, hard-to-explain existential sense: a need to become the moving definition of remote.

Winter-Survival-Gear-Required


It's heady stuff, but when you come across circles of blood three meters wide in snow 150 km from a human footprint...these are the kinds of images that fall like hammers. North of the 56th parallel, there are so many images that lead to bouts of cascading sensory overload.

Leaving home, grossly overloaded with a year’s worth of kit and caboodle for a two week trip, I feel my heart drop to my stomach as I swallowed the full realization of heading off alone to a place that has never seen a motorcycle ride into town. I had no idea whether the extra battery/heated grips/studded tires and other mods would keep me alive and moving should the spirits of the Wapusk Trail chose to put a stop to my little endeavour. I have but the happy, blind, stupid grin on my mug that announces to the incredulous: “Damn the consequences, I’m on an adventure!” (note: an adventure is what happens when things don’t pan out quite how you planned—otherwise it’s a vacation).

This was no vacation.

Flat-tires-and-plenty-of-them

A partial list of tribulations includes seven flat tires, numerous falls, a broken shifter, broken signals, broken mirror, broken camera (sense a trend?) oil soaked brakes, frostbite, blown rear suspension, and one frozen cornea ... not to mention what will happen to my cardiovascular system in a few years after consuming eight full pounds of bacon and butter in four days. But these little problems are insignificant compared to what the First Nations people face every day in much of the North’s more remote communities. Here, the crushing weight of substance abuse, poverty and suicide mingle with glorious, proud spirits who somehow manage to coax beauty, art and magic from the very air around them.

Would I do it again? Hell yes…In a heartbeat! What’s my plan? Well…..mix equal parts ignorance with denial, hope and a Polyanna-ish belief that it’ll all work out. Pour into a full-face helmet and shake well until all notion of control over life’s direction is quelled.

In other words, roll with it….

 

Part 1

 

Part 2

 

 Factsheet

oscars-camerasTotal distance traveled: 8000km

Time on road: 2 weeks

Motorcycle: Agatha (Kawasaki KLR)

Camera: My trusty GoPro and a broken smartphone

Video editing: CyberLink PowerDirector (Free Trial Version)

Bacon and Butter Consumed: 8 pounds

Flat Tires: 7

Featured articles