This weeks speakers:
Rebecca Rusch (@rebeccarusch)
Chris Burkard (@chrisburkard)
Gus Morton (@thatisgus)
Question: How to did the team originally form and where did the idea come from?
Chris knew Gus on account of being in the same industry, and the two had previously done trips together. Chris spends a lot of time in Iceland, having crossed the country from West to East before, and frequenting the area an account of its scenic beauty, which is perfect for landscape photography. The two had previously talked about this pipe dream of crossing the country in winter, and going North to South, a route much more difficult that the West to East one. Knowing the trip would be strenuous and fully aware of their own lacking skillset on fatbikes, Chris called Rebecca Rusch, who’s skillset on any bike is one of the best in the world.
On Rebecca’s side, she admitted to being a little skeptical. “At first, I was super flattered that they thought of me, but my immediate second thought was, do you guys have any experience, have you done the research, and do you have any idea what you’re doing? I didn’t want to come if it wasn’t a good fit or if the preparation wasn’t going to be good enough.” Thankfully, Chris’ experience in Iceland and other research was thorough. He had a route planned, he had details like packing list thought of, and a working knowledge of the country and the locals.
Rebecca decided that “They had the right mindset, which is more important than any equipment.”
Question: What was the weather like, middle of winter, in Iceland, on a bicycle?
Iceland is usually full of lakes, rivers, hills, its beautiful. This time around, complete whiteout. Everything was covered in snow, that would range from a few feet, to meters deep. It was beautiful in it’s own way. Burkard recounts how liberating it is, to be on a bike, on a sheet of snow. “You feel like you can literally go anywhere, if you see a place in the distance, you can get there. There’s something uniquely freeing about that.” The first two days of the expedition, the weather was actually so good, that even the locals said they had never seen it this good, it was sunny, wind was at a minimum and there weren’t any storms to worry about.
One cool part about the weather is that the heating and cooling of the surface of the snow creates what is called a “supercrust” in some places. Gus talked about how you could be pedaling with all your strength, sinking into the ground, and then two feet over be on essentially pavement due to this supercrust phenomenon. Rebecca, having a lot of experience on fatbikes, was already adept and finding the spots where it had formed, and within a few days Chris and Gus got the hang of it as well.
Question: Why cross a glacier at the end?
Crossing a glacier to finish the trip was a decision made the first day in Iceland. They had originally planned on going around it, but when the local guides told them that the weather was good enough that it would not only be possible, but also safe, they decided to go for it.
“We’re all seasoned in expeditions, we were prepared, and we did enough research to know that the chances of us needing to call local rescue services were minimal… We were also following tracks from snowmobiles and jeeps, so it wasn’t like we were the only ones out there, and we knew where crevasses were and where the ice was safe.”
Rebecca recounts how the whole time they were actually running away from a storm, but while on the glacier, the weather was perfect and the views were amazing.
Question: What was it like with the crew that was documenting the trip?
The trio made sure that they had alone time. In any situation like this there has to be a balance between camera time, and time for self. If the whole thing is full of cameras, you lose the feeling that you are truly in wild nature, and you lose a lot of the personal development and team bonding that comes with that reality. The three would wake up and start biking alone every morning, they would then set times when the film crew would come in trucks and film, and then the crew would leave and let the bikers finish out the day on their own. Depending on the shots needed and the weather, some days were film heavy and others there was barely any, but finding that balance was crucial to both the integrity of the documentary, and the success of the expedition itself.
Question: What was the most dangerous part of the trip?
Gus explained how they were conscious of the danger, and how they mitigated it “A journey like this is so much about coexisting with your environment. You have to be able to adapt to weather conditions, wildlife, anything. Its not like competitions where a race will be on a Saturday and when that day comes you race, rain, shine hail, whatever. You can’t dominate the conditions in these situations, and if you try, they’ll dominate you.”
Chris added that they all had pretty gnarly falls a few times, but the real danger was the cold, “It’s a wet cold, not a dry one, that’s what’s actually dangerous. A dry cold you can shake off, you cant shake off snow and ice constantly getting under your layers and on your face. At one point Gus had some frostbite on his fingertips, and I’m actually holding my toes right now, I can’t feel them at all.”
Thank you to Rebecca, Gus, and Chris for taking the time. Follow them all on their socials and be on the lookout for the film about the expedition coming soon. If you want to be part of these conversations then come join us on clubhouse at 4:30 MST every Friday.