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Fat-bike touring Northwest Alaska in March

  • Author:
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published May 3, 2016

Filmmaker and photographer Bjorn Olson explored the snowy wilderness of Northwest Alaska via fat bike. He and partner Kim McNett set out from Nome on March 20 for a three-week tour along the Iditarod Trail. Heading east, then north, the 500-mile journey took them to the villages of Koyuk, Buckland, Kotzebue — and eventually Kivalina.

When Olson and McNett left Koyuk they found themselves in a ground blizzard. Several hours into their windy ride, hunters on snowmachines stopped to check on them. Olson wrote in his online journal of the trip that the passersby asked, " 'Are you okay?' Translation — Are you insane??"

In his journal Olson shares the excitement of preparing for the trip, and the people and places that enchanted the couple along the way.

"Riding for hours on end with every inch of skin covered, looking at the world through rose-colored goggles, for me, creates a calm state of mind," he wrote. "While the world around me screams and shouts, I find an inner peace and clear focus."

Olson, 40, was born in a trapper's cabin near Mentasta village, where subsistence rights pioneer Katie John spent much of her life, and he has lived in Southcentral Alaska for years. He says bike touring gives him the opportunity to experience life at human speed, allowing for deeper connections to the people and places he encounters.

"The land feels very old and many of the people we meet are tremendously in tune with their environment and culture. I've lived in Alaska all my life, but my love for it and its people only continues to grow," Olson said by email.

On their journey, Olson and McNett spotted a bounty of wildlife -- a herd of musk ox, moose, ptarmigan, ravens and wolverine tracks.

Adventure has been the main theme of Olson's life and work for the past decade. His film "Heart of Alaska" won the best Made in Alaska award at the 2015 Anchorage International Film Festival. It tells the story the story of Erin McKittrick (a regular We Alaskans contributor), her husband Hig, and children Katmai and Lituya as the family makes an 800-mile trip around Cook Inlet over three months.

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