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At 9:00 a.m. in Palmer, Alaska, the sun is just beginning to peek over the horizon, casting a bright yellow light on the tops of the towering evergreens dipping under the weight of the previous night’s snow.

Here, at a trailhead beside the frozen riverbank, ten women have come together to brave the biting -2°F temps and unrelenting Alaskan wilderness for a 40-mile out-and-back fat bike ride to Knik Glacier. Heather Campfield, a local Trek Women’s Advocate who organizes weekly ride outings in the area, prepares to lead the charge.

The 10 bikes are arranged in a rough circle in the snow, and the group stands huddled in the center, perhaps considering last-minute layering changes. Though their regular adventures, even past excursions to Knik Glacier, are typically unsupported, the group knows it never hurts to have help on hand. On this day, they have a full support crew—two snow machines, an Argo, and two four-wheelers—each piloted by husbands and friends who have volunteered to aid in the adventure.

At last, the final hand-warmers are cracked and stuffed into mittens and the group rolls eastward toward the rising sun as one. Snow cracks and pops under their wide rubber tires as their figures cast long shadows across the barren white landscape. 18 miles away, the turn-around point looms: a jagged, turquoise glacier in the middle of a frozen river.

On a fat bike, tightly-packed snow makes for easy riding and strong spirits. The first two miles of trail are perfectly carved and groomed, like a gift from Mother Nature. But at mile four, the terrain changes dramatically. Where the ground was once smooth, it now undulates. The pace is cut in half.

This is a backcountry riding adventure in its purest form—taking on unpredictable elements with just enough caution and the perfect amount of reckless abandon. The difficult terrain has split the group, as each woman tackles the obstacles of the trail in her own way, but the group comes together again at mile 10 to take on nutrition for the remainder of the ride.

It is equal parts exciting and terrifying to be exposed as a group in a rugged environment like this, to be stunned by the awesome power of nature yet cloaked in the protectiveness of a special kind of camaraderie. This is why we adventure: to test our limits, and to see how far we can go. No one in the group gives voice to this sentiment, but it is felt by all—the only way to be here is to be here together.

In this moment of pause, a large moose lumbers onto the ice and stares, yet another gift, before turning, recognizing the group, and scampering toward the tree line. In her panicked retreat, she loses balance and splays across the frozen river like a rider losing traction on the trail. There’s some solace in the fact that no creature is immune to the challenges of this landscape.

The last eight miles blur together in a mass of white light and running noses until suddenly, the group reaches the jagged edge of the blue glacier. They toss bikes to the ground run toward the massive frozen sculpture with renewed energy.

The enormous Knik glacier is wide and bright blue. It is a majestic sight, one truly worthy of the trials of this adventure. For these women, it was both their courage and their camaraderie that brought them here. And there’s a lesson in the heart of this: Adventure allows us to see more, but it’s adventure companions that bring us to places we’d never be able to go alone.

After re-fueling on water and food, the women climb onto the saddles of their fat bikes and turn back toward Palmer. They ride once again toward the sun together, each drawing strength from the group, each falling into a smooth pedaling cadence as the snow beneath their tires pops and cracks with their progress.

Gear for cold weather adventuring

Farley

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Trek road, mountain, and city bikes equipped with Women’s Specific Design (WSD) technology are created from the ground up with the specific needs of women at the forefront of design.

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