Every year I have visited Alaska since 2013, to make photo essays for BBC News online about Inuit villages, a remote family in the wilderness, Harley-Davidson riders in Anchorage, and the US Army. Plus I use the ‘Last Frontier’ as an entry/departure point to get down to British Columbian First Nations in Canada and for projects in the Lower 48 States. This year, I flew back to Anchorage from the UK in late August in order to motorcycle the ALCAN (Alaska Canada Highway) for the seventh time, down to California for the winter of 2018.
My project is currently to document electric motorcycles, and so far my journey has meant 9000 miles in three months and visiting the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas by petrol motorcycle.
Now I am in Syracuse, New York during snow, having flown over to photograph and interview the owner of the world’s fastest electric motorcycle before completing the project in January after also visiting Alabama and finally Las Vegas to speak with as many motorcycle manufacturers as possible.
For this entire project, I have relied and depended heavily on Snugpak kit. 95% of my nights on this journey, since early September, have been spent rough camping which means just before nightfall I pull off the road with my motorcycle and find a place out of attention’s way to put up the Snugpak Ionosphere tent. I’m using the Ionosphere because it is extremely light – the inner tent and outer fly together, with two poles and stakes, weigh less than a bag of sugar and takes up very little room in the 120 litre Snugpak Kitmonster duffel bag, which I have been using all and every year since 2005. It is the same bag that has carried my kit to the end of the world in Patagonia, the frontline of Helmand Province in Afghanistan and every other country in between that I’ve lived in or visited for my projects. I love the Kitmonster because it is ultra-strong, takes all the abuse that can ever be thrown at it and has enough capacity to hold exactly what I need for trips up to years in length. Its strong zips still work fine, it can be carried with one hand or used as a backpack and has compression straps to tighten it up and keep the bag solid.
At the beginning of September in Alaska and the Yukon leaves have already changed colour on trees and are coming off, so I already know to expect sub-zero Celsius temperatures at night on my trip south from Anchorage. I travel as light as I can, the heaviest part of my kit being three gallons of spare fuel for the remote sections of highway, tools for my motorcycle, then Snugpak camping kit, clothing and camera gear. Waterproofing Snugpak equipment is foremostly important to secondly being able to compress it down into the Kitmonster. So I relied on two Snugpak Dri-Saks with roll-top closures. One Dri-Sak would hold a widthways cut-down foam sleeping mat at the bottom of the dry bag with the Ionosphere tent on top of it, not in its bag but loosely wrapped up as this speeds up putting the tent together at night and packing it away in the morning. This allows it to breathe better if you’ve got any liquid or frozen moisture on the inside of your fly sheet in the mornings.
The Dri-Saks have a valve that lets air out as you roll the clip lock closure down and makes sure you can maximise space, saving as much as possible. In the second Dri-Sak, I put three sleeping bags, a cold weather Softie Shirt top and an inflatable pillow which also gets compressed right down when you expel all the air out when rolling down the clip lock closure and using the valve. This technique with the Dri-Sak’s means not only is most of your kit kept waterproofed and together, but it also takes up much less space than separate items in their original stuff sacks. Each Dri-Sak goes into each end of the Kitmonster duffel bag and in the middle goes tools, fuel and camera kit. I rely on up to three lightweight, thinner sleeping bags all put together or used separately as temperatures have varied considerably on this project. Some nights I use all three together – the Tactical 2, Travelpak 2 and Jungle Bag, when it gets down to -8°C, but on other nights with cloud cover in California, I might only need to use the Jungle Bag.
I also carried the excellent 35-litre Snugpak Xocet Daysack with me, which I had worn on my motorcycle trip out to Australia’s remotest Aboriginal community in the Western Australian Gibson desert last year, so I knew it was dependable. In this, I carry paperwork, laptop, water and protein powder meal replacements. I also like the fact it has MOLLE webbing on its exterior back and underneath for attaching carabiners too, and thus smaller bags, additional water containers and velcro patches that show my blood group, my nationality and website. The Xocet stays on my back most of the time so my passport/ID is always with me and water is close to hand. I wear the Snugpak 2nd Skinz Coolmax Thermal Long Sleeved Top next to my skin all day every day, which is important as a synthetic base layer is crucial to wick moisture away and keeps you warm and comfortable. I also wear the 2nd Skinz Coolmax Long Johns under my motorcycle leathers.
Most of my journey south was rural and remote, so I could stretch out in the Ionosphere tent at night and pull most of my belongings and food inside with me, only leaving the Kitmonster outside every night as there wasn’t enough space for it inside. When I needed to be stealthier in urban environments, where the Ionosphere would be too obvious, I would get inside the Stratosphere Bivi tent which is less conspicuous and take less time to get inside of. The Stratosphere is a waterproof bivi and also ideal for a day trip when you sometimes get caught out and actually have to spend a night outside.
Carrying two types of sleep systems gives me an option for every type of sleeping situation whilst motorcycling and makes it possible by packing down small and being lightweight. Putting up and taking down the Ionosphere tent more than 100 times in a row means that I don’t even acknowledge the muscle memory action of this anymore and don’t have to think about handling the tent, it is such second nature. Both tents are lasting well as they are expertly put together with quality attention to detail that you just don’t get with better-known names in high street stores. As long as you’re reasonably fit and active a 2nd Skinz Base Layer with Softie shirt and windproof outer layer is all you ever normally need down to maximum negative single digit figures.
Without Snugpak kit, as with all of my previous successful projects, I simply would not have been able to complete my work. Snugpak is what I use most of every single day. Their warm and waterproof clothing to keep me comfortable and healthy and their sleep systems to keep me warm, dry and crucially rested for the next day’s work. I’m extremely proud to be a Snugpak brand ambassador and actively encourage people to use their products every day like I do, as they will make you more productive and better your life.