When I saw the post on Facebook from local Dawsonite Sarah Lenart, asking for two people to join her and friend Jeremy Herndl on a trip to Tuktoyaktuk from Inuvik via the winter ice road, I was elated.
The ice road follows the Mackenzie River delta channels, and eventually ends up on the Arctic Ocean. Construction of an all-weather highway, which has been ongoing since 2013, is expected to be finished by fall of 2017, after which the ice road will be permanently closed. I didn’t want to miss out on an experience that might be gone forever by next year, so I immediately messaged Sarah back – I’m in!
Fellow Dawson resident Derrick Hastings messaged a day later, and our group was complete. We settled on February 20 to 23 for our adventure. Sarah took on the responsibility of organizing everything.
The morning of the 20th was sunny and cold as we all met at the Dawson airport. Excitement was in the air. After a stop in Old Crow, we landed in Inuvik and approached the airport car rental company to book a car. We were told that sadly, there was nothing available except a truck.
“Ice Road Truckers!” we all yelled, and enthusiastically put our names down.
We arrived at the rental company bright and early the next day to pick up our truck. In order to be fair and give each of us a chance to experience driving the ice road, it was decided that we would each take a driving shift of one hour.
It was an honour to be the first shift, which took us from land onto the Mackenzie River.
We drove slowly, not wanting to rush through the trip. After all, it’s all about the journey, not the destination! Truckers and vehicles passed us, but we didn’t care – we were driving on a river, soon to be the ocean – this was an experience to be savoured!
Being in the driver’s seat also allowed another privilege – choice of music. Folk, alternative, and East Indian techno dance accompanied us as we gazed out the windows and snapped pictures.
Sarah, the expert in all things internet, periodically recorded live podcasts throughout our journey. We ended up with followers from Italy, Germany, and of course, Dawson City, looking through our eyes as we made our way to Tuktoyaktuk, or “Tuk,” as it’s more commonly referred to.
When we arrived at the point where the river became the ocean (Sarah kept track on her map app of where we were), we all got out and jumped up and down. How incredible to be standing on a frozen ocean! The horizon stretched out on either side with no land in sight – it FELT like the ocean.
Selfies were taken, smiles all around, then back in the truck to continue on.
After approximately 187 km, Jeremy was the driver to take us onto land and into the town of Tuk. After finding our bed and breakfast, we set out on foot to explore this small Inuvialuit community.
It was cold, and the buildings looked windswept by snow. The locals, by contrast, were warm and friendly. We were invited into people’s homes to look at their beautiful, hand-made crafts, and once word got around, some even came to our bed and breakfast for tea and a chat. And all around us, the horizon stretched forever, a blend of different shades of grey sky and frozen ocean.
The next day, we walked across the bay on foot towards a station of the Distant Early Warning Line, also known as the DEW Line or the Early Warning Line. It was part of a system of radar stations set up in the far northern Arctic region of Canada in the 1950s to detect incoming Soviet bombers during the Cold War, and provide early warning of any sea-and-land invasion. A sobering history, but interesting nonetheless.
After some more home visits and local hospitality, we were on the road back to Inuvik, loaded down with gifts and memories. This was our last night away from home. We sat up until 3 a.m. in our small rented cabin on the outskirts of Inuvik, talking and laughing – four very different people who had come together for an adventure, now bonded with the shared experience of having driven an ice road that may be gone forever next year, but will always live on in our photos and memories.