The Road Less Travelled: The Dempster Part 1

The Yukon spawns people who, like the territory itself, are larger than life. People who think nothing of travelling hundreds of kilometres by dog sled at -50 degrees C, navigating only by their wits and ability to use the stars to guide them. My wife and I are not those kinds of people.

There are also people with a wanderlust that compels them to consistently take the road less travelled (and who must follow a road until it ends) just to see what is there and be able to say they have been there. We are those kinds of people.
I inherited this wanderlust honestly. As a child, my father took me to where the pavement ended on the Alaska highway. At the time, that was 16 kilometres north of Fort Saint John, British Columbia.

I grew up 96 kilometres east of Dawson Creek where Mile 0 marked the beginning of the Alaska Highway. The highway was the stuff of myth and legend, spoken about with reverence and respect. We heard tales of those who had driven it. In the late 60s, we were in awe of those brave souls who challenged the Alaska Highway and survived. Much has changed since then. Gas and services are more plentiful. It is certainly not the adventure and challenge it once was. The stories of that adventure, however, planted a seed in me. I wanted to drive the whole Alaska Highway. It took me more than 50 years to drive the entire 2288 kilometres. I completed the last stretch a couple of summers ago.

As the Alaska Highway became more accessible and faded from myth and legend, we needed another road to capture our imagination and challenge us. The Dempster Highway, for me and many others, became the new Holy Grail. It enticed us with the promise of adventure, of unseen vistas. It dared us to test our mettle against it. The Dempster, as many refer to the highway, became the new item on our bucket list.

Our first encounter with the Dempster was many years ago, on more of a whim than anything. We set out on the Dempster with only one spare tire and no realistic plan. We had no survival gear, or food, or water. I’ll say that again—we plunged ahead without a realistic plan of any kind. Don’t do that. It took us six hours to travel from Dawson City to the Arctic Circle. I thought it would have taken us no more than four hours. Silly me. That trip, we only had one flat tire and still remark to this day how reasonable the flat repair was at Eagle Plains. They could have charged much more than they did and we would have gladly paid.

At the Arctic Circle kiosk, my wife and I debated whether to press on to The Northwest Territories, which, at the time, was still on our bucket list. Eventually we decided that the additional 45 minutes each way was not a prudent use of our time. We still had to navigate our way back down the Dempster to Dawson. We did, however, plan to return, drive to Inuvik, then fly to Tuktoyaktuk, and put our hand in the Arctic Ocean, to check that off our list. Ten years flew by, while we chased other adventures, without realizing the dream that still whispered to us. The Dempster was in our own backyard, after all, and needed to be explored.
Then a few years ago, as part of the Canada 150 celebrations, a road was built connecting Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk. It was a sign.

Read Part 2 of this tale!

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