The final push was a three day journey from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk, the most northerly town accessible by road in the Americas. The road is a 187km ice road that follows the East Channel of the Mackenzie River Delta. The ice road has been made famous by the “Ice Road Truckers” programme (not that I’ve ever watched it). This year will be the last time the winter road will be in use. From next season, the all-weather Dempster Highway extension will be complete and ready for use. This was a real opportunity to cycle the ice road before it melts in a couple of months and flows out to sea via the East Channel. Many others have come to drive, and a few to cycle, the ice road in it’s final season of existence.
As we’d all had a massive day on 1st April (Claudio and I driving/cycling from Aklavik, and Theresa and Bob driving back to Fort McPherson to collect the bus, utility and gear and then driving along the Dempster Highway to Inuvik), I decided to do a short session, about 50km to Reindeer Station for Day 1.
I left from Arctic Chalets, where we were staying, starting at kilometre one. It was a little surreal cycling past all the boats and barges iced in along the docks of the channel outside of Inuvik. It was lightly snowing for much of the day, the snow blanketing the ice surface for much of the way. After 30km I passed the turn off to the Aklavik ice road, where I had stopped cycling the previous day. We camped on the edge of the road, which is very wide, just outside the hamlet. We had hoped that the 300-strong reindeer herd was within viewing distance from here, but there was no one around and no reindeer to see nearby.
On Day 2 I scored almost perfect weather – no snow and even more importantly no headwind which typically whips down from the northeast. The road/channel was flanked to the east by a small treed escarpment; to the west, the vast floodplain. As I headed north, the vegetation became lower and lower and the escarpment dissipated. Overnight I had added two rows of studs to my front tyre (a very laborious task), and that proved to be a good move. I gripped the ice with more assurance, though I still treated the surface with a lot of respect. I didn’t fancy any more heavy falls on the rock hard ice.
It was a beautiful light for most of the day, but particularly in the long twilight. The evening Arctic light has been a feature of this journey, with each day longer by about 8 minutes. I ended up covering 88km, more than I had planned because I felt it important to make the most of the calm conditions.
It was just as well I only set myself around 50km for the final day, because overnight the wind picked up significantly. The ambient temperature was around -13C but the wind chill made it closer to -30C. Snow drifted across the ice making it appear as a steamy swamp. I was given a new face mask to try and that proved to be very timely. Within an hour of setting off I managed to ‘grow’ my best icicle, a double spiked ice beard, about 7cm long! It may have only been a short day in distance, but the northeast headwind was brutal and I quickly decided to approach the task as I would any other full day. There’s always a sting in the tail!
Theresa is a keen mountain biker and so she decided to ride the spare bike and did two significant sessions, one starting out from the bus, and then again when she was a little closer to Tuk. There were also a couple of others from Yellowknife riding the road. They’d taken 4 days and this too was their final day. They started about 16km ahead of us and earlier as well, but we all reached the destination at a similar time.
Tuk felt like the end of the world, the end of the road at least. Claudio and I spent some time to record the moment and the remote town. I’m sure with the new all-weather road soon in service, life will change there. There will be little use for the barges that currently line the docks outside Inuvik now that goods and services will be transported via the new road all year round.
We headed back down the ice road a little way and camped before heading back to Inuvik in time for Claudio to fly out tomorrow.