What? Are you Nucking Futs???
….seemed to be the standard reaction from my friends when I proclaimed one day in 2006 that I intended to ride a small dual-purpose motorcycle 14000 kilometres from our home in Michigan, to Inuvik in the north of the North West Territories province of Canada, as it is the most Northerly point accessible by road in Canada, well within the Arctic Circle ……and back.
I figured if I took 3 weeks off from work, I’d have just enough time to ride up to Inuvik, hop on a small charter plane to take me the final 150 kms (90 miles) to Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic coast, then jump into the Arctic Ocean for a (very!) brief swim in the rather frigid Beaufort Sea, then hop back on the bike and ride all the way home before my boss calls foul and my long suffering dear wife, Karen, tells me in no uncertain terms that we cannot afford ANOTHER of my midlife crises!
So why Inuvik, North West Territories, Canada as the destination point?
Well, besides being the most Northern point anyone can ride or drive in Canada by road in the summer months, and besides the cool (sic!) fact that it is well within the Arctic Circle, it is also the start of the famous "Ice" road featured in the reality/documentary series called "Ice Road Truckers" on TV, and so is the starting point for the dramatic and now-famous "Ice Highway" that those apparently crazy (and brave) truckers drive in winter – when the Mackenzie river delta on the Arctic Ocean freezes over and allows the 1 metre thick temporary ice road from Inuvik to support the heavy trucks carting up to 80 tonnes of supplies and machinery to and from the towns on the northern Arctic coast (Beaufort Sea) so it just seemed like a pretty adventurous place to ride a small motorcycle to, for someone who’s been stuck behind a damned desk for way too long!
Towns such as Tuktoyaktuk (or "Tuk" as it is called) are about as remote as one can get, and, of course, only accessible by road in the winter over the ice road. In summer, with no ice road, it’s airplane only.
So, with the ice "road" reverting back to water, and while with my proposed bike being off-road capable, it cannot actually swim!…….. so I would have to end my ride at the start of the winter ice road, at
Inuvik, and take an airplane to Tuk for the obligatory swim in the Arctic Ocean.
Now, my destination of Inuvik is at the end of a very remote dirt highway, called the "Dempster Highway", with no gas stations, no houses, no emergency services, no telephones or cell signals for nearly 500
miles from the start of the Dempster Highway at the junction with the The Klondike Highway near Dawson City, to Inuvik, other than a very small little motel / gas station at Eagle Plains, just below the Arctic Circle.
On top of this remoteness, this dirt highway is infamous for its treachery when wet, as the road surface turns to a thick, gooey, slippery mess that clogs tire treads and wheels and makes it almost
impossible to ride until its dried out again, which can take days of waiting.
This area gets pretty chilly in winter, averaging around -30 C in January but often getting down to -50C (-60F) or colder. Which, as we’d say back in South Africa, "is bloody cold, mate!" Of course, as I was planning to ride up to Inuvik in the early summer, a much warmer 10-15 C ( 40-50 F) could be expected on the Dempster Highway. (But still cold enough at night to realize that those cheapie Walmart sleeping bags advertising "20 F capable" are really NOT suitable for this kind of place. Don’t ask me how I know!)
Some pictures of the 736 km (437 mile) long dirt Dempster Highway….in nice weather!
….and of course, the same road during the somewhat cooler winter months…
(courtesy of Rolf Hicker, www.hickerphoto.com)
Here’s the wiki link to the Dempster Highway….
Now that I had the basic idea kinda formulated, it was time to decide who to do this crazy thing with!
See the section on "The Riders" for more details on the crazy participants!