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The following article is reprinted from the Guide to the Goldfields, a Yukon, Alaska, and NWT travel publication.
CYCLING ADVENTURE IN THE FAR NORTH
We didn't really know what we were getting into. Sure, we had each ridden in various pockets around the globe, but a winter bicycle trip in the Arctic? That's what Brent, Gary and I decided to do: ride the Dempster Highway and an ice road from Dawson Cit y to Tuktoyaktuk. Leaving the warm coz-iness of Dawson's Circle Cycle Shop with 1000 kilometers ahead of us, we had the feeling that it would be the last wave of warmth we'd feel for a while. We'd done our research. We knew, even though March was still very much winter, we would have 12 hours of daylight. The highway was well plowed but still required the use of studded tires. We knew the temperatures still had the potential of dipping into the minus thirties, so we had lots of warm underwear. And we know that spending 24 hours a day outside for 15 days would suck energy from us like an industrial vacuum cleaner. We carried a ton of food in our trailers and saddle bags along with a few warm sleeping bags.
Reaching the North Forks Pass in the heart of the Ogilvie Mountains, the wind catapulted us forward gracefully. A brilliant moonscape surrounded us - trees, rock and snow stretched beneath a painted blue sky. For the most part we were alone. Few vehicle s passed us. The few that did either, stopped to talk or grimaced at our warped determination.
Reflected on the snow, the sunlight burned our faces to a lobster red. It fell like summer when we were riding, but as soon as we applied pressure to the brakes and slipped off our saddles, the wind swindled precious warmth from us. In winter, although mo isture surrounded us, we had to painstakingly melt 12 litres of snow every evening to ensure proper hydration.
Laced with an edge of gray, the white chain of Ogilvie Mountains, narrowed atop an aptly named Windy Pass, where the breeze swirled dizzily around us. Smooth contours gave way to protruding obelisks on the peaks. Leaving the mountains with a steep ten ki lometer climb, pulling 150 pounds of gear we were awarded with an aerial view of a vast land. Looking along an eternal valley from the Eagle Plains we eyeballed the path we followed through the mountains and looked ahead at the sensual ridges we might ped al to reach our first settlement at the Eagle Plains Hotel. The sun was baking us, even corroding the soiled snow banks; spring was flexing its muscle. We lounged above our endless surroundings, talking endlessly, nibbling our trail mix and sipping warm s oup.
But winter wasn't ready to relinquish itself. Beyond the Eagle Plains Hotel, blinding gale force winds paralyzed the highway. Gates barred motorists from entering what truckers dubbed "hurricane alley"; the sun was re-cast by the blasting air.
Riding across the Arctic Circle on an "Open" highway, the wind along the edge of the Richardson Mountains was still fierce. There was nothing but scrub to block its directness. But we were still pedaling. Laboriously climbing Wright Pass, we reached a landmark- the Northwest Territories border. From here we would travel mostly downhill towards the Ocean, still over 400 kilometers away. Entering NWT, an even more severe arctic weather system slammed into us like a linebacker.
We spent 3 days riding our bikes from Fort McPherson to Inuvik. Frequent walking breaks helped resuscitate our ailing toes before they lost all feeling. At –43 degrees, setting up camp, cooking dinner and riding wrested all our energy.
Reaching the end of the Dempster and the beginning of the Tuk Ice Road, the weather was still damning. But the wind settled down and we braced for 3 mentally straining days, motivated enough to push our tired and cold bodies towards the edge of the contin ent.
Riding on ice with our studded tires we stared into the blackness of the polished surface that looked like an eight foot thick pane of cracked glass. Plowed along the middle of the MacKenzie River, we were riding a road unlike any other in the world, a r oad that would turn into the perennial flowing river again, hissing its silted water into Canada's forgotten sea.
The sun bounced off the snow like a laser beam, and we felt the dead-end road ahead. We could see the pre-fab houses of Tuktoyaktuk and pedaled the last 30 kilometers on the Arctic Ocean to the northernmost point accessible by road in this country.
For the moment Gary's numb toes, Brent's frostbitten nose, my stiff fingers, the bodychecking wind and the serrated terrain was forgotten. We replayed images of the robust mountains blanketed in pristine whiteness and the concerned smiles of the locals th at helped and encouraged us. Gary, Brent and I overcame obstacles as a team and grew as friends. Bumping back onto land and into Tuktoyaktuk we realized we achieved something even we weren't sure could be done. Because of that, we communed with a land and season of priceless quality.
by Raymond Schmidt