Wheels

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Wheels - BY GARRY SOWERBY WHEELS Garry Sowerby is a four-time, world long-dis­tance, au­to­mo­tive record breaker based in Hal­i­fax. He can be reached at odyssey@east­link.ca Twit­ter: @DrivenMind99

With the open­ing of the Inu­vik-Tuk­toy­ak­tuk High­way last Novem­ber, for the first time ever, one can drive, ride or even walk to Canada’s third coast on an all-sea­son road. Like never be­fore in the sum­mer, the peo­ple of Tuk­toy­ak­tuk now see campers, mo­tor­cy­cles, trucks and bi­cy­cles pulling into town and star­ing out over the Arc­tic Ocean into the Po­lar abyss.

We had heard about the mid­dle-aged Ital­ian bi­cy­clist the night be­fore so when we spot­ted a lone cy­clist on the Inu­vik-Tuk­toy­ak­tuk High­way (ITH) the next af­ter­noon, we sus­pected it was him.

Ap­par­ently, he had rid­den the long 3,600-kilo­me­tre haul by bi­cy­cle from Van­cou­ver to Canada’s North­west Ter­ri­to­ries last year in hopes of reach­ing Tuk­toy­ak­tuk, a cen­turies-old com­mu­nity east of the Macken­zie Delta on the Arc­tic Ocean.

His plan was to be one of the first to ride the ITH that opened last Novem­ber, but he was too early. He was at it again this sum­mer to fin­ish off the quest.

We pulled up be­side him and Lisa of­fered a ‘Ciao’ out the win­dow.

As is the case with most peo­ple who spend a lot of time alone on the road, the Ital­ian had plenty to say. I un­der­stood noth­ing but Lisa, who knows the lan­guage, said he men­tioned pitch­ing a tent each night and sleep­ing in ran­dom places along the road. We won­dered about the an­i­mals in the north­ern wilder­ness.

“The an­i­mals do their thing. I do mine.”

Lisa and I had driven from Inu­vik to Tuk­toy­ak­tuk 15 years ago in the dead of win­ter. We used an ice road through the Macken­zie Delta that con­tin­ued east along the Arc­tic Ocean to Tuk which was the only way to drive there. For some of the spring, sum­mer and into the fall the ham­let of 900 souls was cut off from ground trans­port.

With the open­ing of the ITH last Novem­ber, flights to Tuk­toyuk­tuk have been scaled back and the ice road doesn’t get con­structed like it had been for years. This sum­mer the peo­ple of Tuk­toy­ak­tuk see campers, mo­tor­cy­cles, the odd trans­port truck and, of course, peo­ple like the Ital­ian cy­clist pulling into town and star­ing out over the Arc­tic Ocean into the Po­lar abyss. From coast to coast to coast is a new mantra for Cana­dian and global road trip­pers. Pic­tured here is Garry and wife, Lisa, at the new sign at the end of the new Inu­vik-Tuk­toy­ak­tuk High­way in Tuk­toy­ak­tuk. Be­hind them, the Arc­tic Ocean. The Inu­vik-Tuk­toy­ak­tuk High­way per­ma­nently con­nects the com­mer­cial cen­tre of Inu­vik, its iconic Igloo Church pic­tured here, to Tuk­toy­ak­tuk, a small com­mu­nity on the Arc­tic coast and home of the largest clus­ter of ice-cored pin­gos in the world.

For the first time ever, one can drive, ride or even walk to Canada’s third coast on an all-sea­son road. From coast to coast to coast is a new mantra for Cana­dian and global road trip­pers.

Lisa and I could have driven all the way there. Just mo­tor west to Ed­mon­ton, Al­berta. Then head north on Hwy 43 to Mile Zero of the Alaska High­way at Daw­son Creek and con­tinue north to White­horse, Yukon Ter­ri­tory.

Af­ter White­horse, hang a right up the Klondike High­way 530 kilo­me­tres al­most to Daw­son City, then an­other right up

the gravel Demp­ster High­way 735 kilo­me­tres to Inu­vik. That sec­tion crosses the Arc­tic Cir­cle and in­volves two short sea­sonal fer­ries. To­tal dis­tance is a mere 8,000 kilo­me­tres from Hal­i­fax.

We didn’t have time to do all that, so we flew to Inu­vik, rented a pick-up truck and drove to Tuk­toy­ak­tuk.

The ITH is an en­gi­neer­ing marvel for a few rea­sons. It is built on per­mafrost and me­an­ders across Arc­tic high­lands, through an area of glis­ten­ing lakes and onto the bar­rens. Trav­ellers cross the tree line half­way then drive across tun­dra to the Arc­tic coast. The Macken­zie River, pic­tured here, freezes in the win­ter. For decades, a road plowed on the thick ice pro­vided a vi­tal con­nec­tion be­tween the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries com­mu­ni­ties of Inu­vik, Aklavik and Tuk­toy­ak­tuk. The Inu­vikTuk ice road closed for the fi­nal time in April 2017 upon com­ple­tion of the all-sea­son high­way be­tween the two re­mote com­mu­ni­ties. The Inu­vik-Tuk­toy­ak­tuk High­way is an en­gi­neer­ing marvel for a few rea­sons. The 148-km gravel high­way is built on per­mafrost and crosses Arc­tic high­lands and the tree line, me­an­ders through an area of glis­ten­ing lakes and onto the bar­rens. Known as ‘a beast of a project’, the two-lane, packed gravel high­way was built over four years in the cold, dark win­ter in or­der to pro­tect the per­mafrost and the tun­dra.

A project of this mag­ni­tude in the high Arc­tic had never been un­der­taken with­out cut­ting into the per­mafrost. Per kilo­me­tre, it is one of the world’s most ex­pen­sive roads. Known as ‘a beast of a project’, the twolane, packed gravel high­way was built over four years in the cold, dark win­ter in or­der to pro­tect the per­mafrost and the tun­dra.

The road trav­els through the graz­ing range of the North’s only herd of do­mes­tic rein­deer that have grazed in the area since the 1930s, crosses the habi­tat of three cari­bou herds and reaches the world’s largest clus­ter of ice-cored Pin­gos, a na­tional land­mark on the out­skirts of Tuk.

Al­though un­paved, the road is hard-packed and smooth, with­out a lot of loose fly­ing gravel.

It took two and a half hours to reach Tuk­toy­ak­tuk where, un­der a strik­ing blue Arc­tic sky, life was buzzing. There was a col­lec­tion of campers parked around a spank­ing new Arc­tic Ocean sign along with some mud and dirt-cov­ered mo­tor­cy­cles.

In just a few min­utes, we met peo­ple from In­dia, New­found­land and Cal­i­for­nia all want­ing to cash in on the abil­ity to drive to Canada’s third, and of­ten for­got­ten,

coast.

The lo­cal con­ve­nience store sold fuel, cloth­ing, food, bi­cy­cles and pretty much any­thing one would need in lim­ited quan­ti­ties, even couches. The ham­let’s baseball field was packed, and the lo­cal ball team was slug­ging it out with a team from Inu­vik. Laugh­ing chil­dren scooted around on bi­cy­cles, obliv­i­ous to the many vis­i­tors.

The sun wouldn’t set un­til mid­night in late Au­gust and time seemed to stop for Lisa and me.

Driv­ing back to Inu­vik, the ‘es­caped’ feel­ing be­came more in­tense. We were not in a place where an el­e­ment of dan­ger loomed. We didn’t have to en­sure our papers were in or­der to be scru­ti­nized by a du­bi­ous foreign govern­ment of­fi­cial.

The stark Arc­tic beauty was daz­zling so we slowed down and put­tered along savour­ing the tran­quil­lity, awe and open sky that is the North.

We didn’t see the Ital­ian cy­clist though. He must have set up camp on the tun­dra some­where do­ing his thing while the an­i­mals did theirs.

PHOTOS BY GARRY SOWERBY

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