Day 7 April 3rd
One year ago to this day I crossed the border from Saskatchewan into Manitoba on my Highway 16 adventure.
The previous night after dinner I was invited for a beer in the cab of a Kenworth with a couple of my new-found ice-road trucker friends, I spent an interesting couple of hours listening to their stories of driving big rigs on the Dempster and Mackenzie Ice Road. I began to realize the vital role the trucking industry plays in the North. Without these brave Ice Road Pilots the northern communities could not survive, in fact during times of road closures it is not uncommon for people to run out of the things we take for granted; such as dairy products, fruit, vegetables etc. These guys are consistently risking their lives in some very difficult conditions, but they love it; they all spoke passionately of the Dempster and have a strong connection to the land and the people.
Up early to pack the bike hoping the road had opened; and it had. Yay! The gate was open and the sky was clear, finally I could make some forward progress once again. I ate breakfast with Stretch a trucker, gold miner and volunteer Fire Fighter from Dawson City. On the way out of the restaurant I was met by another trucker (Renée) a friend of my nephew Graham’s from Whitehorse and he had a gift for me from Graham and Michelle; a bucket of KFC and a 6 pack of IPA (Thanks guys); only problem was is how to carry beer on a bicycle when it’s 25 below. I strapped the bucket of chicken to the top rack and gave the beer to Stretch, with instructions to toss me one every time he passed me along the road to Tuk.
As it turned out I never saw Stretch or that beer again, lol.
Leaving the Oasis in the Wilderness the temperature was minus 22, blue sky; a perfect day for riding a fat bike across the Arctic Circle (something I had been looking forward to for a long time). The Arctic Circle crossing is approx. 400 kilometres from the start of the Dempster at Klondike Corner (LAT 66deg 33N) and about 35 kilometres from Eagle Plains.
Check it out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arctic_Circle
As I peddled I remembered stories of the eccentric, self-proclaimed ‘Keeper of the Arctic Circle’ Harry Waldron. An ex –Dempster highway worker who retired and took to sitting in a rocking chair at the Arctic Circle crossing. He wore a tuxedo, sipped champagne, and entertained tourist with stories about the North reciting verses from Robert Service poems and posing for photos. I’m sure that Harry is long gone but who know maybe his ghost lingered on at the crossing view point.
I hoped to reach the Arctic Circle view point by early afternoon and carry onward to eventually camp somewhere near Rock Creek. But, a couple of hours out of Eagle Plains the weather changed again, within an hour the wind picked up and the temperature plummeted.
A car stopped and the driver asked me if I was Kevin’s Brother? I replied “how did you guess” he was a Parks Canada manager from Inuvik and apparently used to work with my brother Kevin. His wife warned me of going any further as they had just driven over a high ridge and experienced extreme winds; she said the road was starting to drift in again. They offered me a ride back to Eagle Plains to wait out the storm, I declined. An hour later I reached the Arctic Circle Interpretive pull off, it was a cold but joyous occasion, albeit a lonely one, still it was a milestone in my journey along the Dempster.
I needed to take some photos, which I did quickly as it was so cold I couldn’t take my gloves off to operate my cell phone camera; (my canon was frozen and wouldn’t work).
I noticed that the Peterbuilt truck from the roll-over incident a few days previous was still parked at the pull off and headed north once again.
Unfortunately I didn’t get very far before I met up with a large snow drift across the road, I struggled through it only to encounter another and then another and looking down the road all I could see was blowing swirling snow; maybe I should have taken the ride back to Eagle Plains.
Reluctantly I turned around and pushed my bike through drift after drift back to the Arctic Circle pull off and the sanctuary of a broken down Peterbuilt truck. The keys were on the saddle tank just as Stretch had suggested they might be and I climbed into the frozen cab and out of the wind but not the cold.
My plan now was to sleep in the truck, wait for the plows to clear the road in the morning and head north once again.
Supper that night was frozen KFC and it was darn good.