Stage One of the ride runs across a road from the Arctic coast that has only been open since 2018. It runs for 148km southwards to Inuvic and offers up short yet horrid little climbs every 500metres or so. Up a nasty little gradient for a few hundred metres, then down again…all day. No land-speed records broken here I’m afraid as the legs are pretty well toasted after sadly pathetic distances each day (50km+60km+38km). But no matter, will enjoy the gob-smacking scenery and just churn out the 50km days across the tundra until some semblance of condition returns to the legs .
My camp out on the tundra south of Tuk. Quite a challenge to find a place that is not soggy. The Nemo2P tent is smaller than the MSR HubbaHubba and heaven knows how two people might fit into this thing. But the star is the EXPED mattress (very comfortable). Great to be sleeping each day after giving it a bit out on the road, only interrupted by the occasional distant shotgun pop while people blast away at the odd duck.
The midnight sun over the Arctic Ocean at Toktoyaktuk
And so it begins. This crisp clear day in late May finds Buff3y the Hardcore Adventure Cyclist at the top of the Dempster Highway, at the top of the continent of North America. I had a bit of a test ride with the fully packed bike on the way up here to Tuktoyaktuk and regret to inform of a decidedly softish core to the legs. It has been seven years since I last headed out on the long-road and can unhappily report here that the concept of muscle memory is completely bogus; the sweet memory of plowing up Andean switch-backs sadly a very distant one.
The Bear Deterrent (which cost freakin’ C$75) has to be sprayed directly into the grizzly’s eyes or a scene from Revenant will most likely ensue.
The hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk is nestled up against a still-frozen Arctic Ocean in far-northern Canada (refer video of idiot trying to dip wheels in the ocean). It plays host to the early warning station for tracking in-coming military hardware that might lob in from Russia and land on Canada or the USA. It is also strewn with the remnant tanks and other infrastructure from the 1970’s oil boom. The simple wooden houses are super-insulated and one is a guest house that not only accommodates but serves up a bowl of beef stew to a tired cyclist.
I caught a ride up here after the experimental 50km test ride on the loaded bike out of the town of Inuvik, 148km to the south. The legs go to complete jello after a depressingly short distance along the gently rolling dirt road so am delighted to see John and his magnificently warm Ford something-or-other truck arrive. John is a Tuk local who points out every type of bird and squirrel he somehow manages to see from hundreds of yards away, while we trundle over the smooth dirt highway that will be my route southwards in a day’s time. The tundra is still covered with snow and the sea is frozen in many places and the whole vista is dazzlingly clear and incredibly beautiful.
The ride south will start with the 148km leg back down to Inuvik. Just south of Inuvik there are two river crossings by ferry. It is mid-May so ‘the thaw’ is on and these ferries only start operating after this thaw has done its thing, allowing me further south. The Dempster then crosses southwards over the Arctic Circle and into Yukon finishing just 40km short of Dawson City (a town I remember fondly from previous travels in this part of the world).
After that the plan is to follow the line of the Rockies south-eastwards into Montana and points south.