North America's Hidden Arctic
June 19, 2009 2:28 AM   Subscribe

"I filled my water bottles , fuel bottle and ate some snacks. I reset my altimeter to 1300ft and started shortly past 2pm. The first sign stated 'Eagle Plains 363, Inuvik 735'. The distances were measured in kilometers with green km posts every 2km along the road. A few kilometers down the road, I crossed an old fire burn area with dead trees still standing. The sun was shining and I was eager to get started on the road. The gravel was occasionally soft as the road slowly climbed along the valley." An enterprising man relates his journey up the Dempster Highway on bicycle.

The Dempster Highway, a 417 mile road that stretches from Dawson City, Yukon to Inuvik, Northwest Territories is one of only two roads in North America that crosses the Arctic Circle (the other being Alaska Route 11, in case you're wondering). Driving the Dempster in a 1994 Honda Accord: a photo journal. Some incredible vistas.

Driving the Dempster in a 1958 VW Bus. [yt]

The Dempster in a 1983 VW Bus/Camper. [yt+tears for fears]

Explore North America's Hidden Arctic.
posted by Avenger (14 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Whoops, I meant to say: Driving the Dempster in a 1958 VW Bus. [yt]

plz fix mods kthxbi
posted by Avenger at 2:42 AM on June 19, 2009

... and by moped
posted by ComfySofa at 2:59 AM on June 19, 2009

What a great post! I'm getting an itch to do a trip like this. Or maybe it's the mosquitoes.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:59 AM on June 19, 2009

Nice post. Crazyguyonabike is a great place if you want more of these. Personally, speaking I'm eyeing up a section of the North Sea Cycle Route for later in the year.
posted by johnny novak at 4:00 AM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

I was "broken down" on the side of the road trying to block this asshole, but he got around me. He wouldn't even take one of my fliers!
posted by orme at 6:12 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

This bicycle traveled the Dempster Highway. It was very strenuous, and you would likely find it unpleasurable.
posted by anthill at 6:14 AM on June 19, 2009

I drove the Dempster about this time last year, although I did it from north to south, and then back again. I drove the highway often for work, but rarely south of Fort McPherson. The stretch between inuvik and Ft. McPherson is flat, straight, and boring except for the ferry trip across the MacKenzie. It's through the mountains in the Yukon where the trip gets hairy.

We started out in a rented Dodge truck with a 5 litre hemi engine, which was surprisingly fuel efficient considering the terrain.

The terrain was a "pretty good" gravel road most of the way, at least inside the NWT. Once we crossed into the Yukon, it was a hard packed surface that had lost most of its loose gravel. You could drive faster, but you had to beware sharp boulders protruding from the ground. Flat tires are almost a given on the Dempster. Some people end up with several. We were lucky.

We did all 800km (thats the distance I remember) in about 12 hours, arriving in Dawson city (and it's sea of RV's) around 9:00pm. We stayed for a full day, then got up the next morning and started our journey north again. I drove the entire way, up and down. My lovely wife was DJ for the trip. If you ever go, bring a LOT of music. There is little to no radio to be heard.

The worst part was thundering down mountainsides, picking up speed but unable to really apply the brakes for fear of skidding out. It was stressful. I have no idea how 18-wheelers do it.

We came across one accident: a truck and a large trailer, still attached, sitting upside-down in the ditch. Unsure if we were the first on scene, I pulled over to have a look inside. Whoever had been driving apparently made it out ok.

I would recommend the trip to anyone who doesn't mind a bit of a challenge while traveling. It's no Sunday drive, but the scenery is amazing. Small vehicles are probably better suited than big ones. There's nothing there a corolla couldn't handle, but the big hills make driving a big truck stressful.
posted by Brodiggitty at 8:28 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Crap, "its sea of RV's" not it's.
posted by Brodiggitty at 8:31 AM on June 19, 2009

Back in the Gold Rush days, real men walked all that way. In the snow.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:04 AM on June 19, 2009

This is so beautiful. The only tundra-like place I've ever been to is the Rocky Mountains, but they're amazingly similar. I like how mountains effect miniature models of the Earth's range of climates.
posted by invitapriore at 1:56 PM on June 19, 2009

This is very cool. I've been toying with the idea of doing an insane road trip, and I have always wanted to see the arctic... but the idea of driving a 450 mile highway of gravel in my poor little Volkswagen sort of terrifies me.
posted by threetoed at 9:54 PM on June 19, 2009

Gravel roads are fine, until they aren't. There's not a whole lot of in-between.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:14 PM on June 19, 2009

I drove the Dempster in 1996 with a caravan of a dozen or so VW buses and vanagons.

It was a terrific trip, with a fairly treacherous road. I had new truck tires on my VW (thanks, Canadian Tire in Whitehorse), mostly stayed in the wheel ruts, and didn't have any tire problems. If you did have a flat tire, and pulled out of the wheel ruts into the fresher, sharper gravel, you were liable to get ANOTHER flat tire because you were on the sharper gravel. This went on for 400 miles, except for where it was thick, slippery mud with occasional protruding spikes of rock. Bring a couple of spare tires and one of those "radial tire repair kits" which could at least get you to a service station if you need it. And don't crash badly enough to injure yourself -- there's no emergency road service. If you go in the ditch, the friendly road grader operator will eventually come along and pull you out for free, but it's good if you have your own tow chain. (Also, "eventually" means probably within a few days.)

The ferry at the Arctic Red River is a physics demonstration of adding the vector of the river's considerable motion to the ferry's only slightly faster vector. For all that, the pilot manages to dock incredibly smoothly.

When I arrived in Tuktoyaktuk (by plane -- the gravel road turns into an ice road in Inuvik, and the ice road is only good in the winter), the first person I saw was this goth girl offering me heroin. I guess there's not enough to do there.

I remember several bicyclists on both that highway and the Alcan, but none on the Cassiar Highway (note: I think of highways as being paved, but this was all gravel or mud) which has to be 450 of the most sparsely populated miles I have ever driven. I think I passed two trucks in total driving it three times. Also, the one fuel stop in the middle has the highest prices I have ever seen for fuel.

I love Alaska, the Yukon and the Arctic (at least in the summer), and would love to be there for the solstice this weekend, but instead am stuck here in sunny California.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 2:07 AM on June 20, 2009

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