Dempster Highway - The Push to the Arctic Circle
Trip Start Dec 27, 2008
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Note: Since the Travelpod map does not recognize the Arctic Circle as a destination, Fort McPherson was used as the pin point
next town but it is 160 north of the Arctic Circle.
Dempster Highway - The Push to the Arctic Circle
It is not every morning that one wakes up with the anticipation of driving to the Arctic Circle come hell or high water. Being only 36 kilometers removed from the circle, it was not even worth thinking about hell or high water since neither was likely.
The weather was still relatively good. The clear sunny day of yesterday had given way to partly cloudy conditions and the only cause for concern was evidence of dark clouds on the far northern horizon.
The previous evening, a loose agreement was struck between John, Gert, Connie, and me to drive together the 36.4 kilometers to the Arctic Circle. Given the isolation of the area, the "strength in numbers" adage seemed appropriate.
Furthermore, John and I had decided that today we would continue driving in tandem to Inuvik
Due to a limit of 3,000 kilometers on their truck rental agreement, Gert and Connie, much to their disappointment, came to the conclusion that the extra 660 km to Inuvik and back would put them way beyond their 3,000 kilometer limit.
After a hearty breakfast at the Eagle Plains Lodge restaurant, with an ample injection of coffee, we were on our way. The coffee may not have been necessary since the anticipation of the day's trip was enough to keep me on edge.
There was just one more important item to look after and that was to fill up the gas tanks of our vehicles for the push to the north. The next gas station for John and me would have been at Fort McPherson (kilometer 550) but a fill up here at Eagle Plains would certainly take us to Inuvik.
After having driven 369 kilometers yesterday, the fill up on our three vehicles were as follows: John's Honda Civic took 27 liters, my Volvo 850 took 37 liters, Gert's camper pick-up truck took 72 liters
I was disappointed in the mileage of my 5-cylinder Volvo since I regularly get about 8 liters per 100 on the highway. But upon reflection, while I never drove faster than 70 km per hours on any stretch of the Dempster, I must have stopped 70 times to take photos. The repeated stop and go must have been more like city driving and it also explains why I took 7 hours to drive the 360 kilometers.
During our drive north, I also kept an eye out for any sighting of "the Porcupine Caribou Herd" which passes though this area on its migratory route twice each year.
I became aware of the herd in a conversation with two young Gwich'In hunters who stopped briefly at Eagle Plain to fill up the gas tank on their truck and make a phone call. They asked me if I had seen any evidence of the caribou herd on my drive today.
Even though it was already 20:00, they were heading north to spend the night in the cab of their truck, somewhere along the side of the road, ready to hunt at the crack of dawn
At kilometer 377, we passed a rest area with a sign that vaunted the exploits of the so-called "Mad Trapper of Red River" - Albert Johnson. What is a highway without some notorious stories? Albert Johnson is certainly a leading character in one of them.
The story of this superman makes for a good read at:
The drive north on the Dempster continued to be spectacular in its preponderance of beautiful ridgeline driving with views of the Richardson Mountain Range off to the west.
The condition of the road was excellent but I soon realized that in trying to keep up with John, I was driving just a bit faster than my comfort zone would permit. However, that was the price of not being alone in this desolate part of the world
There is nothing when one arrives at the Arctic Circle; there is not even a line in the sand.
There are no souvenir stands, no commemorative T-shirts, no tours, no restaurants, no comfort stations (WC) and no thermometer. I will have to correct the "no comfort station" as a little hut is clearly visible in one of my photos.
Otherwise put, it is the total opposite of arriving at "South of the Border" which would be well known to anyone who ever drove I-95 from Eastern Canada to Florida.
Located in South Carolina just across the North Carolina border, South of the Border is the ultimate in hype. Its advertising along Interstate 95 starts hundreds of miles before getting there and the ads pick up in intensity even more as you get closer. Pity the parent, with children of reading age in the car, who try to drive past this place without stopping for a look. By now the kids are reduced to salivating just at the idea of going there.
It is a place of about one square kilometer that seems to have distilled every kitschy idea that has ever been invented on how to get money out of tourists
Crossing the Arctic Circle on the Dempster Highway is at polar opposites with South of the Border, figuratively speaking.
Well, maybe I was exaggerating to say that "there is nothing when one arrives at the Arctic Circle", as there are three things.
Firstly, there are numerous information panels explaining the concept of the Arctic Circle which makes for interesting reading if it wasn't so blasted cold!
Because of the cold, it is difficult to read all the information but I quickly get the idea that I was standing on the southern limit of where the sun does not set on the summer solstice and does not rise on the winter solstice.
Not only is it cold but one stubbornly clings to the idea that this is September and it can't really be this cold
The other noticeable effect of the Arctic Circle is the feeling of well being brought on by being at one of the world's great geographical demarcation points. There is a sense of pride and achievement at finally having reached the point on this earth where the sun does not set in the summer and full daylight is absent in the middle of winter.
This sense of pride and achievement was great to share with someone, even if they were almost total strangers. Assembled here were Gert and Connie, a couple from Thüringen, Germany, John, a traveler from San Raphael, California and me, from Prince George, British Columbia taking turns at putting on our best grins and taking each others photos and videos in what seemed like a ritualistic rite of passage. We had now joined the relatively small circle of those who had stepped beyond sixty-six degrees and thirty-three minutes north latitude thereby crossing the Arctic Circle
It was also a time to share a few laughs and when it was Gert and Connie's turn to pose in front of the Arctic Circle sign, both John and I seemed to notice that they were a little "stiff" for the occasion.
To break the ice, so to speak, John brought up the incident at the G8 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia (July 16, 2006) where President Bush snuck up from behind on German Chancellor Angela Merkle and gave her a quick shoulder massage.
In Europe this caused quite a stir which the German newspaper Bild Zeitung lampooned with the headline "Bush's Love Attack on Merkle".
At: http://www.taylormarsh.com/archives_view.php?id=24262 you can see it frame by frame. There it is lampooned as "Bush Gropes Germany's Merkle".
Therefore, when I was asked by Gert and Connie to record them with their video camera in front of the Arctic Circle sign, I encouraged "George" to put his arm around "Angie" and to give her a kiss
It was funny, truly funny, but maybe you had to be there -----
In any case, it would be great to have that video on this blog.
The rite of passage across the Arctic Circle was a great affair and if I had to do it again, I would come supplied with a bottle of Henkel Trocken to drink to the occasion. Even in paper cups, it would have been a nice touch.
It was at this point that we parted ways with Gert and Connie as they were heading south. John and I headed our vehicles north on the Dempster Highway for the ultimate, much anticipated, destination of Inuvik, now only 327 kilometers away.
The way John drives, we'll soon be there, if I can keep up!
Coming soon: "Heading for Inuvik - So close ----"