The Year-Round Road to Tuktoyaktuk Is Finally Complete

Long-time readers may remember the heady days of my Klondike summers, when I finally fulfilled my dreams of seeing Canada’s far north. Oh, those days seem so far away now, but they are some of the months I will remember most fondly in my old age. They taught me that dreams really do not have deadlines and that achieving them is particularly sweet after you’d given up hope. I may never again drive the Alaska, Klondike and Dempster Highways again, may never again see a show at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s or fly over Tuktoyaktuk’s pingos, but I did it!

Exploring the north is going to get a little easier for tourists because this coming Wednesday, November 15th, 2017, after years of delays, the all-year gravel road between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk is finally going to open. For the first time in Canada’s history, it will be possible to drive year-round to each of our three coasts.

I would like to invite you reread my series about Driving the Dempster Highway and to revisit the towns of Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk. I feel privileged to have done so and to have spoken to locals so that I know that while this year-round road will change life in Tuk, in some ways not for the better, this road is ultimately a Good Thing worthy of celebration.

Standing in the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, August 2010

Slowing Down

It was a slow, easy drive to Liard Hot Springs last night. I decided to be a tad cheeky, what with a full hookup park next door and dry camping spots available for the exorbitant cost of $21 at the provincial park, and just spend the night in the parking lot across from the park entrance.

Beta Pool was closed because of bear activity, so I had to hang out with a million other people in alpha pool. It wasn’t the most relaxing hot spring experience of my life, so I didn’t soak for long.

It was nice to get back to the rig, shower, and then hunker down for the night. I made a nice dinner, watched a movie, and read.

This morning, nothing short of a natural disaster could have gotten me moving at a speed faster than a crawl. It was the first time in months that I was able to just lie in bed with the cats, read, and know that I had nothing and no one waiting for me. I lingered over coffee and breakfast, then set off around 10:30.

The drive from Liard to Fort Nelson is very technical; lots of tight turns and 7 to 8% grades. It was my first time doing it in that direction and I had a lot of fun. I saw more buffalo and caribou today than in all the sightings I’ve had in my life combined.

I’m going to get some work done, gas up, then head to a turnout I stayed at in the spring of ’09. Tomorrow, I’ll move on to Fort St John or Dawson Creek and then the adventure will begin!

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No Need to Dawdle

The internet in Whitehorse is pretty bad, so I had a frustrating night there trying to get work done and ended up going to bed way too late. I needed to be out of my spot by 11 Thursday morning and still had errands to do, so the morning was pretty painful. I managed to get to two stores and then lost time back tracking to Canadian Tire to get my debit card. It’s the new kind with a pin number and I’m not used to not getting my card back immediately after it’s slid through the card reader. It was therefore much too late to get groceries and beer. I decided that I could get some beer in Watson Lake and that I didn’t need to ‘stock up’ on groceries since I’m heading back into civilization anyway.

So, I pulled out of Whitehorse at 11 and headed straight for Nugget City. I stopped in Teslin for lunch fixings and a nice picnic since I’d been given a ton of veggies before pulling out of Dawson. Teslin is still the prettiest spot in the Yukon in my mind!

Teslin Lake

Sometime after Teslin I started to get quite sleepy, so I pulled over for a leg stretch at George’s Gorge:

George’s (Gorgeous) Gorge

The ride from Whitehorse to Nugget City is one of my favourites; the road is in good shape and you can actually enjoy the scenery. It’s not a technical drive at all, so I was still reasonably coherent when I pulled into Nugget City. It’s a good thing for that since my friend Amber threw herself into my arms the second I stepped out of the rig! We haven’t seen each other since May of ’09!

Forget setting up beyond plugging in the rig; I was quickly spirited away to the lake where a pair of trumpeter swans were swimming.

The male got spooked by a beaver and took off to make sure everything was good.

beaver coming up for air

After two days of hard driving, it was great to get off my butt and get some exercise in fresh air! By the time we got back to the main part of the property, I was famished, so I headed to the restaurant and grabbed a beer after putting in an order for a chicken stir fry .

Amber works late hours so she came back to see the cats on her break around ten, then showed me the digs she’s had all summer. It’s a fifth wheel, the second one I’ve visited this summer, and I have to say I really like the way they are split into several levels…

Since there’s no cell service at Nugget City, I couldn’t get online, so I went to bed at a much more reasonable hour and slept well. This morning I had time to eat breakfast before Amber scared the living daylights out of me by sticking her face up against my back window and then rocking the rig so I’d noticed her. I just about hit the ceiling! She helped me pack up, we did the round of good-byes, and then she became the first ever passenger I’ve carried in this rig, traveling with me from the RV park to the restaurant.

I pulled out of Nugget City around 11 and drove to Watson Lake. After getting gas, groceries (including the black bread and gyoza I can only find here), and enough Yukon Brewery beer to get me through to next spring, I’m now parked downtown and plan to do at least an hour’s worth of work. I’ll then meander down to Liard hot springs, then I will have a couple of overnight options. I’d really rather not go much further than Liard tonight since I’m beat. I need to start boondocking; I’d forgotten how expensive it is to stay several nights in a row at an RV park!

And, so, another summer in the Yukon draws to a close…

The Whitehorse Slog

I was up early by my standards today (7:30) even though I couldn’t leave early since I wanted to check out the post office one last time. I did some work then went into town. My package wasn’t there, but the mail clerk offered to go through the pile that hadn’t been sorted yet. I told her that wouldn’t be fair to the folks waiting in line and made her promise that she would let my friend pick up the package for me when it finally arrives.

Speaking of mail, my friend convinced me to keep my box in Dawson until I have firmer plans for next summer. She’ll check it for me and forward the contents as needed. One less thing to think about and lots of money saved!

I pulled out of the RV park at quarter to eleven without any problems. I didn’t even have a single one of my usual worries. Miranda behaved as she normally does prior to departure: well. I did top up the truck battery since it was a bit low and had a feeling that it would not restart when I shut it off at the gas station.

Gas at AFD was a ridiculous 112.9, vs. 139.9 in town so I was able to take on 130 litres for less than $150, a great start to my trip.

The Klondike River glittered against the amber poplars as I made my way south, feeling nothing but deep satisfaction as I left the Klondike and Dempster behind me. I had followed my dream to its limit so there was no regret at moving on.

Being behind the wheel felt normal and stress-free, and even though the drive to Whitehorse was long as ever, it wasn’t hard. I am tired of this twisty, frost-heave strewn road, though, and look forward to trying out new ones next year.

I made it to Whitehorse in my usual seven hours and decided to get gas and propane instead of having to come back into the city tomorrow. I like to go to Integra Tires, about two thirds of the way down Two Mile Hill. You can get propane then circle around the back to get to the gas pumps. Price was the same as in Dawson (!!!), and they are full service. It’s very luxurious to go for a leg stretch while someone else fills the tank and washes your windows and mirrors! As a side note, I didn’t come anywhere close to running out of propane this summer, yay!

I made good on my promise never to sleep at the Whitehorse Walmart ever again and headed back to Hi Country, where I tented back in June. I splurged on a pull-through spot, one that I would never have gotten into with the toad attach. It’s a nice RV park, but tight!

Even though I was pretty tired by this point, I went back into town to get some supplies. I’ll do groceries and beer tomorrow, then head on to Nugget City, keeping me on schedule. There’s really no reason to hang out in Whitehorse.