Breaking the Cycle Yukon

Mar 24

#10:
The Fort McPherson - Aklavik Ice Road

Published at 23:02
Dispatch created from email
Re-energised, the team set off from Fort McPherson, heading north
towards Aklavik on an ice road. As the crow flies, the distance between
the two towns is about 80km, but the road is built on the Peel River
which meanders its way through the Mackenzie River Delta. Locals tend to
measure the length of these roads by the time it takes to reach a
destination rather than in kilometres or miles, so we did not know
exactly how far the ice road route over the river would be. I assumed it
to be about 120km.


Day 1 on the ice road was a beautiful sunny day, about -18C when we
left. I was able to make good pace along it, careful to ride along the
edges, or where the ice was scratched by machines and thus avoiding the
clear, slippery surfaces.


On our first brief break (breaks are always brief because I start to get
cold pretty quickly), we agreed to meet every 15km or so. I set off
ahead of the others and a few kilometres later came to a branch in the
road; both paths looked about equal in width, so I opted for the road
that looked more recently used. After 20km, there was no sign of the
team and I started to doubt whether I'd made the right choice...as the
road meandered with the river, it was difficult to tell whether I was
heading for Aklavik or maybe the road was turning east toward Inuvik,
the main town. After 32km I decided to turn around. I always have to
think of the worst case scenarios. At 43km from Fort McPherson, I would
have enough food and water to get back to where I know if something had
happened to the others. I reluctantly started to retrace my route, but
2.5km later I was very pleased to see Claudio, then some locals and Bob
and Theresa showed up. I was relieved to find out that I had made the
right choice of road, so I only ended up doing an extra 5km...it could
have been much worse. After 63km we made camp thinking we should make
Aklavik in good time the next day.


Making a campsite using the Arctic Oven tents is a time consuming
laborious task. On the positive, the tents are very spacious and with a
wood-burning stove in the middle of the tent, as the name suggests, they
are very warm...if the stove is kept topped up with wood. Once the tent
is erected and the stove in place, the next job is to find, cut and
split the wood. After the first night when we didn't understand how much
wood we needed to use for the fire and got very cold, Claudio has become
an expert with the chainsaw and then the axe, splitting the wood. This
system would not be suitable for Antarctica given the lack of wood and
the time and effort it takes to set up and then break camp, but for now
it is a warm, comfortable oasis where we can dry clothes.


Day 2: The weather wasn't so conducive yesterday. I left ahead of the
others to get some good distance on the board. It was an overcast day
that gradually deteriorated into light snow and a bone-chilling arctic
wind. The team caught me up after 43km and we assessed our position. On
the map, the distance didn't look to be that far and we were hopeful
that I only had about 30km to go. The wind intensified and snow drifted,
at times completely blanketing the ice road. With no direct sunlight,
it was impossible at times to differentiate the depth of the snow drifts
over the ice. These were treacherous conditions on the bike because it
was difficult to balance when I couldn't make out what I was cycling
over. I fell heavily on the ice at least a dozen times. Falling on
straight snow always means a cushioned landing and I can generally
control the fall. On ice, I had no time to control anything. I've hurt
both knees a little, but the worst injury is my right ankle which I
think I've badly strained. (It's very bruised right now.) I adopted a
'ride to survive' mode, dropping into a lower than usual gear to
navigate the snow-covered sections, as if I was riding over eggshells.


Once we thought we were within range of Aklavik, Bob and Theresa went
ahead to organise our accommodation. But there was a real sting in the
tail. After I'd done about 80km, and thinking I was almost there, Bob
returned to say there was still a further 15km to go. I was just about
out of steam at that stage but was determined to make it to Aklavik. I
kept taking in small amounts of food and some tea from the thermos and
kept turning the pedals. Finally we could see an antenna in the distance
and a few lights further a couple of kilometres on from that. I was
exhausted and pretty sore when I arrived after a 95km day.


Aklavik is a peaceful fishing and trapping community of some 600
Gwich'in and Inuvialuit. Gwich'in and Inuvialuit have traditionally
gathered here to trade for goods from as far away as the Pacific and
Arctic coasts. In winter overland access is by ice roads from Fort
McPherson and Inuvik. In summer the only access is by boat and plane.
The town motto is: "Never say die"!


We decided to take a day off to let me recover, and hopefully for my
ankle to improve. From here we leave the ice road for now and head
towards Shingle Point on the Beaufort Sea. The others have gone ahead on
their snow mobiles to check the route which from here will follow the
Peel Channel to the sea, while I rest. Its a route that will no doubt be
much softer and slower. The blizzard continues today, but the weather is
forecast to be better tomorrow, which should help.


+681389-135148+3

Comments


  • Report as abuse...
    2017-03-24 23:29:06 Allan Code says: Your trip is awesome. I read your account with great empathy and know the understatement you make about the distances and the pain. That puts your reporting with the best of explorer accounts. Please tell Claudio to contact me. I have an international story that we might like to collaborate on. It starts in Inuvik and winds up in the Middle East.


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