Monday, 20 March 2017

Titan Arctic Challenge - Part 2

It was 9pm and -30°c. I watched the steam rising as I unceremoniously peed in the middle of the Dempster Highway! Just a few meters away, my three team mates were busy tending to the fire and counting fingers to make sure they were all still there - for they could no longer rely on sensation! I listened to the distant rumble of a truck, and it occurred to me that perhaps it was not so distant! Why does this always happen? I could be in the middle of nowhere, not see a soul for hours, and just as I drop my pants and get beyond the point of no return, someone shows up! Hurriedly, I finish my business and pull up my extensive layers, just as the big red truck comes charging angrily around the corner, snorting steam into the cold night air. My dignity is spared this time as my near frost-bitten bum is hidden from view once more!

It's not always easy being a woman on the road - but it sure is fun

Photo courtesy of Budd Stanley
The Titan Arctic Challenge is almost complete. In 12 days, we have covered nearly 5,000 unrelenting kilometres in the Nissan Titan trucks. Now back in Dawson City, in a nice warm hotel room (albeit crammed full of 4 x untended hairy team mates and their socks!), I sip my coffee and reflect on highs and lows of a wonderfully icy, and suitably challenging experience, with a glow of satisfaction that only a successful in-the-bag expedition can bring! The small comforts in life (like heating, beds and hot showers) once again appreciated to the max.

I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of a team again, and I am extremely grateful to Mark and Budd for giving me the opportunity to make it to the Arctic Circle, having spent the last two years travelling up from Antarctica. I never thought I would make it to the top of the world, after so many injuries and problems along the way. With my timing out, it would have been a tough ride on Rhonda, and having now driven in the conditions that we have faced, I am so glad I left her behind for this leg, in favour of the awesome Titans, their heated seats, and 4-wheel drive!

Photo courtesy of Mark Jennings-Bates
Driving up from Vancouver, is a long old trip! Much of it seems the same initially - trees, snow and
long straight stretches! Of course, we had some beautiful stops, like Whistler, and the hidden gem of Terrace - the road to which took our breath away. A stunning display of snowy mountain ranges, and a friendly community nestling in the middle - built by the gold rush pioneers in the late 1880's. It's not a place you can get to quickly without flying in, but get there we did! That night we camped just outside the town, in the woods, under a beautiful moonlit sky.

This ones mine :) 
Towns become even more remote as you enter the Yukon and the Northern Territories. The winter is unforgiving up here and just about as rugged as you can get. In my experience, the more remote the settlement, and harsher the conditions, the warmer the community. Whitehorse and Dawson City were no exception. News of our arrival spread as we arrived in Inuvic, and there was much interest in our trucks and what exactly 'The Arctic Challenge' was! This was just called 'living' to them! We told them of our camping experiences in - 30°c, and they did not hesitate to inform us that is was a relatively mild winter this year! I'm sure they were thinking, 'All the gear, no idea!', but they were very kind to us!

I have many highlights from the trip:

Photo courtesy of Budd Stanley
Dawson City is a highlight in itself. Situated on the Yukon River, it is a colourful old town, with a rich and interesting history, having been at the heart of the famous Klondike Gold Rush. Today it is home to less than 1500 friendly, and adventurous people. 30% if the population are native aboriginal, and the rest are made up of mostly French-Canadians, and Europeans who have been drawn here by the rugged lifestyle, and relative shelter from the rest of the world.

The city though, is not just famous for its history. It also has some rather well-known oddities! One of which, just had to be experienced by our team - The Sour Toe Cocktail! A dead mans toe in a shot of Whiskey! Established in 1973, the toe has been kissed by over 100,000 people who have come from all over the world to do so!

As you are presented with your drink, you are reminded of the golden rule:

'You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips have gotta touch the toe'!

'The legend of the first “sourtoe” dates back to the 1920’s and features a feisty rum-runner named Louie Linken and his brother Otto.  During one of their cross-border deliveries, they ran into an awful blizzard.  In an effort to help direct his dog team, Louie stepped off the sled and into some icy overflow—soaking his foot thoroughly.

The toe! 
Fearing that the police were on their trail, they continued on their journey. Unfortunately, the prolonged exposure to the cold caused Louie’s big toe to be frozen solid.  To prevent gangrene, the faithful Otto performed the amputation using a woodcutting axe (and some overproof rum for anesthesia).  To commemorate this moment, the brothers preserved the toe in a jar of alcohol.

Years later, while cleaning out an abandoned cabin, the toe was discovered by Captain Dick Stevenson.  After conferring with friends, the Sourtoe Cocktail Club was established and the rules developed.  Since its inception, the club has acquired (by donation) over 10 toes.'

I kissed the toe, and I liked it! 

Photo courtesy of Budd Stanley
The Dempster Highway between Dawson City and Inuvic is breathtaking at this time of year. The road follows the winding frozen river along the valley bed, occasionally popping up and over a crest to give us a different perspective. The hot springs melt the ice in places, and create spectacular steam displays that rise up invitingly into the cold air. The warmth can be felt from meters away. The mountains are not that big in comparison to many ranges, but they are so close, and go straight up! Unapologetically in-your-face, and untouched by man. In the first day we managed less than 200km, as we soaked it all in, to a regular chorus of 'WOW!' and 'NO WAY!'. I don't think any of us were prepared for its beauty. Mark put it well when he said, 'I have fallen in love with the world all over again'.

My biggest highlight of the trip though, has to be the ice roads between Inuvic and Tuktoyaktuk - the main purpose for our trip!

Photo courtesy of Budd Stanley
'Tuk' can only be reached by air during the summer months, but in the winter, the mighty McKenzie
River and the Arctic Sea freeze over to become the rather dramatic road into this small community! I mean, this place is about as remote as you can get.

The ice is several meters thick (I would guess), and clear in many places.  Driving onto it feels wrong to start with - very wrong! However, we soon got into our stride, and flew along it quite happily, stopping for photographs, filming, and the occasional hooligans ice donut! With a blue sky above us, it was a beautiful, out-of-this worldly experience - as if we were driving on the moon. Stopping took a little practice and corners were interesting, but boy, was it fun!

The drive took us 170km north to the mouth of the river, and onto the Arctic Ocean, where we hung a left, and continued to Tuk! We couldn't quite believe what we were doing. 'We are driving ON THE SEA!'. It really was quite special.

We drove around Tuk for a while, stopping to chat to some locals, who pointed us in the direction of an igloo that we could check out, had a bit of a walk, got the truck stuck in Tuk, and headed back out again! It was a short and sweet visit. A visit that I will never forget!

Photo courtesy of Mark Jennings-Bates
Next month, the ice will melt and the ice roads will never open again, as a land road is just being completed. This will change things forever I guess. Who knows what this means to, and for the locals. Some of the changes may be good, and some may possibly be not-so-good. However, as visitors, I personally don't believe we have a right to an opinion. It is not for us to wish that things remain the same so we can preserve certain ways of life. The world is ever changing. Life moves on for all of us.

Now back in Dawson, we have landed during a spring festival called Thawdegras! The locals have been axe-throwing, snow-carving, and serving up free food for all!

This really is a special part of the world and I feel the journey up here has been worth every moment to see it during this time of year (yes - even camping in conditions where your breath freezes inside your sleeping bag)!

Now I head back to my bike and start working my way east across Canada. Rhonda the Honda and I, are back on the road together!

See you there!

(ps - annoyingly my hard drive has given up and so I cannot access my photographs until I get this sorted on my return. In the meantime these photos have been pulled off what was already posted on Facebook. I hope to get more up once I get sorted!)


  1. Great read, great adventure :)

  2. A real adventure. The toe scares me

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. A really nice adventure you had there. Snow may be cold and annoying, but an adventure in it is something to remember forever, specially when we have our friends with us.

  5. it challenged athena s. Athena challenged arachne to a weaving contest athena wove. the sun plays more of a part in the Arctic then ME Nike the god of victory. how can. Outfit