Crossing the Arctic Circle by motorbike

The amount of darkness between sunset and sunrise in Eagle Plains was a little more than an hour. We were told by the locals that if we went outside during this time (around 2 a.m.) that we would see the most amazing sky and witness both sunset and sunrise at the same time. This sounded worth exploring, so we set our alarm clocks and headed outside. To our dismay, we noted Michael had left his tail light on for 8 hours (accidentally turned the ignition too far when locking the handlebars). In addition, the sky was overcast and raining, no sunset watching going on. We went back into the hotel, knowing no sleep was coming on account that we would be thinking about the bike not starting in the morning.

Image of Michael in full motorcycle gear in front of his bike giving a peace sign

Michael giving peace just outside Eagle Plains

Over breakfast, we ran into half a dozen other dual sport riders all traveling in 2 x 2’s, some coming some going. We had run into Greg and Clay the day before and had coffee with them near Tombstone. They were traveling up from Arkansas. They also have the dubious distinction of being the only Americans we have run into on the road. Nice fellows with a 3-4 week travel schedule. Most of the folks we run into are European – German and English being the most frequent, and Australians the next. It is very refreshing visiting with the Europeans; I can’t help but think I was born in the wrong country. While visiting with the travelers, it was not lost on me that I seem to be the only woman riding the road. I always worry when I am the only gurl. It makes me wonder about my sanity level or lack of common sense.

One of the riders, a gentleman from Canada (can’t remember name or province), who was a well-seasoned Dempster traveler, knew the road like the back of his hand. He spoke of the year the road was the worst he ever saw it (this was of course the same year I tried to ride it before). He gave everyone a crash course in how to handle the “Dempster mud,” and agreed with me that there are five kinds of mud. He talked about the black mud that when you hit it, “acts like grease or a petroleum-based product,” and about other mud that is so slippery when wet, that if you try to put your foot down it will slip like ice.

Luckily, going up the road has been fairly dry. I asked him what he thought of the road north, and he warned us about a spot at the NWT border that could only be described as sand covered in gravel. Great, just what I wanted to hear. Sand. I hate sand. He told us they had resurfaced the road, and it was dicey in that area. So of course, I spent the next few hours worrying about that section of the road.

We loaded up the bike, and miraculously Michael’s bike started right up. Good omen. We hit the road and soon came to the Arctic Circle. The place Jaz and I called the last trip.

Image of Michael and Judy, in full motorcycle attire, standing in front of a sign reading, "Arctic Circle 66°33′N"

Standing once again at the Arctic Circle, this time with Michael.

From here on out, it was new territory for me. I couldn’t help but be nervous. This road had kicked my ass two years ago. The next 20 miles was the worst of the entire trip

Mud and slime and slippy-slidy (is that a word?), bogs so deep that a rig was trapped deep in the mud with a tow truck trying to extract it. This of course blocked off most of the road. We couldn’t lose speed going through the bog, so we passed on the left, where everyone else had passed, digging ruts and forcing us into paths where all you could do was give it gas and just keep looking forward (I am thinking in Ellen’s voice, “just keep looking, just keep looking…”) I felt a burst of panic and, of course I started to slow down, which makes the fight for steering harder. I shout inside my head, “Give it gas!” and trust that the bike will get through better if you are going faster. I opened the throttle and felt the fight for the steering loosen up. I yell in my head again, Don’t look down, look straight ahead!” I hope like hell that Michael has no problems, because I am right on his ass. We get through. After that, the next 20 miles of three inch mud sliding seems like nothing; a constant battle for steering, but no panic attacks. It turned from a sloppy stew to a sloppy soup, which made it less scary and boggy, but my sphincter was still clamped shut.

We stop to feed the mosquitoes. I know there are not enough humans or caribou above the Arctic Circle to feed all these mosquitoes and wonder silently in my head just how the hell they are staying alive. Michael comments that the road was bad. I tell him it was not as bad as it was that year Jaz (on her Harley) and I rode up. He wonders aloud, “If it rains how we will ever get through? It was bad after only one day of light rain and my front end was all over the place: it was a white-knuckle ride.” He decides to buy Jaz a beer when we get back to Anchorage.

This section from the Arctic Circle to the NWT border turns out to be the worst section on the 457 miles. We crossed into the NWT. The mud goes away. The wind takes its place.

Image of Judy in full motorcycle attire, looking cold, standing in front of a sign reading, "Welcome to Northwest Territories"

Me freezing my ass off from the arctic wind, Northwest Territories, Canada

The wind was horrible. The arctic wind had a nip and it relentlessly pounded us for 30-40 miles of road. A 40 mph cross wind is bad enough when the pavement is dry, but when the ground beneath you is in flux (sandy and gravel), it is pretty scary. We found the sandy gravel referenced in the morning huddle. I hadn’t forgotten about it, but after the mud, I was not thinking too much about it. I felt it best to not go there. It turns out it was much easier to negotiate than the mud. But the wind…

Here is the series of thoughts that were going through my mind. I would think one thing, and then about two miles later I would adjust the thought to match the new condition:
It is bad to ride in gravel.
It is worse to ride in gravel on a corner.
It worse to ride in gravel in a cross wind.

It is bad to ride in gravel on a corner in a cross wind.

Image of a photo, taken from atop a motorcycle, of long dirt road

Gravel and more gravel

Image of a dirt road leading up to a ferry crossing

Peel River crossing near Fort McPherson

Finally we hit the first ferry crossing, and the gravel depth decreased. Did I mention how bad the mosquitoes were in wetlands? And the dragonflies are as big as magpies! They make a loud “thunk” when you hit them!

Image of wetlands


Image of the water taken from atop a ferry

Ferry crossing

We crossed the Peel River and rolled into the town of Fort McPherson, where gas was $6.80/gallon, and the people were just strange. The road between the two ferries was very nice.

Image of a dirt road extending to the water and a ferry crossing

Most northern ferry crossing and the town of Tsiigehtchic

We got off the last ferry and the road was “AA.”
AA is what the local Canadian’s call the stretch between Inuvik and the most northern ferry crossing. I am told that a long while back, a couple of Americans from Arkansas came through Eagle Plains on their return trip from Inuvik. They insisted the road was paved with asphalt, because it is so hard and smooth. Of course what they were referring to is how compact the mud gets when it is pounded relentlessly by diesel trucks and sprayed with chemicals to decrease dust. Eventually, it becomes an unnatural whitish color and looks a little like old pavement – easy to understand. Even so, the Canadian’s now call it AA – Arkansas Asphalt.  About the only thing that can mess up AA, is when they decide to grate it, which decreases your 55 mph speed to about 30 mph. We hit grated AA for about two miles. The rest was a smooth sail into Inuvik. We got about 10 km from Inuvik, and I saw a site for sore eyes. Is that tarmac?

Image of Michael sitting atop his motorcycle in front of a sign reading, "Welcome to Inuvik End of the Dempster"

Michael parked in front of the welcome sign

We made a b-line for our hotel and ordered a 12 inch delivery pizza for $38.

The amount of darkness between sunrise and sunset in Inuvik? Zip. The sun doesn’t set.

Shopping Inuvik
The road less traveled
About Maya

My name is Maya, and I wander.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: