Reindeer Station to Inuvik: New possibilities emerge - Slightly North of Sanity - CycleBlaze

March 13, 2017

Reindeer Station to Inuvik: New possibilities emerge

Toes Remaining: 10

After I ate a cold breakfast and tidied up the cabin, I dragged everything back down to the river as the sun was rising somewhere behind the hills.

Reindeer Station
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Enough traffic had passed that there was a decent track through the snow, and I thought the remaining 45-ish km to Inuvik wouldn't be so bad, even with only half a litre of water. The silver lining was that I didn't have to wear my hydration pack today and I kept my waterbottle in my basket for easy access. I would probably drink it all before it froze, and if not, it wasn't going to make much difference.

The ice was brittle this morning, my advancing wheel causing many small cracks. I didn't seem to be gouging holes into the ice surface (creating potential to crash, not fall through), so I just enjoyed the steady crackling and pretended I was a powerful cyclist.

Soon after I started pedalling, I stopped to re-secure my load, which was tipping to one side. As I did so, I spotted Mark coming up behind me. I had been wondering when he was going to catch up to me, as I only had a 10 or 15 km head start on him yesterday, plenty of time for anyone to catch me, especially given the amount of time I spent dawdling.

Mark, if by some chance you see this photo, I'll trade a bigger version of it for one of the photos you took of me biking
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But it seemed his one working gear was a slow one; despite my intention of taking it easy and his intention to hurry to Inuvik for bike repairs and not wait around for me, he was behind me--and out of sight--the first time I stopped for a mouthful of water.

A northbound SUV stopped to ask me what I was doing and if I needed anything. Yes! The driver filled my waterbottle and they continued the trip to Tuk, leaving me to wonder why a bunch of researchers had brought a baby with them, a baby who didn't even like having the window rolled down.

With the gift of water, I stuffed my waterbottle into my fleece and was free to let my mind wander.

Along the river
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Behind me
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Beside me
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In front of me
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It occurred to me that this isolated sheet of ice was exactly like an urban highway during rush hour: whichever "lane" I decided was easiest and fastest quickly deteriorated and the next "lane" was better again, at least until I switched back. The road always wins.

The weight limit is now down to 15000 kg. Also, aside from a few distance markers and yellow warning signs, the road only has signs at the beginning, end, and here at the Aklavik junction.
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Looking back at the Aklavik junction. Looks much nicer in the sun than it did on that cloudy first day. The weather was warm enough that with the wind behind me, I could leave my face uncovered in order to wear sunglasses.
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When I reached the Aklavik junction, I wondered where Mark was. There were strangers on the road who knew more about both of us than we did about each other, but we hadn't had a real (and non-freezing) chance to talk, since he had stopped just short of Reindeer Station last night after his GPS suggested he had passed it already.

I wondered why he hadn't caught up, what with all my breaks, and if it would be good ice road cyclist etiquette to wait for him.

That's when it hit me: he was the first touring cyclist I had ever biked faster than. Nevermind that his bike was damaged, he was so much slower that I could speculate I'd be faster even if he had all his gears.

I later found out he does stuff like this all the time, a real endurance athlete, with lots of Arctic experience/routines/training/expensive gear. Here I was, an unathletic woman with a medical condition and no prior Arctic winter camping experience, on a budget--AND I BEAT HIM!

Damn right I'm going to gloat. I'll never have this opportunity again.

A dump truck passed, bringing a wave of cracks. I saw ski tracks along the side of the road and eventually met the skier, who was training to ski from the Aklavik junction to Aklavik in April.

A car stopped, the occupants looking entirely too polished for Inuvik, to the point where they would've stood out walking around town. The driver asked what I was doing, thought it was funny that I got stuck biking halfway back to Inuvik (ah, those non-cyclists will never understand I was enjoying myself, even more so on this sunny and relatively warm day), and informed he was doing a documentary about the ice road. He wanted to film me riding and then interview me. In return, they would drive me the last 10 km back to Inuvik (yup, definitely a non-cyclist who doesn't understand winter).

I declined, partly because I interview like a camera-shy six-year-old. Feeling a bit evil given Mark's desire to reach Inuvik as soon as possible, I recommended the filmmaker try the cyclist who was somewhere behind me. He had already heard about him, but thought his first name was Mike. I grinned; this was Mark's chance to look majestic.

It was only after they left that I realized they might go find the walker, too, who was probably closing in on Tuk. I wondered if they had warm enough clothing, food, or even a shovel in case they got stuck somewhere. I wondered if they were better prepared for and more aware of conditions than I gave them credit for.

I wondered how many people thought I had no idea what I was getting into. I wondered if any of them were right. After all, I still had a tailwind. If a headwind had slowed me down significantly, would I have been able to sleep outside for several consecutive nights? Would I have been able to cut my morning camp time in half and get into a routine?

Those were my concerns about biking the Dempster Highway. That and the forecast for the Richardson Mountains was a series of blizzards. I would have to be speedy enough to get through that area between blizzards. I now knew that hitchhiking was a less viable option than I had thought.

One last photo of the ice
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Approaching Inuvik at last. The past four days have been quite an experience!
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But my return to Inuvik greeted me with the possibility of staying with someone in Tsiigehtchic. Another person offered to put me in touch with a contact in Fort McPherson. The weather forecast was for the return of -30 C nights, so the promise of two nights indoors put the Dempster back on the table.

There was still the matter of the stove. The fuel pump worked again when I tried it indoors, so I suspect some snow had melted in it at the B&B in Tuk and then frozen when I got back on the road. It was probably best to keep the pump under most of my insulation, along with my phone, spare camera battery, medication, and water filter (which I carried because I would need it in a few weeks).

So that was it, I was going to attempt the Dempster. Either that or stay in Inuvik and take the job I had been offered, thus solving a problem I was going to have in a few months.

Money was tempting, but that always-problematic thought popped into my head: Go bike the Dempster. How bad could it be?

Today's ride: 45 km (28 miles)
Total: 287 km (178 miles)

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