The End of an Era: Roads can go extinct, too - Slightly North of Sanity - CycleBlaze

The End of an Era: Roads can go extinct, too

Ice roads make for amazing cycling.

I can see you raising an eyebrow. This is because you have never biked on an ice road, on a calm day out on a snow-covered lake, watching the sky fade to pink as the sun slips toward the horizon.

You have never watched your front wheel roll over a web of hairline cracks weaving through an expanse of deep blue ice, or listened to the steady buzz of your studded tires, the sound of confidence, almost loud over the quiet serenity that passes for background noise.

You have never felt an overwhelming desire to share this moment of sublime beauty, pulled out your phone and started filming, leaving only one hand on the handlebars, and within seconds found yourself sliding in one direction, your bike in another, and your phone skidding halfway across the road.

Moments before I fell. It was worth it.
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Naturally, when I found out that the epic ice road from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk, in Canada's Northwest Territories, was going to melt one spring and never again be constructed, I promised myself I'd go ride it. Then I didn't ride it. This year is my last chance: after some minor cutting of corners due to time and budget constraints, construction is wrapping up on the new all-season road and it should be open this fall. The winter road will be swallowed one last time by the Mackenzie River and Arctic Ocean it is constructed from.

The road starts where the infamous Dempster Highway ends in Inuvik, so I idly speculated that I could also take on the frozen Dempster if I was fit enough. It's tough enough during the summer, so it isn't an essential part of the trip, though I plan to tackle at least a portion of it.

Summer on the Dempster consists mainly of terrifying swarms of oversized mosquitoes and hideously thick mud. When we passed these cyclists several years ago--likely spattering them with clumps of mud from the car--they were already four days behind schedule and nowhere near Inuvik. They might still be out there for all I know.
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The major upside to cycling this route in winter is the complete absence of mosquitoes. To offset that, there are several major concerns, the biggest being blizzards. We're potentially talking winds well over 100 km/hr, combined with -30 C temperatures. I don't have a chart handy, but I'm pretty sure those numbers produce a windchill value somewhere below absolute zero. More general winter issues include frostbite, hypothermia, fatigue, frozen water, frozen food, frozen medication, transport trucks skidding all over the road on slick days, and even a slight chance of polar bears.

But also that gorgeous northern sunlight, the promise of northern lights, crisp air, striking landscapes, light traffic, and the sheer joy of riding on ice.

Like I said, amazing. And also something I'll never, ever want to do again.

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