I have been sitting on this post, in draft form, for a couple weeks. I finally polished it a bit, and have kicked it out there.
We made it to the arctic circle. This was Andy’s first time to the arctic circle. I have been to and crossed it before — just on the other side of the planet — in Finland. Arctic Finland versus arctic Canada: a huge difference. For one, Finland is almost entirely devoid of permafrost with the exception of the far northern fells and mires. When I was in Finland – near Kemijärvi – the landscape looked nearly identical to that of northern Minnesota. Arctic Canada – not so much.
But, just saying we made it to the arctic circle is leaving out a piece of the story. The time from when I last wrote about and when we reached the arctic circle is leaving out about eight hours of the story.
Around 11:00 pm, we stopped for a break. We fired up the camp stove, brewed a bit of coffee, and made a delightful meal of pasta. Sitting on camp chairs, we ate and just marveled at how much driving we had done and how, with the engine off and there being a lack of wind, it was quiet, incredibly quiet. This was listen-and-you-could-hear-your-heart-beating quiet. The only times the silence was broken was when a curious animal – a hare, a fox, an arctic ground squirrel – would make leaves or grass rustle.
The clock in the truck was telling us it was night, but the ever-present sun was trying to trick us into thinking otherwise. I will likely post – later – a set of photos we took of the longer-than two hour sunset we watched as we pushed onward.
At 1:15 AM, the sun ducked ever-so-slightly behind the horizon; the northward horizon. Things never really went dark, and the sun’s light never fully vanished.
We took some photos, shot a video, and then got back into the truck. The Dempster turned and began to work its way up a ridge; higher, and higher. The river valley below spread out – lit dimly by the sun from the north.
We could make out an enormous oil derrick/rig off in the distance – 20 or 30 kilometers. I fell a sleep.
The next thing I remember was the road getting a bit rougher – it woke me up. Andy turned to me; “Hey, you’re up; we passed that oil rig – about 5 kilometers back.”
I was still partially asleep – around 2:30 AM.
The truck suddenly lurked toward the left; a very loud sound – like that of a chicken bone or knuckle cracking and popping – coming from the left front wheel. The truck slid to a stop; the front-end left and forward.
I turned to Andy; he let fly several expletives. I asked him if we had blown a tire; “[Expletive], something more substancial, I think.”
We assessed the situation; it appeared that a ball-joint had been sheered. The front, left axle was pretty mangled from the weight and torque. The truck would not be moving on its own.
Andy mentioned the derrick/rig we passed about five kilometers back; I decided to hike north – up the road a bit – we were on the side of a very long, but tall hill – I wanted to see if there was anything on the other side of the hill and if so, how far away was it. Around this time, Andy tried the CB radio; nothing. We would later learn that truckers use HAM radios or land-based relay radios. CBs just do not have the range.
Andy went back to the truck to sleep a bit while I hiked up the road.
About three kilometers up the road, and finally over the hill, I could see another derrick/rig – relatively close – another three kilometers out – lit up brightly with flood lights. A bit further out in the distance, I could see a microwave tower. Hungry and a bit cold, I hiked back to the truck.
A bit of cheese, some crackers and then a quick nap; something caused me to wake up. Coming south was a large-sized pickup truck. This was around 5:00 AM.
Flagging down the truck, the driver told us that there would be – in an hour – a couple semi-trucks coming up from the south.
The rest of travel toward the arctic circle went something like this: hitchhiking and riding with Inuit truckers, meeting a cadre of colorful characters at Eagle Plains, borrowing a pickup truck from a worker at Eagle Plains, and finally, driving the short remaining distance to the arctic circle.
The drive back to Dawson in a tow truck is yet another story for another day.