Arctic Circle

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.

Alex Jokela

programmeranalyst with a flair for horticulture // I build data tools // ♥ data // assistant-overlord of a small poultry flock