Saturday, 1 June 2013


I don't have a bucket list. My life has already been filled with so many amazing adventures; tips to far away lands, sailing on the open sea, hunting big game and having it hunt me back, so much more. The most exciting things in my life have been those things I shared with my family, those adventures with my wife and children, those experiences I shared with people I love.

Coming the Yellowknife is one of those experiences, one driven not by any particular desire on my part, but instead by a desire to see my daughter Kate. I didn't have to come up north again; I've seen the north of Canada, driven through the vast tracts of wilderness and scrub pine, meandered over gravel highways with nothing for hundreds of miles but the occasional "fort" village.

Yet now that I have done the Mackenzie Highway, I have another adventure on my list, another unique experience that most Canadians never have. I have now driven both of Canada's major northerly highways, the Dempster from Dawson to Inuvik, and the Mackenzie from Grimshaw to Yellowknife.

As with many things in life, these highways are similar yet different. The Mackenzie is paved; the Dempster is gravel. The Mackenzie is more southerly; the Dempster crosses the Arctic Circle and almost reaches the Beaufort Sea. The Mackenzie Highway rarely rises up, staying flat and easy the whole way, while the Dempster Highway snakes up through the Richardson Range, crossing the Continental Divide three times on its way.

Yet both of them are recent roads, put in the serve the mineral wealth of the north. Both of them are long stretches of straight through empty regions of nothing. Both of them take you through the experience of the incredible shrinking forest where trees get smaller and thinner until they are mere sticks in the muskeg. Both of them run through that muskeg and end up with cities on rocky promontories, high above the local waterway. Both of them cross the mighty Mackenzie River, that thoroughfare of the north, ice road in winter, barge route in summer.

Spring is short here in the north. One month ago, planes were still landing on the frozen surface of Great Slave Lake and the ice roads of the north were still busy with semis hauling gear in and out of mines in the far north. Now, just four weeks later, the lake is clear with only a few spots of surface ice, the muskeg is melted and there is almost no snow to be seen. Float planes and small boats are tied up in this arm of the lake. The weather is warm and the sky is clear.

Summer will be two months of intense heat and 24 hour sunshine. It may rain, in fact it probably will rain, but only a little. The mosquitoes have hatched and are beginning their annual vampire fest. The bison are shedding their winter fur yet already their next winter coat is starting beneath a mangy outer layer. The snows will return to the north in September. The ice will form in October. The ice roads will open in December.

Life has a different rhythm up here, an intensity of activity in the short summers followed by rugged survival in the winter. As one local says, "It's one month of heaven and eleven months of hell." But it's not hard to see why they stay. The beauty, vibrancy and life here is palpable. I love the north.

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