Dreaming of ice roads

We woke to two or three inches of new snow yesterday. It didn’t take me long to clear the driveway, but the snow had been preceded by warm temperatures and the driveway was still pretty slippery after I removed the snow. We’re used to it. One of the advantages to the location of our house is that the slippery hill falls away from the house. It would take a lot of momentum to slide down our driveway and across the street into the neighbor’s yard and trees. So far, we’ve never had that problem. And we don’t have to worry about sliding through a garage door, which is a problem for some homes in our neighborhood.

Living in a place where we git a bit of winter gives us a touch of experience with driving on slippery roads. Our cars are all wheel drive and we have a pickup with conventional four-wheel drive, locking hubs and other traction devices. I’ve had tire chains on all four wheels of the truck and it pretty much will go through most snow with those on board.

But most of the time, we don’t deal with much in the way of travel challenges. The city and county plow roads when needed and our city is really loves to spread the magnesium chloride. Our street is white with salt whenever it dries out in the winter and our cars are covered with the sticky, corrosive stuff.

I have a fascination, however, with roads that are in very remote locations that might be a real challenge to drive. One of those roads is Canada Highway 10. It is also called the inureik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway or ITH. It is the first all weather road to the Arctic Ocean in Canada. The all weather road just opened las fall, with the official opening on November 15. Prior to the completion of the highway, which took three years to build, it was possible to drive to Tuktoyaktuk only in the winter, when an ice road made it possible to cover the distance.

From where I sit, the journey seems exotic. Just saying the name of the destination, Tuktoyaktuk, is fun. And getting to the beginning of the road, Inuvik, is a challenge in itself. It lies at the end of the Dempster Highway, 457 miles of mostly dirt and gravel road that stretches across very empty country in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, beginning 35 miles east of Dawson City, Yukon and cross the Ogilvie and Richardson mountains. 252 miles from the Klondike Highway, the road crosses the Arctic Circle. Crossing the Peale and Mackenzie Rivers are done by very from June to October and by ice bridge from November to April. Once you get to Inuvik, you still have 86 miles of two-lane gravel road to get to Tuktoyaktuk.

Some of the members of my family don’t really understand my fascination with the road and the communities at its conclusion. They enjoy travel but probably prefer destinations with a few more people and a few less polar bears.

Mind you, I’ve never been on the road. I’ve not yet even made it to the Yukon, so my trips up to the Arctic are only in my imagination at this point of my life. That doesn’t stop my dreaming.

Another highway that fascinates is Route E69, a bit of extreme and icy engineering in Norway. The ribbon of ice-covered tarmac runs 80 mies north from Olderfjord to Nordkapp on a finger of land at the top of Arctic Norway. It is the world’s most northerly highway.. Although the road was first proposed in 1908, it was started in the 1930’s to connect the remote fishing villages that previously were connected to the outside world only by boat. A downturn in the fishing industry caused grave financial stress in the communities and it was felt that the locals could earn more from tourism than from fishing. Building the road seemed to be an impossible challenge, but it was a challenge that was accomplished. The final 8 1/2 miles was completed in 1956. And in 1999, a deep sea tunnel connecting the island of Magerøya to the Porsanger Peninsula was opened. The E69 is known for developing thick ice and being very difficult to drive. Weather can prevent travel for days at a time. People learn to live closer to nature because nature limits their activities. When the road is icy, certain supplies simply are not available until conditions improve. When the snow is blowing, travel comes to a stop.

I’ve read the stories of people who have traveled extreme distances on remote roads in all kinds of weather and many different climates. The Pan American Highway is a network of roads that stretches from the tip of Argentina to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska. It is possible to drive the series of official and a few unofficial roads from one end to the other with the exception of the Darién Gap, a section of rainforest of about 100 miles that remains undriveable. Those who have driven the entire highway have loaded their vehicles onto boats for the connection between South and Central America. I’m not as intrigued by tropical mud as I am by ice roads. Depending on the season of the year, mosquitos are abundant on every section of the highway, but the parts at the polar tips are most fascinating to me, though, truth be told, I’m not very interested in the Dalton Highway, the United States’ most northern road. It covers some amazing country north of Fairbanks, Alaska, but it is a commercial haul road, next to a a pipeline and concludes not in a remote village, but rather in a huge industrial site. You can’t drive to the Arctic Ocean at Deadhorse, but must pay to ride a tour bus and the cost isn’t inexpensive.

So I try not to complain when my driveway is a bit slippery or when it is a bit of a challenge to get around town. I still have a desire to drive some genuine ice roads. It may never happen outside of my imagination, but that doesn’t keep me from dreaming.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!