Canadian Arctic Winter Ride; Ice Roads and the Dempster Highway

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Northern Rob, Jan 10, 2009.

  1. justanotherider

    justanotherider justanotherider

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    Rob:

    I don't want to seem argumentative; but I'd like to expand on a point you make, and correct one fact:

    First, I agree, ice riding is technically easy, if you have good tires. For those of us who don't ride with a hack, traction seems a bit more important, (it may not be; but it seems to be...). I started out riding winter roads on racing screws, and found they wore out in about 100 miles, so anyone heading up the Dempster would be advised to run something harder, (we use automotive rally studs with tungsten carbide inserts). As for managing the cold, most of us Canadians can figure the gear out, (although there are some neat tricks to be learned about keeping wind off the neck); but for my safety, I had mates follow me in trucks, just in case I was left stranded in the middle of nowhere, (which there is a lot of up the Dempster) 'cause I don't want to die just because my bike does.

    Second, I don't do an annual ride to Tuk. I do an annual winter charity ride with a bunch of buddies up the winter road north of Fort McMurray Alberta through Fort Chipewyan, and up to Fort Smith NWT to fund a school attendance program in Fort Chip. Its about a 440 km ride in all. Folks can see more on that Ride on facebook if they look for "Ride North of 60". I've only done the ride to Tuk once. As with our ride to Fort Chip, we, (myself and my buddies driving trucks behind me) took up some gifts for school kids to earn through good attendance at school.

    I'd love to make the run up to Tuk again. If some of the readers / riders here want to make the run with us, I'd be glad to build tires for them for costs, plus a small donation to the school attendance program in Fort Chip.

    Take care mate,
  2. Northern Rob

    Northern Rob Con Brio!

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    Sorry Mike, I misunderstood your charity ride. I stand corrected.

    Yes, agreed, it's easier on a hack than two wheels - especially when it comes to loss of traction.

    And I strongly agree that a support vehicle is needed to make this type of trip adequately safe. Something as simple as a blown fuse might not be repairable alone in the cold. Your bare hands will only be good for a few seconds before they become clumsy and hurt, and it will be almost impossible to warm them or you up again afterwards without external heat. There is virtually no traffic around to pull over and help you.

    Your points are well taken. Thanks for them.

    Rob
  3. Northern Rob

    Northern Rob Con Brio!

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  4. Northern Rob

    Northern Rob Con Brio!

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    Welcome to Tuk and Canada's Arctic Coast.

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    Canada is a diverse country with many different cultures united by a single sport.

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    You'll find the beach scene here might be a little different from what you're used to ...

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    Because, let's face it, it's not every day you see a couple of abandoned dog sleds by the beach :lol3 .

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    Waterfront property

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    CFCT, Tuk Radio... reminds me of that show "Northern Exposure".

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  5. Northern Rob

    Northern Rob Con Brio!

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    Here's a neat shot. 2 sleds in the driveway - old school and new school.


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    A lone kid, working on his wrist shot

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    Car!

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  6. Northern Rob

    Northern Rob Con Brio!

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    Time to fuel up.

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    A town with gas stations, but almost no cars :lol3

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  7. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

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    Sleds AKA snow machines are a way of life. I think the residents were a little better aclimated to the cold than you. :lol3

    Nice pics, thanks for sharing.

    David
  8. justanotherider

    justanotherider justanotherider

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    Hey Rob:

    That 'old school' sled's not that old school - it's got teflon coated runners!
  9. Northern Rob

    Northern Rob Con Brio!

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    The town store. It was interesting to go inside. In one aisle, they were selling fruits and vegis, and in others, clothes, hardware, TVs and they had one aisle just for selling brand new snowmobiles. Truly one stop shopping.

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    Bernadette, the embedded reporter travelling with Benno's tour group, throwing a leg over the Ural and making "vroom vroom" noises.

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    A traditional native dwelling I think. I don't know much about it. It's low, made of logs, and I think there is sod on the roof. Looks like it could take a beating from the weather and still stand.

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    The missionaries tried hard to establish themselves here. I wonder if they got a "cold" reception ? :lol3

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  10. Northern Rob

    Northern Rob Con Brio!

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    Hockey. Hockey. Hockey!

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    The end of the road looks pretty desolate. This is as far north as you can go in Canada by road - even in the winter.
  11. Northern Rob

    Northern Rob Con Brio!

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    What's this then?

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    The people of Tuk have been on the front lines of the cold war for about 50 years.

    Remember "duck and cover", and the Ruskie threat to nuke us from the arctic?

    Well, you're looking at the NORAD DEW Line radar station at Tuk.

    Distant Early Warning Line

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


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    A rough map of the three warning lines. From north to south: Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, Mid-Canada Line, and Pinetree Line.


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    Distant Early Warning Line, also known as the DEW Line or Early Warning Line, was a system of radar stations in the far northern ArcticCanada, with additional stations along the North Coast and Aleutian Islands of Alaska, in addition to the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Iceland. It was set up to detect incoming Soviet bombers during the Cold War, and provide early warning for a land based invasion.
    The DEW Line was the northernmost and most capable of three radar lines in Canada; the joint Canadian-US Pinetree Line ran from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island, and the Mid-Canada Line ran somewhat north of this.


    Operations

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    Map of Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line



    Improvements in Soviet technology rendered the Pinetree Line and Mid-Canada Line inadequate to provide enough early warning and on February 15, 1954, the Canadian and American governments agreed to jointly build a third line of radar stations (Distant Early Warning), this time running across the high Arctic. The line would run roughly along the 69th parallel north, 200 miles or 300 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. The United States agreed to pay for and construct the line, and employ Canadian labour as much as possible. All of these sites were leased to the US as US installations (and flew US and Canadian flags) until they were turned over to the Canadians sometime around 1990. The majority of Canadian DEW Line stations were the joint responsibility of the Royal Canadian Air Force (Canadian Forces) and the U.S. Air Force. The US personnel were limited to the Main stations for each sector and performed annual inspections as part of the contract administration.
    The construction project employed more than 25,000 people. The line consisted of 63 stations stretching from Alaska to Baffin Island, covering almost 10,000 km. The locations were surveyed out by John Anderson-Thompson<sup id="cite_ref-0" class="reference">[1]</sup> The project was finished in 1957. The following year, the line became a cornerstone of the new NORAD organization of joint continental air defence.
  12. Rogerthat1

    Rogerthat1 Been here awhile

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    Northern Rob, your report has had me hooked all the way through, wonderfully written with magical photography to draw in the reader. Am insanely jealous - and am currently looking at Urals/Cossacks for sale on Fleabay with a view to riding through Norway to the Artic Circle. Thanks for your wonderful and inspirational story :clap
  13. Northern Rob

    Northern Rob Con Brio!

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    Thanks Rogerthat1 and MTrider16 for your comments, glad you're enjoying the thread.

    One of the things I really liked about Tuk was the blend of "old school" and "new school". This is a community that is keeping it's traditions and history alive, while also firmly embracing the future.

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    Traditional hunting cabin with nuke defense.

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    Old school and new school guards.

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    I've got a big soft spot for dogs.

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    This one was next to a hunter's cabin. I wanted to walk over and give her a good head rub...

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    Until she made it clear that she would sooner eat me than have me come any closer. Don't come on the boss's land she said in dog language...

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    and looking around the place, I realized that trespassers don't do well here. :lol3

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    ..even Polar Bears.
  14. Northern Rob

    Northern Rob Con Brio!

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    Can you see the polar bear skin on the roof of the red building?

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    Alright. Time to get back on the bike, and drive you to one of the absolute highlights of my trip, the Tuk community freezer.
  15. Northern Rob

    Northern Rob Con Brio!

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    The Inuit were (and are) a very resourceful people. Life can be very harsh here, but from time to time food shows up in abundance - be it a caribou herd, a good catch of fish, or a whale. The trouble is how to spread out the harvest over the year.

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    The Inuit made clever use of the abundant permafrost in the area. They dug mine shafts down into the ground and tunneled out rooms for each family as their personal natural freezer.

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    The permafrost is 600 meters (almost 2,000 feet) deep here. So a 30 foot deep vertical shaft will get you in a zone of permanent deep cold all year round. Kill a caribou? Down the shaft it goes.

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    I did not want to miss this!

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    The shed and this lid help protect people from falling down the hole accidentally.

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    The ladder was covered in ice and was quite slippery.


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    Okay, let's do this! It was pitch black down there and 30 feet is a long way down when the ladder is icy and you can't see where you're going.

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    A community guide looked down the shaft to make sure I was okay.

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    Then it was Wayne's turn.
  16. Northern Rob

    Northern Rob Con Brio!

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    There is no lighting down in the community freezer. No occasional light bulb, emergency exit signs, nothing. Just a black tunnel. But my camcorder had an infrared setting that let me see fine in the dark as long as I looked through the view finder.

    Later, I could pull still pictures out of the video, and that's how I got these shots.

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    It was great to be able to see in the pure dark, and it gave me a real "Silence of the Lambs" feeling.

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    I don't think green is Wayne's colour.

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    This is a shot as we're travelling along the tunnel corredor. You can see a door leading off the main corridor to one family's meat locker.
  17. Northern Rob

    Northern Rob Con Brio!

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    Wayne had a good flash on his camera, so we could get a brief flash of light about every 10 seconds from his flash unit and see how things really looked down there without the ghoulish night vision technology. :eek1

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    The walls, ceiling and floor had a thick coating of ice crystals. In some places they had built up so much that we could barely squeeze through the passage ways.

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    The ice was sharp and hurt when you bumped your head against it.

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    There seemed to be many side passage ways and rooms.

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    Okay, time to get out of here.

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    That was amazing!
  18. Northern Rob

    Northern Rob Con Brio!

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    This one is for my buddies from Newfoundland. Inside joke.
    You know who you are. You's all talk funny. :D

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  19. Northern Rob

    Northern Rob Con Brio!

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    Life goal achieved. Ride the world's longest ice road, 200 km's north of the Arctic Circle, on my motorbike.

    Well all good things must come to an end. It's been great sharing my story with you. You've been very, very patient and encouraging... and I thank you...

    ...but you really didn't think I would finish without some shamelessly narcissistic "Captain of the Universe" poses at the Tuk sign did you? :rofl

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    Big Wayne, we did it buddy!

    To all the people that told me it couldn't be done, I have two words for you...

    Get stuffed! :fyyff

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    Linking this tour to a cancer fundraiser really helped me feel like I was doing something to fight back for my buddy John.

    To anyone who thinks we can't win the war against cancer, see my point above.

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    Stan, sorry you weren't there with us, but thanks for punching cancer in the face anyway.

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    My new buddy Benno - extreme tour guide of the Arctic.

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    Benno's group of Swiss tourists, savouring the last moments of a trip I bet they'll never forget.

    It was great to make so many new good friends. It really is the people along the way that made this journey so rich. It seems you can find really good people anywhere you go - as long as you slow down to look.

    Con Brio!

    Rob
  20. Northern Rob

    Northern Rob Con Brio!

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    I promised earlier in the thread that I would talk about the gear I used, what I would take again, and what should go to the dust bin.

    Hopefully, some of you can use this info for your own adventure.

    First of all, the bike...

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    It's a 2007 Ural Gear Up. It worked almost flawlessly. This was the right bike for the ride in my opinion. Yes I used the reverse gear and 2WD many times. It was not a waste of money to get those features. It started instantly, regardless of how cold it was. It ran great and was fun to ride.

    I had two minor fails with the bike. I had a rear brake drum spring break on me. I didn't notice until I rotated out the tire. Not a deal breaker. Didn't affect the ride. Also the original Russian shocks started to sag on me after the rough part of the Dempster. Not a deal breaker. Now all new Urals now come stock with Sachs shocks so its a mute point going forward.

    One annoyance with the bike. The range of the tank is less than I'm used to. I can carry enough gas to fuel a truck, but I don't care for pulling over every 120 kms to refuel with a jerry can. This can be fixed with an axillary tank and fuel line - but it is a bit of a PITA.

    Some people might be annoyed by it's lack of high speed cruising ability. It won't want to cruise at 70 mph all day long. But for this ride, that wasn't an issue. And if you avoid long stretches of super slab I don't find it an issue for any ride.

    Otherwise, it's brilliant. And I have to tell you, the first time I rode one I didn't like it. It seemed old school and low tech (which it is). It steers funny. It pitches and yaws as you accelerate and brake. But despite these quirks, it really grew on me, and now it's my favourite bike by far. It's a hoot to pass cars stuck on a hill in a snowstorm. It's brilliant that it doesn't have a canbus and 12 on-board computers that need a NASA team to fix it. If you can work on a Briggs and Stratton lawnmower, you can work on this bike. I love that I can throw my dog an a couple of kids in it. I love how people smile and wave as I pass by. It's like a banjo. You can't be sad when someone plays a banjo for you, and you can't help but grin when you see a Ural drive by.

    If I were doing this ride again, I would reach for my Ural. It's a no-brainer.

    Two thumbs up.