Postscript – Final 1.5 days

We woke up to another glorious day in Tuk. We went walkabout and looked at a number of Pingos (crazy looking alien like huge mounds through to small hills – formed by the pressure of freezing groundwater pushing up a layer of frozen ground). In the water surrounding the pingos we saw a wedge of swans. Then we sought high ground to look over the harbour and were rewarded with Beluga whale sightings. Honestly, what a way to finish up. 

We then began the return (#$%^&*) drive home in our string and duct tape enabled ‘vehicle’ back to Inuvik. Much packing and re-org to get ready. Ginger (Dave), Newheart (Dale) and Freddie (Farid) started the long drive back to Edmonton today – and lo and behold they got the drone back, TBH I am filled with shock and awe! It took them only 7 hours to reverse a journey that took us 5d to cycle (sigh), but I think getting the drone down from its high perch is the coup de grace. Mountain Rafa (Suneet) started her flight circus home, and will be home in time to watch Rafa and hug Lenny (and of course you too John). 

It has truly been strange times these past few years. It is so tremendous to be back amongst my testyourlimits family. Dave – 25 years post living related kidney transplant, Dale – 23 years post heart transplant – I never cease to be inspired by your courage and limitless desire to live life to its fullest. I have missed these adventures and relished doing the Dempster with this truly remarkable team, a trip that exceeded every expectation both in terms of challenge as well as the unexpected, a hallmark of TYL adventures.  

As always there are many thanks that need to go out…..IWD humbled by your continued support of TYL – 9 trips in and going strong. I have a team to thank at PMCC who made it possible to be away (PB, AB, YM and the on call group). Special shout out to TRCHR staff Anne Simard, Augusta Lipscombe, Samantha Engbers and William O’Cuinn for making the blog happen – despite tech issues, dictating the blog, late hours etc you guys were amazing. SS thanks for planting the Dempster bug in my ear and the planning that you did with Farid re mapping our course. I truly enjoyed the amazing fabric/fibre from – Vijay Gordon at EZOTEC – worn by all, I think it enhanced recovery! 

I hope everyone enjoyed the blog – it is such an honour to write about this team. 

TYL will return….. 

From Yoda (a.k.a. Heather) 

Day 15 – Tuk – The end of the road

We rented a car for the drive from Inuvik to Tuk – we had been forewarned about the road and thought that with discretion and all that… it made more sense not to push our luck and instead drive to Tuk. We went to pick up the SUV and there are no real words to describe it other than a 2003 Dodge Durango with > 230k (which, as per Dale, is equivalent to 1 million Toronto miles) that was actively decomposing. At the rental we were told don’t worry about the lights on the dashboard (check engine, parking brake and the ABS light), only worry if they are flashing. The front headlight was broken, the windshield looked like a shattered mirror with lines all the way across, the passenger back door wouldn’t open from the inside and none of the windows worked unless the driver operated them – in essence we think perhaps they were hoping we wouldn’t return it and they could collect the insurance? In any case, we set off on a jaw crunching, tooth rattling, hemorrhoid inducing ride that was 30% road and I think 70% car. But we made it to Tuk! 

WOW – we stopped at the visitor centre to get the lay of the land. And then we walked to the end of the road, skipping stones in the Arctic ocean and having a bit of a dip. We got a team photo and asked a woman if she would mind taking our team pic. Turns out we interrupted her convo with the Mayor…..and then she said she is the Senator for the NWT – Senator Margaret Dawn Anderson!! I mean come on, what are the odds of that happening, so cool. She spent a good bit of time talking about Tuk and issues more generally in the north; she is originally from here – incredible hospitality. 

Checked in at the End of the Road Inn and then went exploring – we had been told by Mavis that there was good swag at the RCMP office so we met Constable Wright and she showed us some awesome gear – all to support the local kids. The Coroner is also an artist with amazing sketches of the local wildlife (some money was spent).  

We caught up with Jim (the vet) for dinner – we had the BBQ going and an open firepit on the point in public camp space. We had steak and potatoes (honestly, this is the first TYL trip where I am pretty sure I gained weight) and onion. We were waiting for the sunset (11pm)… and then an F150 stopped and out came a Tuk local named Dang. He spent about 45 minutes with us, showing photos, telling tales of the local life and culture and his polar/grizzly bear, and fishing exploits.

We finally got back to the lodge around 1130, and Dale got a slurpy from the small convenience store below the lodge – he kept getting ice cream headaches and making ridiculous faces – I split my gut laughing…oh what a night! 

Day 14 – Homestretch

Ascent 264m, descent 265m, distance 47.31k

What a glorious day – near bluebird sky, the road was mostly hard packed, minimal dust, almost flat (almost) and it felt like heaven to roll into Inuvik (in Dempster equivalents the last 8 km of paved road is apparently equivalent to your first kiss, I would have to say that this is totally true)!! Along the way we passed the Campbell viewpoint to look out on the ridge, lake and Inuvik. Dave had a real rear wheel wobble – turns out he blew two more spokes = we got in to Inuvik just in time. He jokingly said he did the Dempster solo (see photo).

Suneet did the final bit of the drive, parked and then biked back to meet the group so we could all ride in together. Miraculously, we had NO FLATS.

The locals are so incredibly friendly, the team photo was taken by the Sheriff! Dinner at a local place Roost. Post meal we had a great town wander. Highlight of the wander was Mavis’, a local woman with crafts who had us into her home. She told us about the history of each of the mukluks, mittens, scarves, and carvings. What a welcome. Inuvik had a town fair the evening we arrived with live local music and local crafts. Sunlight lasted till after 11 pm. Brightly coloured buildings and a Teacher’s convention in town. Random stat (perhaps for Dale, who is totally immune) this region is second only to the Amazon for mosquitos. Tomorrow Tuk!

Day 13: Dust and Gravel

Ascent 206m, descent 231m, total distance: 74.6 km

Déjà vu all over again…..we are out of water – so change up on brekkie to preserve the ability to have COFFEE. Cereal and toast….but lots of coffee. Nonetheless spirits were high, the music was going, with call sign Ginger (a.k.a. Dave) providing Karaoke music – one particular song, with all of us singing and providing hints, took an eternity (about 3:45s which is, of course, an eternity for Play That Tune) for Farid to get it was Elton John.

We had tremendous Northern lights last night, Dale came banging on CC to wake up Suneet and I. Incredible. I repositioned my sleeping bag just to watch them for an hour as they danced across the sky. I mean I already need 85 hrs to recover, what’s another hour?

The start of the day was amazing, we literally ate up the road in a team peloton. We saw a moose (Dave thinks bear, not sure but they seem different animals to me?) crossing with Dave saying why did the moose cross the road…..to get away from the wolverine (not something you want to think about on a bike). Mostly flat with these V shaped descent/ascent when rivers or creeks came across the path of the road.

We passed km’s of tundra, the road elevated 8-10 feet above to protect the permafrost. Stunted fir trees with bottle brush tops, small birch and poplar yellow contrasting with the red ground cover. We could see our breath, and all the small ponds had glass frozen tops reflecting the surrounding cover. Spectacular.

And then the road changed, loose chunky gravel, signs everywhere with dust warnings, fishtailing rear tires, speed dropping, NO pelotoning….(holy moly that would have been a recipe for disaster). Eat my dust, literally and figuratively. Thankfully no crashes. Finally the road became more hard packed and we started to pick up speed towards camp.

We are at a territorial campsite by a small river – replenishing water and Farid is making risotto – mushroom with white wine, Gran Padano and Reggiano cheese!

Addendum: post an amazing dinner, with hot fudge sauce over vanilla ice cream for dessert (WOW), we spent the evening in front of a campfire. Dave regaled us with stories – the best was one from this trip was when he kept hoping for a flat while climbing Wright pass in white out conditions, with his hands flying he showed us how he tried super hard to make his tire have a flat so we’d have to come back to get him…..

Day 12: Easy Street… Or Was It?

Ascent 376m, descent 289 = please tell me how this is possible when going from the Peel river to the MacKenzie, I mean really almost 90m higher??

Distance 72 (McPherson excursion).

We were a bit slow to get started today….not surprising after yesterday’s episode – Dale was on for breakfast – it is day 12 and he had to ask ‘where are the tongs kept’….just saying. Pancakes and bacon for brekkie. There were showers at the campsite and we were able to wash our bikes – much needed!!! So much mud/dirt in all the gear/brake mechanisms.

We came to Fort McPherson to stock up on some missing items (from the shower back up debacle). Replenished a few key ingredients (hot choco) and stopped by the local café for a grilled cheese. Town is approx. 900 souls. The day started a chilly 8o and reached a high of 12 degrees, overcast mostly to start and the sun came out this afternoon.

Today was a perfect day for peloton (apart from a few blasted hills) and it was Suneet’s first go at it – she did awesome; after I explained that the rider behind her is supposed to be ‘on her ass’ and that doesn’t mean go faster (jeez man…..her cruising speed was 24 kph). We averaged 18.4 kph for the total ride. Finally crested the plateau and saw the mighty MacKenzie – with cliffs like Dover. The MacKenzie is the longest river system in Canada and is only behind the Mississippi for the largest drainage basin in North America – what a sight. Glorious! We hopped on the Ferry to jump across and started looking for campsites – in the wild as they say – thankfully we found one about 3k on the other side of the crossing – we were ready! We are up high with a view of the MacKenzie below = can’t wait for sunset (though highly likely to be asleep as it doesn’t happen till 1039 pm).

Chip’n’Dale are doing dinner tonight – chili and apple crumble! Best part of this was the bet on how long it would take Suneet or I to comment on their technique…….2 min…..and Farid (who has only cooked hot dogs) took just about 15 min to comment – HILARIOUS!!

Day 11: The Day of Lost Things

Ascent 1166m, 79.3km………….nothing else needs to be said – but I will anyway.

Usual wake up – we knew we had a big day so French toast and, yes, again, BACON. We were breaking down camp and Farid wanted some aerial footage so he sent up the drone. In the gorgeous tall cedars the drone gave breathtaking views of camp and its environs, until he promptly flew it into a cedar, like a bird perching about 30 feet off the ground. We tried and we tried to MacGyver it but unfortunately we were unsuccessful. The red light on the thing kept flashing like a Christmas tree ornament.

Off we went. We have learned some new words (courtesy of Jim, the vet that I told you about – he had dinner with us yesterday) that are a take on undulating. So there is ascendulating (up/down but net gain) and descendulating (up/down but net loss) and when it is all going to hell it is flatulating. This describes the first 19k out of camp – a bit of ascendulating but mostly just OMG up. Unbeknownst to us we were climbing up to Wright pass. The day started off gorgeous, then we had some beautiful clouds alongside glorious mountains covered in low brush of reds, oranges and yellows. Then all of a sudden we were in clouds, clouds with giant bladders, and those bladders were full of rain, sleet and yes snow. Visibility dropped to about 15 feet, wind kicked WAY up – not sure what it was blowing (other than of course the rain, sleet and snow) but it was a strong HEAD wind. The only way you knew you were climbing is because you were in your granny gear (lowest) and only moving at 4-5 kph. Dale in yellow, Suneet in orange – and I lost them in the mist. You kept in your own head remembering to just keep peddling. Was I happy to see CC parked on the side of the road? Hell yes, 4 ways flashing, and the sign for Wright pass – which is exactly at the border of NWT/Yukon. Farid had made chicken soup with extra noodles and it tasted like heaven. When Dave arrived at the camper he said ‘in the cycling world, that is what we call bullshit’. Total ascent: 602m, desc 103m, 19.35 km distance

And then, and this part was not fair, we had to do the bump b/o the bears – and the bump was all downhill – I mean WTH??? We kept a close eye out but we lost the bears too……which meant when we finished the bump, just past the gorge as she suggested, we were all kind of looking behind us (grizzlies have a big territory). It also meant that when we started we were ascendulating again…….to what I have named ‘no name pass’. And then when we finally, finally, thought we were going to go down and spill some altitude there was nothing but descendulating, into a headwind that made you gear down (come on man!!). Post Wright pass we did: 60.3km, ascent 564, descent 1230m. The amazing bit it is while we shared some CC driving, Dale did the whole cycle. We rolled into camp at 8pm….a really long day done. Jim, our vet, who has done the continental divide, said this was the ‘hardest day of cycling yet’. Go team testyourlimits!!! On a side note, my Garmin says I need 85 hrs of recovery time…….

Dinner was chick pea, in ginger, garlic and onion on rice. We are in an awesome camp, Nitainlaii Territorial park. Campfire on, lots of laughs (and Tylenol). We called it a night around 11.

Day 10: Wake up at Eagle Plains – full Canadian brekkie = which means any food PLUS BACON

Ascent – 970m up, Descent – 1254 down, Distance – 76.6 km – 4 hrs 39 min; max speed 53.6 kph

Team set out and immediately had downhill. If you follow the topo map you will see a square root type drop and climb in the middle – that is what they did today. Holy moly – the road just disappeared like it was falling off a cliff – all the way down and then, have mercy on my soul, all the way up. They just totally rocked it – I was driving CC and tried to keep the mood so was playing Queen (for Freddie aka Farid) as they hit false summit after false summit until they finally crested – think high volume We Will Rock You. No other word for the hill other than a (!@#$%^&). The team was so STRONG.

Some nice descents and then more of this Yukon flat thing, the non plain, plains thing – so nothing but up and down until the Arctic Circle – first time for Dave, Suneet and Farid – 3rd time for Dale and I. We met Jim, a vet from Ontario, who is singleton riding all the way to Tuk – fully loaded bike – amazing. At one point I got stuck behind a grader re grooming the road – incredible how much work goes into maintenance of this highway. The scenery defies description – reds, pinks, yellows and burnt browns all over the mountains – what a country we live in.

There was an emergency runway that was actually the road in disguise, or the runway was in disguise – not sure which, and when I drove down it one of the truckers flagged me down – she was long hauling water. Had a great chat. She stopped me cause apparently there is a grizzly mom and 2 cubs just inside the NWT border right on the road – and she suggested that we ferry the bikes past that point (happens tmrw) to avoid any unexpected encounters.

At the Arctic Circle (after 35km of brutal hellish insanity) Suneet took the wheel and I joined the team for the remaining 41km. Way easier ride for me. Freak of Nature, aka Newheart, aka Dale – was so strong. Dave – as always a beacon of resiliency and never quit attitude – such an honour to ride with these guys. Farid remained a rock of constant even pace. We did the peloton thingy again and cruised at about 20 kph and rode into the Rock Creek Campsite – fire on, Suneet making pasta Bolognese. Best line of the day – some gorgeous birds came into camp, Dave gave them some popcorn, they looked at it and then flew away – Dave said ‘don’t blame me, Dale made it’.

Day 9: The Plains That Weren’t

57.6 km

Ascent – 751m, descent 660m – Max speed for Dave 64 kph down a crazy hill (Suneet 58.1, FF 58.4 – so super fast descent but lots of climbing)

What a day – sunrise clear and gorgeous just after 6 am – as usual we started with Coffee (I mean really right?) – 3 pots or 3L between the 5 of us. French toast for brekkie (I knew there was a reason we brought Suneet [man can she cook]!). Then we were off.

I am not sure what it is about the idea of plains that they just don’t get here. Plain – unadorned – so that definition doesn’t work cause this is just about the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen. Plains like Abraham’s plains or the Serengeti plains…….not so much. Yukon Plains is equivalent to Alberta’s foothill mountains – Up/Down/Up/Down – well you get it, essentially anything but actually flat. But having said that it was a glorious ride in to Eagle Plains, population 9. We came across the Hotel, Gas and restaurant like a Bedouin seeing a mirage and realizing it is actually real. FINALLY some connectivity (though TBH I haven’t missed it), so we can update everyone.

Dave is fixing the RV water situation, we reloaded to full level water and will be able to come off water rations, we have gassed up and we will be able to have a SHOWER!!

Day 8: Yellow Poplars, Soaring Eagles & A Grey Water Fiasco

dawned SUNNY and glorious – early brekkie of bagels, granola – and we were ready to head off super early……and then a funny smell from the RV bathroom, and it wasn’t one of us. Just as we had the water fiasco (no way we went through 170L in 2d) we have had a grey water fiasco (despite the monitor saying only mildly full) – it backed up into the shower and soaked all of our paper products…and boy did it STINK……….and there is no store from here to McPherson……..FUN TIMES!!!!

Thank god for Dave who is the King of RV everything! And got it fixed – we had to remove all of the soggy wet paper (think active gagging) stuff while Suneet held the hefty garbage bag…….

Finally we started the ride, and lo and behold the photographer who told us that the ride up to Eagle Plains was the worst climb was right. Just as we got going it started to rain and by the time we hit the ridge there was some hail. Farid and I tried valiantly to get the sat system working at the ridge as we were high up but funny thing, Canada Satellite says this system doesn’t work well above 61 degrees, why would you sell something like that in Canada given our geography? (just saying)

Ascent >913m (I forgot to turn my watch on for part of it……) – max incline 9%

Descent 775m

We rode out of the weather onto the ‘plain’ and thought ‘who put the hills in the plains?’ In any case by the time we hit camp at approx. 59km it was absolutely gorgeous! We saw an eagle en route. The road is living up to its challenges with deep seated rocky centre, like a Roman road, and soft edges, as well as potholes and some ridges – impacted the max speed which was about 54 km on a stupendous downhill.

Camp is at the top of a hill – trees are only about 15 feet high, all the Poplar are yellow and the sky feels like you could reach out and touch it.

We made nachos, cheese, hot peppers, salsa, gauc and sour cream appy, sorry to say this but our table is the toilet seat with a cardboard box upside down on top (hey, practical and it works) and then the main is chicken fajitas! We are being extravagant as we hope to refill our water at Eagle Plains……..

Day 7: Feeling Good & Riding Strong

Dawn mist – Dale predicted it would clear, he was kind of right?

55km

24m up, 141 down

Max speed 25.9 kph

Breakfast – Dale’s oatmeal – raisins, walnuts and oatmeal covered in maple syrup – can you get more Canadian than that? Nice start given the damp, misty day – lots of energy.

Stunning ride following the Ogilvie river –gentle slow downhill allowing team to find a nice cruising speed. Road starting to get more challenging, holes, water, gravel, and soft spots. We have completely given up on trying to be clean – thank god we got front fenders from Icicle bikes or we be completely splattered. I pulled driving duty this am – listening to Sheryl Crowe and taking panoramic photos of paradise.

We have a great walkie talkie system with two out on the road and one in the RV – allows us mostly to keep in touch – it has been a brilliant safety mechanism and of course has led to some funky call signs to know who’s who. Pretty critical as Dale (Newheart) left his bike pack at the break – Suneet (Mountain Rafa – long story, big crush…sorry John) was able to turn back and pick up the pack. But it isn’t perfect and around the mountain bends we can lose the signal which makes everyone worry a bit.

We road past our original stopping point, feeling good and riding strong and also to make tomorrow’s ride a bit shorter – found a great spot by the Ogilvie river to have break and then tucked ourselves off the road for camp. We are battling the water shortage and this is changing the menu so we can minimize dishes!! So back to burgers and hot dogs on the small propane BBQ that Dave brought. Massive bubble and squeak dinner.

Rain started to pour just as we were finishing so into the RV we all went – Dale’s licorice for dessert. Multiple hands of hearts, Suneet getting the two D’s mixed up – has happened all trip so far – like ‘Chip’n’Dale’ except ‘Dave’n’Dale – just a couple of crazy transplants out to have some fun’.