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You are in: Norfolk » Features

24 February 2004 1659 GMT
Alaska to Arizona: The ultimate roadtrip

Sarah Turner from Hingham left the UK on Thursday 5 February, destined for Canada. She will spend six weeks driving 10,000 miles from Alaska to Arizona, raising money for Marie Curie Cancer Care. Here she tells her story.

Friday 20 February:

My plans were rearranged by Stan at Eagle Plains, the Yukon Quest dog race is on - a 1,000 mile race from Fairbanks Alaska to Whitehorse Yukon.

Picture: A dog-sled team rides into Dawson
A sled team rides into Dawson.

It's said to be the toughest sled dog race in the world and the first teams were expected in Dawson City so I headed back there. It's been an easy drive through fabulous weather and I arrived in Dawson mid-afternoon.

The dog teams get spread out so I only saw one team arrive, half a dozen already here and the rest expected over the next couple of days.

Stan had fixed me up to stay with his partner, but she'd left town on a snowmobiling weekend so the front door was open… only in northern Canada! So a big thank you to Jo for agreeing to let me stay. I was embarrassed to use the house so threw my sleeping bag on the floor.

Tomorrow I really do head south…

Thursday 19 February:

It hit -38C last night and is similar today in the mountain passes, but as I headed south it crept back up to around -25C.

Picture: Driving on the Dempster Highway
Driving on the Dempster Highway through the Richardson Mountains pass. See Sarah's latest gallery.

As I retrace my steps to the Alaskan Highway, which will link me with the top of the Rockies for my trip south, I thought I'd give you a little bit of info on the Dempster Highway.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the hightway is named after Sgt WJD Dempster of the Northwest Mounted Police who went in search of the 'lost patrol' in the winter of 1910-11.

The construction of the road actually started in the 1950s but it was not until the 70s, with the large scale oil exploration in the Beaufort Sea, that it was continued to Inuvik. In total it's 457 miles long and is the only road in Canada to cross the Arctic Circle. It passes through the Ogilvie and Richardson Mountain ranges and the views are breathtaking.

I may have driven it in winter, but in spring and autumn it provides a spectacular feast of colours along the route. There is accommodation to suit all, from hotels and B&B's to camping and RV sites but you really are in the wilderness. If you haven't booked a holiday yet and are the type to take to the great outdoors then I would say you HAVE to drive the Dempster. Hire a car or an RV and pack your hiking boots, etc you won't be disappointed.

Picture: Richardson Mountains
Richardson Mountains.

When you arrive in Inuvik there is the warmest of welcomes awaiting you, as there is at Dawson City too. Dawson and Inuvik are very different. At the bottom of the Dempster, Dawson offers you a glimpse of 'Gold Rush' whilst Inuvik is a much more native arctic experience - you've got to do both.

I missed out last time I came to Canada and didn't get further than Whitehorse (which I love) but, whilst it may be a very long cul-de-sac I'm very glad I made the effort and came all the way. Furthermore if you do it this year you too can join in the anniversary celebrations.

I managed to drive all the way to the Beaufort Sea, but outside winter when the river is flowing, Inuvik is as far as you get by road. You can charter planes and boats to take you even further into the wilderness and explore the culture, wildlife and scenery this part of Canada has to offer, it is like nothing else.

The wildlife was conspicuous by its absence on my drive, but there is everything to see. Bears, including Polar bears in the winter on the Beaufort Sea, wolves, musk ox, caribou and all sorts of other amazing creatures. If you'd like to find out more about the Northwest Territories visit their website at www.explorenwt.com, or see some of the ideas from BBC Holiday.

Meanwhile if you don't hear from me for a day or two it's because nothing exciting has happened and I won't bore you with the return run.

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Wednesday 18 February:

I planned to be in Inuvik by 1pm to meet Judith Venaas from the North West Territories Tourist office who had been very helpful, booking me accommodation. This meant an early departure from Eagle Plains.

Picture: The Igloo Church as you enter Inuvik, Northwest Territories.
The Igloo Church at Inuvik, Northwest Territories. See Sarah's latest gallery.

I fired up the truck but hadn't set the Webasto early enough so it wasn't really warm enough, I kicked in the Thermoline fuel line heater to help. After a few minutes it was running better and I eased away.

The drive to Inuvik was uneventful. The road was not too good through the mountains, but as the sun broke through I was on good fast road.

I crossed the Mackenzie River at Tsiigehtchic, served by a ferry in the summer, in winter it gave me my first taste of ice road. You are greeted in Inuvik by the Igloo Church, today under a mist of ice fog.

The whole town is built on pilings to protect the permafrost it is built upon. From here I joined the 'ice road'. The frozen Mackenzie Delta is turned into a road by ploughing to level and drilling to bring the water onto the surface of the ice which then freezes to thicken the ice, it will carry vehicles up to 64 tonnes.

The drive to Tuktoyaktuk (Tuk) is around 200km. The ice is rough and full of pot holes and cracks but if you avoid the worst, then the ride is good.

Picture: Driving on the 'ice-road' towards the Beaufort Sea
Driving on the frozen Mackenzie River Delta towards the Beaufort Sea. Download this picture as wallpaper.

Concentrating on the near road surface to dodge the holes means it is easy to leave setting up for the bends a little late, but I did manage to keep the truck pointing forwards at all times despite a couple of late bends.

Most of the drive was once again in bright sunshine but as I approached Tuk the mist closed in once again and the settlement appeared ghostly out of the gloom.

When not frozen in Tuk sits on a peninsula on the Beaufort Sea. The main industry here is oil and there are various refineries along the route. As I turned around and headed back to Inuvik the sun began to set, but the light held until I arrived safely back in town.

As I parked up I touched the door handle, it was as painful as touching a hot pan, it had been around -30C all day and the whole car was frozen solid. The roof rack and its contents look like they been sprayed with moon dust and everything is brittle. Even my drinking water remained frozen all day despite being in a heated car!

Having made it to the top of my run it is now time to turn tail and head south. It was well worth the drive for the scenery, the people and to experience the weather.

Read back through Sarah's roadtrip diary »

Back to roadtrip index

 


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