When you go North of 60 degrees latitude, you start looking for the end of civilization. When it's -31F, you reckon you must be about there. And yet, there are things that remind you that the spark of life, and imagination and creativity live everywhere. We woke up this morning to deep cold and complete desertion in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. We couldn't even get coffee, anywhere. Then we drove even farther north on ice roads to Vee Lake, to find that the local motorsports club had plowed a course on the frozen lake for us to do time trials.
Yes, of course we did well, thank you. But more amazing is that we were there at all. This is a difficult place to live: 30 minutes exposed outside and you die. Just simply die. The rocky landscape, the permafrost, and the scrubby foliage make no industry viable except for mining, fishing, and tourism. Place names remind you of the historical tension between the native cultures and the colonial English and French. CBC radio is a cultural lifeline. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police basically are trying to keep everyone alive.
Jaguar In Ice
And then you drive out onto the surface of Great Slave Lake–a really big lake by the way–to find people carving an ice castle. Cheery houseboats frozen into the surface vie for space with ski planes that are the true lifelines of the Far North. Randomly, there's a Jag XJ sedan. I have a Jaguar. I cannot imagine how this one got here. Someone has a lot of imagination.
Driving back from the lake surface into town, we ran across a little shop built of logs. The people inside were selling native clothes and art. We found a pair of children's moccasins, handcrafted in Umingmaktuuq, which is on the Arctic Ocean. To put that into perspective, that is more than 300 miles as the crow flies (if a crow could fly here without dying from exposure) straight north, and there are no roads north of where we are now. Yes, next week we will drive to the more westerly Tuktoyaktuk on the ice, and next year we will go even further than that–all the way, in fact. But for now, there's simply no way to get on wheels from here to Umingmaktuuq.
And yet, somehow these delicate, beautiful moccasins got here, way down south. I know my daughter Rosemary won't understand that, at least explicitly. But I hope she finds out that a massive, dangerous place is just brimming with life, creativeness, and beauty–all in a pair of moccasins. Stay tuned as our intrepid explorers continue driving their Jeep Wrangler farther north toward the Arctic Circle on the ALCAN 5000 rally. Go to FourWheeler.com for the next day’s adventure.