We’ve just completed what is arguably the longest and coldest time-speed-distance (TSD) rally in the world – the ALCAN5000. Our finish was exceptionally good: We scored third in the “seat of the pants” class and eleventh overall. And while Chris Komar and I are accustomed to high-speed rallying and Brad Lovell is accustomed to driving over large objects in Ultra4 and Pro2 racing, we were all mightily challenged by having to run at perfectly exact speeds on the TSD tests and complete all 4,520 miles of the rally in a timely manner.
The cold and the miles did take a toll on other vehicles. One car lost an engine in Yellowknife, and another lost a transmission in Whitehorse. Three cars went off the road on ice, and one was unable to continue afterwards. Several teams stuffed it in the snow on the ice solo and were extracted, attracting penalties but no damage. Well, no permanent damage.
We had none of these troubles. Our 2015 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon was comfortable, swift, and extremely competent. While other teams were running around trying to find plug-ins for their block heaters, we just shrugged our shoulders and started it up every morning, including in Yellowknife at -35F. Actually, we started it from the lobby of the hotel with the key fob.
Yeah, We’re Pretty Tough
We also had terrific traction the entire way and no flats, including on the Alaska Highway and the Dalton Highway north of the Arctic Circle, both notorious for punctures. The BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2 tires proved a huge advance over its predecessor, and we were allowed to use it here because it has the “three peak mountain snowflake” certification for winter use. All other teams were on full winter or studded tires, but we barely ever broke traction on the All-Terrains. And they still look new.
Yeah, those tires are pretty tough.
The finish of the rally elegantly dovetailed with the start of the Iditarod dogsled race in Anchorage. Eighty-seven dog teams left the start line for the famous competition that will last anywhere from nine to eleven days and take them across the 1,049 miles to Nome, Alaska. Outside. In winter. Pulled only by dogs, and sleeping outside. It was beautiful and moving to see the dogs enthusiastically tugging at the ropes on the start line, and amazing to think that all 87 mushers with their teams of 16 dogs each will be outside competing for more than a week.
OK, so they’re all pretty tough too. But they’re just racing. Let them try to keep to a perfect time-speed-distance rally schedule and see how they do, eh?
Driving The Ice Road
Our own adventure now takes a turn – literally and figuratively – as we return to Whitehorse and then turn North again to go all the way to Tuktoyaktuk. “Tuk” is about 350 miles north of the Arctic Circle and 120 miles past the end of the permanent road beyond Inuvik. To get there, you have to wait for the Mackenzie River and the Arctic Ocean to freeze and drive on the layer of ice covering them to the northernmost community on the continent in Canada.
And while that seems pretty amazing to us, locals who drive on the ice road every day think that the more amazing thing is that we drove all the way from Seattle to get here. That is remarkable to them.
These are people like the guy minding the gas station at the end of the Earth in Inuvik, who practices sustenance whale hunting. Who uses handmade Ulu knives to cut the whale up, and whose community uses all of the whale to feed and provide vital supplies for their own lives. They live an independent existence.
And it’s a sense of the same independence that attracted us here. Not only have we been able to follow our noses (which led us to the end of the Earth …), but we’ve been very alone for a lot of it. Sure, we have a high-tech, luxurious Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, and ok, we have an InReach satellite beacon. And the roads are known. But they’re very cold, very long, and pretty difficult. But if you’re a driver and an adventurer, driving to the end of the last ice road in the North is a natural goal.
Especially since it may not exist two years from now. The Canadian government has partially completed a permanent road across the muskeg to Tuk, with scheduled completion in 2018. After that, the main reason for the ice road – to get supplies in and out of the northern community - may disappear. And after the melt in 2018, the ice road may disappear into the ocean.
While that will no doubt be good for commerce and services, it may not do anything for the amazing self-sufficiency of the people.
And for the rest us, some sense of adventure will also have melted away.