Not your average travel blog
Day two on the Dempster and the road has been surprisingly good so far. Like many highways in the north country, it’s detailed as dangerous and not for standard vehicles. Compared to the rest of the country, the roads are unpaved, and indeed a little rough, but honestly, (especially in the summer) apart from a few wheel crushing pot holes and some slippery mud spots, they are good. In comparison to the rest of the rural world, the roads are practically autobahns, and meandering RV drivers and touring tourists need to attach a set of hardy tyres, and simply man up. However, break down, and you’re on your own…with at least a few days from an expensive tow.
The highway snakes around some changes in the landscape. The swampy lake sections are plentiful, rivers and creeks carve out some valleys, there are mighty cliffs on the trail and we’ve seen evidence of both coal and iron in the rock faces. Fishing is reported to be good at certain times of year, but as the bugs are drafted in for the annual summer war, their prolific onslaught is keeping me well away from any water sources – which is hard, considering the entire 300 square miles is a swamp, sitting a top a permafrost that never thaws.
The tundra in summer is not a frozen greenscape as you might expect, but a squelchy, mosquito-infested bog, that currently is being constantly massaged by a warm breeze. We’re working up a sweat as soon as we wake up, and just as surprised at the weather as I am, KP is happy he has the luxury of air conditioning – in the truck, not the camper. Where it often crosses permafrost, the gravel highway is raised and built up above the ground. It acts as a thermos and the temperature of the natural floor under the highway can behave like the rest of the tundra. Any construction and road use directly on the mostly frozen ground would thaw it too deeply, and at the wrong time, turning it into a muddy bath in summer. The top few inches does thaw each year – hence the swamp – but below the surface, it can be frozen solid for up to roughly 980 feet! Getting anywhere on a road which is not raised above the permafrost, and trying to walk across the tundra at the moment, would oddly, be like wearing a woolly jumper, and trying to swim through a jar of peanut butter – the smooth kind.
The road has thrown up a few challenges, but not ones to really lose our pants over. We avoided a near catastrophic moment when pulling out of a muddy area and we drove over a lone log (ready for someone’s fireplace). It lodged itself under, and between our wheel arch and chassis – where the camper ties onto. Halting proceedings, I shouted at the pilot to stop, and managed to kick it free from under the truck before it severely damaged our chariot’s undercarriage. The fuel tank looked a little vulnerable and most certainly the tyre would have been a casualty. It was a non event in the end, but reminded me how close we can be to a serious problem. Last year, we didn’t see a two inch tree stump under some pine needles. It burst the side wall of a tyre and we had to wait for some bearded, local assistance when our jack snapped. Although these things happen, we’re well aware of what a pain they can be – even more so, when there is no help driving by and the nearest phone signal is about 150 miles south. The truck was fine, and thankfully, the log survived unharmed….this time.
(A lot more photo’s of the Dempster Highway in the Images Section)