Doing the Dempster: Arctic Fat Biking

Objective: cycle from the top to bottom of Canada, from the Arctic Ocean to the Pacific.

Stage 1: The Dempster Highway

Winter would not have been the same without a return to Canada's north. I fell in love with the Yukon Territory in 2009, it’s a love that has only grown with time.

It was the final year of the ice road at the top of the Dempster Highway. That meant it was also my last chance to ride my Sonder Vir Fortis on that fascinating road that picks its way from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk, sweeping northwards until the Arctic Ocean.

Inuvik

I do not think there is another place in the world where I have made so many friends so quickly. I experienced the highest level of hospitality, kindness and generosity towards me that I have felt anywhere (India being a notable equivalent). Had circumstances forced me to return to Inuvik for an extended period, I would not have been disappointed, but quite the contrary. I would similarly have enjoyed an extended stay in Tsiigehtchic, but everything was good to continue.

Most days I had target locations to reach: small towns, remote cabins, even a highway maintenance compound. Some nights I slept on open ground and, on another, beneath a spruce tree. For the most part, the weather was on my side: the coldest mornings were around -35˚C and even the famously brutal Dempster winds abated for my safe passage.

As with Inuvik itself, the Dempster was a place for making friends. Cars would come to a halt and people would chat, offer supplies, and even make arrangements to meet up for drinks at the end of it all. Two such friends made arrangements for me to be looked after at Tombstone campground, where I met an old friend I had lost touch with. He gave me details of another mutual friend who I could stay with in a cabin the next night. Serendipity, certainly, but also so simply Canada at its finest.

And so it was that I progressed along the Dempster Highway. There were moments of varying peril, including steep descents on roads cloaked in ice, compacted snow and loose stones. The Sonder Vir Fortis sailed over it all, taking the terrain comfortably in its stride as I gripped the handlebars with whitening knuckles, contemplating the mess I would make if thrown off.

Blue skies, low winds, forgiving temperatures, a well-maintained road, and friendly faces made this journey heavenly when it could so easily have been hellish.

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By Mark Hines