Well. It’s been so long since these events have occurred, so long as well since I’ve written, that I scarcely remember what has happened. As always, we shall blame this on the multiple times I’ve hit my head, and nothing else. I will try to recall all of the past events with the greatest lucidity, but forgive me for all the details I forget that you will never know.
I will not further illuminate the oddities of the small town of Inuvik for you, except to say that it’s saving grace was a restaurant recommended to us by a local we met in front of the liquor store. We had stopped a lady on the street and asked her if she knew where the liquor store was and if it was open. She gave us directions to it but she hadn’t the slightest idea if it was open on a Sunday at 9pm. She very kindly stopped another man who also did not know, but her second attempt was successful and we were told by a man who looked like he knew the liquor store very intimately that it closed at ten. As it was quarter to ten at this point, we rushed over. This was where we met the man who changed our Inuvik experience. He was very excited to look at our bikes and chat about them and the motorcycles he owned or use to own or wanted to own. He and I sat chatting for ages while Chris bought beer and strapped it on to the bikes. When we finally parted the man went to the liquor store doors only to find them locked! We felt terrible for denying him his liquor, but he was ever so happy to have talked to us that he didn’t seem the least bit bothered.
This man recommended that we ride our bikes up the unfinished highway going from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk. It is expected to be completed in the next couple years but now is a perfect motorcycle track. He assured us that no one would bother us because they don’t work in the summer. They can only work in the winter when the permafrost is frozen enough to support their heavy machinery. Unfortunately, we did not have time to go on this excursion and I have been regretting it ever since. So if you find yourself in the Northwest Territories on a motorcycle next summer, please go ride the road and tell us how much fun it is.
Luckily, our new friend also told us about Alestine’s: an arctic food truck built in a school bus with seating on the roof of a small adjacent building. There are four tables on the roof, a few more inside the small building, and a chairs surrounding a fireplace next to the building. The food was outstanding, the service delightful and the atmosphere incomparable. We had fish tacos with poutine and reindeer chili. The tacos were so good we had another order for dessert. They also had a most curious thing: Bud Light Apple. It is only sold in Canada and tastes like a sour apple jolly rancher was liquified, carbonated, and poured into a glass that previously contained beer. I do not recommend it. However, they also had Yukon Brewing which is drinkable. Overall, the experience was not mottled at all by the Bud Apple experience and we had a lovely dinner.
As aforementioned, we also took a plane to the small village of Tuktoyaktuk, commonly called Tuk for short. The plane was supposed to take off at 9:30am so we arrived at the airport shortly after 8am. Unfortunately, the plane did not arrive until after 11, but we survived because the airport had free wifi. Our plane was quite small and made smaller by all of the boxes of orange juice and other supplies that were being delivered to Tuk.
Our handsome arctic pilots did not dissuade my anxiety any by cracking jokes during their safety speech and ending it by telling us they’d see us in Aklavik (a completely different town!). I was very nervous on the flight. The other four passengers seemed indifferent, including Chris who promptly fell asleep. Thankfully, the beautiful scenery made all my stress worthwhile. I saw very many tundra swans and the great McKenzie Delta, all the surrounding ponds and lakes and the general tundra landscape. The temperature has dropped significantly and the leaves are starting to change, so the tundra is awash in greens, oranges, yellows and reds, but from the plane it’s just a sea of ponds going on forever.
We were met at the airport by Eileen, who is a Tuk native and still lives most of the year “in the bush” as she calls it. She and her family trap martens and foxes, fish, and hunt beluga whales. She showed us some of her furs, as well as her polar bear pants and mitts, and the sunglasses they use on the ice to keep the glare off. Chris gladly demonstrated what a native hunter looks like.
Eileen showed us the village which houses a surprising 900 year round residents. She pointed out the Nurses Station (there’s obviously no hospital), the Old Folks home, and the cemetery. She then exclaimed how convenient it was that they were all right next to each other!
We dipped our toes in the Arctic Ocean and I practiced my handstands.
We got dropped back off at the airport for our return flight at 3pm. The plane was four and a half hours late. Luckily the army that has been stationed in Tuk was hosting an event for the locals. They had a military plane and helicopter parked on the runway, and a couple areas set up with exhibits on their sleeping and eating practices. All the local kids got to climb all over the helicopter and plane and run in and out of the tent playing with the emergency equipment. It was pretty awesome. When our plane finally landed the soldiers just kept all the kids from running across the tarmac for a few minutes while the plane taxied and unloaded its passengers and cargo. Then everyone went back to walking all over the runway.
If, by chance, you are yet unsure of the insouciance of any authority figures in this whole situation, here is the entire Tuk airport, containing a waiting room, toilets and a check in desk. The yellow poles are where the van backs up to be loaded with luggage and driven the 50 feet to the plane. It was all very much smaller than anything I could have anticipated.
Returning to Inuvik we had far fewer boxes and almost a full load of passengers (12). Here are our lovely pilots linking arms while one of them is teaching the other one what to do. It wasn’t scary at all watching a novice pilot take off and land our tiny plane. I thanked him for not crashing when we landed.
So that was Tuk and our fun in the arctic. We left the next morning and headed back down the beautiful Dempster highway, hoping to reach Dawson City before the impending rain arrived. We didn’t make it, but that’s a story for another day.