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First things first

February 17, 2012
Phillip Vannini

First time I ever drove on an ice road, this week. First, just the eastern arm of the MacKenzie River right by the town of Inuvik, and then much more...

First, Tuktoyaktuk. More or less 200km northeast of Inuvik, right on the Beaufort Sea. Which meant my very first time driving ON the ocean. Not by the ocean. ON the ocean. You need to drive on the Beaufort Sea for about 25kms to reach Tuk. Driving on the ocean almost beats riding a ferry on it.

Then, Aklavik. Which meant experiencing for the first time the dubious delight of getting stuck with our car on fresh snow. No, I didn't hit a bank or spin out of control. It was more ridiculous than that. I just missed the road, entirely, leading down the bank of the river onto the ice road. Ended up in the fresh pack of snow right beside it. Thank goodness our newly made local friend William was with us. His little brother Moses just happened to drive by--with a freshly shot moose on the back of his 4x4 Ford truck--and they pulled us out.

Now, how do you miss a road? According to Donald, who also helped in the rescue, it's what happens when you don't have "native eyes." No kidding. It's all shades of white here, and with overcast skies the ice road does not always look as grayish-blue as in the picture above.

Oh, being a BC boy I can tell shades of green and blue, if you were wondering. I told Moses that if he ever gets stuck in the sand of a Gulf Island beach I'll unearth him and hand him some suntan lotion.
More firsts (besides being north of the Arctic circle for the first time)...

First time seeing these beauties in the sky (see picture above) (and they were only rated 3 out of 9 by the experts, by the way).
And what's even more incredible about them than seeing them, is the thought that we're so far north that to see them from here you actually have to look south!

Also, first time a visit to an off-grid cabin required snowmobiling (which I had never done before). I'm the one in the (loaned) red parky, going out to the land in the picture above...

And also the first time I had to take a 30 foot ladder down into the deep layers of rock and permafrost to walk into an off-grid community freezer... (which smelled like dead seals).

Also the first time I ate a caribou burger and the first time I saw a fox being skinned.

And first time I saw a celebrity in action (and one of my favorites too!): Alex Debogorski, of Ice Road Truckers fame. William, Jonathan, and I saw him and his camera crew taping a new episode of History Channel's IRT as we were driving back to Inuvik from Aklavik.

Oh, as it turns out--and depsite my getting stuck--the ice roads, which are one of the main reasons why we're here, are insanely ordinary. Ordinary because they are, in their boring mundaneity, just what roads (and grids in general) are: taken for granted technologies. Insane because they (like all grids) are impressive feats of the human imagination and resourcefulness, mixed with the amazing malleability of our planet. I still can't get over the fact that we have driven well over 700km on them over the past few days, but aside from giving half of Inuvik something to chuckle about, they are as mundane and as are exotic as Jonathan's picture above shows them to be. Oh, needless to say, all photos are by the equally amazing Jonathan Taggart--whose eyes CAN detect shades of white, and all other colors too!