In June 2019, I cycled the Dempster Highway as a part of my bicycle trip from Ushuaia, Argentina to Alaska. It is the only road in Canada that takes you past the Arctic Circle. It is a 900 km unpaved road in Yukon and Northwest Territories crossing the tree line on to tundra and ending up at the Arctic Ocean in Tuktoyaktuk.
The Dempster Highway passes through one of the world’s last wildest places. As I cycle the Dempster, I feel as if humanity has disappeared from the face of the earth. The biggest stop for the first five hundred kilometres, Eagle Plains, has a population of only nine. For several hundreds of kilometres, a gravel road is the only sign of human intervention in the land, mainly inhabited by bears, caribous, foxes, and other wild animals.
It is the land of the midnight sun. Further up beyond the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn’t set for a month. At midnight, as you face north you see a giant ball of fire bounce off the horizon like a basketball. It is nature’s playground, after all. Here when the wind blows, the earth moves in waves like the mane of a wild horse.
Then there is delicate permafrost. The ground underneath is permanently frozen as it has been for thousands of years. Trees cannot grow tall here as the roots cannot penetrate deep enough because of the frozen soil. A thick layer of gravel makes up the foundation of the Dempster Highway to prevent the underlying permafrost from melting. On rolling hills, the road turns left and right, up and down as if it is drunk or has no goal. Perhaps, it is trying to fool me, luring me to a destination that doesn’t exist. Despite all doubts and setbacks, I keep going north with the hope that this road will eventually bring me to a place I need to be.
Cycling the Dempster Highway, I become the road—quiet but full of reflections, wild yet at risk, free but connected to nature, and lost but ambitious.