Second post in my Canada/Alaska series… for an explanation of how I got here, see below
Day 6: Edmonton to High Level, Alberta (799km, 4683km total)
This was the moment I was waiting for: turning due north, toward the Arctic and the midnight sun and where the polar bears roam. There would be some time to get there, but even in Edmonton the days were getting much longer, coming back from the bar at 11pm in time to see the setting sun. It wasn’t exactly frozen tundra yet, but even just above Edmonton the landscape began to change, as the shorter growing season and higher latitude left fields fallow even in mid-June
Overall though, the road to High Level was still something of a disappointment. I did at least get a laugh from this place though. Car and dog wash, how do you even?
Day 7: High Level, AB to Fort Simpson, NWT (846km, 5527km total)
There was little doubt now we had left the tourist trail. At the welcome centre into the Northwest Territory, the attendants greeted us like we were the first foreigners through there all week! I know they are paid to make their forsaken land enticing to lost wanderers, but the picture they painted of their province still seemed unduly rosy after getting in well over our heads.
A few miles up the road (which the welcome centre tries to insist is the Highway of Waterfalls), we did at least find nature’s majesty. While certainly no Niagara, least of all the maddening crowds, this would only be the first of a few encounters with the mighty MacKenzie.
This would probably be a very colourful canyon were the sun out. If the sun ever comes out in this place.
Lacking much other choice, we took a detour to Hay River for lunch. There seemed to only be one restaurant in town, a mediocre diner that is probably high cuisine in such an isolated place. The nearest major city to here in summer is Edmonton, almost 1100km away. In the winter, an ice road extends across the lake to the provincial capital, Yellowknife. Just beyond Hay River, our Territorial troubles began. Road work in the “south” is a temporary thing, but here it seems to be the permanent state of affairs, with an orange lightup sign nonchalantly proclaiming 219km of solid construction, and the freshly unpaved road being fit for little else but bison and dirt bikes.
Adding insult to injury, the one gas station on the ‘highway’ was closed, leaving us to foray the nearest settlement, Kakisa. Following the GPS to the gas station, we found … no gas station. No petrol either, just in case that’s what people say in these parts. Only a bear prowling for dinner.
As if this wasn’t enough, the only other town on the route, Fort Providence, was across the MacKenzie, forcing us to throw even more time away waiting for a ferry twice. At least on the Providence side there were bison to entertain us on the wait.
Somehow we found the third and final ferry to Fort Simpson just before its last run of the night at 11.50pm. And saw something like a sunset from the boat.
Just after midnight, we FINALLY made it to the Deh Cho Suites, which I can only guess must be the most isolated hotel in Canada, if not the world. I am actually quite amazed that people out here even have the Internet, and that I can be writing this here in the first place. Between the cold, the dark and the isolation, I don’t envy the winters here one bit! At least in the summer it’s 2:30am, and the sun will just rise again in a few minutes… even though I expect this, I’m still amazed!