Ice Roads? Ice Roads.
When Bryan contacted me back in late August about going on an ice trucking
adventure to Yellowknife in Canada, I had no clue what I was getting into, let alone
what it would entail. Bryan did his best explaining it to me, but nothing he said
could have prepared me for how cool and special this trip would be.
I stepped off the plane after a few hours of delayed flights from Calgary due to the storm and fog coming in. The temperature in the air jet walkway was cold, but nothing close to what I would be experiencing in the upcoming days. As I road down the escalator to baggage claim, Bryan greeted me with a jacket, warning me it was cold outside. In my head I was thinking, colder than the airway?! Oh boy was it ever and everything was blanketed with snow. Bryan had warned me I would walk out and breath in and start coughing(something I have been doing every time I have gone outside this trip). Not only did that happen, but my eyes started watering from the cold. We then got in the truck and headed to the store to grab some last minute supplies for the trip. Bryan had recommended I purchase some vitamin D too, because there would only be a couple of hours of sunlight during the day, a smidge of what I was used to in California. However, that was also one of my goals of this trip: get out of my comfort zone and do things I could never do back in So Cal or Arizona. This trip has certainly lived up to it.
We started out bright and early, Thursday, January 17 from Ft. McMurray in the Tim
Horton(the Canadian version of Dunkin Donuts). It was cold, like -32(apparently -
40 with wind chill) and here we are, some of us meeting for the first time. We had
three Toyota 4x4 vehicles, a couple from Calgary, two brothers from Uzbekistan, and
Bryan and me in the third car. From there, we started off and drove over the “Bridge to Nowhere”, through the woods, until we hit the entrance for the ice roads.
But let me explain the ice roads first as this was something brand new to me and may be new to you too. “Ice trucking” on the ice roads is basically us taking our trucks or 4x4s over the ice roads
for long distances. These ice roads, don’t show up on a map and don’t exist for half of the year. But the day these roads open up, Canadian communities that were only accessible by boat or maybe a plane before the ice, pack up their cars and drive into town. When the roads hit a certain level of ice thickness, government contractors will check for certain weights, so once the ice is 5000 kg, cars can start driving these ice roads. When the roads reach 27000kg, the semi trucks can start on these roads as well. This is often seen in the show ice truckers; its an intense business. After stopping for photos with the sign, we hit the ice roads. Leading up to the lakes,the terrain is a bit rough, but when we hit the ice roads, it all smoothens out. Fortunately these vehicles have tires that are more prepared for this terrain, making it a lot safer.
Our first day we set up lunch in the little nook just off of one of the ice roads on land, but right before the road entered a forest. Bryan and the men of the group started a fire and he pulled out his slow cooker, refurbished for his truck, that had been cooking chili all morning. Let me tell you, his chili was amazing. Mouthwatering flavor and warm bread (from sitting in the bowl of chili) that contrasted perfectly with the biting cold. One of the guys from Uzbekistan had a birthday on the first day of the trip, so Bryan had picked up some cupcakes before hitting the road, and lit some candles with a blowtorch because it was the only tool that could actually light them (it lit the fire too).
The next part of the drive I can only describe as driving through a Christmas card. Trees were covered with snow and created a natural canopy over our heads with a mix of white and green trees. It took my breath away, which was also funny compared to my Canadian friends who were so much more used to these types of views. Still early on, going down that Christmas card drive will be one of my favorite parts of the trip.
We continued driving until we made it to Ft. Smith at the bottom of the Northwest Territories where we all stayed at the Grand Rapids Pelican Inn. Once checked in and settled, the Uzbekistan brothers cooked us their own version of rice pilaf with their spices all from Uzbekistan and let me tell you, the pilaf was so flavorful. The whole group hung out, shared stories, and went back to their respective rooms to settle in for the night. Tomorrow was going to be a long one.
Around 7:30 the following morning the whole crew was up, eating breakfast, and getting ready to hit the road again. Today would have fewer ice roads, but lots of snow and a frozen waterfall. We went to the gas station to fill up the vehicles, and while inside, Bryan found out that the store would sell about 10-14 slushy slurpies that day (it was -39 mind you). Needless to say, I stayed in the car and nobody in our group got a slushy.
We continued through the Canadian bush to a waterfall called Twin Falls that Bryan had visited in past trips for lunch. The waterfall was massive and beautiful with steam coming from the only section of moving water, creating a gaping hole in the middle. I had never seen anything like it, but now it makes me want to view this massive waterfall in the spring to see how truly raging and huge it is.
The lunch that day was venison smokies, which are something I had never even heard of in America. Simply put, they are like hot dogs without all the unhealthy stuff. Simply put, they were so good. They were cooked over a campfire grill by the couple that supplied them and we roasted hot dug buns with them as well. The combination of the tasty, hot food with the below freezing temperature outside was perfect. After, we took more photos of the waterfall, I made a snow angel, cleaned up, and continued to drive up to Yellowknife.
One area that I really have to compliment the Canadian people on is how they take care of each other. I am not only referring to how everyone welcomed me into the group when we set out on this trip, but also out in the bush on the ice roads and wilderness. In a given day, we could pass maybe 50 cars, but when we were outside of the car taking photos with our emergencies on, strangers driving by would check on us to make sure we weren’t having any car issues and we also returned the favor when we found a couple stranded on the side of the road with a bum transmission. We put them in our cars and took them to the next station, which even by car was a while away to get them help. As my friend Bryan told me, in this freezing cold, you don’t leave people stranded, we have to help each other out because services are far away.
Overall, the snow-covered wilderness looks like a Christmas card, the Canadian group I have been traveling with has been more than welcoming and enjoyable to spend time with, and I am already so happy I did this trip. Oh! I also saw some buffalo, which makes it even better (they are one of my favorite animals as I think they are incredible). I couldn’t ask for a better trip to help me grow and push my comfort zone. This has been a once in a lifetime journey and its not even over yet.