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Truck Mods for Dempster Highway

Dempster Tuktoyaktuk Arctic Ocean

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#11 trikebubble

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Posted 10 January 2019 - 08:41 PM

Something else I'm still trying to decide on is what comes to bring. I understand that many truckers still use CB radios so I'm leaning towards that...

 

I bought a Garmin inReach for emergency comm capabilities. It was also cool that I could have it track our entire journey and our friends and family could follow along and the good ole internet.  Their could be time when you are very alone up north, with no other traffic around for quite awhile. We also traveled the South Canol Road, which is appx 200km long and was the most desolate road on our trip. It is also portable so it's great when you want to get out for a hike, either on your journey or back at home. In the event of an emergency, I figured the best option was the inReach.


Edited by trikebubble, 10 January 2019 - 08:42 PM.

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#12 Old Crow

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Posted 10 January 2019 - 11:14 PM

 We drove the Dempster in 2008 and happened to be in Inuvik during the Great Northern Arts Festival that year.

 

The Festival is actually multiple festivals and includes a lot more than what we think of as art.  It also includes traditional Inuit games competitions, throat-singing, drumming and dancing, an open-air fair with skills contests (like muskrat-skinning) and foods (muktuk, roast muskrat, etc) and a home-town-style parade. 

 

And magical things can happen at events like that.  We were chatting, for instance, with Inuvik resident Amir, a guy who told us he was Nubian and had been born between the White Nile and the Blue Nile in Sudan but now has security and property management businesses in Inuvik.  And he's a volunteer fireman and ice-rescue specialist for the town.  And then he asked us if we'd like to meet the premier of the Northwest Territories as he had spotted him nearby.  And that's how we met and chatted with Floyd Roland, premier of Canada's Northwest Territories from 2007 to 2011 and later mayor of Inuvik.  Mr. Roland wanted to know how our trip up the Dempster had gone as it had been cut by a washout for a few days.

 

We had indeed gotten to meet that washout.  We had first heard about it at the visitor center in Dawson and it was unclear what the status of it was.  They had no idea if traffic was getting through or even how long it had been going on.  After a night at Tombstone Territorial Park we stopped at Engineer Creek campground to look around and found six or so northbound travelers in the cook shack awaiting news on the status of the road and they had been there several days.  We decided to press on but that did cast some doubt over what we were going to find.   A while later I noticed a south-bound tour van pulled over in a turnout and I stopped to chat.  The driver said we'd have to wait for a pilot-truck to lead us through but the repair was supposed to be finished later today.  I told him of the folks at Engineer Creek and he said he'd  let them know.

 

The road crew had filled in most of the washout but at that point there remained a muddy, single-lane mess with deep, water-filled ruts... deep enough to make us wonder if we'd make it.  We were surprised to see the road crew had a front-end loader (and a chain) standing by to tow us through if we got stuck.... way out here in the middle of nowhere.   We barely made it through without help.  If the muddy section had been much longer, we probably wouldn't have as we were losing momentum toward the end of it.

 

On the other side, we encountered a significant uphill on a few miles of slick, crowned road with steep  ditches on both sides.  The only tracks were right down the middle of that narrow section. Traction was fine in the tracks but not outside them.  To this day I wonder what would have happened if we had met a big truck headed down hill toward us in that stretch of road. He wouldn't have wanted to get out of the track and neither would I.

 

Our windshield took three hits on the Dempster.... two chips and a star-crack with a long leg that eventually went to the edge. I'm on my fifth windshield in that van so at this point I just kinda consider windshields a consumable.

 

Our vehicle was a 14-year-old stock Ford Econoline van with 6-cylinder engine, two wheel drive, and about 125K miles on it at the time.  I made several prep mistakes.  First, I put on new tires for the trip but they were Goodyear Wrangler passenger-grade tires.  I'm convinced the four flats I had in the next year (including a flat on the Dempster and one on the McCarthy Road in Alaska) wouldn't have happened with better tires.

 

Secondly, I had taken the van to my local garage to be checked over in preparation for the trip.  No problems found. But on the trip I found bad ball joints (in Eagle, Alaska, of all places) and had a universal joint go bad in the Stewart, BC area.  Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but I think the mistake I made was in not replacing those components when I knew they had that kind of mileage on them, they had no grease fittings, and I was about to drive many miles of very dusty gravel roads.

 

I'll also mention three things we needed or didn't realize on our trip up the Dempster and back.  First,  our van doesn't have air conditioning so we normally open the windows in warmer weather. But on the Dempster, we had lots of horseflies so we didn't want to leave the windows open.  Fortunately, I had made up screens for the driver and passenger windows on hot nights.  So we just started using them in the daytime.

 

We also didn't realize we'd have problems keeping the van cool enough for sleep.  In the Land of the Midnight Sun, the van was being heated by the sun all the time and we didn't have a lot of ventilation.  And sometimes we wanted to put up blackout curtains but that would block off ventilation.  

 

The third thing was masking tape.  The van's door seals weren't very dust-proof so I used blue painter's tape to cover the cracks around the side and rear doors when we were traveling dusty roads at speed.

 

Our flat tire happened right at Tombstone Territorial Park (on the return leg of the trip).  I just changed to the spare in the interpretive center's parking lot and had it fixed later in Dawson.  The tire didn't have anything in it-- just a hole and nothing to show what had done it.  The tire guy said he sees a lot of those and his theory is the aggressive tread of the tire picks up a sharp-edged stone and holds it until the tire happens to hit a pot-hole edge or rock that drives it through the tire casing and then the stone is flung off. He thought the deeper tread of new tires might be more susceptible to this (but also said it's just a theory).  He also advised staying away from the edges of the road as he felt there's more metal junk there from other vehicles-- or at least its harder to see and avoid.

 

The other thing about replacing a flat with your spare is it makes you realize you no longer have a spare to depend on.... and that's an unsettling feeling.

 

Later in the trip, we decided we needed two spares for the Dalton Highway in Alaska.  We went looking for a salvage yard, hoping to buy a used tire and wheel.  When we told the guy we wanted it for the out-and-back trip on the Dalton, he offered to sell us a well-used-but-serviceable spare for $85 and then give us half back if we returned it in the same condition.  That was at Giant Tire in Fairbanks.  We thought we'd have to put up with it in the living quarters of the van but then realized we could shift some things around and it would fit very nicely between the front seats.  We didn't have any flats on the Dalton but were still happy to have 'rented' that second spare for the trip.

 

The other mistake I made was taking an el-cheapo tire inflator.  It of course gave up without doing much on our  McCarthy Road flat.  Fortunately, I had a hand-operated bicycle-tire pump as a backup and that saved the day.

 

.


Edited by Old Crow, 11 January 2019 - 02:42 PM.

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#13 smlobx

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Posted 11 January 2019 - 11:43 AM

I bought a Garmin inReach for emergency comm capabilities. It was also cool that I could have it track our entire journey and our friends and family could follow along and the good ole internet.  Their could be time when you are very alone up north, with no other traffic around for quite awhile. We also traveled the South Canol Road, which is appx 200km long and was the most desolate road on our trip. It is also portable so it's great when you want to get out for a hike, either on your journey or back at home. In the event of an emergency, I figured the best option was the inReach.


Agreed.
We have an InReach and use it anytime we're going on a more remote trip. Well worth the cost.
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#14 JaSAn

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Posted 16 January 2019 - 03:37 AM

 . . . I've read about the strong possibility of getting a cracked windshield and have been toying with the idea of getting a couple of Mylar tear-offs installed prior to leaving. I had them on my Porsche race car and they do provide a lot of protection but have yet to make a final decision . . .

 

Thanks for all the replies. Just got my 2018 Milepost so I will be starting to map out my trip.

 

Has anyone used any of the clinging film to protect your headlights and/or running lights? Effective?   Or what did you use?
smlobx: where does one get windshield tear-offs? How does that work with windshield wipers?

2nd spare tire is being considered, trying to figure out how to carry it.  

Will be adding big mud flaps.

I have a handheld CB radio, cell phone & booster, and inReach SE for communication.


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#15 Missing Link

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Posted 16 January 2019 - 04:48 AM

We did the Dempster to Inuvik in 2010, the Dalton to Dead horse in 2014, and the Trans Labrador Hwy. in 2017.  In each case we had five new, or low mileage E rated tires, a reasonably good compressor, and carried no spare fuel.  Luck shown on us each time and we encountered no flat tires and only a few windshield chips.  As with Old Crow, we had a few sketchy moments.  On the Dalton, at the Oglivie Maintenance Station we encountered a barricade with a "road closed" sign . . . . Oh noooo! . . . . we've come all this way.  We waited at the sign for about an hour and along came a First Nations family from Inuvik.  The man said, "don't worry about it, follow me," and we did.  Soon after, we came to a huge washout where a young dozer driver was working on the road.  He told us to wait a few minutes, and he cleared a path for us.  On the Dalton, among other things, we hit a snowstorm on Atigun Pass in late July.  Now that you can drive all the way to Tuk, we plan to return to the Dempster this summer with the same setup (five E rated tires, a good compressor, and no spare fuel).   I feel pretty comfortable with this recipe, however, that being said, if any of you WTWers are driving the Dempster this summer and you see a silver F150 with a Hawk stuck by the side of the road, please stop and give me a hand :D  


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#16 klahanie

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Posted 16 January 2019 - 04:13 PM

^ Good post ML.

 

Yup, your back up is the kindness of strangers. I think most folks up North still follow the old time rule of never passing someone in apparent need, without offering assistance. Hence the gentle suggestion of considering taking along a plug kit or extra fuel (or water bottles or whatever).

 

Good thing about the Dempster is, it's reasonably well travellled. They'll likely be pick ups, shuttle buses, tour vans etc along the way that might have room for a wheel and passenger(s).

 

We've certainly seen vehicles at the side of the road, wheel off, no one around. And I remember the guy who approached me the second I got down from the truck, one time at Eagle Plains. Acted real friendly, wondering in which direction I was travelling ... was getting a loose flat fixed...vehicle was way back up the road.

 

Also, to the locals reference. On our trips away from the city, visiting small communities serviced by rougher roads, it's been common to see older cars and especially mini vans driving around. Many not in the best condition and prob on passenger tires. But these folks make do with what they have. A lesson there, we try to take home from our travels.

 

We usually carry two spares - because we can quite easily. But if we couldn't, we'd carry some extra cash. :)

 

 

Re windshield. Seen this style repair kit. Don't know if it would be worth carrying ?

 

https://www.canadian...r-0380027p.html


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#17 smlobx

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Posted 16 January 2019 - 05:53 PM

Thanks for all the replies. Just got my 2018 Milepost so I will be starting to map out my trip.

 

Has anyone used any of the clinging film to protect your headlights and/or running lights? Effective?   Or what did you use?
smlobx: where does one get windshield tear-offs? How does that work with windshield wipers?
 

 

I would contact you local window tinting company. They should be able to point you in the right direction if they don't do it themselves.


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#18 Vic Harder

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Posted 16 January 2019 - 06:08 PM

 

 

Re windshield. Seen this style repair kit. Don't know if it would be worth carrying ?

 

https://www.canadian...r-0380027p.html

That repair kit works pretty good.  I've used those a few times.  Stops the rock chip from spreading.


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#19 klahanie

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Posted 16 January 2019 - 07:22 PM

^ Thx. More stuff to buy and carry around ... ^_^


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#20 ntsqd

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Posted 17 January 2019 - 02:04 AM

I've found that for some reason a 100 dollar bill talks a lot louder than a stack of 5 twenties. Really not sure why, but it does.


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Thom

Where does that road go?




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