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.