From my vantage point at exactly 66 degrees, 33 minutes north – the Arctic Circle as it intersects the Dempster Highway – Canada’s vastness is impossible to ignore.
Ahead, alpine tundra rises 1,200 metres (4,000 feet) to the peaks of the Richardson Mountains. Southward, boreal woodland curves over the horizon; dubbed the Dempster’s Drunken Forest, as shifting permafrost causes regional trees to grow at comically skewed angles.
Named for Gold Rush-era RCMP Inspector William John Duncan Dempster’s famous dogsled route, the Dempster Highway is the only all-season road in North America to cross the Arctic Circle. Unpaved and rugged, it leads hardy travellers from Klondike River Crossing, outside of Dawson City, Yukon, to Inuvik, Northwest Territories – two degrees of latitude beyond The Circle. Although it is maintained year-round, this 1,472-km (915-mile) return trip still requires a sturdy vehicle and keen weather awareness. (Some profess winter’s ice actually makes for a smoother drive; in summer, brave bicyclists tackle the route.)
Reaching the Arctic Circle rouses a sense of grandeur I had thought reserved for the polar explorers of yore. The True North inspires, humbles and awes.
A friend of mine, who visited The Circle under the Midnight Sun, confessed she had been compelled at the time to build an inukshuk and dance naked around it.
Having stood there myself, alone and in quiet meditation, all I can say is, “I understand.”
Follow us on Twitter @ctccct / Suggested Tweet: A drive to the Arctic Circle, any time of year? Only in Canada.