Doing it All in Inuvik

Flying from Old Crow to Inuvik I managed to snag a window seat away from the wing, but it was an overcast day so I wasn’t able to glimpse the scenery below too often. When I did, somewhere over the border between the Yukon and the NWT, it looked pretty unforgiving and I couldn’t help but think of some of the crash stories I’d been hearing during my research.

When I landed at Inuvik airport I felt a bit “bushed” – which people warned me I might feel after 2 months in wintertime Dawson. But after two days in Old Crow? But sure enough, the sight of a luggage carousel in the airport and the hustle and bustle of an airport with multiple flight agents and a restaurant, was a little overwhelming.

Luckily Kyle Kisoun Taylor of Up North Tours came to pick me up (along with his adorable daughter), and they whisked me off to my hotel. Having no idea what to expect at the Nova Inn at the edge of town, I was very impressed with the room and the common area. A word to the wise, though: call them directly for their $99 rate – it’s a minimum of $135 if you book online from what I could see.

Before I left the airport, however, Kyle’s friend Chris appeared looking for someone to sub for a curling game that evening. Kyle, with a daughter in arms and baby at home, had a very good excuse not to. Me, the unsuspecting writer fresh of the plane? No excuse at all, especially when I was informed that this curling team was made up of pilots and that I would be blocked from interviewing unless I played. Blackmail? Maybe. Did I play? Darn right. Anything for my research!

We didn’t win, but we didn’t lose too badly, and by the time I had my ‘loser’s beer’ in hand, I was chatting with folks from Gwich’in Helicopters and Aklak Air. I also got a grand tour of the Inuvik nightlife with my new friends: the Shivers Lounge, the legendary Mad Trapper Pub, and then on to someone’s house. I got home long after the carriage turned into a pumpkin but luckily Inuvik has a thriving taxi service and you can get anywhere in town for only $5!

The next evening my new friends invited me over for the best northern-mexican fusion meal ever: moose burritos with home-made tortillas and salsa. I got to help grind up the moose meat, which the boys had hunted last spring. They’d just bagged another one and so it was time to make some room in the freezer. Glad to help by filling my hollow leg!

After learning I’d never been hunting or driven the Dempster Highway before, I was invited to join in another adventure on Sunday. When we left Inuvik it was about 9am and still twilight but relatively clear.

There were six of us piled into Kylik’s extended cab truck and we pulled a trailer with a skidoo and tobaggan in case they bagged something big. As you can see, we also had a couple of spare tires, spare gas, along with hunting paraphenalia. The Dempster is one of Canada’s most scenic drives, but also one of its most treacherous. Just ask the folks on Ice Road Truckers.

A few hours into the drive, one of the reasons for this was apparent: the speed and ferocity of weather systems moving between mountain passes. We went from clear weather to a few flakes to outright whiteout conditions with 100km/hr gusts. Like the caribou, moose, and other big game, we decided to escape the weather.

A few hours later we were back in the outskirts of Inuvik and the weather was overcast but pretty warm. We decided to stretch our legs at this recreation spot and possibly sight some dinner. No such luck. After a short snowmobile ride and hike up a hill I was presented with my next Inuvik challenge, though: shoot my first gun.

Growing up in the wilds of suburban Ottawa, I’d never had the need or opportunity (or desire, for that matter). I went to the library, the mall, the bowling alley – not the shooting range. Even when I lived in Wyoming I didn’t practice my right to bear arms. But when hanging out in Inuvik you do as the Inuvialuit do, and when someone hands you a 12-gauge shotgun, you shoot it. (For the record, I kind of liked it even though it was very loud, the retort against my cheek hurt, and I could barely lift it. But look at me: I’m rambo-barbie!)

My final morning in town I was treated to a tour of the Gwich’in Helicopters base, which was really neat. A partner of Yellowknife-based Great Slave Helicopters, Gwich’in mostly serves oil and gas interests in the region but is often called for medevac and other operations.

I also got to see some of the town’s most recognizable landmarks, like the igloo church built in 1960.
I didn’t see any dog teams in town, but folks had already started driving their skidoos on the roadsides It was early October. Oh, and -21 with the windchill the morning I left. I can only imagine what it’s like during their roughly 30 days of darkness in December but this Tropicana commercial helps to paint a picture…

This may be a bit of a rough, frontier town, but if you can fall into the right hands you will have no shortage of northern hospitality. A good first bet: call Kylik and tell him I sent you!

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