AS WE FLEW OVER GREENLAND AND THE ARCTIC ON OUR WAY TO PORTLAND, OREGON, WE WERE CAPTIVATED BY THE ICE FLOES AND ICEBERGS BELOW. IT WAS HARD TO BELIEVE THAT IN A FEW HOURS WE WOULD BEGIN A 3,000-MILE-LONG ADVENTURE THAT WOULD TAKE US RIGHT BACK TO THIS VERY SPOT – THE FROZEN EDGE OF NORTH AMERICA. ONLY THE NEXT TIME WE WOULD SEE THESE ICE MASSES, WE WOULD BE IN A CAR.
I was traveling with my partner Kate Seaver and, upon arrival in Portland, we met with Brian Scotto, the editor of 0-60 magazine and the third member of our four-person team. Brian had arranged for us to use two vehicles from the Subaru press fleet – a WRX Sedan and WRX STI – for an unbelievable 6,000-mile road trip to the edge of the earth.
Brian informed us the cars were still being prepped at Paul Eklund’s shop in Tigard, Oregon, where Paul was assisting with the installation of Hella 4000 Motorsport High Intensity Discharge (HID) driving lights – an absolute necessity for this trip. The Arctic in the winter is a dark place with no shortage of lurking dangers, and good driving lights are essential for avoiding peril. Snow tires and full-size spares also had been arranged, and we had with us what seemed to be an endless supply of survival gear: axes, saws, fuel cans, bright LED flashlights, radios, air compressors, camping gear, a huge aluminum grain shovel, plus delicious Norwegian candy!
As daylight faded, we finally started north toward Seattle, Washington, where we met up with Brian’s co-driver and buddy Mark Williams. Brian and Mark would drive the WRX STI, and “Snack-master Kate” and I would steer the WRX. I could barely see past my smile as we merged onto I-5 North.
ON OUR WAY
The U.S. border disappeared in our rearview mirrors as our adventure began. After a quick fuel stop and some trunk-lid salami sandwiches, we found ourselves at a casino in Prince George, British Columbia. It was New Year’s Eve, but our main focus was on reaching the ice roads and the remote village of Tuktoyaktuk in the far Northwest Territories of Canada. That would be no small feat because the destination was a staggering 1,900 miles away from our starting location.
We awoke to the new year to find the WRX and WRX STI lightly dusted with snow. With coffees in hand, we hit the icy tarmac.
WELCOME TO CANADA
Hundreds of miles passed. We flew by “AVALANCHE AREA – DO NOT STOP” signs and laboriously slow snowplows. Blissfully ignorant of British Columbia’s size (the Canadian province is as large as the entire West Coast of the United States), we pushed on.
After covering the distance equivalent of Washington, D.C., to Denver, Colorado, we stumbled upon what can only be described as a frosty mirage called Liard River Hot Springs. The time was around 1 a.m., and our SUBARU BOXER engines cooled quickly in the silent -20-degree-Fahrenheit night. Dressed in down parkas, long underwear, and classic Sorel winter boots, we looked like modern-day explorers.
Frosted trees and a huge natural hot spring pool beckoned to us from below. The only problem? Getting back up the icy steps at 3 a.m. and the quarter-mile walk back out to the road.
The next day, after a few hours of sleep and a hearty trucker’s breakfast, we were once again wheels up and pushing for the still-distant north. Finally a sign saying, “Welcome to the Yukon Territories” marked measurable progress and, a few hours later, we arrived at Whitehorse, Yukon Territories – our last chance to stock up on supplies.
PRESSING ON TO THE YUKON
We fully checked and topped off the vehicles with the last drops of super unleaded gasoline they would get for more than a week. Then we were ready to head into the Arctic.
Helpful tips from the locals included:
- Drive with your winter coat and boots on so, if you crash, you won’t immediately freeze to death
- Carry candles for warmth in case of a breakdown or storm
- Pack canned dog food (or whale meat) for high-energy-content food
Instinctively, driving became more survival than fun. In the event of a mishap – an animal impact or, worse, a rollover – we would be in serious trouble with help potentially hundreds of miles away. There were other cars on the road each day, but you never knew when the last truck passed, when the next storm would hit, or when a brake caliper might freeze up.
The Arctic is not cheap, and our budget was starting to be stretched thin. Our destination still loomed somewhere over the horizon, and we had a challenging road ahead.
LIKE ALL GOOD EXPLORERS
We left the last fuel stop at Eagle Plains and confidently headed north – the only direction we knew by now. As the WRX was hit with an arctic blast of ice, the words, “Should we turn back?” crackled through our two-way VHF radio. The cars rocked with each gust, and our pace had dropped to 5 or 0 mph. “Is this when we light the candles and eat the dog food?” I barked into the radio.
Twilight was fading fast, and the arctic night had a firm grip on our team. The four members of our group – Brian, Mark, Kate, and I – sat in our separate vehicles tethered only by a radio wave. With both directions equally terrifying, we followed the compass north like all good explorers. We were driving powerful all-wheel drive Subaru vehicles, after all. Once we realized we had almost 600 horsepower between us, the decision was even more obvious.
The next couple of hours were intense, to say the least – mostly high revs in first gear, creeping along what we assumed was the road.
The words “ARCTIC CIRCLE” came into view, and we pulled over. It was a shockingly cold -20 degrees with high winds. Yet a stop was mandatory. After a few clicks of the camera’s shutter, we ran back to the cars for cover. We only had about 200 miles left and, after seven days on the road, 200 miles seemed like a quick drive to the store.
It was late when we finally reached Inuvik, Northwest Territories, and we forked over full retail price for a room at the Mackenzie Inn. The WRX had a frozen fuel fill vent and balked at being filled with gas. The only remedy was a heated garage for the night. Meanwhile the WRX STI bravely stared down the arctic night with the howl of sled dogs in the distance.
TUKTOYAKTUK, NORTHWEST TERRITORIES, CANADA
The next day, we reached our final destination and were greeted by the townspeople of Tuktoyaktuk dressed in the popular apparel of wolverine skin jackets. Visitors are rare, and word had traveled fast. They were a friendly bunch who immediately offered us beer, beds, and cab rides.
Our absurdly priced “house” for the night came complete with a full internal water system. The permafrost makes buried pipes impossible, thus water is delivered weekly and stored inside for domestic needs. We had just sat down to take it all in when there was a knock on the door. It was the cab driver inviting us for beers in her boyfriend’s garage. Having no other plans, we agreed. After a night of beer and kokanees (salmon) and a hilarious but freezing trek home at 2 a.m., we hit our beds for the night.
The next day we were treated to raw whale cubes served with Heinz 57® steak sauce, homemade doughnuts, and reindeer stew. It was awesome … and odd – just like Tuktoyaktuk!
On the way back, Brian flew out of Inuvik to New York City, leaving the three of us to return the cars. Another friend joined us in Whitehorse to help drive back to Oregon. Altogether, our 6,000-mile round-trip journey took 17 days to
Lars Gange usually graces the pages of this magazine with his photography rather than his written word. Besides images of Subaru Rally Team USA, he has photographed the subjects of a number of other articles as well.