The Ice Road Adventure
My Father likes to test the bounds of human capabilities. This usually leads to some pretty intense physical challange in far from ideal conditions. For example, before school began last year, my dad and I drove my car out to the Springs a few days early in the hopes of summiting Pikes Peak. Two days after arriving at altitude and one day after running the Warrior Dash, we decide it will be a great idea to start our Pikes ascent a little late to give us time to rest. Not too long into the hike, I start feeling the altitude, but not wanting to be the weak link I keep my mouth shut and keep trekking. Just as we reach tree line, the thunderheads we had been watching grew ominously gray and thunder sounded in the sky. My dad was thoroughly disappointed, but I was secretly rejoicing. I wasn’t sure how much farther I could have gone before it got dangerous. As the rain fell, we jogged the nine miles back to the car. On the way down I finally admitted how out of it I was near the top and I got seriously reprimanded for not being responsible enough to make my limits known. Easier said than done, when your hiking partner is over thirty years older but in far better shape with enough tenacity and fervor to fuel ten ascents.
So really I should not have been surprised when what was supposed to be a leisurely stroll on the ice road to watch the sun rise quickly turned into a challenge this morning. It started with simple questions like, “So how far is Dettah?”(the ice road connects a community across Yellowknife Bay with the greater city of Yellowknife during the winter. When the ice melts, it’s an 18 km drive around the bay). Then it turned into, “Well, do you think it would be dangerous to walk all the way across?” And this is where I made the mistake of responding, “I don’t think it would be dangerous, just uncomfortable.” And suddenly we were off.
When we started, the weather was warmish and a gentle breeze was at our backs. We walked facing the sunrise and watched it turn the clouds brilliant shades of auburn and crimson. We examined the ice that peaked through the hard packed snow and tried to estimate just how thick it was. But the farther we got from the shore, the more the wind picked up and the faster the temperature dropped. Conversation stopped and hoods went up as we fought the needling winds.
This was the point that I decided not to repeat my mistake on Pikes Peak. I called the trudging to a stop and pointed out how little progress we appeared to be making. We could still see Yellowknife clearly, but had not spotted Dettah on the horizon. Logic prevailed, and we turned around. It was probably one of the better choices I have made recently.
The walk back took twice the effort of the walk out. The wind was now blowing at an angle towards our faces, and no amount of tucking or angling could protect the exposed skin of my cheeks. Dad took the lead and I was able to draft, which cut the wind considerably. We turned around as the sun made its final ascent over the clouds and it was such a spectacular image over the windswept landscape that I had to take a picture. Tactical error. Even with my liners on, I lost all feeling in my fingers in the 30 seconds I had them out of my big gloves.
At this point, I am beginning to question my initial assumption that this walk would not be dangerous. With nothing else to do, we continue walking back. I replace my dad’s shadow as I tuck in behind his jacket to avoid as much of the wind as possible. As cold as my face, fingers and knees were getting, my torso had begun to sweat from the effort. But I dared not unzip anything because the sweat would freeze in seconds. And though it was just walking, my legs began to tire from a combination of cold and fatigue. But I dared not stop to rest because it doesn’t take long to get too cold to function properly. There was really no other option but to continue walking despite the increasingly uncomfortable situation.
We made it back none the worse for the wear, but looking hilariously windswept. The hair that has escaped my hat was frozen across my face and my cheeks were more red than a maraschino cherry. But my dad took the prize with a quarter inch icicle suspended from his eyelashes.
If my math is right, which it usually isn’t, it’s about five miles from Yellowknife to Dettah across the ice road. Adding the distance we had to walk from town just to get to the ice road, we are guessing we walked maybe five miles today. Just under half way across the ice road and we had to call it quits. I get my stubbornness from my father, and I hate having to back down from a challenge. However, I am not messing with these elements. Even though I hate admitting that I have any, its good to know your limits, and today we reached mine.