The moment the plane door opens hot, humid air rushes into the old DC-3 plane. I am reminded of my arrival in Belize on a trip a few years previous. One of the big differences in this case is that I am on Air North, not Continental Airlines. It seems a little odd; here I am a few hundred kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, I saw the Arctic Ocean on the approach to the runway. I have just landed in Inuvik in Canada’s Northwest Territories. The temperature is over thirty degrees Celsius (close to the 90s Fahrenheit) and the humidity is over ninety percent. My heart rate is…. well, it’s elevated. I walk across the shimmering tarmac and enter the small tin-looking terminal. My excitement is high, my heart rate is high, my mouth a little pasty – to sum it up I’m thinking: “what the fack am I doing here!?”
I have arrived in Inuvik to begin cycling south. My destination is Los Angeles, California – approximately 10,000 km south, at least along my planned route through Alaska. My plan is to be there in six months, a little after Christmas. There are some doubts though… to put it mildly. I have never really ridden a bike more than 100 km in one day, let alone over multiple days. I’ve never really ridden with more than a water bottle and a quarter for emergency phone calls.
My bike? I just purchased it three weeks before landing in Inuvik – and that’s purchased… with borrowed money. My bank account is also a little on the smaller side; like the three figure size. My initial grandiose vision before setting out is that I would have several thousand dollars, and that donations would start flowing once I was actually underway. (Some generous donations and sponsorship have left me with under a thousand dollars.)
I walk into the small airport.
There is a feeling of industry and oil. Helicopters, small planes, and equipment buzz around moving equipment and supplies. It feels like a hub of logistics, capitalism, and money. For a place that I assumed would be predominately First Nation and Inuit faces – things are a little different than expected. My bike box and bike trailer box are heaved onto the floor of the terminal; a few curious looks, others are oblivious or have seen it all before.
Two middle age fellows wander over and start a conversation. They are on their way home to Edmonton for some time off from ‘the rigs’. They drive tugboats and move equipment around the Mackenzie River delta. They chuckle about my plans to ride my bike to Los Angeles, yet respectfully listen and ask some good questions. One of which, I will hear for years to come: “you’re riding a bike 10,000 km because of a fish?”
An elderly First Nations man getting off a different flight walks past me, stops, turns around, asks what I’m doing. I tell him. He whispers a prayer in a different language, smiles a half toothless grin, and says: “pray it don’t rain out there”, pointing to the southwest where I am about to spend the next eight to ten days. .
After about two hours I get my gear sorted and loaded. I test the load and balance by riding my bike around the paved parking lot. The oil-fellows take some pictures with my camera. I’m embarrassed. I got a little carried away at 2 a.m. the night before I left home and threw a few extra things in the bike box: books, clothes, etc. I’m also regretting my decision to skip the front pannier bags over the front wheel of the bike. The trailer and rear panniers are so heavy that my front wheel is not touching the ground unless I stand up in the seat and keep my weight on the handlebars. I’m quite positive that riding 800 k.m. of gravel road doing a ‘poppa-wheelie’ – is really in my best interest.
The Inuvik airport is about 10 km from town. I planned to ride in to town for the night, gather a few last supplies then set out to ride the Dempster Highway – with plans to finish the full 10,000 km to Los Angeles within the next six months.
I retrieve my camera from the oil riggers and ask: “Do you guys know where the post office is, and what time it closes?”