The route leads through rough mountain chains, vast plains, endless tundra with thawing permafrost, drunken forest of small spruce trees, wide and rapid rivers. The diversity and the abrupt changes of scenery are breathtaking. The nature seems not to have changed since the last ice age and being in the middle of this grandness makes you feel very humble.
We saw arctic foxes, ground squirrels, ptarmigans, falcons and a grizzly bear mother with two cubs. Also some mosquitos and black flies... but the latter were not as bad as we were warned of. We only used half of our insect repellent stock and we neither used our two head nets nor the AfterBite lotion.
As during our travelling before, it was the people who made this experience even more fulfilling. During our preparation for the journey in Dawson, we received great support from the Northwest Territories Visitor Centre. We were offered to have food delivered to Eagle Plains - midway of the Dempster Highway - which only made our adventure possible. On the campground in Dawson, a guided tour from Cycle Canada were our neighbors and we got to know Bill, Ed, Ted and Katie together with their supporting guides, who started their journey a day before us. It was fantastic to meet this pleasant group on the road again and to share several evenings and bike cleaning/repairing sessions together :-)! At the Tombstone campground we met Jason from Edmonton and we happened to travel about the same legs everyday and thus arrived together in Inuvik. At the Arctic Circle - just as we were taking our memorable snapshots - a VW Bus T5 with Swiss license plates turned in and Elvira and Ingo, together with their dog Perla, approached us. The same evening on the Rock River campground, they offered us a piece of delicious home-made camping bread and an apple-berry cake and the next evening at Nitanlaii campground, they invited us for pizza from the camping grill. We had definitely gained a new friendship! Their "Bye Bye Büssli" by now passed us every day and once in Inuvik we even celebrated August 1st together :-). Also, we received great support from other Dempster travellers along the road. There were Kelly and Peter from friendly Manitoba who offered us cold water, granola bars and original South Korean coffee on top of the Seven Mile Hill. The same supply we received again, when we crossed them at the ferry station of Peel River! And there was Günther and his family from Germany who were so kind as to transport our bear spray and camping fuel back in their RV from Inuvik to Dawson. The Arctic seems to connect people!
The Dempster Highway has a few passes to take, but we found it more demoralizing to see endless roller coaster stretches of up- and downhill passages in front of us. And in the plain close to Inuvik, there is a 30 km stretch right through the tundra that is all straight. As we had strong headwinds on this stretch it took us two hours (it felt like 5 hours!) to ride it. That's when you start emptying your heads and just keep spinning.
All together, we consider ourselves lucky with the weather we experienced on the Dempster Highway. In general, the weather could always change within minutes and one of our constant debates was whether to wear our rain gear or not. Often we ended up wearing it, just to protect ourselves from the dirt and also from mosquitos. We had rain on a daily basis, but in all essential moments i.e. while passing the Arctic Circle, the sun was out. The wind was mostly in our back and temperatures ranged in between 5 to 25 °C.
Bicycle cleaning and maintenance:
Our bikes aged by around five years in terms of usage during this journey. Every day we cleaned the essential parts such as chain, brakes and gear shifter; sometimes twice a day. If the mud got into our chains, a horribly scratching sound evicted. Midway through the Dempster, Philipp had to replace two spokes on his rear wheel (for which he first had to remove the entire cassette). We were carrying a lot of water on that specific day, and thus had overloaded his bike and it could not withstand the weight on the bumpy road. Thanks to our excellent advisor M*** back home, we had all the necessary spare parts with us and Philipp could luckily fix it, otherwise this would have been the end of our journey by bicycle (there are no bike repair shops in Inuvik or Dawson City). Additionally, Bill could supply us with a lower pulley, which started to wear out. Other than that, we have been very lucky and no major repairs were necessary.
We arrived at the end of the Dempster Highway in the morning of our 7th day. The sun was shining, the temperatures were up at 25 °C and it was August 1st – the Swiss National Day. It felt tremendous and we were glad having had decided to face this challenge. Together with other happy Dempster-Finishers we celebrated the successful journey and rested for two days in Inuvik. Life in Inuvik stroked us as fairly different. We were impressed by the variety of goods in their supermarket (food, ski-doos, chain saw and housing supplies under one roof), the pretty Igloo Church and the houses on stilts as well as water/sewer connections above ground, both measures not to harm the permafrost.
For our journey back to Dawson, we treated ourselves with a flight in a Hawker Siddeley 748 (built in 1971 and one of only 22 of its kind still in use) with exceptional service from Air North. Landing on a gravel strip was another adventurous experience :-). We will rest in Dawson City for a few days before heading for the Top of the World Highway into Alaska.
Hours on the bike
Meters cycled uphill
Day by day statistics
For those interested in our day by day activities and statistics, please download the following document.