Four Pontiac latitude records are in the books—two here, one here and the most recent, from 2016, here. The fifth latitude record will be the last. I’ve long dreamed of driving to the shore of the Arctic Ocean; as of last Wednesday, that dream can become reality.
The coastal village of Tuktoyaktuk was previously accessible to drivers only from late November through April via an ice road which begins in the town of Inuvik. You don’t have to be a mechanic to know that this LeMans was not built for driving in the Arctic winter, and there is no way I would ever attempt such travel with this car. Now, with the opening of the all-season gravel road from Inuvik to Tuk, many motorists, myself included, are looking forward to making that long drive to the top of North America. (Here’s an excellent CBC article about the new highway.)
Tuk sits just short of 70° north latitude—over 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Yes, I could take the Dalton Highway to Deadhorse, Alaska to crack the 70° mark and get about 52 miles farther north, but I’m not interested in making that drive. Why? Because the Dalton ends at Deadhorse, about seven miles short of the Arctic coast. This is where the Prudhoe Bay oil field begins, and private vehicles are not permitted in that area. The only way to see the shore at Prudhoe Bay is to go on a tour bus. Carl doesn’t do tour buses.
Driving to Tuk is not a journey to be taken lightly; it will require a lot of planning and preparation. The round-trip distance from my home will exceed 8000 miles, and more than 1100 of those miles will be logged on gravel roads, beginning at the Dempster Highway near Dawson City in the Yukon Territory. The Pontiac will need a lot of maintenance before the trip in order to get through successfully. Still, I expect at least one flat tire on the Dempster, and likely some more windshield damage. I rarely use the back seat on my excursions, so I plan to remove it for this adventure and use that space for the recommended gear—two full-size spare tires, ten gallons of gasoline and other additions beyond my usual assortment of tools, fluids and spare parts. And you can bet I’ll be buying a satellite phone before I head out.
Aside from the latitude record and a view of the North Coast, I’m looking forward to my first visit north of the tree line and seeing actual tundra. I’m expecting an overdose of visual splendor on this journey; can’t yet imagine how many rolls of film I’ll burn through. As for the departure date, I’ve been following the weather up there and early September looks promising. 2018, 2019, 2020? One of those, hopefully. A little early to make that call, but I will let you know once I know.