From Tuktoyaktuk to Wakaw Lake

·7 min read

There are many ways to get to Wakaw Lake, but few complete it on bicycle and fewer still bike from Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, which lies north of the Arctic Circle on the Arctic Ocean but one visitor to the lake this year did just that. Peter Ferris, a 70 years-young retiree flew from Victoria, British Columbia on July 3rd of this year, to Inuvik via Whitehorse to join the TDA Global Cycling tour group cycling from Tuktoyaktuk to Banff. TDA Global Cycling is a Toronto based company known for its flagship Tour d'Afrique cycling tour that annually cycles the African continent from Cairo to Cape Town. Since its birth in 2003, TDA has expanded to offer tours in 60 countries across 6 continents. The distance covered each day Peter said, was anywhere from 60 – 120 km. Each rider could choose to ride the entire distance to be covered that day or to ride only to where the lunch truck would be waiting or ride from lunch truck location to the end of the daily route. The tour was accompanied by three vehicles to provide support to the riders. Anyone needing a lift, a mechanical assist or an extra snack for energy could flag one of them down.

The accommodation on the tour Peter said, was arranged by TDA and was a combination of hotels and camping. Five or six days of each week were spent camping in a tent carried by the individual cyclists and 1-2 days each week were spent in hotels. Most meals were included in the tour cost, with the exception of the meals that were consumed when staying at a hotel. After arriving in Inuvik, the cyclists, who came from all around the globe including South Africa, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Germany, Italy, Tasmania and the United States, were bussed to Tuktoyaktuk along with all their gear to begin the journey.

Peter has been a recreational cyclist for most of his life and said he had previously completed a bicycle tour organized by TDA from Beijing to Siberia with his daughter. This trip from Tuktoyaktuk he said was originally planned for 2020 but the pandemic cancelled that. In 2021, Peter planned to join a TDA tour set to ride across Canada, however that tour too ended up being cancelled. His deposit however was not lost as he transferred it to this tour. During the tour this summer the group did experience a COVID outbreak just shortly after they set out, but the protocol had been established before they departed and the affected individuals were transported to a destination further ahead to isolate for six days and were symptom free before rejoining the tour. Ferris said that the outbreak was more of an annoyance that anything else as they all had to make a conscious effort to remain six feet apart when they were in camp, but they were quickly over it and enjoyed the camaraderie of the trip.

From Tuktoyaktuk to roughly 40 km outside of Dawson City the journey was on gravel which accounted for some sore backs, tire punctures and slower daily ride times than of course pavement provided but traveling by bicycle allows one to experience the journey in a completely different way. The course of the trip made stops at the following communities or campgrounds: Tuktoyaktuk – Tsiigehtichic – Fort MacPherson – Tombstone Campground – Dawson City – Carmacks – Braeburn Lodge – Whitehorse – Squanga Lake – Teslin – Watson Lake – Coal River – Strawberry Flats – Fort Nelson – Fort St John – Swan Lake – Grande Cache – Gregg Lake – Jasper – Wilcox Creek – Mosquito Creek – Banff

After leaving the TDA Tour group Peter’s bike was laden down with the saddle bags containing his supplies. While with the group only the necessities for the days ride needed to be carried as the rest was transported by the tour vehicles, but for Peter the trip would not be over until he reached the shore of Wakaw Lake. He set off solo from Banff on August 21st heading first to Canmore for supplies of food. For this final leg of his journey, he spent the nights in hotels or motels along the route, being up and on the road by dawn. His travels took him through the communities of Banff – Cochrane – Airdrie – Drumheller – Hanna – Coronation – Provost – Unity – North Battleford – Blaine Lake – Rosthern – and finally Wakaw Lake. Although not enamoured by the accommodations available at Rosthern, he was happy to reach Wakaw and enjoy a latte at Town Shoppe and a meal at Wong’s before cycling the last two kilometres to their accommodations at Wakaw Lake.

When asked what some of the highlights of the trip were, he said that being on the tundra was incredible and the number of lakes surprised him. When he was in Inuvik, they had just experienced over a week of temperatures over 30 C and there was no snow anywhere. In fact, dipping his foot in the Arctic Ocean he found that it was warmer than the Pacific Ocean at Victoria. All across the North, he found the people and communities to be very welcoming and drivers were very conscientious of the cyclists on the roads. “Some of the fondest memories about the ride are mealtimes at camp or in restaurants. The camaraderie was amazing and there was always lots to discuss, either about the day’s upcoming ride or the ride just completed. I’ve never met a group of people who have met up for an event and everyone got on so well with every one else. Just an amazing group of people,” Peter shared on the blog he wrote documenting the trip.

The small Arctic community of Tsiigehtichic, at the confluence of the McKenzie and Arctic Red Rivers, also stands out to Peter. Not only was the community very scenic, but one of the community leaders came to talk with the group and shared with them how he had left school at the age of sixteen so that he could learn to live off the land from his grandfather and from that experience he has been able to help preserve that knowledge. Cycling through the Icefields Parkway he told this reporter, was another highlight of the trip and traveling by bicycle rather than car allows for frequent stops to enjoy the sheer beauty of the ever-changing vistas. Upon entering the prairies, he admitted to being somewhat surprised by the number of climbs he faced. In a motorized vehicle the gradual climbs are never felt, and the low hill ranges are quickly passed through, however while cycling the varying landscapes draw one’s attention in fact he said, “The prairies are absolutely stunningly beautiful.” Another item Peter noted on his journey were the trees. From the starting point in Tuktoyaktuk traveling south he noted that the further south he travelled the taller the trees got, from shrubs to the towering pines in the Rocky Mountains. However, upon leaving the mountains and traveling to the prairies the further he traveled from the rugged peaks, the shorter the trees once again became. His description of the aspen groves which grow along Highway 312 east of the South Saskatchewan River as “… a forest where the trees were tiny compared to a forest in British Columbia. The trunks were spindly and the tress were very short” might lead local residents to chuckle at the idea of it being a forest, but in truth Wakaw is situated in the Aspen Parkland biome and is described as being “in hilly partially forested country east of the South Saskatchewan River”. Sometimes it takes seeing through someone else’s eyes to see that which is around you.

Cycling allows a person to fully appreciate the beauty of the natural world. Whether it is riding through mountains, alongside sparkling rivers, or seeing wildlife ambling along the roadside, cycling almost encourages one to stop and take it all in. “Some rides were longer and some rides were shorter. Some rides were challenging and some rides were easier. Every ride was wonderful.”

Peter’s blog can be found at peterferrisblog.wordpress.com

Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wakaw Recorder