Walking for Jay: Iowa family uses Walk to Tuk to honour man's Arctic dream

The N.W.T.'s annual Walk to Tuk challenge is many things to many people — for some, it's a good excuse to get out and exercise in the cold winter months; for others, a chance to grow closer to and challenge their friends and colleagues.

For one family several thousand kilometres away from the Arctic hamlet that gave the challenge its name, though, it's something else entirely: a chance to memorialize a beloved family member, and honour one of his last dreams.

Jay Rosdail, who lived in Iowa, dreamed of travelling to Tuktoyaktuk. 

'He had this sense of doing something out of the ordinary' - Jan Rosdail, on her late brother Jay

"He had this sense of doing something out of the ordinary," said his sister, Jan Rosdail. "If he could strike out on his own and go to a remote location, that was one of the things that he really enjoyed."

However, Jay's chance to travel the territory never came. In 2017, he ws diagnosed with brain cancer, and ultimately died last summer, at the age of 70. 

And, unable to make the trip themselves, the Rosdails decided to honour him in the next best way: by completing the Walk to Tuk, an NWT Recreation and Parks Association challenge in which teams collectively aim to walk the 1,658 km distance from Fort Providence to Tuktoyaktuk.

'Live your dream'

Split across six states and 16 communities, the Rosdails are walking in two teams: the Old Tortoise Tukkers, made up of Jay's siblings and their spouses, and the Young Jack Rabbit Tukkers, which include his children, nieces and nephews, and their spouses and children.

"It's difficult when somebody has a dream and you know it's never going to come," said Jan. "Especially in his situation, there was no way that we could make it happen. So it was something that we were engaging with him in, when he was living, and now we're engaging with each other about it."

Submitted by Jan Rosdail

"He talked about doing that trip incessantly in the last weeks of his life, when he was in the nursing home. Anybody that would come into his room, he would invite to take this journey with him."

Jan says that she thinks about her brother when she walks. Unable to qualify for the ceremonial "I walked to Tuk" T-shirts given to finishers of the challenge in the Northwest Territories, she's made up custom T-shirts for the group. 

On the back? A simple, but powerful message: "live your dream," in honour of her brother. 

"He probably would have been a little bit frustrated that we aren't going to drive it, because that was his dream, was the road itself," she said. "But I think this is the perfect solution."

The family has been pushing each other during the challenge, with Jan keeping score, she said things have gotten "a little competitive."

However, more important to her is how the challenge connects her family to Jay, to each other, and, ultimately, to Tuktoyaktuk.

"We all have our own lives and different experiences, but we're connecting now for these two months on this shared experience. And it's been fun. 

"I hope that some of us get up [to Tuktoyaktuk] at some point in our lives."