While living above the Arctic Circle in the town of Inuvik for a couple of years in the 90s, I got into running. Yes, running above the Arctic Circle folks.
Hubby and I were living in a huge apartment above a Skidoo store (what else would it be?) and we were both working full time: he as a Director at the local college and myself as Manager of the medical clinic. We were out to work by 8:30 each morning, walked home for lunch, and then finished at 6 every evening. There was very little physical exertion in our days of mostly sitting at a desk.
So when new friends moved to town and they were into running in a big way – the way they talked about it, it got me intrigued to possibly start again. I hadn’t run for a couple years since leaving the Army.
My first time out, I ran for ten minutes only. I gradually increased my time. Before long, I was running 10Ks, except during the very darkest winter months. The month of December was basically twenty-four hour darkness. Hibernation or vacation time.
Our first Christmas up there, we flew down to Vancouver and rented a car. We went to visit my brothers Jobe and Mark in Sooke, took a peek at Royal Roads Military College (yep, the peacocks were still there, and still distinctly smelly and noisy), tried to have a plate of nachos at the Six Mile Pub (‘Sorry we don’t do them during supper anymore’ I nearly cried at this) and then drove all the way down to Los Angeles over the next two days. There, we stayed in a small hotel in Hollywood. So, from the quiet dirt roads of Inuvik to a dozen lanes of traffic on a jammed freeway. Extreme.
We walked around Rodeo Drive, saw the stars in the sidewalk, did some window shopping and from there drove through the desert to Palm Springs. Circling back through Ojai, we stayed a night with our runner friends. We had a fun supper with them and marveled at the citrus trees in the backyard, and then we were off north. First to San Francisco, then to a little town just north of there where we enjoyed walking on the beach in December. Next, off north again to Vancouver where we stayed in a nice room for New Year’s Eve. We walked around downtown a bit, then back to our room to watch an in-house movie while lying in a very comfortable bed, feeling like a million bucks. We then flew back to Inuvik where reality struck hard. Vacation over.
To exercise the dogs, we would get on our snowmobile and drive on the ice-road toward Tuktoyaktuk. Every year, to facilitate travel and transport of goods from Inuvik and points south, the 150 kms to Tuk, the Territory would build an ‘ice-road’ on the frozen MacKenzie River. In the most basic sense, it was the plowing of snow to build guard rails and delineate the pure ice roadway. The scary thing about the ice-road, which was completely dramatic and beautiful, was that if you ever got into a spin out there, it would be a toss up as to which way you had been driving. It looked exactly alike on both sides of the road – stunted, drunken trees so it was just a guess unless you were smart and traveled with a compass. Anyway, the dogs would run, full tilt, beside our skidoo for a few kms and back. They loved it. Happy lolling tongues the whole way.
Soon enough, there began to be a bit of daylight and then a full twelve hours by March, we would be out running almost daily. Granted, it was still cold, and it would take about ten minutes to get dressed for the run with layers and layers of athletic Lycra and polypropylene and wool toque and neoprene balaclava, wool mitts and socks, then trail runners. We would always figure one layer on our legs for each ten degrees below zero and then one extra layer up top.
Next, a drink of water and slathering of exposed skin with Vaseline, leash the dogs and hook them to the coupler and off we’d go. There were almost no music-playing devices back then, so, the only real sound would be the funny random noises of the huge ravens, sometimes clucking, gurgling, popping or cawing, depending on their mood or message to be conveyed, and there was our own breathing and foot falls, of course.
We would often do a loop around Inuvik that was about 10K. It would go along the back road and then a right turn and a gradual hill and we would be on this spectacular ring road. It was the final frontier, – so, running along it, one could imagine no one else existed at all. Look left and there were literally millions of acres of wilderness with those black, stunted trees growing every which way and half falling down. These were the final trees before the tree line, after which there would be a stark switch to tundra and pingos (dome-shaped mounds consisting of a layer of soil over a large core of ice). Snow or frost was on every surface, every spruce needle, every power line wire. It was spectacular and we had it to ourselves until a right turn onto Main Street and back to our apartment.
These days, I don’t run anymore due to sore knees, just a lot of walking. But, it was a great pass-time while living above the Arctic Circle and I will always fondly remember those days and that final frontier feel.