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Wanderlust on the Tuktoyaktuk Winter Road

23 March 2017

Jeep Ice Road TG blog_2 - 23 Mar 2017.jpg

The definition of 'wanderlust' is "a strong desire to travel", according to the internet. In the rush hour, I'd propose adding 'all-consuming' to that definition. Anything to not be crawling in stop-start motorway traffic, right?

From time-to-time, working in the global automotive industry does allow us to indulge our desires to travel. A transcontinental dash to Frankfurt or Geneva, week-long vehicle launches on the Iberian Peninsula... Even the occasional 'once-in-a-lifetime' drive, all in the name of work.

I have never been anywhere so otherworldly – so totally at odds with my daily surroundings – than the Tuktoyaktuk Winter Road. You'll know of this road – it was one of the routes from 'Ice Road Truckers' on TV. It charts a 190-kilometre course along the Mackenzie River delta and northern coast of Canada's Northwest Territories, a road of ice from Inuvik to the Inuvialuit village of Tuktoyaktuk.

Hundreds of miles inside the Arctic Circle, the ice is six to eight feet thick, with a weight limit of 35 tonnes. This ‘road’ was the destination for an exclusive drive by BBC Top Gear Magazine of the new Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk, all arranged by PFPR. At 2.2-tonnes in weight, the Jeep slipped well under the weight limit, but it doesn't stop us gazing down in wonderment at the blue-black water beneath our feet whenever we step out of the car. Like shattered glass, the ice is riddled with beautiful white fractures, cracks that look like frozen flashes of lightning.

It's bitingly cold, so we don't stay out for long. One day, the temperature gauge plummets to 38°C below zero. The wind chill was minus 55°C.

From the heated cabin of the Jeep, I sympathise with the team's photographer and videographer – they’re both outside, reluctantly turning into the kind of exhibits one might expect to find in a museum dedicated to the forgotten contents at the bottom of a deep-freeze chiller cabinet.

The winter of 2016-17 is the last year in which the frozen Mackenzie River will be officially classified by theCanadian government as a legal road. It's being replaced by an all-seasons road, and the river won't be cleared of snow, nor will its ice be profiled for driving on.

As if we needed a reason to drive this route in a Jeep, it's the story of what's happening to the road that has the potential to make for such a compelling magazine feature. Wanderlust in print.

We spoke to locals living and working in this remote hinterland, who talk about the end of an era, or the beginning of a new one – depending on their perspective. For me, the completion of the all-weather road signals the death of a tiny slice of adventure in this far-flung part of the world. The gradual paving-over of a wilderness. Having the opportunity to visit a place like this makes it seem like civilisation isn't 'all that'. I'm glad to have had that opportunity.

Wanderlust, though, can be all-consuming. People dream about travelling, looking up their next destination, story or experience online. They look to their favourite magazines to inform and enrich their ‘fix’ of wanderlust. It's a joy dreaming of travel and adventure on the commute, but actually making an adventure happen – and helping media make those features – can make for an unforgettable few days' work. The best kind of magazine road trips are the ones you want to do yourself, after all.

- Tom Richards, Senior Account Manager