We sleep that night at what Big Gerry describes as the trucker's camp. Hmmm. My visions of cozying up to a bunch of smelly, bilious, hairy truckers in an icy bivouac are dispelled when we pull up outside a blocky two-story building. Originally built by Gulf Oil in the early 1970s, the hotel looks like an oversized trailer home, its stilts giving it a dash of North Sea oil rig. Like a school dormitory, it has a long list of rules by which all truckers must abide or run the risk of being fired: No alcohol, no drugs, no smoking, and an 11 p.m. curfew top the list. It's warm, characterless, and functional, with mouse-fur thin carpets, prefab walls, communal ablutions, and sandpaper towels belying its eye-watering $400 a night tariff.

The next morning, I meet Percy Chabun. He's been an ice-road trucker for 40 years. Craggy and softly spoken, the Canadian driver is now part of the team contracted to build and maintain the road during the winter. "My team and I go out in December and start checking the ice thickness and its integrity. We use V-ploughs to create the road. We grade it, we scour it, we rake it to make it as smooth as possible," he explains. "As a trucker, I've broken through the ice six times myself. Dangerous? Hell, yeah. Gotta respect the ice." And keep an eye on the pay-packet too. "Good, safe trucker can earn six, maybe seven grand a month, take-home. Big money," says Chabun. So did he give up trucking because he felt his time was up? Because of the fatalities? "We don't talk about fatalities, understand?" he says with a steely stare. "Changed because I got tired of driving the road. Now I make it. There's no downside to trucking, it's all good and these people are like family." We leave the truckers tucking into their huge breakfasts-they talk slow and eat fast-and head for town.

The sound of Tuktoyaktuk is the sound of idling engines. No one turns off his motor here. Once the heater stops, a car's cabin will be freezing within a few seconds and-since the diesel fuel is heated by the engine as well-everyone leaves his engines running. And no one worries about theft either. Steal a car, and you've got the North Pole one way and one road leading to Dawson City, some 600 miles the other way. All the vehicles here have some form of plug-in engine heater so the oils and fluid don't freeze. Cranking an engine filled with solid oil and glutinous fuel is a quick way to test the response time of the local garage. So after a night at around -31 degrees Fahrenheit, the plugged-in Jeep starts the first time. More than I can say for more myself. Damn jetlag...