Everything in Tuk is built on 50-foot wooden stilts to keep the buildings off the permafrost. If the warm buildings melt this solid layer, the ground turns swampy and rumpled. Not good. Which means the Tuk gravedigger uses a small back-hoe, rather than a shovel.
Despite its diminutive size, there are four churches in Tuk, although with the five-foot high snowdrifts around them, it looks like no one's been praying for a month of Sundays. On the outskirts on the hamlet sits a Distant Early Warning outpost. A throwback from the Cold War, these manned American and Canadian DEW stations formed a radar line within the Arctic Circle to monitor Russian bombers before intercontinental ballistic missiles came into force. They're remotely operated now and, interestingly, the DEW station in Inuvik is now a rather oddball set of offices.
Before we leave, I spot another Rubicon, one that really validates the Jeep's ice-tackling capabilities. This version is fitted with a portable sonar radar and is driven up and down the ice road between Inuvik and Tuk throughout the winter to check the depth and integrity of the ice.
Although the sky is still clear and blue, there's the slightest of winds and it cuts right through my clothing and drops the temperature to around -22 degrees F. I cannot feel my feet, nose, ears, or lips. The snow is more like talcum powder than ice crystals, and the cold is bone dry. Much like Tuk. There are no restaurants, no diners, no bars, nothing. There's no alcohol on sale, so if you want a beer you have to head south to Inuvik, and the Mad Trapper Bar and Pool Room-the only establishment vaguely resembling a public house in these parts.
So, it's crushingly cold in the winter, there are four churches and no bars. Summer must be worth the wait. Nope. During the summer, the mosquitoes make life intolerable. "They'll cover you until your back, chest, and legs are a black mass. And they'll bite clean through any layer of clothing you have-even those bug jackets. Man, I hate those bugs," says Gerry with feeling. You have to really love Tuk to live here.