We stick to an easy 50 mph, but after a few hours of driving something starts to niggle. This is not THAT hard, I think to myself. It's bright and clear, the Jeep's traction-control light hasn't glimmered once-hell, I've even picked up a radio station playing Florence and the Machine. What's all the fuss about? Big Gerry seems to read my mind. 'Man, I can't remember the last time it was this calm and clear. Almost easy, heh! Try and imagine driving a big truck in a whiteout snowstorm, with a howling northeasterly straight from the Arctic, a cell-phone signal black hole, and 95 miles between you and your camp. Now that's HARD."
As night closes in, Tuktoyaktuk-Inuvialuit for "it looks like a caribou"-appears on the rapidly fading horizon line. Half a dozen dim lights slowly reveal themselves as a jumbled assortment of single-story homes, trailers, and bunkers, all sitting on squat stilts. Some caribou.
We dine at John Steen's house. He and his wife, Joanne, run Inuvik's car and truck rental as well as a taxi service. Relaxed and affable, Steen has a smile permanently etched on his face. No surprise, really. His wife is acknowledged as one of the best cooks around, his eldest daughter is the local racing snowmobile champion, and he loves everything about living in Inuvik. "I feel so at home here, you know," he says. "It feels right for me here-my work, my family, everything is just the way I want it."
Meeting expectations, Joanne has prepared a table laden with local specialities and it gives me the chance to practice my few words of Inuvialuit I picked up from Big Gerry: QUYANAINNI is Inuvialuit for thank you, LI means yes, NAAGGAI means no, MAMOQ means good, and TOQ means much or very. We start with rich and dark arctic goose soup (MAMOQ) move onto succulent panfried fillets of trout (MAMOQ TOQ) and then onto MUQTUQ, the skin of beluga whale (rubbery, fishy, and not MAMOQ TOQ at all). Dessert is lemon meringue pie-no, not a local delicacy, but still pretty MAMOQ.