Canada: Call of the Yukon - Part Two

Canada: Call of the Yukon - Part Two

It's the great, big, broad land 'way up yonder,
It's the forests where silence has lease;
It's the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It's the stillness that fills me with peace.

-  Robert Service

Around the midpoint of the Second World War, oil-rich Alaska was threatened by Japanese invasion. At least that was the horrific scenario military planners foresaw after 1942, when the Japanese occupied the Aleutian Islands. If the U.S. Army wanted to prevent a takeover of Alaskan territory, they had to act fast. But first, they had to be able to get to the prospective front and at the time, there wasn't any proper land access to this remote area.

Sunset view of the Mackenzie Range from the North Canol Road.

A road had to be built through northern British Columbia and the Yukon. With the concentrated effort of up to 10,000 people working seven days a week and a load of machinery, the completion of some 1,422 miles of the Alaska Highway took only seven months. Incredible. When the roadwork was at its peak, another unforeseen problem cropped up. A ready supply of oil was urgently needed for the machinery. Without further ado, another huge project was initiated: the construction of a 600-mile-long pipeline from the oil springs near Norman Wells, in the far north of Canada, to the more easily accessible city of Whitehorse on the Yukon River. This was more difficult than it sounds because nature thwarted progress with tricky geographic obstacles like mosquito-infested swamps, raging rivers and permafrost. Eventually, the oil flowed to Whitehorse. It didn't take long, however, before the pipeline was riddled with more holes than a Swiss cheese and the leaking calamity was shut down.

Yet the old haul road, an essential adjunct of the pipeline's construction, became our bliss. Nowadays, the graveled Canol Road is 300 miles of playground for adventure bikes. Still maintained by the Yukon government up to the border with the Northwest Territories, it doesn't lead to anywhere but absolute wilderness; and except for the reasons known to a handful of hunters and trappers, and riders like us, it doesn't make sense for anyone else to travel this bumpy road to nowhere. The journey here is its own reward.