Don McIntyre’s northern adventure is coming to an end.
Having accomplished what he set out to do — drive nearly 4,000 km to Tuktoyaktuk alone in the dead of winter — the 82-year-old Langley man is returning with a clear sense of accomplishment, hundreds of photos and some great memories.
On Sunday morning, Feb. 1, McIntyre climbed into his white Honda Crosstour and set out on his own for the farthest reaches of northern Canada — a drive he would make as a tribute to his late wife, who passed away from cancer in July 2013.
His journey, titled On the Road Again For Dorothy, began as a fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society, but for McIntyre it also became an opportunity to remember his wife, to say goodbye and to remind himself that he still has plenty of life to live.
“I was kind of making up my mind as I drove,” he said over the phone, from his granddaughter Arica’s home in Whitehorse last Wednesday morning.
“I did what I could when (Dorothy) was alive and I’ve done what I can now that she’s gone.
“I’ve got to turn the page. I’m not turning my back on her, but I’ve done all I can.”
During their 55-year marriage the Langley couple often spent weeks at a time on the open road, driving from coast to coast across Canada and around the U.S., usually in their RV, camping along the way.
After Dorothy died, McIntyre made a solo drive from Arizona, winding along the Gulf Coast, to Key West, Fla. It was tough, he said, navigating some of the large U.S. cities, without Dorothy in the passenger seat to guide him.
But when it comes to sheer degree of difficulty, McIntyre said, the drive to Tuktoyaktuk is the most challenging he’s faced in North America.
“There was ice, there was black ice, there was icy compact snow, there was rutted, icy compact snow with black ice in between, and there was snow so (heavy) you could not see, and the big trucks were dropping big chunks of ice that you did not want to hit,” he wrote in an email to friends and family.
“There’s no forgiveness up there,” he added. “You can’t do something stupid or you’ll pay the price.”
The ice highway between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk was a revelation in itself — as wide as two football fields in places, said McIntyre. It is smooth as glass, he explained, until it nears the ocean where it develops “huge, ugly” ridges that limit drivers to speeds of 10 km/h.
And then there were the extreme cold temperatures, which at times dipped as low as -46 C
(-51 F) without windchill.
As he travelled north, McIntyre would pull over occasionally to take photos of the spectacular — and incredibly remote — scenery.
“You can’t be an atheist up there,” he said.
“I think I was just overwhelmed with the beauty,” he said. “Blue sky and acres of white snow. It’s so big, so vast.”
Seven days after he pulled out of Fort Langley, McIntyre found himself bundled in his parka and mittens, standing at the edge of the frozen Arctic Ocean, clutching a bouquet of silk roses he’d brought to lay in Dorothy’s memory.
As he stood there, he caught the eye of a local man who had been trying, unsuccessfully, to start his snowmobile. Eventually, the man wandered over, introduced himself as Roger Ettaqaik, and the two struck up a conversation.
“He said he’d been a photographer in another life,” recalled McIntyre.
And so it was, through the chance meeting with Ettaqaik, that the Langley man finally ended up with a couple of pictures of himself standing at the top of the world — photographic proof of his accomplishment.
McIntyre laid the roses, along with a poem he’d written for Dorothy, at the gate of the town’s cemetery before heading back down the ice highway toward Inuvik and the first leg of his journey home.
He was ahead of schedule, having arrived in ‘Tuk’ a day earlier than expected. During his drive north from Dawson City, McIntyre had planned to break his journey at Eagle Plains and booked a room there for the night. When he arrived, the clerk told him that a storm was expected to blow through the following day. She advised him to get ahead of it, so McIntyre carried on to Inuvik.
A few days later, as he passed through Eagle Plains on his way south, McIntyre decided once again to carry on driving, rather than stay overnight as planned.
As he gassed up his vehicle, the same woman with whom he’d spoken a few days earlier came running out to the pumps with an envelope in her hand.
After he’d left, she explained, she’d told his story to some of the locals and truckers on their way through town. Passing the hat around, they raised $250 for his cause.
So far, McIntyre’s On the Road Again For Dorothy campaign has raised $4,365 for the Canadian Cancer Society.
He hopes it has also raised a bit of awareness.
It’s important, McIntyre said, that people realize that just because someone has reached a certain age, it doesn’t mean their journey is over.
“People look at seniors and they don’t pay attention. They think our lives our finished, but we’re not finished — not if you have reasonable health and the will to keep going.”
Asked where he’d like to go next, McIntyre chuckled.
“There’s really nowhere left to drive,” he said.
Leaving Whitehorse, the Langley senior planned to make one more stop on his way home — in Prince Rupert, where his son, Cameron, lives.
From there, he said, he planned to book passage on the ferry to Port Hardy and, with nothing left to prove to himself or anyone else, let someone else do the driving for a while.
“I feel a lot better for having made the trip,” McIntyre said.
“I’m pretty proud of myself, to tell you the truth.”
A link to McIntyre’s fundraising page and more photos from his trip can be found here.