The short and narrow slope descended sharply down the bank of the Mackenzie River. Deep, compact snow rested heavily upon its many layers of suffocated ice. Upon all this a few pallid tracks—marked by the sparse vehicles that had ventured down before us—faintly showed the way. The lane then bent gently to the right, leading to the hardened icy surface of the Mackenzie.
It is there that it met one of the continent’s longest rivers and one of the Northwest Territories’ most important roadways. Born from the waters of Great Slave Lake the Mackenzie travelled for 1,738 kilometers to form a massive labyrinthine delta and disorderly disperse in the Beaufort Sea. The river had been cast under the spell of seasonal ice for almost 100 days by then. Congealment had given birth to an ice-road network that sinuously contorted its way through the meandering delta, reaching the otherwise isolated communities of Aklavik and Tuktoyaktuk. It was toward Aklavik that we were driving.
I was behind the wheel. The mid-morning fog lingered in the air, wrapped in a mantle of anemic clouds and frozen mist. The feeble sky folded itself onto the blanched path. White, white, and white—it all looked as if white was everything the world had to give, its shallow atonality the only chromatic expression of life. What happened next took a mere second. Drowned by the pervasive chalky substance my aimless eyes failed to inform my steering hands of the impending turn. The unchained tires of our Dodge Durango grunted as I took the starboard-side powdery bank of the river bank for the actual road. The hood lurched forward, as if punched violently. Then all that could be felt was the disturbed ground giving way underneath us with a sinister thump. Before I could take stock of what had befallen, for a brief moment, optimism overtook me so I thrust my foot on the gas only to sink more hopelessly. We were stuck deep. With the forbidding air hovering around -15°C [5°F] all I could do was to turn off the engine to save fuel, drop my head, and mumble “sorry.” What had to happen next, I was afraid, was beyond me.