No traffic jams, just wide open, peaceful highway to N.W.T.

A lonely road sign proclaims the border with Canada’s Northwest Territories is less than 200 kilometres away. It’s been two days since we left Vancouver, 1,500 kilometres southwest of us and, finally, evidence our destination is at hand.

The road to the border, Alberta’s Highway 35, is poker straight. The traffic on this lovely September afternoon is sporadic, mostly double-trailered Macks and Freightliners hauling supplies north. Roadside service centres no longer exist and by the time we reach the border and get “north of 60,” cellphone coverage is a southern memory.

My wife, Lisa, checks the map and announces there are services at three, possibly four places on the 525-kilometre drive along the MacKenzie and Yellowknife highways into Yellowknife, the capital of Canada’s sprawling Northwest Territories.

Our Audi A6 Avant is ideal for this kind of trip. The sleek all-wheel drive, six-speed automatic wagon affords a state-of-the-art comfort-capsule for the long haul to the diamond capital of Canada. Adaptive Cruise Control, heated steering wheel and an endless array of convenience and safety features offer sharp contrast to the immense wilderness slipping by the windshield.

I’ve been in the North before, a few times up the Alaska Highway and once to Inuvik and along the ice roads of the Mackenzie River Delta to Tuktoyaktuk. I find a sense of isolated security in the North and I’m keen to get back. Strip away being forever “online” and motor through wide open spaces on uncluttered roads.

After crossing the border we spend the night in Hay River, a full-service town on the south shore of Great Slave Lake. We check out a local beach where the lake looks like an ocean. It’s disappointing because we can’t see Yellowknife on the other side.

We take in a school soccer tournament in the soft evening sunshine then dine on ginger beef pizza at The Boardroom restaurant. The place fills with wound-up soccer players from all over the Northwest Territories. They were having a ball just like kids you would find anywhere. And so were we.

The next morning we drive an hour and a half to the ferry that crosses the Mackenzie River near Fort Providence. In the winter, after the freeze-up, an ice road is maintained to get traffic across the kilometre-wide expanse.

On the crossing, I survey the scene. The river is much bigger than expected, like the Mississippi. It’s the relief valve for Great Slave Lake and the drain for almost two million square kilometres of Great White North as 5.5 million tonnes of water a minute makes its way to the Arctic Ocean.

After the ferry, we settle in for the 320-kilometre drive along the Yellowknife Highway. The two-laner cuts through the countryside like a laser. The forest is trimmed far back from the ditches so the visibility is excellent.

We’re rolling through pristine wilderness, endless stretches of unspoiled forest. No telephone poles, billboards, for sale signs, junkyards or fast food joints. Nothing but the North plays out under an unbelievably brilliant, almost fluorescent, sky. Motoring bliss.

The tight, agile A6 Avant Quattro plays the perfect host. Its six-speed automatic puts the 3.2-litre V-6’s 255 horses right where they should be. The all-wheel drive makes you want to give this road a shot when the temperature drops to -40 C.

There’s little traffic save a couple of lumbering tanker trucks fuelling the North. We pass a flatbed with a Texas-registered air boat strapped to it, a half-dozen cars and that’s it. The few road signs we encounter announce places like Reindeer Creek and a Bison Management Area. We slow up for small groups of buffalo feeding on the side of the pink-hued road.

Close to Yellowknife, telephone poles appear, but they’re made of steel. We pull into the city surprised by how normal it looks. I stop at a traffic light, the first one we’d seen in days. My head is full of the images of our stunning afternoon out on the Yellowknife Highway. But now … the people, traffic, office buildings, the hustle of it all.

I don’t want the drive to be over. The A6 Avant and I are just getting warmed up. Then, I mouth a little grin. Because tomorrow we’ll turn around and start the drive back.

About Driving