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Chicagoan Plans 7,400-Mile Epic Road Trip to Top of the World

By Justin Breen | February 12, 2016 6:09am | Updated on February 16, 2016 10:51am
 Chicago's Peter Kujawinski visited Tuktoyaktuk in Canada's Northwest Territories for a New York Times story.
Chicago's Peter Kujawinski visited Tuktoyaktuk in Canada's Northwest Territories for a New York Times story.
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Peter Kujawinski

CHICAGO — Although it's still two years away, Peter Kujawinski is already planning for his ultimate road trip: a 7,400-mile round-trip journey from Chicago to the Arctic Ocean.

In 2018, he plans to drive in a camper with his family from his home in Lincoln Square to Tuktoyaktuk, in Canada's Northwest Territories. Currently you can't drive to Tuktoyaktuk — located on the Arctic Ocean — because there are no actual land roads connecting it to the rest of the world, although locals take ice roads there when lakes and rivers are frozen over.

But Kujawinski will have the opportunity soon because of the now-under-construction, 85-mile road between Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik, which is currently the last stop north in the Northwest Territories roadway system. When it's likely completed in late 2017, the road to Tuktoyaktuk will become the only public highway in Canada leading to the Arctic Ocean.

"To be able to go all the way from Chicago to the Arctic Ocean, it would be the ultimate," said Kujawinski, 41, who will be joined by his wife, Nancy, and kids — 5-year-old twins Blaze and Alina and Sylvie, 2.

He has already mapped out what he believes will be a week-long drive through Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon Territory and finally the Northwest Territories.

Kujawinski has already been documented the progress of the road to Tuktoyaktuk in an article he wrote for the New York Times that published Thursday. Kujawinski spent five days in Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik in December — mostly in 24-hour darkness other than the spectacular Northern Lights — speaking to residents and highway officials.

"The road brings potential that the people there can survive and prosper more," said Kujawinski, who grew up in Belmont Cragin and Norwood Park, and graduated from Saint Ignatius College Prep. "Being there is crucial to their own sense of identity."

Consider this: Lincoln Square — which is 2.57 square miles with a population of 39,500 — has almost as many residents as does the entire 440,500-square-mile Northwest Territories: 43,595.

"It's so absolutely desolate, but this is their home," Kujawinski said.

Kujawinski is no stranger to the uppermost portions of the world. He spent 18 years as a U.S. diplomat, including three as the American counsel general based in Calgary, Alberta. For that job, part of his jurisdiction included the Northwest Territories, which he routinely visited.

He recently moved back to Chicago after securing a two-book deal — both in the young adult fiction genre — from Penguin Random House. His first book, "Nightfall," debuted in September, while his second, "Edgeland," likely will publish next year, Kujawinski said. He plans to spend his time writing novels and serve as a freelance journalist. Kujawinski previously has had a few essays published in the New York Times, he said.

Kujawinski said Tuktoyaktuk residents knew of Chicago — one or two may have even had a stopover at O'Hare Airport — but it's likely he's one of the few city residents to visit the remote village.

"They are so tied to that land, it would be inconceivable for them to go," he said.

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