The North: a father and son Dempster tale
Got back from a trip up the Dempster on Saturday, and thought that now is as good a time as any to get rolling on the report. This was to be a trip done by my Dad and myself, him on a DRZ and me on the ol' KLR. I had started planning this trip after last year's return home from Ontario (see sig) as a solo trip on my own. Late last year, my Dad had upgraded from a plated CRF230F to the DRZ400S, and I mentioned the possibility of his joining me on this voyage. See, he'd lived in the Yukon about 30-35 years ago, long before I was born, and hadn't been back since. This would be a trip, not only to experience the Dempster, which neither of us had ever done, but also to reconnect with my Dad's past, as much as one can after 30-some years. He took some time in deciding, knowing that my two weeks' vacation would make for some long days in the saddle, and finally came to the conclusion that, with some work, he and the DRZ would be up for the challenge.
I'll probably get into what mods worked and what didn't at the end of the report, but here are some preliminary modifications done to each bike. First, the KLR:
I've done a fair amount of stuff to this bike, some for practical purposes and other items to make it more my own. Notable mods include a doohickey with torsion spring, 16/43 final drive, skid plate, touring handguards, tool tube, tail bag, Wolfman Enduro tank bag, Caribou 35L luggage, Progressive fork springs, Britannia XS Twin fairing, TKC front/Mefo rear tires, Odyssey 545 battery, Garmin 76csx hardwired, heated grips, and a few other gidgets and gadgets thrown in for good measure.
It's been my main mode of transportation for the past year and a half, and has performed admirably in that time. Prior to the trip, I had racked up about 43K Km on the beast.
Now, the DRZ:
My Dad's had this bike since October, and, with the help of a buddy who also owns a DRZ, has made it a true dualsport bike, being able to do most anything competently. Mods include rad guards, handguards, case savers, rear luggage rack, rear saddle bags, tank panniers, dry bags up top, Wolfman Enduro tank bag, aluminum tool tube, manual cam-chain tensioner, Clarke 15(.5)L tank, jet kit w/ 3x3 mod, Sweetcheeks seatpad coupled with an Alaska Leather dualsport buttpad, and a bar-mount windshield originally received by me from a very generous ADV member (Zzr_Ron). My Dad's fabricated brackets to make it both adjustable in pitch, and to add a bit more stability to the bottom of it.
I've been very impressed with how well this bike is set up for long-distance touring, and some of our days would become pretty high-mileage ones with no complaint from Pa.
Oh, one more mod on the DRZ: a custom fender ornament, courtesy of a Salt Spring Island deer. I refer to the bike as the Deerslayer DRZ (Adventure model), and the trip mascot would be a conversation starter for many.
With modifications, preparations, and lost sleep as yesterday's news, it was time to roll.
Starting mileage on the KLR:
Day 1 to follow.
Day 1: Agassiz, BC, to Whiskers Point Provincial Park, BC
This was to be the longest riding day of our trip as per my itinerary (we all know how that goes), so we decided on an early start, fired up the bikes at the crack of dawn, and rolled out of the driveway, bid farewell by Mom and dog. As we were prepping the bikes in the morning, and for the first few hours, I had Montgomery Gentry's "Gone like a freight train" stuck in my head.
How fitting that, not 2Km into our voyage, we ran alongside the aforementioned freight train.
The morning started out cold through the Fraser Canyon, which meant bulky gloves, grip heaters on high, and no wiggle room for on-the-fly photography. Our first pee break landed us in Skihist park, just north of Lytton, along the Thompson River. I like to stop here for the green grass in the midst of desert-like conditions. An oasis, if you will.
The mounts were ready, not knowing the expanse of landscape that lay ahead of them.
We carried onward and northward, dropping alongside the Thompson for an exhilirating twisty section that was gobbled up readily. By all accounts, I was warned the next few days would yield very little in the paved curve category, so I siezed any opportunity to wear the sides of the tread and save the center for the Alaska Highway.
The road led us to Clinton, which came into view right around coffee time. We stopped at "the place" in Clinton. You know the one, where the locals go, and the actual business in a small town gets conducted. We tried to find "the place" at every coffee/lunch stop we took, and were quite lucky in finding it most of the time.
The hot topic was the unseasonably cool weather, with sidebar conversations including how much has changed over the past 10 years, and the new fence by the park. It was good to be there.
The one motorcycle-related concern we had at the outset from the trip was my Dad's range. We knew that it was going to dictate our fuel stops, so we sought out to find maximum range, first hitting reserve, then running the bike dry completely before topping up.
Dad had to be dramatic in where he hit reserve, not doing it in the laid-back, long stretches of highway, but instead in construction zones, where the traffic was congested and turn-offs were minimal.
Topping up before 100 Mile House
After 100 Mile, the road got more northern in feel. By northern, I mean long, straight, and dull. It's not the optimal road for travel, but at least it allows a person to put in some miles quickly and easily.
Lunch came late in McLeese Lake, and "the place" did not really feel like it until we received our food. There had been no work trucks parked outside, very little local activity in general, but we rolled the dice and came up victorious.
A pee break by a lake,
more construction, or at least the Saturday storage of construction equipment,
and more northern roads, broken up by photographical exploration,
was the extent of our afternoon activities.
We pressed on, the weather trying its hardest not to cooperate.
But, after a good solid day of riding, we made it to our originally planned destination: Whiskers Point Provincial Park.
We talked with the PFOs, inquired on bear activity (nonexistant was the reply), and bought ourselves some firewood to keep the buggies at a distance.
Final mileage, June 27th:
(Just for the record, this day's max speed was a little screwy for some reason. I don't think I ever got up that fast.. Honest, officer.)
Not a bad day. Dad said he'd still had more on reserve if we'd wanted to press on further, but we both thought it was probably best to pace ourselves, lest the trip be over too soon.
The night brought the faintest pattering of rain on the tents, but not enough to dampen our excitement for the days ahead.
Day 2: Whiskers Point Provincial Park to Fort Nelson, BC (via Hudson's Hope/Hwy 29)
http://maps.google.ca/maps?f=d&source=s_d&saddr=whiskers+point+provincia l+park&daddr=56.128715,-121.681824+to:fort+nelson+bc&hl=en&geocode=FQvIRQM dQhqs-CGwIuCzn_26Ow%3B%3B&mra=dpe&mrcr=0&mrsp=1&sz=9&via =1&sll=56.010666,-121.736755&sspn=0.778462,2.463684&ie=UTF8&z=9
We woke up to damp tents, cool temperatures, and a bug or two. After breakfast, we packed up, and set forth to tackle another long-ish day.
Something about the boots waiting patiently by the bikes really made me smile about this scene.
The skies remained docile through the morning, and as we crossed this railroad (with a gas station just south of it, the last one for a fair number of miles), I rolled to a stop, checked with the Deerslayer operator to make sure he was game to wait to fill up at the next gas stop, and snapped a few shots of what I was feeling at the time.
It was what I refer to as a "Gordon Lightfoot Moment," with a railroad cut through wilderness, open skies,
and wild flowers adding just a dab of color on the otherwise drab surroundings.
Further on, we encountered a mountain pass which barked at us with weather yet bit with but wet roads.
As Weird Al would say, life was going swell and everything was just peachy.
We neared Chetwynd just as the little tank on the DRZ gave up its last morsel of fuel.
And contemplated the best place of worship in town; it was Sunday after all.
Amen, and yeehaw.
We didn't quite have the time (lousy schedules) to actually check out the church, but settled instead for fuel (where we met a well-equipped KLR and his rider who'd just returned from the Arctic Circle), and our own fuel in the sense of coffee and breakfast at the Chinese restaurant down the road that also served breakfast.
Definitely a different sense of life being lived in a place like Chetwynd versus Clinton. More of a rough, wild-west form of existence found up here in Peace River country, whereas Clinton has almost turned into a retirement community. The topics of conversation here ranged from drunk driving laws, to badmouthing the waitress's gumption, to a dire warning about tires in regards to the Dempster. One feller at the table next to us had driven truck up there and said we'd be wise to carry spare tires with us. We'd consider it, of course, with a grain of salt due to his strong opinions on all other topics mentioned.
Anyway, after a late second breakfast (we'll call it brunch: that's original, right?), it was back on the road. North sounded a little more scenic than west to Dawson Creek, so up the 29 we carried towards Hudson's Hope and over to Fort St. John.
We'd wanted to escape the straight, boring roads, but the GPS told a different story.
Couldn't beat the weather though
With the coffee working its way through the system, this bridge and dam looked like just the ticket for a quick break.
Onward and forward, into the heart of Peace River country
The Deerslayer DRZ felt right at home, although the KLR thought it may have been better suited with its own set of horns proudly mounted. Ah well, it'll have to wait until a suitable hood ornament arises.
And of course, the riders needed to be color coordinated. A biker somewhere once told me that black shows less fear, or something like that.. Being a little more fearful than the old man, I did the black helmet too.
Well, enough photos. We had to lay the rubber to the road. There was plenty more tarmac in front of us for the day, and after some fantastic twisties on the hind end of the 29, we reached the Alaska Highway with a grin which soon turned to grimace.
Many had mentioned how straight and dull the Alaska Highway was, but I guess a person has to experience it to actually understand. I mean, sure, it was nothing like last year, across the Prairies, but the wind from the flats was still there in force, and the road ran straight and with little hesitation.
Ah well, there ain't no getting to the good stuff without a bit of work.
But seriously, some sort of corner would be nice.
We found our excitement in different ways. As we neared Fort Nelson, we happened across a slightly distraught looking couple standing aside their Goldwing/trailer contraption. We carried past, but pulled over and discussed going back to see what the problem was. Reason won out, we turned around, and saw what we could do to help.
Evidently, the long-distance touring machine had run itself out of fuel. Well, that was no fun for them. Luckily, however, the hero, my Pa, was to the rescue. 4 liters of fuel were produced from nooks and crannies all over the DRZ, and administered to the ailing Wing. With their prescription filled, and Dad's wallet slightly heavier (due to their gratefulness, not his demands), we carried on our way to the end of our day.
It had rained for the last hour or so as we came into Fort Nelson, and after asking for a good, cheap, place to stay, the thought of a warm bed was much more appealing than setting up camp in the wet. We found a room after some slight confusion involving a half-clothed Harley rider, room key hijinks, and a very apologetic motel manager.
Figuring a stay in town was worthy of more pampering, we hopped into town and picked up a salad (oh, luxury that is lettuce) and a bottle of wine.
There's something just a little wrong about the smell of white gas in a motel room.
Ah well, if everything did everything "right," how exciting would the world really be?
After a delicious dinner, it was time to get outside, lube the chains, and make sure the bikes were ready for a good solid day of riding as pennance for such a cushy night's rest.
This led to our first encounter with a crazy Australian, going under the alias of Errol Goodenough. He was on a 1200GSA, had come up from California, and was on his way to northern Quebec (I know, I already said he was crazy), with a quick side-trip to Inuvik as well. We had a great time chatting as he scoffed at our chain-drive ways and let us admire his fine piece of German engineering. The forecast was for rain, and he was going to take it easy in the morning, source some TKCs in Whitehorse, and carry on. We wished each other goodnight, and slunk back into our room for some slumber.
Final mileage, June 28th:
Not as big a day as yesterday, but a bit of a challenge staying awake once the Alaska Highway came into the picture.
In any case, it was time to catch some Z's. There had been talk about cutting a night out at Watson Lake and going straight to Whitehorse instead. We'd see what'd come of that in the morning.
Certainly a memorable father and son adventure. We love seeing those on here. :thumb
Day 3: Fort Nelson, BC to Whitehorse, YT
As we prepared for the morning, filling the room once more with camp fuel fumes and watching the Weather Network (a favorite station of any motel-going motorcyclist), we peeked our heads out the front door every so often. The rain, which had lasted all night, continued into the morning. The forecast was not promising, so we had a decision to make. We could either stay with plan, take a dip at Liard Hotsprings and camp out in Watson Lake, or we could skip a day ahead, go straight to Whitehorse, where we'd reward ourselves with another motel room (I know, hardcore, right?).
We continued our deliberation as we prepped the bikes,
and noticed that we weren't the only moto-goers who'd taken refuge overnight.
In the first pic, you'll notice a 1200GSA hidden behind a Harley (a very nice, polite individual, I might add). This was Errol's bike. We met once more in the morning. He mentioned that he'd try to wait out the rain and head to Whitehorse when it subsided. We wished him the best and set out for the road ahead.
Later we'd learn that the rain in Fort Nelson didn't stop for 4 or 5 days. We hoped Errol hadn't waited that long.
After an hour or so of cold, wet riding, we started up a pass, where the rain let off and we were rewarded with our first glimpse of the wide open North.
... and sneak some KLR content in..
This midsection of the Alaska Highway between Fort Nelson and Watson Lake turned out to be some of the most enjoyable riding on the trip, and I'd love to see what it's like in good weather. The views were sometimes cut off by the overcast skies, and once again, rain gloves (and raindrops) meant very little on-the-fly photography.
Ah well, the cold rain meant more times to stop and take a leak.
It was about this time my Dad realized something was wrong with his windshield.
I guess that's what happens when you put some heavy bends into aluminum. Not far from Muncho Lake, we decided to patch it up when we'd arrive there, hit the road for another 80km or so, and took in the sights of Muncho Lake. The rain meant the camera stayed in the tankbag.
After passing through Muncho Lake, thinking there would be one more service center open past the Chalet (if you've been through Muncho Lake, you know the place), we turned around and returned to the gas stop we'd passed at the Chalet. We pulled up to the pump and were in for a rude awakening: their fuel price was $1.59/L, the highest we'd seen on the trip thus far, and the second highest fuel price we'd see on the entire trip, right after Tuktoyaktuk (but that's another story).
The Chalet was offering a 30 cent discount to anybody staying with them overnight, but for the poor saps who were just passing through, there was no discount. This, coupled with their outrageous demand for a minimum of $8/guest for their dining room put Muncho Lake's Chalet at the bottom of the list for biker-friendly convenience. I mean, sure, the cost of operation is high in a remote place like this, but there's a point between meeting operation costs and simply gouging travellers. If you're thinking of a trip up the Alaska Highway and need fuel, try the service center about 5-8km south of the Chalet (heading Northbound, it's the first one you hit). Something tells me they won't try to politely rape you.
Anyway, enough of my rant. The facilities were very nice and accomodating, so we bought coffee to go and sat on their front porch, not willing to spend $8 for their dining room (I ride a KLR; I don't know what Dad's excuse is). On the porch, we met some other riders.
They'd already been up the Dempster, caught it in the rain, and had a good time playing in the muck on the way up. Their tires were pretty street-oriented, and they'd not encountered any flats. After this conversation, we were a little more confident in the fact that we'd probably not need any tires on the way up or down the Dempster.
We carried on, fogging up our faceshields and letting the rain bead off (at least it wasn't bugs). Not long after Muncho Lake, we caught our first glimpse of Bison.
These guys get right-of-way in my books.
We made it to Liard Hotsprings in good time, considered a dip, but thought we were already wet enough, even if it was but a cold wet. We stopped instead on the other side of the road, where there's a nice sized rest stop/pullout.
Dad: "Three things you'll learn as you grow to be old, son: never pass up a restroom, never waste a hard-on, and never trust a fart."
Me: "Is this rule 1 or 2?"
Dad: "... you can always count on Travis for a comeback.."
Anyway, onward and forward we carried, through rocks, trees, and water.
Finally, we found the sign we were looking for. We were there. The Promised Land.
Welcome to North of 60... Weehoo!
It was starting to feel a bit more real. We were getting somewhere, not just in BC, but now into the real North. It takes a couple days to get there, but sure is worth it when you arrive. Fort Nelson was the next stop, once again searching for a late lunch to tide us over until Whitehorse.
The Harleys behind us at the pumps were hauling a bit of stuff and were from Florida.
Met a fella from Kansas, on his way back down after (I think) another Dempster voyage.
Really nice guy to talk to. He shared his experiences as he finished up switching back to Tourances from TKCs. He mentioned the service station there was kind enough to let him change tires in their covered shop, and that he'd left his fairly worn TKCs there for anybody that needed them to get somewhere. This whole moto network is a good'un.
We asked the gas station attendant where "the place" to eat was in town, and he answered quickly with a resounding "Bee-Jay's". We'd see what Bee Jay had to offer.
"The place," when you find it, rarely disappoints, and this was no exception (how's that for multiple negatives?). Locals were kickin' around here too, conversing over their afternoon coffee. The walls were covered with pictures of truck wrecks, as any good restaurant is, and the conversation was similar. Topics stayed around work, whether anybody was doing much oil exploration in the area, and local gossip about who'd gotten new trucks/cars. Of course, a traveller will always feel like an outsider when it comes to these conversations since they have nothing to contribute, but to hear them talk about "real life" stuff feels like home.
The Alaska Highway after Watson Lake once again gets straight and a little boring, but on the plus side, we got out of the rain for the most part in the afternoon.
A quick stop at the Continental Divide reassured us we were getting somewhere. This was Arctic Ocean water now.
It was Teslin for fuel, but not before crossing their long, windy, steel-grate bridge.
At least they warned ya.
And we stopped at the Yukon Motel for a fuel up and a quick road snack. It wasn't too far to Whitehorse yet, but far enough that we needed some sustenance.
And the Alaska Highway stretched before us still. Time for some more pictures.
As we neared Whitehorse, there was one stop we had to make as per Dad. At Wolf Creek campground, there was a house just across the way. My Dad had lived there back in the mid-70s when he worked in Whitehorse for the White Pass Railway.
Not wanting to be rude, we took pictures from the road.
It was only a hop, skip, and jump to Whitehorse. We rolled around the town for a little bit, trying to find a cheap but non-sketchy motel, which was tougher than one would think. We ended up settling on the Family Hotel.
After getting ourselves settled, we set out to wander the town, still light at 10:30.
The town had changed substantially, Dad said, but there were still landmarks that stood out. The old White Pass station was still up and operating, though not as a train station anymore.
It was nearing 11:30 and the sun was going down, so we decided it was time for bed.
The lights came on at midnight.
Final mileage, June 29th.
It was a big day. 961km. We considered riding around that night for another 40km, just to break the 1000 mark, but opted not to, just 'cause it wouldn't feel quite right. To be honest, I have a few days in the 960-990km range, but I've never broken 1000km. It's really not been that important to do so.
The room was stuffy, but sleep came easily. In the morning, we had some errands to run, a broken aluminum windshield bracket to sort out, and hopefully some mileage to add.
Day 4: Whitehorse, YT, to Tombstone Mountain Campground, YT
http://maps.google.ca/maps?f=d&source=s_d&saddr=whitehorse+yt&daddr=Tomb stone+Mountain+Campground&hl=en&geocode=%3BCRqtoAA DCP3zFbP-1gMdG9vB9yGZ-LUTai4dFg&mra=pe&mrcr=0&sll=62.481877,-137.06543&sspn=5.150831,19.709473&ie=UTF8&ll=62.57 3106,-136.911621&spn=5.135102,19.709473&z=6
The day started in a non-riding manner. Before setting out on a 1500km gravel excursion up the Dempster, Dad felt it prudent to get his windshield brackets sorted out instead of having them cobbled together with zipties. We dropped by the Suzuki/Kawasaki dealer, conveniently just a block away from our motel, to see if they could recommend a place to do aluminum welding. They mentioned that Duncan's was the place to get 'er done, so off we went to find Duncan's in the industrial section of town.
We arrived, and after a little conversation about whether they could weld aluminum, the decision was made that instead of welding the existing weak brackets, new ones would be constructed of stainless, thus making what they considered a bulletproof bracket. They just needed the originals to make copies of.
So, could we have them done today?
Well, probably by closing, yep. (The next day, of course, was Canada Day, which meant everything closed everywhere.)
A day? To spend twiddling our thumbs? Ack. We didn't like the sound of that. One of the guys there mentioned to come back around lunch time. Chances were the brackets would be done by then. This sounded a bit more reasonable, and we spent the morning getting a few errands done (picked up a siphon, looked for more fuel bottles for Dad, and tried to find a spare headlight bulb for myself).
It was an antsy morning. We both just wanted to be on the road, but the brackets had us chained to Whitehorse. We got a little short with each other, which I guess is understandable due to our strained temperaments, and both of us felt like the real solution was just to get the heck out of town. Something about being around civilization just brought out the worst in us. In any case, we had a set time to make it back to Duncan's and that was that. Deal with it.
Dad ended up getting in contact with his cousin's former husband, whom he'd not seen for nigh on 30 years. He took us out for lunch, and we chatted (myself mostly listening) about the old days: the Whitehorse of the past, the Dezadeash Lake days, and the North in general. It was fantastic to get to know another contributing member to Dad's past, and hear of all that had changed in the surrounding area since Dad's last stint up there. We thanked him for his generosity (a paid-for meal for a traveller is priceless) and set off to Duncan's to check on our brackets.
Were they ready?
Yep, you betcha.
After paying a princely sum for two hunks of stainless, we got to work attaching them to the bike.
Good as new and about a million times stronger (no exaggeration). Thanks Duncan's!
It was about 1:30 or 2 by this time, if I remember correctly, and our bikes were loaded up, ready to put some miles under our tires yet. What normally happened in these situations is we'd plan a destination that would be really nice to get to, but was pushing the limits of how far we wanted to travel, then we'd set a more realistic destination a bit closer to where we were. As it happened, we always seemed to make it to our dream destination, pushing forward past the realistic one.
Our dream destination for the day was Tombstone Mountain Campground, 70km up the Dempster, and 550km from where we were. Ah, plenty of time. It doesn't get dark up here anymore.
Of course, we had to endure some Northern roads before the payoff.
On one long, straight stretch, I had a slight run-in (not to be confused with a run-into) with a moose cow and her calf. They bolted out of the brush like a steam locomotive with tender in tow, payed no regard to passing traffic, and galloped (as awkwardly as moose gallop) over the chip-seal to the leeward side. This happened far too close for my liking, myself grabbing tight the binders to keep me from denting the moose.
After the narrow escape, I turned around on the bike, gave my Dad the universal "my-heart's-a-pounding" signal, and looked for a scenic venue to grab a drink, my breath, and scoop out my undies.
That'll do just dandy. Onward we carried along the Klondike Highway (fairly unremarkable in all respects),
and ended up at the Kondike Junction.
Now we were getting somewhere.
A grin crept across my face as pavement soon led to gravel. We'd made it to the Dempster on Day 4. We were well ahead of schedule and there wasn't nothing yet to do but soak it all in.
It's nice how they planned to have all kinds of spectacular scenery in the first 50km of the Dempster too, just to whet one's appetite of things to come. I wonder if they trucked the mountains in or grew them naturally.
Anyway, we found our campsite, happily paid our $12 (including firewood), and sat down for a meal among the ruthless mosquitos.
As we got ourselves settled, Dad struck up a conversation (as he's quite good at doing) with neighboring campers who had taken their DRZ, KLX250S, and a support vehicle, up the Dempster and were returning home to Whitehorse. Of course, talk centered around how underrated the DRZ was as an all-purpose motorcycle, although the other fellow did mention that a KLR would make a nice supplement to a DRZ if one wanted to do longer distance journeys. All in all, it was a pleasant conversation with a really laid-back dude. We appreciated his company. Heck, we appreciated most folks' company along the way. Although it's nice to have a riding buddy, talking with locals and other travellers sure adds something to the experience.
It was also at Tombstone that I finally understood the term "swarming" when it referred to mosquitos. As soon as the sun set, the ravenous winged beasties came out in numbers that I was not expecting. The fire kept most of them at bay, but even so, we made it an early evening and hopped in our tents.
Final mileage, June 30th:
Not bad for starting at 2-ish. Tomorrow we would see how far we could make it on the legendary Dempster. It was Canada Day, and it sure sounded like a good idea to make it to Inuvik to celebrate that fact. The Dempster would have its say in our decisions too.
Thanks for the trip report,always wanted to see what the Dempster was like.
Day 5: Tombston Mountain Campground, YT, to Inuvik, NWT.
http://maps.google.ca/maps?f=d&source=s_d&saddr=64.420721,+-138.289091&daddr=inuvik+nt&geocode=&hl=en&mra=ls&s ll=62.573106,-136.911621&sspn=5.135102,19.709473&ie=UTF8&ll=66.3 90361,-135.812988&spn=4.465644,19.709473&z=6
Morning came early, as it quite often does in the north during summer. Dad was up at 5 to a bug-free campsite. I rose at 6:30 with the sun peeking over the mountain. For some reason, the sun activated the mosquitos once more, and I set out at a strongly motivated pace to break camp and break fast without having my lifeblood sucked dry by winged beasties. I don't think I've ever moved so much around camp to do simple chores like cook oatmeal or take down a tent. If one stood still, you were a target.
Anyway, sooner than later, we were off and riding, excited for what the day had in store. It was Canada Day, and we were truly enjoying the northern frontier.
As one heads further north, the expectation is that you get more in-tune with nature, and outhouses are fewer and far between. This didn't bother us whatsoever, as even with a pit toilet close by, there's something much more fundamentally correct about wandering into the forest, unzipping, and letting fly amid the birds' songs and breezes whispering through the foliage.
This was one such pit stop.
The road nearing Eagle Plains got a little rougher and we began climbing until we were winding our way amid mountain (I use the term loosely) peaks. All the rough, exposed rock was wreaking havoc with my front suspension, and in turn, my fairing subframe: a known weak point on the KLR. This, coupled with the aftermarket fairing, caused my poor thin-walled tubing to give way yet again, and we pulled over on the side of the road for a quick zip-tie fix.
I was prepared.
The view from our roadside repair location wasn't terrible either. It was one of those places where you could just sit for hours, trying to get a grasp, not only on your surroundings, but on your inner wonderings as well.
My Dad, trying, in understood futility, to capture the experience in a rectangular frame.
Anyway, we zip-tied things up in three directions,
and set off for Eagle Plains. It being Canada, I was fairly concerned that there would be nobody around to do a weld job on the bike, so the zip-tying was done in a manner that hopefully it could last until Inuvik. When we pulled into Eagle Plains and up to the gas pumps (regular or diesel, your pick), I asked the guy that was helping us whether there was somebody around to do a quick weld job.
He replied, "I'll go get the welder ready."
Awesome. After a full tank of gas, we wheeled the bike into the awaiting shop and Perry got to work.
I had him weld another brace on an already braced frame, hoping it would do the trick for this trip, and after half an hour and a reasonable rate, we were back in motion, well, at least, over to the restaurant for lunch.
It could have been any other day there: Canada Day meant very little. I don't know whether that was a good or bad thing. The fact was, however, if you live in Eagle Plains, you're 400km from Dawson or 360(ish) from Inuvik. There ain't much in terms of a parade that's going to happen here. That being said, our experience was pleasant and we returned to the road with full stomachs and the Arctic Circle as the next destination.
The land was starting to get a bit more barren, and the views were unlike anything really anywhere else.
We pressed on, through into the Northwest Territories.
This is a mountain pass, NWT style.
... And the DRZ kept pace, following at a distance whenever the gravel led to dust.
After a bit of road construction (which sure is done right in the North), we hopped on a ferry to take us onward, to Fort McPherson, where we hoped to top up so fuel wouldn't be a concern.
It was 6pm by this point, on Canada Day, and we ventured into town to the Co-Op gas station: the first one you see as you enter Ft. McPherson. We pulled up to the pumps and looked for any sign of life. A girl came out of a door at the top of the office steps, saying that the woman who ran the pumps had gone home for the day. Great. No gas here.
Was there other gas in town?
Yeah, we could check out Northern Foods on the other side of town.
As we carried down the main drag, we were blocked from continuing by Canada Day celebrations. It was the much-anticipated bicycle drag races, drawing speed demons from all the land to test their mettle against the district's finest. We tried to find a way around the main drag, asking one man if we could make it to Northern Foods by not taking main street. He didn't quite know.
We returned to the main street and came upon an 8-year-old on his bike. He, being one of the more helpful kids we met on the trip, directed us to the side road that would bring us clearly around the festivities and lead us to Northern Foods.
Finally, we were on track to get gas.
You might have to look close, but the sign in the window stated that Northern would also be closed on Canada Day. Great. We could chance it to Inuvik if we'd wanted, but Dad didn't feel totally comfortable with his fuel situation. Just as we were figuring out what to do, help came in the form of a middle-aged native fellow in his pickup truck.
"You guys look like you need gas."
"Looks like Northern's closed."
"Did you try the Co-op?"
"I think I have a gas can at home. I'll be back."
We looked at each other, grinned, drank some water, and began to understand the northern way. First off, who knows where this guy was headed to begin with. He could've been going to the celebrations or headed out of town to Inuvik, I have no idea. He took time out of his day not only to stop, but to return with fuel and help us out. There are good people everywhere.
Dad took a few liters of fuel from him, forced some money into his hand (if we'd not offered to pay, I don't think he'd have asked), and carried on our way, towards the second ferry.
From there to Inuvik, another 100km, it was some of this,
some of this,
and more of this.
The loose gravel at least made it a bit more interesting than pavement or hard-packed stuff. At last, however, the gravel gave way to tarmac (they should have a warning sign) and we neared the city limits. We'd made it.
We decided on a motel rather than camping (it had been a long day for sissies), and settled into the best hotel room we had on the trip, for more than we'd spent anywhere else, but still a reasonable rate even if it would have been down in the Vancouver area.
I took the obligatory "it's midnight and still sunny" photo,
and settled in for the night.
Final mileage, July 1:
A good day of riding, with a few stories coming of it and some excellent scenery to wash it all down. Tomorrow, we'd see what the day would bring.
Day 6: Inuvik, NT to Inuvik, NT, via Tuktoyaktuk, NT
No map for this one: we cheated and took a plane instead.
The morning started with a continental breakfast (not to be confused with a Continental breakfast, which is what the Dempster has whenever a knobby-clad GS or Vstrom makes their way up to Inuvik) and a discussion about the day's plans. The most important item of business was to source a rear tire for my Dad for our return off the Dempster. His stock Trailwing (second he's put on the DRZ) was getting awfully worn, much faster than expected. We wanted something in Dawson to spoon on so that we'd be able to make it the rest of the way home.
After our experience with the Kawi/Suzuki dealer when we were in Whitehorse, we knew that they weren't going to be able to help us, so we tried both the Honda dealer and the Yamaha one. The Honda did not have anything in a 120/90/18 size, so we tried Yukon Yamaha. Yep, they had two dualsport tires in that sizing. Great! What'd you have? Our options were:
Oh.. Dualsport tires AKA DOT knobbies. Well, might as well play it safe and get the AC10 shipped up to Dawson. At least it was new rubber, even if it only made it back to Whitehorse afterwards via the Top of the World Highway. The guy we'd been dealing with was Doug, and he was of exceptional help. We ordered a Kenda K761 as well for when we got back to Whitehorse. Something about 3,000Km of pavement back home and a DOT knobby just didn't mesh.
The second order of business was food, so we set out into town, grabbed some food for supper, and saw the sights.
Alright, so Inuvik is not a sightseeing type town, but we at least got the feel for what people have to deal with when living up there.
Our third order of business was whether we wanted to go to Tuk or not. I'd made the decision prior to the trip that, being somewhat strapped for cash as a young man in the working world, I'd only be able to afford the ferry from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy rather than the flight up to Tuk. My dad, being the ridiculously generous man that he is, asked if I'd want to go to Tuk if money wasn't an object. I was floored by this, and we set out making plans to get us up there that day. As luck would have it, in the lobby of our hotel (the Nova, FYI) was a tour company. With a quick conversation, we were scheduled for a flight up to Tuk in two hours.
We did a quick loop over Inuvik, and scoffed at the Dempster which looked so puny now.
Our pilot was awesome. He was probably mid-20's, and sort of encapsulated the essence that is a northern pilot. He was professional yet avant-garde, taking the flight seriously, but not too seriously. There was one point along the trip when he caught sight of a moose in a lake, dropped the plane into a tight corner, and turned quickly around, half for the tourists (us) and half for himself, since this was the first moose he'd caught sight of in the middle of a lake.
We carried northward along the Mackenzie Delta, which is basically a huge expanse of water with some little trees poking through.
As we neared the Arctic Ocean, the marine air grew thick and cold, but not cold enough to miss the Pingos which lined the shore. If you wanna know what they are, look 'em up. I like to think of them as frozen earth zits.
At last, we caught sight of Tuk. Not impressive in its size, but much more impressive in its existence.
We landed on a Dempster-ish runway and were greeted by their airport, named after a famed bush pilot of earlier years.
We did the tourist thing, driving around in a van,
dipping our feet in the Arctic ocean,
although I wasn't man enough to go all the way in. A couple girls we had with us on the tour were in fact man enough, so they went all in.
Oddly enough, the Arctic really ain't salty. Don't know why.
We visited their branch of Northern Foods, which was much more open than the one in Fort McPherson, although fuel prices left something to be desired.
They stockpile fuel in the winter, so the winter prices are what they pay through the summer. In this case, it was not beneficial.
More tourist stuff passed by: the old-style sod houses,
and the early warning radar system set up by our gun-toting southern neighbors.
The highlight to this tour was the Ice House, as they called it. Basically, they figured since they're living on a bed of permafrost, why don't they put the permafrost to good use? They dug about 16ft down, put in 3 different corridors, with cubbies lining the corridors. This was the community deep-freeze.
The wood ladder did not inspire confidence, especially halfway down when ice started caking the rungs.
The rooms stayed at a constant -9C, and when one turned off their flashlight, they were surrounded in nothing but cold darkness. It was awesome.
Permafrost, the cold-maker.
We climbed back up the ladder, hopped in the van, turned the heat on full, and checked out the Christian influence on Tuk. First, the Anglican Church.
Then the Catholic church, which we were able to see inside as well.
Something really struck me about the Catholic church:
Along with the normal symbols of the cross, a Caribou head was prominently displayed above the door. As much as the cross was a salvation symbol for the people of Tuk, the Caribou played such a large role in this civilization's survival that they thought it only correct to use it as a symbol, right up with the cross. I really couldn't blame them.
The tour drew to an end, and Dad, the sentimental man that he is, phoned wifey back home.
Back into the air for a farewell view of Tuk,
with a special mention of the barges which bring other supplies up from Inuvik and Hay River.
I napped on the way home, something not advisable on a motorcycle.
When we got back to the room, we cooked up dinner, one fit for kings, or at least a king's court.
As we were settling in for the evening, three motorcycles rode into the parking lot. Seeing that all three were Beemers, one being an old airhead, we of course had to check them out.
The one on the far left was none other than Errol's, the chap that we'd met in Fort Nelson three days prior. We asked the front desk whether they'd let us know what rooms they were staying in, and she mentioned that she would, only because they'd also asked where we were staying. After finally tracking Errol down, we stood in the hallway and talked about our experiences up the Dempster. It was awesome to reconnect, which is something so possible to do on the Dempster. I mean, you know where the other riders are going, because there's really no other side trips.
We shook hands and bid each other a safe rest of the trip. He was a good one to meet, and it felt good to be able to share support with a rider we'd already seen once.
But enough of sentimental. We had a big day ahead of us, and it was time for bed.
Final mileage, June 2:
You'll note that our top speed was higher today than other days.
Tomorrow would be an early start and a voyage on familiar roads, hopefully making it back to Dawson.
Day 7: Inuvik NT to Klondike River Campground, Dawson, YT
http://maps.google.ca/maps?f=d&source=s_d&saddr=inuvik+nt&daddr=dawson+y t&hl=en&geocode=&mra=ls&sll=64.062591,-136.582031&sspn=4.876465,19.709473&ie=UTF8&ll=66.1 78266,-136.318359&spn=4.503396,19.709473&z=6
We were up early today, knowing that we'd have some ground to cover. The destination was Dawson, and more than 700km of gravel away. We did a quick go-over on the bikes, cleaning the chains, tightening bolts, and generally messing around until we felt that the noble steeds would get us through.
The ugly duckling looked ready,
and the Deerslayer sat quietly, eagerly anticipating the day.
Turns out one more moto party had showed up at the Nova Inn that night too: two Suzukis, one a Strom and one possibly a Bandit. They were a couple, plus a dog, according to Errol. Good on them.
The road to the first ferry was wholly uneventful. Lots of loose gravel, some freshly graded sections, and unpleasantly cold. For some reason, in the morning, the marine air came in and chilled Inuvik to the core. It wasn't bitterly cold, but enough to inhibit some motor functions. In any case, we made it to the ferry in good time.
Not only humans use it as a mode of transportation, we learned.
The first ferry took a bit of time. First, we had to wait for a tanker truck to get through the first section of the Dempster and join us on the ferry. When he showed up, they loaded him on the shore-side of the ferry. This caused the ferry to sink into the soft, sandy bank and get stuck. After five minutes of running the propeller to try to get us unstuck, the crew decided it would be wise to unload all the vehicles, put the tanker on the river side and the lighter vehicles on the shore side. We, being moto celebrities, didn't have to move around at all. They figured having the KLR on the river side of the ferry would probably be better. After all, it's a supertanker in its own right.
This got us moving, and soon enough, we were crossing over to the home side of the Mackenzie.
More straight roads greeted us between crossings.
I thought the reflection turned out well on this one.
We arrived at the Fort McPherson ferry, and waited on shore for a while. Turns out we (I)'d parked too far forward and the ferry wouldn't cross over to get us until we turned around and waited by the sign. Remember this, kids: wait by the sign if you want the ferry to come for you.
Southward we carried, with a quick look back over the Mackenzie Delta.
Onward through the construction zone and towards the mountain pass. It was still unpleasantly cold at this point in time, and we hoped our fortunes would soon change.
Like night turning to day, as soon as we made it through the pass, we were met with blue skies.
I was having a ball, taking on-the-fly pictures, when I came across a solemn funeral procession. About four o' them gopher-whatsits that were prone to wandering the gravel were gathered in a circle around a fallen comrade. It was quite the scene as I blasted by, shattering the tranqility of the service and sending gophers scampering in every which way. This was the best picture I could muster.
Life was good. At least I wasn't a squished rodent.
A quick tundra photo op,
and we were back on our way.
Into the Yukon once more,
bidding farewell to the Northwest Territories. It had been an experience I will not be soon to forget.
At the above photo stop, I wandered onto the hard-pack road, noticing the telltale signs of big GSes that had come through in soggier weather.
We were quite enjoying not having to deal with inclement weather or sloppy dirt roads.
Is that a freight train?
Naw, just an XS-Twin-equipped tractor.
We scampered by the Arctic Circle, having already gathered our must-have photos on the way up, and carried into Eagle Plains amid rough, rocky, uphill roads.
As we pulled in for fuel and food, we were met with two young dudes on Vstrom650s. They'd trucked their bikes from Ontario to Edmonton, and were on their riding leg of the journey. One of them rode his bike over, asking his buddy if the ol' Strom sounded right. His buddy affirmed his concerns and mentioned that it sounded a little off. Dad came to the rescue with the diagnosis: his starter was engaging constantly, which is never good for a starter motor nor a bike in general. After some poking around, it turned out to be a dust clog in the starter button, causing the button to stay on. A little compressed air solved that problem.
We went inside for lunch and had a good talk about riding, their experiences on the Trans-Lab Highway last summer, and we gave them road information on the northern section of the Dempster. Good guys, and glad to meet 'em. They were in their mid-20's, and were the only young guys we saw up there (other than myself). This moto travel thing sure seems to be an old fart's game.
Anyway, enough about old farts. It was time to ride.
Back once more to the epic viewpoint:
... And because no report of mine would be complete without knife content:
The day was getting on in hours, and we were nearing our destination.
Just north of Tombstone Mountain Campground is a pullout with a nice view. As I always strive for a pee with a view, I thought that it was only fitting.
As we decided on our final destination, a big Strom and an 800GS came up to the pullout as well. With their mirrored faceshields and fancy motorcycles, they were obviously far too hardcore to talk to such peasants. They scooted off in a spray of gravel without uttering a word. Weenies.
Anyway, we pressed forth, back to the junction, taking a photo that was much less ominous after conquering the distance.
After a fill-up at the junction, we carried on to just outside of Dawson, the Klondike River Campground. The fees were reasonable, the wood was dry, and the skeeters were manageable. Maybe it was the pickup campers blaring Dixie Chicks that scared 'em all away.
Anyway, that was a day, and quite a day it was.
Final mileage, July 3:
Yup, that's about Dempster distance +~20km.
The next day was a resupply day in Dawson, taking in some of the tourist sights, and tracking down the DOT knobby sent from Whitehorse that Dad may not need after all.
Day 8: Dawson, YT to Chicken, AK, via Eagle, AK
http://maps.google.ca/maps?f=d&source=s_d&saddr=dawson+yt&daddr=eagle+ak +to:chicken+ak&hl=en&geocode=&mra=ls&sll=64.413549 ,-140.432739&sspn=1.202802,4.927368&ie=UTF8&ll=64.41 3549,-140.674438&spn=1.202802,4.927368&z=8
What we thought would be a bug-infested morning ended up being a pleasant one. The mosquitos stayed where they were and did not seem to want to bother us. This was fantastic. My tent, however, had attracted hundreds of little flies overnight (I don't know why) that had set up camp between the tent and the fly. In the morning, when I took off the fly, they stayed put, and I had to wipe 'em off with a branch. Seriously though, hundreds of the suckers. I don't understand why.
Anyway, enough of my invertebrate commentary. We peacefully packed up camp and set off into town to track down Dad's tire. We made it to the town center, with its touristy/frontier feel, and asked around for where Kluane Transport was. It wasn't in town, but at least a steamboat was.
Well, back out to the industrial section that we'd passed by on our way into Dawson. We tracked down Kluane and picked up Dad's tire. The AC10 is about as knobby as they come and we decided that if we could make it over the next 1000km on Dad's Trailwing before we returned to Whitehorse, this would probably be best. Something about that AC10, high speeds, and abrasive chipseal just seemed like it would be a bad combination. But hey, at least it was insurance.
Since we were in Gold Rush area, we had to check out the dredges.
Pretty amazing, these machines. I mean, they're huge for one thing, they move under their own power (when floating on a pond, of course), and the amount of earth they process is pretty astronomical, at least for the era in which they were created. The digging head was stripped of its bucket conveyor,
but at least they had the buckets kicking around. These things must've weighed around a gazillion pounds each.
Mm.. Old iron.
We carried further down Bonanza Creek Road, hoping to track down some more dredges. Dad had mentioned that when he was up here last with Mom (this was back a few years), there were all kinds of dredges left sitting all over the valley.
Our search yielded nothing, but at least we got dusty.
It was about time to swing back into town, stock up on a few days' provisions, and at least ride around town a bit.
After groceries came gas, where we met a guy on an '09 KLR. We chatted for a while, discussed the KLR in all its glory (doohickeys and faulty wiring on his end, reliable, proven engine on mine), then parted ways so we could find lunch. Food was found at a local hotel, was fast, tasty, and just what we needed.
The ferry was next: we were on our way west, towards the Top of the World Highway.
Met a couple guys on Vstroms on the ferry. They were from Saskatchewan and having quite a good time up in the north country as well. We played a bit of tag with them along the TOTWH, first them pulling off to the side, then we pulling off, each party passing the other when this happened.
The road was half paved, half gravel.
And the views were spectacular.
In this next shot is the border crossing: basically a cluster of cabins, miles away from any other existence.
The wind was blowing, but the wildflowers persisted in their blooming.
.. Betcha can't tell which way the wind was blowing.
We met the Strom folks at the border once more, and as we sat there, the sky opened up. We'd not experienced rain in a fair number of days, and it was quite wet, as we'd remembered it before.
Since on this trip we were making such good time, we thought it only right to do a few side trips. The road up to Eagle, AK, looked promising, so we thought we'd check it out. It was early afternoon, and the road was 100km in each direction. Perfect.
We carried on further, through gravel canyon twisties. It was pure joy to ride such well-maintained dirt roads. I might have slid sideways once or twice.
We descended into Eagle, unsure of what to expect. For all we knew, it could be a ghost town. Instead, it was a fairly bustling village with an eccentric air about it. This was punctuated by our stop on the main street.
As we turned around to go to the river's edge, a young chap on a unicycle came by, gave us a wave, and carried on down towards (maybe) the school. It summed up my experience of the people in Eagle. They were friendly and fun, living a pretty carefree lifestyle.
My impression of Eagle changed, however, when we got down to the water's edge.
We were stunned. What had happened here? The entire front street of Eagle had been torn to shreds, houses moved off their foundations, and massive damage felt for miles along the shoreline.
I had to know, so we talked to some yellow-shirted volunteers (from a church in Fairbanks, helping the Eagle community out on the 4th of July no less) to see what had happened.
We got the full scoop from them. Basically, in early May, during spring breakup, the Yukon River had gotten jammed up with ice somewhere around here:
This, of course, led to a massive rise in water, coupled with large ice chunks floating above the bank. Although Eagle was on a 15-20 foot steel-reinforced bank, the water had risen above this fortress, flooded the front street of town, and brought with it ice chunks that had pushed houses off their foundations.
the volunteers mentioned that some houses had been swept up to 1/4 mile from their original location. Here, you can see crews restoring upstream villages.
This entire experience left both myself and Dad stunned. The amount of damage that an ice-choked river can cause was evidently astronomical. What a fragile existance we forge, in the face of all that nature can throw at us. The other thing that struck me was the heart of the volunteers that were helping to rebuild Eagle and surrounding communities. As the local rednecks were taking pot-shots at a barrel across the river, these volunteers were here, on Independence Day, just trying to help. It made us want to drop everything and stay here for a week to clean up and rebuild.
We pulled ourselves away, rode slowly up and out of Eagle, and set out for the trip south.
The fireweed was in full bloom along the road, and it was a pretty surreal experience to ride a beautifully packed gravel road through meadows of fuchsia.
The road continued in its twisty joyfulness, the rain pattered every so often, and we were having a ball.
If you're in the area and have half a day (or are getting close to camping time), check out Eagle and the road up. You'll be glad you did. They have camping in town, so if you're at, say supper time, and are unsure about whether it's worth it to go up, it is.
We carried on towards Chicken, on the much straighter section of the Taylor Highway.
At one point, I lost sight of Dad behind me. Knowing he was getting into his "fuel concern" section of his range, I stopped and searched for him across the drainage basin we were in.
He's there somewhere, I swear.
Ah, there we go.
We rolled up to the Chicken service station and campground somewhere a little past supper time, filled up, and took full advantage of their "free covered camping with a fill-up".
After supper, we were doing some chain maintenance when an older gentleman wandered over. We enjoyed a well-thought-out, slow-paced, savor-the-moment kinda conversation with him. His name was Spike Jorgenson, a former Superintendant for Schools in this area of Alaska. When he was hired on, the job description included the need for two reliable modes of transportation: one ground vehicle, and an airplane to reach the out-stretched communities of northern Alaska. He had actually flown into Chicken that day as well.
We talked for a good hour or so, ourselves thoroughly enjoying our time with Spike. After he left, Dad and I shared a smile. This was why we were here: to enjoy, experience, and learn more about the country and the people that we were in. Looking back, this was one of the best days of the trip. We didn't put in quite as many miles, but we experienced what the land was about, and it wasn't all in tourist towns.
Spike had invited us up to the bar on the hill for 4th of July celebrations. We opted to explore the land a bit instead.
Another dredge had been brought here from up the creek.
There was old iron everywhere.
We bedded down amid cannon-fire from the bar. From my understanding, it has something to do with talking women out of their panties. Interesting area, that Chicken was.
Final mileage, July 4th:
This was a day of experiences, and although the riding was excellent, the people and the stories made today what it was.
The "plan" for the next day led us to Haines Junction. We'd see what came of that.
Two dudes in their mid-twenties
Oh Hamon, you sweet talker you!!! Mid-20's what a way to win our hearts!! :D (We're actually in our earlyish...thirties)
Yes, it is I, the rider of the blue Wee Strom at Eagle Plains. Been following your trip report...looks great! Sounds (and looks) like you had a blast! Absolutely great pictures! We made it up to Inuvik that same day, and traveled all the way back to Dawson the next. We met the couple on the two Suzukis at the hotel, and well I will try to post the picture of how the traveled with their dog.....it made me smile. The rest of our trip was awesome, only regret was not setting aside enough time to really explore some of these fabulous places we passed through
Very nice to have met you, and if you are ever heading out this way again, be sure to give me a shout!
Two dudes in their mid-twenties
Me (Andrew) and James at the Arctic Circle.
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