– As I said, the Bunkhouse Hotel was basic. The room was 120 square feet on a good day; furnished with a small wooden desk, straight-backed chair, nightstand and full-size bed. Heat came from a small, portable space heater, but with such a small room it worked fine. Showers and toilets are shared and a short walk down the breezeway. The saving grace was the bed with its firm, comfortable mattress and heavy, warm blankets. I slept very well.
All of Dawson had the feel of a city starting to buckle down for the winter, with much of the tourist-oriented bits scheduled to close in just a week and a half. On the way out of town I went out to see the big Dredge #4, which had dug gold from a Klondike River tributary for decades before being converted into a national historic site. I’m not particularly big on historic tours, but I figured “what the hell.” A good decision, despite the close of the season and impending unemployment, the tour guide was knowledgeable and entertaining, without coming off as either pandering or working off of a script. I’d suggest that you go by and check it out if you’re up that way, but then I spoke to another parks employee at the site:
“When are y’all shutting down for the season?” I asked.
“Well, we’re shutting down on September 9th, but not for the season, for good,” she replied.
Turns out that the federal government has decided to go after the Parks Canada budget, and while the decision was made to keep open the Keno paddle-boat in town, the Dredge #4 site would be shuttered indefinitely.
“It doesn’t make sense,” she said. “The Klondike paddle-boat in Whitehorse also does tours, but there’s nothing like the dredge anywhere else in Canada.”
I heard more about the federal government from folks in the Yukon, but nothing came up so often as the Peel River, where mining interests are eyeing a large chunk of the Yukon for minerals development. “Protect the Peel,” was the dominant sign in both Dawson and Whitehorse. If you're interested, go here to learn more
I rode out from Dredge #4 and hit the road. Three-hundred modestly scenic miles and several hours later, I make my way to the quiet and peaceful Robert Service campground, just a mile south of downtown Whitehorse. Lots of nicely spaced campsites, and I find myself having to rush a bit to get my tent up before nightfall. I’m not more than 500 miles or so south of Inuvik, as the crow flies, but whereas in Inuvik just a few days prior the sun didn’t set till 11pm and total darkness didn’t take hold all night, down here it’s dark by shortly after 9pm.
One last look before heading south
Gravel Lake, off the Klondike Highway, between Dawson and Whitehorse
– In the morning I took a stroll along the banks of the Yukon, near to the campground. A big raspberry patch about 200 yards from my campsite gave evidence of a bear that had wallowed around, gorging on berries sometime earlier. Upstream a hydro dam had submerged the fabled Whitehorse rapids, but also provided clean energy to power the city. A wooden fish ladder assisted salmon migrating upstream, and again, the fortuitous timing of my trip meant I got to see some moving through the ladder.
Back at the campground, I chatted with a couple traveling through in their RV from West Virginia. They tell me their thermometer registered 25 Fahrenheit for the low last night. The Western Mountaineering down sleeping bag had kept me warm and cozy – a great investment and a world of improvement from my 15-year-old synthetic bag that I had finally decided to part with some months prior.
Whitehorse has the feel of a town where everyone likes to get outdoors, reminiscent of Bozeman, Montana. Miles and miles of public hiking/skiing trails are just beyond the city, while the town itself has plenty of walking infrastructure and lots of positive street vibe. I spent the rest of the day wandering around, checking out the town. One high point I recommend to all you coffee drinkers is Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters. Tucked behind a bicycle store north of downtown, they roast the best coffee I tasted the entire trip.
That evening, back at the Robert Service campground I was hanging out at the outdoor patio area near the office – comfy old couches, a fire pit, book exchange shelf. Up rides a familiar motorcycle. I had first met Kornelius, on his modified DR650, in Dawson. Our paths crossed three times on the Dempster – passing one another as I approached Inuvik; overtaking him heading south as he broke camp in early afternoon near the NW Territories/Yukon border; and once more as I saw him motor past Eagle Plains that evening.
Probably in his late-50s, Kornelius is an Aussie who one month prior embarked on a planned year-long tour down the Americas – Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. He had already ridden both the Dawson and Dempster Highways. His last day on the Dempster had been a trial:
“When you first passed me, I was just packing up from the night before. It had been raining all morning and I was hoping to wait it out. It took me 10 hours, but I rode through that day. When I made it in to Dawson at midnight, I was exhausted.”
Turns out, while the skies had cleared a bit in Eagle Plains that night, further south it was all rain. In a slippery patch, he lost control at one point and nearly went down, with the bike tilted at 45 degrees and perpendicular to the road. “Then the front tire just sort of grabbed and twisted. The next thing I know the bike had just sort of picked itself up and I was headed back down the road.”
“Good reflexes,” I said.
“No reflexes,” he replies. “I didn’t have any time to react. The bike just sort of decided to keep going.”
Good travel experiences, particularly those involving the people you meet, involve a share of serendipity. As Kornelius and I were chatting, up comes another guy, outfitted in BMW rider gear. Doron is from Israel, and came to Whitehorse via three months of travel through Siberia and central Asia. He’s on a big 1200GS, like me:
“You rode that 1200 through Siberia?” I ask.
“Yes! And Kazakhstan and Mongolia and other –stans. It’s a great bike!”
“But how through Siberia? Not the Road of Bones on that bike?”
“No!” He replies in his accented English, shaking his head. “Road of Bones is not a 1200GS road.” He points to Kornelius’s bike. “That’s a Road of Bones bike. In Siberia they have new paved road across. Just opened a year or two ago. That’s what I rode.”
Doron is also headed to Tierra del Fuego. I’m suddenly quite envious of these guys. I’m through well more than half of my current journey, but theirs’ are just beginning. I fantasize about a different future, where I run into each of these guys off and on over the next year, gradually heading south, and we swap stories at each meeting of our adventures along the way.
Doron and Kornelius are a contrast. Doron is big, loquacious and energetic. Kornelius is more slightly built, low-key and self-effacing. A chill is comes on as the sun falls below the horizon. I start a fire and as the full moon rises we lounge around on the couches telling tales well into the night.
Whitehorse Farmers' Market
Farmers' Market Vendors
Katya is the talented roaster and owner of Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters, when I asked to take this she said "I'm about the least photogenic person in Whitehorse." Seems quite the contrary to me.
Katya's joint. Go check it out.
World-riders: Kornelius and Doron.
Full moon in Whitehorse
Inuvik to Whitehorse, via Dawson