Joined: Feb 2008
Location: Playing Hooky
Day 3 - June 17
Cold overnight. About 4 am got out the thermal bivy and stuffed sleeping bag inside it. Very warm!
"Cold" is relative - probably about 5C. The thermal bivy oversack worked really well, and for occasional use - where the sleeping bag has a chance to dry out from the condensation the bivy traps - it was a really good solution. I think it would have been good down to freezing.
Coffee in the cafe then break camp under sunny skies. On the road 8:20.
Moose 2 km s Buckinghorse River. Gas at Buckinghorse. Buckinghorse River hasn't changed much in the 5 years since I was last there. Still just kind of a muddy crew camp and a gas station, but it looks like business was steady. Gas was pricey - the attendant told me it was the most expensive along the Alaska Highway - but in fact it wasn't, quite.
10:30 into Tourist Info Center, Fort Nelson. Fuel up and head north, turn onto Hwy 77. Stop at Beaver Lake rec site for lunch, 11:20.
So, I'd never been to the North-West Territories before, and looking at the map, it was too tempting to pass up a small diversion to go up at least the first part of the Liard Highway, and into Fort Liard for a night. If I liked what I saw, well, then I could consider continuing that direction, and end up going to Yellowknife, and come back out and down via northern Alberta.
I didn't really have any firm plans at this point, which is the great thing about this sort of trip. You get to go wherever your whims take you! Also, as much as I like having a riding companion along for this sort of trip, being solo does make these sorts of decisions that much easier. Place on the map look interesting? Got enough fuel to get there - and out? If so, decision made. Well, mostly. Later in the report we'll get to a few places I made the choice to turn around, because I thought conditions were not that safe, solo - so it's a tradeoff.
Lunch is tuna and sundried tomato meal, crispbreads, fruit leather, and water. Tastes pretty good! Back on road 11:45.
The BC side of the Liard Highway is all paved, as of 2012, so it's fresh new pavement. Very little traffic and not a lot to see, though - just scrubby trees and flat.
Skies become overcast and start to get cold gusting sidewinds. I pull over and for the first time on the trip, close up the back vents on the suit. I also put on the down shirt. I hesitate a bit doing this - if rain hits hard enough to get through the suit and wets the down, it will no longer insulate and I'll have nothing warm to wear when I stop for the night. Still, it's pretty cold now, and I think I need it. A few minutes riding is all it takes to convince me it was the right choice. As I start to warm up again, my mood improves and I'm less apprehensive about the lowering sky and wind gusts jerking the bike from side to side.
I find that staying physically comfortable is important in riding. If I start getting cold, not only is it unpleasant, but my entire outlook goes down. If I'm all comfortable despite the weather, then it's still just a fun adventure and I enjoy it a lot more.
Bridge over the Ft. Nelson River on the Liard Highway. No, my lens isn't distorting - yes the bridge is deformed, with visible bending downward of the deck sections between trusses.
Aspens holding up the sky along the Liard. [Canon SX130]
I pass several black bears, including what looks to be a mother with a two year old cub. I try to get a photo of one bear, but he doesn't cooperate much.
OK, not a very good photo, but if you go north it's de rigeur to have at least one bear picture. Here it is. [Canon SX130]
As I hit the NWT border, two things happen. First, the pavement stops, replaced by deep pea gravel.
Well, not really "deep". I hit DEEP gravel later, making this look like nothing.
I immediately slow but I have not ridden gravel for a while and the twitchy, sliding feel of the front tire is unnerving.
I don't find the stock TrailWings are really that good on gravel - but they'd have been better if I'd lowered their pressure. I didn't feel like doing that so just lived with it.
The second thing happens within minutes - the rain starts. Now it's not just gravel, but gravel over slick clay mud, and my visor is covered in rain making it hard to see where the gravel is shallowest and where I want to put the tire. On the bright side, my tires seem to grip the mud slightly better than the deep dry gravel.
It was pretty slippery, but nothing like what it can be going up the Dempster or into Deadhorse, from what I read on here. I definitely would not be tackling those with these tires.
I push on knowing it's only another 40 km or so to Fort Liard. The rain starts coming down pretty hard now, but so far not getting into the suit. Finally I get to the turnoff for Fort Liard - and get a bison standing on the edge of the road to greet me. I take a photo from a respectful distance back, and wait a few minutes, but it doesn't seem about to move, and the rain is still coming down. I ride by cautiously, hoping it doesn't do anything aggressive, but it just stares at me - I must only be 4 or 5 metres from it as I go by, while it looks curiously at me.
My, what big eyes you have! [Canon SX130]
The turnoff is softer gravel and mud - and just my luck is being graded right now in front if me. I'm being facetious - the last thing I want, is deep soft squishy fresh graded dirt/ mud.
Ok, NOW this is deep soft mushy crap. I know I haven't far to go, though, and at least if I dump here, there's someone to see and hopefully be of some assistance if things go badly.
I come up behind the grader, which is pushing a big furrow to the left lane - and the operator is nice enough to raise his blade and go forward a bit, giving me a gap to go left and forward around him. It's still mushy and slippery, and the front end goes into a wobble for an instant once, but I make it down into the valley and approach the town. I pass a sign for camping, but I am cold, have wet gear, and have not had a shower in three days. How much can a motel cost? Tenting tonight is going to be wet and cold, and not even very close to town. Motel it will be. Into the town proper of Fort Liard, and gas up at the station (cheaper than Buckinghorse River, by the way). Go find the general store and motel. $173!!!! Ouch!! I hesitate but go for it, checking in at 3:30 local time.
A shower and shave and fresh clothes make me feel nearly human. I go check out the town - two general stores, my motel, a library, a fire hall, a school, a tourist centre with some very nice birch bark baskets (what the local natives are particularly known for) - out of my price range though. A water treatment plant and RCMP detachment seem to be all that's left to find. I see small tanker trucks of drinking water driving and noted a sign in the motel about limited water, so I ask in the tourist centre.
Deh Cho Tourist info centre in Ft. Liard. [Canon SX130]
Water is treated at the plant, but then trucked to users in the village, who have individual tanks. Seems involved but maybe buried pipes just freeze up too easily, to be a viable municipal system? Also clue in by now, no liquor store or restaurant in town. I decide to check the library for a possible public internet terminal - they have a single laptop for patrons to use and I appreciate the chance to send an email with a position update. Then I get a NWT decal from one of the stores and apply it to one of my hard cases, after cleaning off the mud and splattered bugs.
Mud on the bike. [iPhone 5]
The general stores in these small towns are really just that. Here in Ft. Liard, you can buy an ATV and an Xbox while getting your mail: [iPhone 5]
Back in the motel I make dinner (Texas BBQ chicken, it says) from a dehydrated pack. I'm clever - my titanium cookpot just exactly fits in my room coffee maker, so I use the coffee maker to heat the required 2 cups of water, then reconstitute the meal in my cookpot and let it sit on the coffee maker warming plate as it soaks in. Ginger beer from the general store washes it down.
See? Fits perfectly. [Canon SX130]
Used a $5 calling card from the general store to call Lu and confirm my location.