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Old 07-02-2013, 12:09 PM   #1
brunstei OP
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Northern Bound II: The Returnining

Well, a while back they rejigged the RR sections here, so since this trip was more than a week it's going here - however it makes no pretense of living up to the 'epic' as promised in the section head. It's just some notes and photos, of Captain Highlighter hitting the road for 15 days in search of some clarity of mind. He got that, and perhaps there's a few of you out there who might glean something from the trip log and a few photos, so it's presented here for your perusal should you be interested.

After the fact and commentary text will be done in plain font; italicised text throughout the report will be excerpts from the trip log, written as I went along.

It's been a while since Captain Highlighter did a ride report. Actually it's been a while since he did any real riding to speak of; life has a way of interposing itself unless you make time for these things.

It had been 5 years since I last went into the north by motorcycle, and I've been itching to go again. This time I wanted to take along a medium format camera in hopes of getting at least a couple of shots suitable for large format prints to put on my walls, to give me something to look at when I can't get out from the city. I started planning a few months in advance, and for a while it looked like some friends would come along, but things came up and in the end it was only going to be me.

Then, two weeks before my planned June 15 departure, I got word from the only major steady client for my company - as of July 1, they were 're-prioritizing' their expenditures, and I wouldn't be getting further business from them. In other words, as of July 1, I would be effectively unemployed.

I mulled on this for a few days and in the end, took what I saw as the only reasonable course of action. I looked around for some suitable openings, I sent off a series of applications, and I decided to go ahead with the trip. Life is too short to wait around cowering in fear. Better to set a course of action and get a response to the situation in motion, then get out and live life - it's not like tenting by motorcycle is very expensive, and it was going to take some time to get any replies back anyhow.

Saturday, June 15. Last minute packing and checks. Say goodbye to Tasha [my cat] and Lu - tell them not to fight too much while I am away. Nice sunny morning. Traffic is pretty heavy leaving town. Stop in Abbotsford for gas, cheaper than in town. By Chilliwack traffic starts to ease off. Into Hope for break at tourist info centre by 10:10.


[wood carvings in Hope. Canon SX130].


Already starting to relax a bit. Riding doesn't allow you to think about much more than the immediate. With earplugs in the thing I mostly hear is my own breathing - slow and even.

Don't have to worry much about daylight - whole point of going this time of year. Good to take rests early, before I feel I need them, like right now. Still, I want to make distance today, so don't think I'll take many photos.




[Hwy 1, north of Lytton. Road signs promising good riding!]


Lunch of water and jerky in Cache Creek. Timing was good, low fuel warning starting to flash as I reached town -275 km from last fuel. Light rain showers around Clinton. Rest stop at 100 Mile. 2:20.

Refuel in Williams Lake. Short heavy rain squall north of there but not enough to get through suit. Rest break in Quesnel. 4:39 pm, sunny. Only 125 km to PG, should be good. Generally light traffic this last section.

Rain, steady and sometimes heavy, from Quesnel to Hixon. Funny, because it doesn't look to be a big rain cloud, it's clear all around me, but for 20 minutes or so it manages to stay right over me. The evaporating rain is cold, I almost stop to add more clothing, but I keep expecting to break out into sun. Finally happens at Hixon - although then there's a lot of gusty cross winds.

Really slippery wet muddy section with grooved pavement for a few km just south of PG. Really unstable but luckily no problems. Into PG, found the tourist info center about 6:05. Ask where to tent and they suggest Heart Way RV park / campground about 7 km out of PG on my expected route for tomorrow. Place is $25 to pitch a tent and there are some drunk yahoos but there are free showers and I'm tired. Pay for the night, set up the tent, and make supper. Singapore style curried noodles - with canned turkey chunks. It's "fusion" cuisine. Beer can stove runs out before all water soaked in but noodles are soft. Actually - it's delicious, and filling, I can just finish it and squeeze in a few cherry-soaked craisins (! Yes, that's what the package says) as dessert.



I do need to get a markedly different bottle for the methyl hydrate as opposed to water, though. I missed the "FUEL" I'd written on it and started to pour it into the cookpot. Of course it doesn't smell or pour like water so I caught it. I knew it was a bad idea to use a Nalgene bottle for it, but it's what I had that won't leak. Need to find a red plastic fuel bottle.

Charge cell phone off bike accessory plug. Have a sip of scotch (flask has to last two weeks, so a sip is all per day!). Tired. By 9:20 campground is pretty quiet except for noise from Heart Highway. Hope it stays this way, not in the mood for crazy drunk yelling etc tonight.
Today's run: 812.6 km
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Old 07-03-2013, 09:25 AM   #2
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Day 2 - June 16

Day 2

Slept well. Wore fleece pants and down shirt inside light sleeping bag - very warm, would still be ok colder out. I have the thermal bivy sack if it gets even worse.

Part of my enjoyment of these trips is in being comfortable with the minimal set of gear I can bring, and in seeing that the selection of gear items work well together to achieve this - so I'll digress a bit into gear here. In the interest of compactness, this time I brought along a very thin and not very warm, but highly compressible sleeping bag. To make up for this I brought, and expected to wear most nights, an Eddie Bauer down shirt. This had been quite expensive, but again was very compact, and was extremely comfortable and warm; and since I could (and would) use it under the armour as needed on some cold riding days, it gave me a lot of flexibility. It turned out to be a very good choice and this shirt will be a regular part of any outing gear stored on the bike. In addition, I also carried a thermal reflective bivy sack, and as an 'alternate/emergency" sleeping bag, and if need be to use in layering with the sleeping bag. Again, very compact, and in this case also quite cheap. As I found, this combination worked very well, was adaptable to a range of temperatures, and took a combined space less than a single, less adaptable, warmer sleeping bag would have done.


Up 6:30. Breakfast oatmeal and coffee. The Starbucks instant is pretty good. Pack up, on the bike 8:10 under sun, toward Chetwynd.

Again for the sake of compactness, this trip I opted to use a home made 'beer can' stove for my cooking. Cheap, easy, and fun to build - and tiny, light weight, and effective. Down sides are only one setting (full on), and you have to learn to judge how much fuel to load into it for a meal, since you can't put it out. Normally I used it with a small folding foil windscreen, but it's shown here without. The stove and small stand I built both neatly nest inside the Pinnacle Soloist titanium cookset I use, and weigh far less than e.g. an MSR Whisperlite or a JetBoil. There's also nothing to go wrong, and my single 500ml of methyl hydrate lasted the entire 15 day trip - cooking two meals most days, with a handful of exceptions that will arise. [Canon SX130]





8:45 wildflowers along Heart Highway.
And caterpillers... [Canon SX130]






9:15 photos Bear Lake.

Finally time to break out the medium format camera and start using it. Unfortunately due to space issues I only had room for two lenses, and in the end, 8 rolls of 120 film wasn't enough - but I think I got a few decent shots. Here's Bear Lake in the morning sun. [Rolleiflex 6008i, 50mm Distagon]




10:20. Gas at Mackenzie Junction. Only regular available - but only getting half a tank to top up. Will be harder to get premium from here on anyhow.

It was around here that I really began to notice something at the sides of the road, where it was brush cut - wildflowers. Well, it's not that you don't normally see some flowers at the side of the road, but I seemed to have caught the brief period where there was a huge number in bloom. Along this section, it was dandelions, in solid eye-popping yellow blankets on both sides of the road. [Canon SX130]




Lunch at A&W in Chetwynd, $5.25 for a burger but free wi-fi. Parked in front of next door Subway is a moto guzzi with Australian plates, which I'd passed just before Mackenzie Junction. Introduced myself to Mark - he was heading north as well. Rode with him as far as Hudsons Hope then he pressed on. Top up gas.

A little ways before Mackenzie Junction, I spotted a motorcycle up ahead of me - and even from way back I could see there was something unusual about how things were loaded onto it. I slowly gained, passing it just before Mackenzie Junction, and saw that the gear was tied in this big spherical lump on the rear. I waved as I went past and caught a quick glance of an unusual license plate but didn't recognize it.

When I spotted the big lump of luggage again in the parking lot in Chetwynd, it was easy to recognize so I thought I'd go over and introduce myself. Mark had bought the bike as a rebuilt in Florida and was riding his way northward - no particular destination in mind, although he was thinking about the Dust to Dawson rally in a few days.

Here's his Moto Guzzi and luggage lump: [iPhone 5]






Get some photos of Peace River valley just before Ft. St. John. [Rolleiflex 6008i, 50mm Distagon]





On to Ft. St. John, or highway junction just outside it. Still pretty early, so top up gas; fill spare tank; head north. By Pink Mountain starting to get a little tired. Pull in at RV park / liquor store / post office and ask about tent sites. They don't have any so on northward (after buying a single beer, $3, for later).


Few km later see Sasquatch Crossing restaurant/ crew base camp / RV park. Ask about tenting. Success! They tell me to set up in a grass corner by one of the crew dorms - free. At that price I'll patronize the restaurant! Set up under beginnings of rain shower but all set before all but a few drops. Into restaurant - Huge burgers for $12, and they even have free wi-fi!! This is awesome!!

I really do mean a huge burger. An older couple with an RV on their way to Alaska stopped in, and the husband ordered the same. When it came out, he asked the waitress is it was a joke, or one of those "if you can eat this, it's free!" things. She was a bit offended I think - she replied that people around there were able to eat it (sure, they're 23 year old oil rig workers!) When I managed - just - to finish mine, she pointed that out to him, too, but as I said "Yeah, but you notice I can only waddle now?" [iPhone 5]



Two half-pound patties plus cheese, bacon, AND a thick slice of ham later, I waddle out to the tent and enjoy my beer. Patchy clouds but no rain at the moment - in fact sunny and hot. Charge the phone off mc aux socket and just relax.


Today's total: 584.9 km
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Old 07-03-2013, 09:59 AM   #3
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JB:

nice photos and good for you for going on this trip, in spite of being jobless. I keep thinking about your first trip and how I wanted to tag along

I thought about stopping by your place several times lately but now I know you wouldn't have been home.

You mentioned "premium" fuel, My 'Strom only uses Regular, unless you have another bike

I am also leaving on a trip and started an RR, it's in my signature line

can't wait for your next installment

bob
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Old 07-04-2013, 07:06 AM   #4
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Hi Bob!

Good to hear you're getting out on a ride - I'll have to follow your Spot beacon and check out your report. Wish I was going out again, to be honest!

Yeah, the bike will run on lower octane, but I find it prefers 91+ and when I can use it, I do.

PS watch for road debris in your area. There will be a postscript on this trip - hit a bolder the size of a small watermelon, in rush hour traffic on Oak St bridge, Tueday afternoon. Guess it must have fallen off a truck? Major damage to both front and rear rims on the 'strom. Lucky that's all it was.

brunstei screwed with this post 07-10-2013 at 10:11 AM
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Old 07-04-2013, 08:38 AM   #5
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Day 3 - June 17

Day 3

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.


[Canon SX130]

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.




[Canon SX130]
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.




Distance:443.8
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Old 07-04-2013, 10:59 AM   #6
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JB:

I am not sure I would want to be that close to BEARS and BISON. Either that or you have a good zoom lens

WOW ! $173. for a room ? You really splurged or else they saw you coming . . . at least you got to warm up

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Old 07-05-2013, 01:00 PM   #7
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The bear was not too close - that is indeed just a pretty good lens. The bison - yeah, I was that close. After I got home I read up about them a bit more, statements like:

" At the time bison ran wild, they were rated second only to the Alaska brown bear as a potential killer, more dangerous than the grizzly bear. In the words of early naturalists, they were a dangerous, savage animal that feared no other animal and in prime condition could best any foe[26] " (Wikipedia)

Glad I read that AFTER I had to roll past a few of them, very close up...

Quote:
Originally Posted by bESS View Post
JB:

I am not sure I would want to be that close to BEARS and BISON. Either that or you have a good zoom lens

WOW ! $173. for a room ? You really splurged or else they saw you coming . . . at least you got to warm up

bob
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Old 07-05-2013, 02:02 PM   #8
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Day 4 - June 18

Day 4

Slept well. As far as remote motels go, I do have to say this one is clean, comfortable, and even has satellite TV and phone. Woke up to heavy rain about 5 AM. Vindicates my decision not to tent, I think, but now I have to think about the road. Wet, it will be nearly undrivable on my tires. If only I had TKC-80s installed! Oh well - they wouldn't handle the pavement well. Forecast is for weather to improve all day and then sun starting afternoon. Couple of options:
- stay here another night. Motel is too expensive but I'm all dry now, if I set up camp at the campground I can stay that way, and the road will have dried out.
- take off morning and try my luck. If I make it out ok, down to Fort Nelson, refuel, then north to Muncho Lake area.
- pack up, and hang around until late afternoon or early evening. Road will be mostly dry by then, and it's light to midnight - then only plan on getting to Fort Nelson and camping.

Breakfast is the usual of oatmeal, crasins, and coffee. Pack up and head out about 10:30 to check conditions.

I also took the time now to check out a few more things in the town.

Confluence of Liard and Petitot Rivers - look at the difference in amount of mud! [Canon SX130]




In particular, there is an old wooden church built by the Oblates:

"The present Mission building was built from 1913 to 1921. Father Mathurin Vacher, o.m.i., took nearly eight years to complete the building because he was practically alone to do the work. He even had to hand-cut his own lumber. At that time, most of the people lived out on the land, in the traditional way, coming in only to trade.

The foundations of the mission were rebuilt in 1957 and the building was renovated in 1965. Even today, the Mission serves as a place of worship. No visit to Fort Liard is complete without a visit to Mission." (http://www.fortliard.com/history.htm#mission)

Well, I don't think it looks like it's still in use, now... not with this hole in the roof: [Roliflex 6008i]



Bell from the church [Rolleiflex 6008i]






Updated forecast in store is 60% rain all day and 30% overnight. So, not going to get better towards evening. Right now, hasn't rained for several hours and may be best chance I get. Time to head out and try.

Section from town to highway really slick.

I reached the bottom of the mud hill coming up the town the few km back to the gravel highway. As you can maybe see in this photo [Canon SX130], the right side for whatever reason looked a lot slicker / goopier than the far left. I considered going up the left, but with a blind crest, that didn't seem like a smart idea.





There was a flatbed coming up slowly behind me as I slid around towards the foot of the slope, and I paused to let him go by - and guess what, he took the left side of the road. Great for me - I just got right in behind him!


Thankfully big flatbed goes by on wrong side of road, a lot drier on that side, up the hill out of town. Follow him, don't worry about oncoming traffic! Once on the highway, the gravel is not too bad. Cold but not windy or raining. A bit squirrely in places but try to stay calm and not tense up, let my balance flow with the bike.


Liard Highway, pausing from sliding around the mud and gravel on my southward return. Not a lot to see here. [Canon SX130]




Count the distance on the odometer. At 10:31 back in BC and pavement! Getting colder, good place to pull over and add the down shirt.

After about a half hour pull over again and put on grip heaters.

Yes, "put on" grip heaters. I have the temporary, overwrap kind (Oxfords). I can put them on in about a minute when needed, or take them off. It was definitely nice to have them today. [Canon SX130]




Intermittent cold rain. Bison on road twice - come around a corner and startle one, but he runs off the road. Next group don't startle but also won't get off road. Take a few photos from safe distance, then carefully creep by.

Again, photos were taken from a ways back... then I had to roll by very slowly. This one was barely the width of the road away, watching me, with this big line of drool hanging out of its mouth as I edged past. [Canon SX130]



Rain gets hard in last 50 km to Fort Nelson and finally starts to get through suit. Cold by time I hit tourist info center. Gear is wet, if $79 will get me a room and dry out it's worth it. Chat for a bit to Lisa, from Idaho on her way to Fairbanks. She's heard good things about Toad River hot springs, maybe I should check them out tomorrow, too.

Shannon Motel is cheapest in town. Turns out to be $89 when I check in - make that $100 even with tax. Still I go for it (tenting down the street is $25; is drying my gear out worth $75? Probably "yes".) Into motel by 2:30 local time, gear hung up to dry and make some hot soup (again with the coffee maker). There's wifi but for some reason my iPhone doesn't seem to want to connect? Well, I can walk back over to tourist info center later if I want to send any emails.

Head out and get a can of beer and some chips, then back to the motel. My phone finds the wifi now so send a few more emails and check the weather forecasts for Watson Lake and Whitehorse. Looks like it should be good from tomorrow on. Relax for the afternoon and watch the one movie I brought along (Bad Day at Black Rock),

I'm not really a big iPhone fan - I own one because it was a cheap deal with my wireless provider. Having said that, the iPhone was really handy on this trip. I used it as a GPS, including sending positional updates any time I found a wifi signal I could get (which now, occurs almost everywhere - places have satellite internet and wifi available, narrow bandwidth but fine for a quick email or upload a GPS coordinate). I also used it to watch a movie, here, and I'd brought along a novel to read on it (Atlas Shrugged. Don't know what made me decide to bring that particular one this trip, but it was a fantastic choice. I've seen far too much of what is caricaturized in it not to enjoy it in a very cynical way. It was what I did most nights in the tent, until I got too tired). I also took photos with it, occasionally, I wrote the trip log (the italicized bits of this) on it, exchanged iMessages with a few friends, and checked weather forecasts. Having one hand-sized device you could do all that on, and be able to charge quickly off the bike's battery, was really handy.

then make some supper again using the coffee maker hot plate. In the end this doesn't work very well for pasta; the pesto penne with diced turkey is edible but hardly good. Note to self, dehydrated foods better for coffee maker cooking than ones usually boiled for any length of time.

Sun comes out about 8 PM, looks like forecast will hold true. Talk a bit to another rider on a 650 GS who's taken a room just down from mine. He's done the Dempster before (on street tires, he says) and we discuss the impact of weather on these gravel roads.

Ok, ok. I still want to go to Inuvik. I think for me though, will be on a set of knobbies.

Make it an early night. Total: 216 km
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Old 07-09-2013, 02:15 PM   #9
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Day 5 - June 19

Day 5

Slept well. Usual breakfast of oatmeal and coffee. Over to car wash, doesn't open until 9 but I go early and find the wand bay open. $5 gets most of the mud off the bike, then oil the chain and gas up. Repack under clear sunny skies and off northward 9 am.

10:30 stop at Tetsa River - this time I try one of the much advertised cinnamon buns. It is pretty good! Owner says ~300 people stopped yesterday. That's pretty busy. Saw three bears on way here.

Tetsa River, if you've ever driven the Alaska Highway and didn't notice it, is the small log building with a gas pump and some camp sites at it - but mostly notable for the several miles of road signs as you approach, telling you it's the "best cinnamon buns in the galaxy". Well, this time I decided to try one. [Canon SX130]



It was pretty good! After this it was on northward towards Stone Mountain Park and Muncho Lake. It starts getting a lot more scenic now.
Roadside ponds, north of Tetsa River. [Rolleiflex 6008i, 50mm distagon]




Grazing moose [Canon SX130]





Clouding up a bit but just high overcast, not threatening rain.
11:30 gas at Rocky Mountain Lodge. They have premium!

Rocky Mountain Lodge isn't even listed on the map - it's a small wooden building, with a 1900-era wrought-iron door latch instead of a door knob; and a couple of small side buildings (which I think may be accommodation for rent) - and two gas pumps. In fact not only was one of them premium gas, but it was ~20 cents/litre cheaper than regular was, just up the road another hour.

Two mountain goats at edge of road about 1 km back but no place to stop and get a photo.

Conditions were more favourable for getting a shot of the caribou just past here, though. [Canon SX130]




1:15 stop for a snack at southern edge of Muncho Lake.

Beautiful day here at the lake. [Rolleiflex 6008i, 50mm Distagon]



1:30, play it safe and get gas (5.6 l @ 1.969!) at Northern Rockies Lodge, Muncho Lake.

(That was regular; I think the premium at Rocky Mtn Lodge, was 1.75!)

More bison just before Liard Hot Springs.

"More bison" is something of an understatement. There were big electric signs at the side of the road warning "bison on road", and they were not kidding. For the next 200 km or so, I think I saw bison - either singly or in groups from a few up to maybe 50 - along the road, every 20 km or so. I went by one really big one, which had made himself a sort of dirt wallow to lie in, on a small grass slope which had to be no more than about 4 metres from the edge of the pavement; and it just lie there, watching the vehicles go by. There were quite a few small calves, too. Here's a few examples [Canon SX130].



Bison calf:


I took quite a few more bison photos but by now you're probably getting bored of them.


Into the hot springs 2:15.

Liard Hot Springs is really neat. The spring itself is extremely hot, where it emerges - in an upper pool (which was closed off, I couldn't get there for photos today), and also along a limestone cliff face known as the "hanging garden". This hot spring water cools and mixes with a small cold water creek. The mineral rich water, and the fact it's hot (year round, of course!) results in some pretty amazing plant life, some of it being refugia species from before the last ice age. I'd be interested to know what would be seen in microbial sampling here, too, might be some rather unusual things.

At the Hanging Gardens part, the minerals deposit out to form "tufa", and various heat tolerant mosses and plants grow along the warm, trickling cliff face: [Rolleiflex 6008i]




Lush ferns all around: [Rolleiflex 6008i]



The swimming area is a natural, gravel bottom creek - with a wooden change room structure and stairs built on one side, and then you just wade into the creek. Upstream is hotter, downstream is cooler; today I found I could only bear being in the very bottom section of the creek, where it was just "warmish bath" temperature. It sure felt good!

Upper edge of the creek - nobody there because it's way too hot. [Rolleiflex 6008i]


Photos first! The upper pool is closed off, you can't walk up to it any more but get a few pictures of the "hanging gardens" and lush ferns and lower pool. Then back to bike, drop off camera and get swim trunks. Back at the pool, I find I can only tolerate the coolest end - but it does feel really good. After a half hour's swimming and lolling I get back on the bike feeling refreshed. On through road construction, "gravel patches", and more bear and bison.

At one of the road construction points, they're stopping vehicles to wait for a pilot car. A few vehicles behind me, a semi pulls up to a stop... the driver gets out... and then out comes his cat. Just hops down out of the cab onto the road next to him, and they walk off the side of the road into the grass. Everyone's watching in surprise; the cat seems to take this all as normal though, and just walks along with the driver. Somebody commented, and the driver explained the cat had ridden in the rig since it was a kitten, and just took this sort of roadside wanderabout as normal. [Canon SX130]





Bison it seems every 20 km or so, suddenly, there is one or two at the side of the road. Two seem to have some sort of "dust wallows" they are lying in, half asleep, casually watching the traffic go by. The bears I see bring today's total to 10.

Arrived in the Yukon! [Canon SX130]


Get to Watson Lake just past 6. I see the old 1942 Air Force Lodge, and it would be cool to stay, but $75 when it's nice weather I can't justify. I kind of feel like tenting anyhow. Pull in to the travel info center and ask about tenting - told my only option is the Territorial campground 4 km past town. Well, I don't need anything here so straight onward.

I didn't spend any time in the Signpost Forest - I've seen it before, and sort of expected at this point, that I was going to spend a few days in and around here, and so I'd have time to visit it again then. Well, that was the plan, anyhow.

Into Watson Lake Territorial Campground, 6:40

Go to get water from the pump first. There's a sign, saying boil 2 min prior to potable use. An older guy in a car with Alaska plates pulls up as I'm filling my bottles. He chuckles at the sign. "I know the Canadian government," he says. "If this water actually needed to be boiled, they wouldn't let you be using it at all. I bet it's tested monthly for quality and it's fine!" I suspect he's right, but it strikes me as an unusual comment for someone from another country. I wonder if he thinks his government would similarly err on the side of caution? Regardless of agreeing with him I go ahead and iodinate the water I'm going to drink. Mmmmm iodinated water.....

Set up camp and have a snack and check the bike. Find something I hadn't counted on - my rear tire is getting very low tread. I had checked the tires before leaving and replaced the front, but thought the rear should be good this whole trip. Looks like I misjudged and there's not enough to get me home.

Actually, there's enough to get me - maybe - 1000 km, before it's totally bald. Whitehorse is nearly 500 km away.

Mull on what to do and decide my best bet is get up early and ride to Whitehorse tomorrow. I can get there by noonish and get, or if need be, order a tire. If I have to wait a few days, I could do a side trip - there's enough tire life left for that.

My real worry was, if I got in late on a Thursday, and nobody had an appropriate tire, then the order might no go out until Friday, for delivery maybe Tuesday if I was lucky - effectively stranding me in Whitehorse for several days. Better to get in as early as possible, so any order if needed can be placed Thursday.

Decisions made and mosquitos getting thick - time to have some supper and make an early night, if I want to hit the road by 6 am.


Today's total: 534.1 km
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Old 07-09-2013, 02:35 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by brunstei View Post
2012 VStrom 100 Adventure! I have the same bike.
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Old 07-10-2013, 08:40 AM   #11
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Mine's an '09 - but doubt there's many differences.

Still not quite as comfortable or sure-footed as my TDM was - but very capable and reliable - and the engine runs fine across a wide elevation range, unlike the TDM
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Old 07-10-2013, 10:03 AM   #12
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Day 6 - June 20

Day 6
Up at 4:30 local time with early sun.

First rays of sun through the trees hitting the VStrom at 4:30 AM as I pack up. [Canon SX130]





Slept ok, wasn't cold. Usual breakfast then pack up, on the road by 7 am.
Junction 37 looks unchanged - there's a car at the abandoned weigh station, looks like camping. Fuel at Nugget City then on towards Teslin.

Hands getting cold. Pull off and add down shirt which helps but pretty chilly when I reach Rancheria.

Rancheria is looking pretty busy these days - compared to 5 years ago, they've done a bunch of renovations on the little restaurant, and have some motel rooms. It looked like they were pretty much at full capacity, with road work crews and tourists, including (so the owner said) some bus tours stopping - and eating all the home made pie. Everyone always seems very friendly at Rancheria.

Stop for a coffee and gas. Contemplate grip heaters - put them on.

Refuel in Teslin.

Among other things, Teslin is famous for its bridge. Many of the bridge decks in northern BC and the Yukon are metal grid - lightweight, strong, easy for snow to melt and fall through. It's also very unstable for a motorcycle - thus the ubiquitous Sign of the Shaky Motorcyclist: [Canon SX130]



(Actually, the Yukon has two distinct types of Shaky Motorcyclist sign; there's a different one indicating rough gravel too. Unfortunately I didn't think to stop and get the photo of that one, to have a complete set.) How challenging the deck is, depends on the particulars of the metal grid. Some use a sort of diamond lattice with all metal sections at the same height; these seem to be fine to ride across, with good control. Others - in particular the Teslin bridge (built in 1944, it's the longest bridge on the Alaska highway - 1466 feet of cantilevered steel) have a rectangular grid - and have the longitudinal metal stringers, higher than the cross stringers. This results effectively in "channels" which motorcycle tires fall in to, and if your front drops into a different channel than the rear, it gets very wobbly! To make matters worse, the side rail on the bridge are quite low; if you somehow wobbled over into them, it looks rather like you'd just go over the side. Oh, and, the bridge is rather narrow. So, best approach is hazards on, feet down, first gear, and hope for no oncoming traffic. Here's a shot of the bridge: [Canon SX130]




Just as I'm pulling out, a big green van with Idaho plates pulls in. Yep, it's Lisa from the Fort Nelson Tourist Info Centre. She's stopping to check out the wildlife exhibit I suggested here in Teslin. I tell her if she's going to Whitehorse, to look for the campground on the edge of town. She says she's headed that way.

Arrive in Whitehorse 11:20 local time. Tourist info directs me to the Suzuki dealer. Oddly, they don't have VStrom stock size tires available (?).

[RANT] OK! Seriously? Suzuki Canada, are you listening? You market the DL as an Adventure Tour bike, you'd better back it up with at least minimal service. Whitehorse is the place where everyone riding north does their tire swap (well not everyone - but a lot; it's the last major centre if for instance you're heading for the Dempster Highway; so it gets a LOT of motorcycle maintenance stops). You have a Suzuki dealer, and they do not stock a single correct size rear VStrom tire? Are you kidding me? And when I walked in and inquired, the parts guy had to have me walk out and get the tire size for him. WTF? Dude? You're the dealer, you have the parts manual in front of you! Seriously, I counted no less than 9 VStroms in the campground over the next two days - you've got two on your floor, where I'm talking to you - and you don't know / can't look up the size, and don't stock it, anyhow? Best they could offer was either of two 16" tires in very wrong profile, which would fit the rim. Usable as a last resort but that's about it. [/RANT]




They have something that could work but I decide to shop around. Yukon Motorcycle Centre (what was the HD dealer, 5 years ago) has the right size but only in TKC-80s. Not suited for what I'll be doing, and don't know how that would mix with the TrailWing front. Onto Honda - where I get my choice of two dual purpose tires in the correct size. I go with the Scorpion Trail and get the gear off the bike - they take it right in for the change. Better than I had hoped for! Plan to camp here tonight. Bike is back out with new tire in under 30 minutes - been in town less than an hour and problem solved.

Thank you, Whitehorse Honda!

Back to tourist infocentre and get info on Robert Campbell hwy - no services = no fuel for 370 km Ross River to Watson Lake. That's too close to my estimated max range including spare tank, of 400 km. Maybe South Canol is possible, Ross River to Johnson's Crossing? Get info. Will look at other options on map tonight.

Try sending email via the guest wifi at tourist center. You have to get an individual logon and it's good for 20 min. Some email comes in, but I am not sure if the one I tried to send goes out. Also get some mystery, roaming cell signal. Tells me $0.90/minute and only seems to work in downtown but may try it later for 2 min call "I'm alive!"

Get beer - I'm starting to cook alive in my suit, must be 25-30C out? Back to Robert Service campground and get a spot for 2 nights.

The campground here is very nice. I think it's actually run by the city. It has all the usual amenities, plus a "living room" [iPhone 5]



Decide I want to base myself here and explore a bit, and it's walking (30 min?) to town - being here for midsummer might be fun?

Set up tent and lunch of salmon thai salad and beer (before it gets warm). A few tiny sprinkles - they feel good, sit in t shirt and absorb them.
After a break, get the camera and walk into town. It's about 20 minutes along the river, nice.


Tour the SS Klondike sternwheeler and take a few pictures.

A few of the Klondike photos [Rolliflex 6008i; 80mm Planar]







Wander into town further and come across -- well from a distance it looks like a C1 roofed over motorcycle. Parked at the side of town's main street, clearly broken and being repaired. Check it out - English fellow and his wife doing a RTW tour, the bike is this modified Motto Guzzi. His cluch cable just broke and he's fixing it. Have a brief talk - have to check out his website guzzioverland.com later. Sounds like it's been quite a trip.

Spoke with Kev a bit. I'm sure his rig gets a lot of attention! When he said he was from the UK it made a bit more sense, but really, it all looked very Mad Max. His website is http://www.guzzioverland.co.uk/.

Kev, just finishing up his clutch cable repair in downtown Whitehorse: [Rolleiflex 6008i, 80mm Planar]



Rain starts coming down heavier now. Walk back to camp. Hey, the unexpected rain is a good chance to try out my fancy new Siltarp, right? Well, all the ways I had practiced pitching that before, assumed ground I could drive pegs into. Not here! I give up for now and make supper in light rain. At least it isn't cold. Supper tonight is "wild thyme turkey in country gravy with mashed potatoes". It's pretty good!

After supper still raining and I become determined to find a way to set the tarp up. Finally with rocks for anchors and using the bike handlebars as one tie point, I get a decent little wind and rain shelter set up. Pop the little folding stool under it and sit down to read. I'm impressed - I'm totally out of the wind and rain but not cramped, very nice.

This was the first time I'd included a tarp in my gear. The ability to very rapidly set up a shelter for cooking etc, separate from my tent, was worth the space and weight. The tiny folding stool was also worth it, allowing me to sit comfortably out of the weather under the tarp shelter. [iPhone 5]



Check the bike, and notice the chain seems to be overly slack. Should have been adjusted when new tire was put on. I could do it myself, but I'd have to use the stock toolkit wrench (tiny, not much leverage) to loosen and re-torque the rear axle bolt. Decide to at least ask the Honda shop first - will check tomorrow.

Into the tent about 11 and asleep immediately - it's not dusk yet (sunset is 11:45 pm, and surise about 4:20 am, I checked). Comfortable night.

Total 456.1 km
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Old 07-11-2013, 12:06 PM   #13
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Day 7 - June 21

Day 7
Up fairly early. Honda shop is "across town" (not very far, relatively speaking) and I know there's an A&W near it. They have cheap breakfasts and wifi, so go there for breakfast while I wait for Honda to open. Well, thw Whitehorse A&W doesn't have wifi, it turns out, so unable to send position updates and emails. Over to Honda - ask nicely - and they adjust it properly, out in about 5 minutes.

Thanks again to Whitehorse Honda. Helpful staff.

Next mission of the day, is Yukon decal. Check out downtown Whitehorse until I find one, and apply it. My NWT decal is now balanced.

Off to Carcross. Take pictures at Emerald Lake,

Emerald Lake. [Rollei 6008i, 50mm Distagon]


the Carcross Desert,

Carcross Desert [Rolleiflex 6008i, 50mm Distagon]


and town itself - including a few of White Pass & Yukon train rolling into town.

WP&Y rail bridge and old dock, Carcross: [Rolleiflex 6008i]


Passenger cars, WP&Y [Rolleiflex 6008i]


Then onward through Bennett, B.C. (You have to get to Skagway via B.C., which seems odd, particularly when you see road maintenance signs saying it's part of Dease Lake district. Dease Lake, by road, is a long ways from here.) Five years ago, weather was bad here and didn't see a lot. Today, it's clear, and hot - close to 30C. I have every vent in the Captain Highlighter suit open, and it's just tolerable. The scenery is spectacular - sort of tundra with lakes and lichen covered rocks and occasional stunted trees. There's still patches of snow. Leave the photography for return leg (it will be easier to pull off on side I want to shoot) and on to the border. Road construction on the last bit of the Canadian side is messy - mushy gravel and paving. Past the border cairn and 12 miles to the US customs building. Another WP&Y train comes labouring up Chilkoot Pass while I am waiting - try to get it with the small camera.

WP&Y coming up Chilkoot Pass behind a steam locomotive [Canon SX130]



At the border explain I'm just going to get a state decal. With a straight face the officer tells me those have been outlawed in Skagway. I laugh and head on into town - where he's nearly right. In a town which is nothing but tacky souveneir shops, I end up having to go through most of then before I finally get one.

This photo of Skagway, with the cruise ship looming in the background, says it all. [Canon SX130]



Apply it, then ride back. Photos along the way. Quick crossing back into Canada at Bennett, then more photos. One stop is in the deep mushy gravel referred to earlier, and rear tire skids, but I keep the bike upright.

Photos near Bennett, BC. [Rolleiflex 6008i; 50mm except last one, 80mm]









Back in Whitehorse at campground, a Harley with Dutch license plates pulls into the camp site across from me. Bas freighted his motorcycle to New York from Holland, and today he's 16 days out from NYC. He's planning to reach Anchorage, then ride back to NYC. He joins me and we walk into town, find a bar for Midsummer eve.

Walking into town along the Yukon River. (You may need to click on photo and view from the host to get it full size - it's a large panorama image). [iPhone 5]




We pick the right one - 120 some beers on the list and a handful of Swiss, German, and Maritimers hanging out. Beer and a snack plate (fresh vegetables really taste good right now, haven't had a lot last few days!) We drink beer and chat until midnight then walk back to the camp.

Looking back at Whitehorse, midnight on Midsummer Day [iPhone 5].



Nice warm night, didn't need the down shirt to sleep comfortably.


Today's total 359km
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Old 07-11-2013, 01:22 PM   #14
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Nice RR! I did most of this on my way to D2D on my DL650, stayed a night at the Robert Service CG as well. Got a motel in Dawson Creek after a very nasty weather ride from Grand Prairie. I hauled a Noah's Tarp (Kelty's answer to the one you had) with me but only used it once. I couldn't find the right things to hang it from or tie it to! I didn't visit the Honda shop (or any other mc shop in Whitehorse) this time but did have the opportunity to get a tire for my BMW R100GSPD there in 1995. They were super in getting me on my way on a Sat afternoon.

Looking forward to more!

PS, had the rain and mud on the Top of the World Highway after D2D. Had the gravel on the Denali but it was dry.
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Old 07-12-2013, 09:06 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by McRuss View Post
Nice RR! I did most of this on my way to D2D on my DL650, stayed a night at the Robert Service CG as well. Got a motel in Dawson Creek after a very nasty weather ride from Grand Prairie. I hauled a Noah's Tarp (Kelty's answer to the one you had) with me but only used it once. I couldn't find the right things to hang it from or tie it to! I didn't visit the Honda shop (or any other mc shop in Whitehorse) this time but did have the opportunity to get a tire for my BMW R100GSPD there in 1995. They were super in getting me on my way on a Sat afternoon.

Looking forward to more!

PS, had the rain and mud on the Top of the World Highway after D2D. Had the gravel on the Denali but it was dry.
Sorry to hear you got rain over Top of the World - guess there's not a lot to see if you're in the clouds as you go over it. Five years ago I lucked out when I did it, had nice weather, the scenery is spectacular.

What sort of tires were you running?
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