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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by clintonl, Aug 15, 2013.
Awesome...That is all I can say so far jaja,, keep riding and taking good pics
Clinton's first law of the Yukon: there's always someone with a bigger tyre problem than you
After having to pick my bike up after stupidly dumping it on the way back from the Salmon Glacier I was kinda interested to see how much it weighed with all this crap on it. There was only one way to find out.
768 Lbs. That's over a third of a ton on two wheels. Bloody hell, if i'm to travel around the world one day I'm going to have to shed some serious weight. I love this bike but it's just so damn heavy.
As luck would have it Dust to Dawson was going on at the same time I happened to be in the neighbourhood. For a split naive second I thought I should perhaps toss my name into the hat for the "furthest ridden" . I had to chuckle to myself when I quickly realized that my 6000 miles from NJ doesn't even put you in the running for this event. There were several from Florida and the prize was eventually won by an Australian who rode up from Argentina. Beaten by an Australian! oh the shame! :)
Oh well at least we kiwis still demolish them where it counts. Rugby.
I used to go to a lot of vintage scooter rallies over the years and was pleased to see this event had the same flavours of goofing off just with more grey hair and heavier hardware thats all. Really super cool bunch of people who would do anything for you. Chief amongst them was Dick who graciously lent me his garage floor so I could perform the first oil change of the trip and fit the TKC 80s I'd hauled all this way.
The next day I wandered into the Downtown Hotel which just happens to make the perfect pick me up: A "sourtoe cocktail".
It's pretty easy to make really Just mix one part Yukon Jack with a real human toe and you're done!
"You can drink it fast, you can drink it slowbut your lips must touch the toe!"
It was just what I needed because tomorrow I was going to meet my potential nemesis
Eh! Eh! I met you in the Kootenays just as you were coming off the freshly applied Calcium Chloride. Looks like you had a good trip.
Did you get to the Poutine place (Nomad) in Revelstoke???
Hey there, It was really nice meeting you on the road and thanks so much for the tip! Yes I did make it to Nomads in Revelstoke and you were right the Poutine was fantastic!
Poutine - THE 'national' dish of the province of Quebec...!
Well....He had the sticker on his bag to prove that he may have known about Poutine from before.
Glad Clint enjoyed it, it is pretty good. But no it is not the national dish in Quebec or Canada, no matter how much Wendy's tried with their online voting on that last year.
Great pics. More please! Definitely a trip I want to do sometime.
Quebecois and their poutine... :dg
I'd been obsessing over the Dempster for the better part of a year. Like many people I'd poured over ride reports that seemed to range from total-cakewalk to complete-and-utter-nightmare-I-nearly-effing-died! The more research I did the more intimidated I became so I just decided to stop researching. Ha problem solved!
The afternoon before I was scheduled to ride it I was doing some last minute prep in Dick's garage and had to laugh to myself as he gave me the perfect pep talk. "Yeah that fuckin' road can sometimes just be hours and hours of sucking your arsehole up through your heart" he said slowly shaking his head.
hahaha. oooo kay then. I thought to myself.
So at 7:00am the next morning it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I pulled up alongside this sign at the beginning of the Dempster.
I stared at the sign for a few moments kinda chuckling at the slightly perverse quotes around the "Drive with Care" line.
Normally you do that when you're trying to indicate irony right?
It's then I thought about a great mechanism my friend Heather uses whenever she's faced with an unnerving situation on the road She'd just say 'Fuckit" and let things unfold as they may. So with this in mind I hopped back on my idling bike, stomped it into first gear and said "ah fuck it" as I throttled into a dicey 800 mile journey on a road built from mud and rocks.
So far so good.
For awhile I was riding a rock hard packed strip of mud and sandstone that took on an almost cobblestone-like feel. The dempster ride reports I'd read hadn't mention this stuff at all. It was fantastic! Riding south of Eagle Plains I knew the pendulum was definitely swung hard into the total cakewalk realm of experiences for me but it was early days yet.
Much of the Dempster follows an old dog sled trail into the northwest territories and it doesn't take long to discover the schizophrenic nature of its surface.
One moment you'd be riding a nice packed gravel surface thinking "ok this is no problem
" and then the road, almost sensing your rising confidence, would let you round a corner and present you with a huge mound of soft dirt left by the graders the day before. Things nearly came unravelled in precisely that fashion barely 200 miles into the journey but I managed to keep it together. It wouldn't be the last time my heart would nearly stop either .
In my book of rad things I think having to share the road with aircraft would be on page one.
The Yukon is so remote that the Dempster spontaneously morphs into airstrips every now and again. Each time I rode along one I was kinda hoping I'd see a plane on final approach Hey I'm a sucker for punishment what can I say?
The Yukon: weakening bladders the world over.
I blame the smug look on the fact that I was finally starting to conquer a ride that's weighed on my mind for over a year.
The pagans would also high five me given the fantastic weather window I'd scored.
Above the arctic circle the geography starts to look more like a moonscape There's nothing much to support life here and I was very aware I was riding along the back of a sleeping mud beast. You didn't have to look too closely at the calcium chloride impregnated shale surface to realize that when it gets wet it'll transform into a slick black grease nightmare and then you're in trouble and the problem is it rains a lot up here.
Climbing into the Northern Territories
Rolled into Fort McPherson at the 346 mile point at 7:50pm.
I was feeling pretty tired and had a brief scout about for a campsite but quickly realized that I just didn't have the energy to deal with the tent that night. In the end I decided to reward myself for a successful first day on the Dempster by staying at the one and only place in town: The Peel River Inn. I was super lucky to get a room actually as it officially locks up at 8pm and all the employees bugger off home After that only guests with keys can enter.
After wrestling with a faulty lock I finally got into my dorm-like room and dumped all my gear onto the floor. "A real bed to sleep in. Thank god. It's worth any price at this point" I thought to myself. Well it just so happened that "any price" when you're above the arctic circle staying in a place basically built for government and oil employees works out to be 200 bucks a night. Ouch. Oh well I'm definitely not getting out my tent out now.
The summer solstice sun blasting through the window of my room at 1:00am. Even after riding for 12 hours and feeling crazy tired the weird 24 hour sunshine was messing with my body clock. I just couldn't fall asleep and I felt like I was living that movie Insomnia.
So really the only option was to wander about a semi-deserted Fort McPherson at 1:00 in the morning like a zombie
About an hour later with the sun showing no signs of quitting at 2:00am I returned to my room and finally fell asleep. I felt pretty pleased with my first day on the Dempster. No crashes, No equipment breakages.. all in all an exhilarating day.
Tomorrow I wouldn't be so lucky.
Waiting for the Peel River Ferry to open at 9:00am
During the winter months the Peel River is frozen and an ice road joins the two land masses. Come breakup season a ferry is used to shuttle traffic across the water. The whole thing has a temporary feel to it as each morning they use earthmoving equipment to build a dirt "ramp" for traffic to drive onto the ferry. During the course of the day this "ramp" gets increasingly messed up as vehicles move across it my advice to anyone riding it is stay in the wheel tracks made by the trucks or face picking your bike up out of the soft dirt.
I'd been lucky as the weather had been perfect for my two days on the Dempster. I'd skirted heavy rainfalls the day prior and the road had been virtually dry all the way. So by the time I was on my return journey I'd developed a certain amount of confidence with the road and it was starting to rear it's ugly head with my average speed.
A few bum puckering close calls on this road had instilled this mantra I was reciting in my helmet "slow the fuck down, don't fuck this up" . I knew I'd lucked out with the road conditions. I knew this road would lull you into a false sense of security and then toss something heart-stoppingly scary out just to remind you that it could seriously mess up your day. I knew 2 guys crashed the day before doing this road. I knew all of this and yet my average speed was still creeping up.
That was about to change.
I was cruising along a nice hard packed section at 65 mph about to exit the the arctic circle when I discovered another little gift the Dempster can toss at you Pot-holes. Not the ordinary dimpled holes with soft edges but sudden deep sharp edged, invisible, scary-as-shit ones. A guy I later spoke to about it said the road is basically built from sandstone on permafrost. Sometimes the permafrost can melt a bit and the sandstone drops away to form these mini grand canyons. Yay!
As you can probably guess I can now tell you that when your loaded GSA hits one of these guys at 65mph it feels and sounds like a small explosion just went off under your seat. It's funny how ones mind starts processing things in the 3 seconds that follow an event like that.
The second my bike hit the road crater it started making this god awfully loud scraping sound as I throttled off I remember thinking "can't be a tyre blowout because the bike is still handling ok", I looked down and thought "Doesn't look like the rear suspension bit it" It's at that moment the sound suddenly stopped and I looked back to see a black piece of plastic lying on the road behind me.
I remember breathing a sigh of relief knowing that I'd just dodged a bullet and got away with simply entering the club of GS owners whose TKC80 has caught, chewed up and spat out the hugger mudguard.
This happened just as I was exiting the arctic circle so I placed it on the sign as a hopefully adequate sacrifice to the gods of the northern territories. It was also a real reminder to pay attention to my mantra for the rest of the journey out.
I managed to ride the rest of the way at a respectable pace and made it out with the balance of bike bits I arrived with.
I've never developed such an close psychological and physical relationship with a road like the Dempster Highway.
Amazing, Amazing experience I'll never forget it. However I know I was very lucky with it.
HOLY SHIT I'M IN!
Awesome pictures + great narration = EPIC JOURNEY!
Now that i'd tackled the Dempster I was feeling better about the thought of crossing back over into Alaska via the Top of the World Highway.
The subtle tell tail signs you've just crossed back into Alaska...
Again I was fortunate to only catch a total of 20 mins rain on this stretch. Not a lot but just enough to illustrate how things can get pretty sloppy out here when it wants to. Clearly I was continuing to luck out with the road conditions.
Range roving under a saturated sky.
Met Russ, a marine biologist who also happened to be riding that same mountain ridge. We took the opportunity to take the stock vanity shots of each other and then he invited me to visit Seward for a behind the scenes tour of the sealife research center.
I ended up going and as direct result of riding that mountain ridge I was able to spend an hour of my life watching puffins fly underwater couldn't have predicted that even with a million monkeys typing for eternity. I'm convinced serendipity is the tetrahydrocannabinol of travel.
Life cannot be considered complete until you've visited the only settlement in the world with the name "Chicken" I say!
Apparently the original miners wanted to name their town "Ptarmigan" after the local bird but couldnt spell it and so they went with "chicken" instead.
After Chicken I followed the narrow winding Taylor Hwy towards Tok. Little did I know that seven days later a man riding his BMW would be killed on this road which would set forth a series of events that would connect with me hundreds of miles later. These events would go on to form one of my most important and treasured life memories.
I rolled into Tok, AK and decided to pull my trusty MSR tent out of its dirty yellow drybag and set up at Young's campground. Turned out to be a really nice place to stay with excellent (free) showers. The best thing of all is you can wander next door to fast Eddy's restaurant which serves great roadside food for the area. By this stage I was craving something green and they definitely came through with their all you can eat salad bar.
The next day as I was heading out I crossed paths with a really nice couple on a pair of TransAlps. It's uncommon to see just one of these lovely bikes on the road these days so to see two like this was a rare treat.
Unfortunately we couldn't chat long because they had places to get to and I wanted to take advantage of the fantastic sunny day to ride across the Denali Highway.
Dear Alaskan Pipeline Company,
Sorry 'bout that.
Closing in on the Denali
It's like the opposite of a Barcelona beach holiday!
Lovely ride down the Richardson Hwy around the edges of Summit lake.
As I rolled into Paxon, AK and stopped to ponder the next 134 miles of dirt I noticed the wonderfully sunny day had clouded over and it was starting to spit with rain. At this point all I could remember about the Denali from the descriptions I'd read was the line "Treacherous when wet". I laughed to myself nervously said thought "Perfect!"
A few moments later a couple who'd just completed the road from the opposite direction pulled in next to me. They had this really hardcore battle scarred Jeep kitted out with massive off road tyres, jerry cans, shovels and a laptop mounted between the seats in police cruiser fashion. I wandered over and as I saw the guy fiddling with some high end sat nav app on the laptop and thought to myself "ok these guys will be able to give me an accurate, unbiased description of the road conditions ahead"
I asked the woman sitting next to him "How was the road?" to which she responded "Oh it's pretty bad"
Excellent, just what I was hoping to hear.
My declaration of independence is written with a TKC80 rear tyreMake sure you know what yours is written with.
So long story short I spent several glorious hours riding the Denali and soaking in its absolutely stunning surroundings. The Dempster's beauty lies in its brutal remoteness, The Denali has both remoteness and wall to wall mountains. Big Mountains.
That night I camped just off the intersection of the George Parks and Denali Hwys. Rode into Cantwell for a drink at really nice bar equipped with an eclectic mix of sofas, wifi, and good food. Perfect!
While I was in the bar a guy who was about to ride the Denali the next day came over and asked if I'd just ridden it and "How was the road?"
I responded "Oh, It wasn't that bad at all!"
Clinton - how soon we forget....
... AWESOME ... just waiting for the next set jaja..
At this point I was faced with a decision to either ride north via the Denali national park and on to Prudhoe Bay or head south.
I'd weighed the pros and cons of doing the Dalton vs Dempster prior to leaving and eventually decided on the latter for a number of reasons. Someone had also mentioned that the national park scenery was basically what I'd just experienced on the Denali Hwy but with endless tourists in buses mixed in.
I still had a lot of riding to do and so it was a pretty easy decision for me to push south on the George Parks Hwy toward the Kenai Peninsula.
Granted the service was a bit slow but I still rate this motel a solid C+ !
South of Ancorage the Seward Hwy winds itself around the Turnagain Arm of the Cook inlet. This wonderful two lane road boasts scenery that's stunning even by alaskan standards.
Trainspotting isn't nerdy if the trains are effing cool right ?
Rode through the Maynard mountain into Whittier via a super cool single lane hole in the rock that's shared by trains and cars.
It's certainly a good test of ones focus to ride down a 2.5 mile slippery band of concrete and steel knowing that if you contact the rail either side you're going down. Just to keep things interesting they've installed a few jet turbine fans for that surprise crosswind blast.
Apparently motorcyclists come unglued on a regular basis in this tunnel so to avoid them becoming speed bumps for the trucks they make all bikes travel at the end of each scheduled opening.
(Yeah I got busted for stopping and taking that picture.)
I'd previously read about Whittier in Klancher's book on Alaska in it he has a colorful photo of a nice looking cafe and describes the town as having a "stunning setting with funky places"
I arrived in Whittier on one of the few wet and foggy days I've had on this trip. I'd just spent a very damp night camping at the base of a glacier so I must admit my expectations were calibrated for something completely different as I exited the tunnel. My mind was set on finding the funky cafe in Klancher's book and stopping for a nice hot coffee and croissant or something.
I never really found that cafe but as I rode around what I did discover was one of the weirdest towns I've visited in awhile. Whittier was built by the US military as a strategic shipping port and is now home to about 180 people. Two huge decaying buildings basically dominate the place.
One of them, the Begich Building, houses 85% of the town's population plus the police station. From the outside it looks like the kind of dreary high-rise you would've found east of the Berlin wall
The other is the 270,000 square foot, 6 story Buckner Building. Once the largest building in Alaska it was built to house thousands of military personal as "a city under one roof." It contained a cafeteria, classroom, radio station, jail, hospital, library etc. Abandoned after the '64 earthquake it's now just a decaying shell full of asbestos vandals have pretty much broken everything they can get their hands on. Too cost-prohibitive and logistically difficult to demolish and remove it just sits there as a memorial to the cold war.
You can find a brilliant video of a guy skiing through it here: http://vimeo.com/50860740
To be honest it doesn't take much of a ride about town on a grey rainy day to understand why the residents refer to the town as "Shittier" However I liked it's stark contrast to the jaw dropping beauty of the Alaska I'd experienced so far.
I wished I'd researched more about Whittier's urban decay prior to arriving and taken some photos while I was there. I think my only regret for the whole trip was choosing to have (an albeit delicious!) lunch at the Inn At Whittier rather than explore the Buckner Building ruins.
Kinda kills me to see what I missed out on:
After heading back through the whittier tunnel the weather cleared up and I was once again immersed in the beauty of the Seward Hwy
Jerome Lake just before the Sterling Hwy turnoff.
Set up camp next to the Seward harbour, lit a fire and spent 3 glorious days just taking a bit of a breather from the trip.
Seward is a really nice spot to take a break in. The town is cradled by beautiful mountains and the campsite is within walking distance of interesting bars, restaurants and cafes. Down the end of the main street is the Alaska Sealife Center which is worth a visit but not cheap to get in at $20.
I spent an hour there trying to get a decent picture of a puffin flying underwater. Not easy given the constraints of trying to capture a fast moving animal through thick glass under low light. I must have taken 50 pictures and really the best I have to show for it is this somewhat blurry shot:
Clinton - what are you shooting these great pictures with?
Good show mate, awesome trip and great to see it, keep waving that Kiwis flag high.
I too would love to know what weaponry your are taking the pics with.
Andi & Ellen, Two Moto Kiwis!!
Hey Clinton, truly beautiful photos, and interesting/informative narrative.
Thanks for sharing.
Awesome RR, I'm in!!
Safe Ride.... just jeff
Thanks guys glad you're enjoying it.
The photographic hardware I used to shoot these images was a combination of:
Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S Lens
Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S VR Lens
iPhone 4S + post processing
Sprint Pro II GM Tripod (b/c its lightweight and fits into my Zega Case)
Great report. Beautiful pics.
The characters on this trip have been an absolute highlight for me. I spent a few days in Homer which is home port to the fishing boat "Time Bandit" from the Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch" TV show.
One morning I was taking a shower when this burly fisherman started singing in the cubicle next to me:
"If you like Pina Coladas
and getting caught in the rain
(In super high voice) "If you like makin' looove at mid...night"
(In a super deep husky voice) "hahahaha... oooonly in Alaska!!"
Now if I was typing my memoirs I'd tap out "life complete." at that point and reach for the carriage return lever.
Sometimes you just have to think outside the grid system.
Camping on the beach at the very tip of Homer spit.
I just took this picture for the Halibut.