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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by selkins, Sep 12, 2012.
Thanks for the time and work to share your journey. Hope someday I can get up to that area. As per battery on my '02 1150, the abs light would come on when starting was the first sign of the battery going out. Dealer in Baton Rouge replaced it under warranty way back in '03 I think. One of the most comfortable bikes I've traveled on.
What he said...
Yeah, the bum battery was an aftermarket that I had dropped in just a few months prior. I was just happy that it failed three miles from the dealer. About the most convenient location possible on this trip.
Thanks THX_337, it's always nice to hear from happy readers!
Thanks, bud. BTW, what ever happened to your RR? Inquiring minds want to know.
Thanks, bud. BTW, what ever happened to your RR? Inquiring minds want to know. [/QUOTE]
One of these days, I'll get motivated and finish it off. I'm just so stinkin' jealous of your photo quality, I'm concerned no one will read mine...guess I could add lots of cross-posts at a later date...just sayin...
Sooo, you're rethinking your smartphone-as-superior-to-DSLR perspective?
It was never about smartphone vs DSLR...it was about crappy point-n-shoot vs smartphone. You've proven quite thoroughly that the sensor size on DSLR is so much larger than PNS that to settle for a PNS is worthless vs a smartphone. That said, if choosing between random "photos of the moment" on a really good smartphone (like mine or the next iteration about to come out that I'll hopefully own) vs a PNS, I'll take the risk and keep the DSLR holstered and the smartphone for random photos that make RRs more special...like mine...so there bastage...
Now get back to the fookin' ride report do0d...
The Yukon is really big and incredibly wild. Emphasis here: It is difficult for a person from the middle latitudes to accept with credibility just how wild the Yukon is. For perspective: The Yukon Territory (pop. 34,000) is pretty much the physical size of Colorado and Utah combined (pop. ~ 8 million), or Germany + Switzerland + Austria (pop. ~98 million). About 70% of Yukon’s population resides in one town, Whitehorse.
In the lower 48 we think of Colorado and Utah as sparsely populated western states. Their shared population density is 235 times greater than the Yukon. Outside of the “metropolitan” areas (Denver region, Salt Lake City region and Whitehorse), the population density of the two states rises to 500 times that of the Yukon.
Alaskans like to think of their state as wild. It’s certainly big – more than three times the size of the Yukon. But it’s also relatively crowded, with eight times as many people per square mile. (Not a terribly illustrative measure, since for both Alaska and the Yukon we’re talking tiny pieces of a person per square mile.)
So, again – really big, incredibly wild.
For you East Coast Americans out there, you can think of the Alaska Highway as the I-95 corridor of the Yukon. It’s difficult to get a sense of its wildness if you just travel that route. So, I’ve decided to get as remote as I can on a big R1200GS. I’m heading up the Dempster Highway.
A few facts about the Dempster before turning back to the trip. Its southern terminus lies 25 miles east of Dawson, on the banks of the Klondike River. It covers 457 miles, mostly north, to Inuvik, which lies on the east side of the expansive Mackenzie River delta in the Northwest Territories (which, it should be said, puts the wildness of the Yukon to shame). Excepting a few miles on each end, the entire road is unpaved. Coming from the south, it’s 229 miles to your first fuel stop and overnight shelter at Eagle Plains. Twenty-two miles further north you cross the Arctic Circle, and about 50 miles after that, the Northwest Territories border. Past that and before reaching Inuvik, you pass two small First Nations villages, Fort McPherson and Tsiigehtchic, near the banks of the Peel and Mackenzie Rivers, respectively.
The Dempster passes through two major mountain ranges, the Ogilve and Richardson (the Richardson Mountains are considered the furthermost northern end of the Rocky Mountain spine). It crosses two major rivers, the Peel and the Mackenzie, by means of public ferries in the summer and ice roads in the winter. About two months a year the Dempster is closed to through traffic as the ice forms and breaks up on the two rivers. The Dempster also passes through the wintering range of the famous Porcupine Caribou Herd, whose annual migration to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge draws comparisons to the legendary migrations in Africa’s Serengeti. A big chunk of land along the middle part of the Dempster was, surprisingly, unglaciated in the most recent Ice Age, due to low precipitation.
The plan to construct the Dempster was unveiled in 1958. Prior to that time, cargo and supplies were transported to the far north by means of “Cat trains,” strings of sledded cargo hauled hundreds of miles through the wilderness by tractors (get it? ‘Cats’ = Caterpillar tractors) in the winter months. Highway construction stalled in 1961 with only 71 miles of road completed. Arctic oil and gas discoveries eventually prompted a restart of construction and the road was formally opened in 1979.
A defining feature of the Dempster is its elevated construction. It is overbuilt on top of massive quantities of stone and gravel in order to keep the heat generated by road traffic from melting the underlying permafrost.
To this day, the Dempster is the only public roadway that crosses over the Arctic Circle in North America. The Dawson Highway, leading to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, is a privately owned and constructed road.
The Dempster Highway
August 25 – I woke up to thick clouds and an overnight rain that was just breaking. After a hot breakfast in town, I rode the 25 miles out to the Klondike River Lodge at the base of the Dempster. The overnight rain had been light above the river valley, leaving the Dempster dust free but firm.
The scenery picks up quickly as the highway heads up into the Ogilvie Mountains, and after fifty kilometers or so enters Tombstone Territorial Park. Close to kilometer 60 I pull off the road into a small parking area with a few cars and trucks, and head up the Grizzly Lake Trail.
The trail goes deep into the park, but my aim was a viewpoint about two miles in. After a mile of forests and muddy single track the trail hit steep grades and gained about 1,500 feet in elevation. By the time I reached the overlook I was winded and hot, but the view was everything I had hoped for. I hit the small window of alpine fall color, and clouds swept by with splashes of sun brightening up the orange, red, gold and green around me. I could see the Dempster down below to the east, dwarfed by the landscape, and to the west a long valley, ending in the jagged gray peaks of Mount Monolith.
I probably turned to leave three or four times. Each time I turned back and reveled in the view for a few more minutes. I had visualized being here for months, and now it was real, present and fantastic. A peak moment. After close to an hour alone enjoying the view, I spied a small group of hikers coming up from below and started my way down.
At the beginning of the ride report I mentioned that movie I saw many years ago. Honestly, that memory hadn’t come to mind for several years prior to this trip. But there is a high point on this lower stretch of the Dempster, somewhere between the northern boundary of Tombstone and Eagle Plains, where an overlook gives you a view of the upper reaches of the Peel River, bending from south to east with the Ogilvie Mountains beyond. As I stood there taking it in, the sun peeked through some clouds and a bright bit of rainbow arced down to the flats below me. I saw that and the image from the movie came immediately to mind and I thought, “I’m there.” I found a place that captured that same sense of wonder and beauty that sparked my imagination more than thirty years ago.
By the time I reached Eagle Plains it had been a long day. The ride itself was probably no more than five and a half hours, but it had taken me twice that time to cover the distance. As I was unloading the bike, Angus rides up on his 1150GS. He’s come from Inuvik and we’re both keen to talk, but it’s close to 8pm, when the kitchen closes, and he needs to eat. We make a plan to meet up in the bar later.
The Eagle Plains bar is a treat. The walls are festooned with the largest, most diverse sampling of taxidermy I’ve ever seen: two huge moose heads; wolf, bear, and muskox among the many furs; a complete, stuffed caribou; and much more. The place is large and well lit, with spaced tables, easy chairs, and a pool table. The bar is decently stocked. The people all seem friendly and approachable. Big picture windows look out over the wilderness to the west as the sun slowly arcs around the horizon. The overall impression is exactly what I would hope: a sense that you’re in a warm, inviting space at the edge of the world.
Angus is a native of Aberdeen, now living in Houston. He’s a big, gregarious guy with great stories to tell. He works in international sales for an energy-related company. Divorced a few years ago, he has paid the toll for a life lived on the road – 250 days a year by his estimate. “I used to always wish I were somewhere else. When I was in Florida with my girlfriend, or in Shanghai with a prostitute, I wished I was back home with my wife and kids. When I was home, I wished I was in those other places.” Now he’s seeking to bring better balance to his life, and to make choices that he feels good about. As he put it, “I’m learning to fully embrace the American weekend.” This trip is a part of that change. “I’ve been riding most my life, but this ‘adventure riding’ thing is new to me. But when some of the people I know at work suggested it, I thought it sounded like fun and said ‘Sure!’”
From their larger group, only Angus and one other rider decided to attempt the Dempster, and 65 miles heading south out of Inuvik his partner lost control and went down. Broken bike and broken ribs meant that after a tow back to town, his partner had to fly out. You can see all of Angus’s and his friends’ adventures here.
The rooms at Eagle Plains aren’t cheap or fancy, but they’re comfortable and clean, and after a full day it’s easy to fall asleep.
Starting up the Dempster
Looking to the East from Monolith Overlook in Tombstone
Looking to the West, Mount Monolith in the distance
More from Tombstone Territorial Park
Tombstone Visitor Center
Peel River Overlook
Angus - Cribbed from his riding buddy's blog
August 26 – From Eagle Plains you continue to pass through dramatic scenery of hills and mountains up until you cross the Peel River. From then on through Inuvik, the landscape flattens into low taiga. If you’ve traveled the Trans-Labrador Highway it will look very familiar – long, straight stretches of road, scattered small lakes, and mile after mile of stunted, black spruce bogs.
Also in these flatlands are the First Nations villages of Fort McPherson and Tsiigehtchic. Shortly after crossing the Peel River ferry I stop at the visitor center of a small park. The guy at the front desk is a native elder, he asks me if I’ve seen any caribou. “No,” I say. “Just a few with the Fortymile Herd back near Dawson, none with the Porcupine Herd.” I asked when they migrated through here.
“I don’t know,” he says with a frustrated shake of his head. “I used to know, but it’s all messed up now. They used to come through in September, but this year July! The whole world is screwed up. All of it. We may not know it, but the animals do. They tell us.”
“Is the herd healthy?”
“Yes. But the muskox up at Sachs Harbour are dying! Who knows what will happen next.”
A short way further down the road I fill up with gas in Fort McPherson. A local G’wichin man is filling up his truck next to me. “Where you from?” He asks.
“What you pay for gas down there?”
“About $1 a liter,” I reply.
“See? We pay $1.65! You people should stop whining,” he tells me. “I read about your whining in the papers, but you got it easy!”
We chat a bit more and he finally says, “I’m going to my camp. Fishing.”
I ask: “Is the fishing good?”
“Yeah! Arctic char. Best fish in the world. You like it?”
“Yes, I like arctic char. I also like salmon. You?”
He wrinkles his nose. “Salmon? No, too greasy. Too much fat.”
I roll into Inuvik and after a few passes through town set up my tent at the campground in town, overlooking the Mackenzie delta. It’s Sunday and most of the shops are closed as I walk back through town in the early evening. There are boys playing baseball, skateboarders trying new tricks, and I get to see landmarks like the igloo church and community greenhouse. At the edge of town is a 3-hole golf course. Kids from nearby come into the campground to play and ride bikes.
That night, 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle, the sun just keeps creeping northward along the western horizon. It sets around 11pm, but I wake up briefly around 2am and the sky is still light. The forecast for the next two days is rain.
Foothills of the Richardson Mountains
The long flats between the Peel River and Inuvik
Inuvik's "Igloo Church"
Campsite overlooking the Mackenzie delta
Dawson to Inuvik
Little did I know when I put this in my bookmarks and went back later just how interesting this would be with such great photos! Thank you for taking the time for our enjoyment. This is really great!
Grampa’s Lake Superior Ride
Grampa’s National Monument Ride
Yup - living up to the expectations!
WOW! Some of your photos are absolutely BREATHTAKING! Thanks so much for sharing them! Very good writing too, just gave 5 stars.
I've driven the Dempster hwy 3 times and been up to Tuk. I've backpacked in Tombstone and treked through the Richardson Mtns (seen hundreds of Caribou up there) and I've paddled the Yukon river 3 times, I've treked through Kluane park (best hike in the world BTW) and I've trekked through several places in Alaska 6 times now. If I had to choose, I would choose the Yukon hands down. I concur with your thoughts. "Larger than Life"... It's TRUE.
I bought my 09 GS to ride up there and, as of yet, have not done the trip on my bike. I keep getting sidetracked with other treks up there. I swear one, could spend a lifetiem up here and not see everything.
Regarding the Dempster Hwy, I posted these thoughts on my blog.
"One of only 2 roads to penetrate the arctic in North America, the Dempster Highway in Canada and the Dalton Highway in Alaska. The Dempster Highway, we’ve heard is the most beautiful of the two. It stretches beyond the Klondike gold fields to the Mackenzie Delta. It snakes a path of over 450 miles long through the mountains and the artic lowlands. Once part of Beringia, the northern Yukon and Northwest Territories were largely unglaciated, with Wolly Mammoths and Saber tooth cats roaming the tundra alongside prehistoric man. Words and pictures alone cannot describe this part of the world. The sun shines not for a day, but for an entire season. Wildlife abounds, unfettered by the ever expanding domain of man and his propensity to plunder everything in sight. The road is like no other, and to call it a highway is somewhat misleading. It is a gravel ribbon spread over a vast wilderness frontier, which was inhabited first by nomadic tribes and then trampled by fur traders and avoided by the Klondike gold seekers. We drove this road up to the upper boundaries of Canada to a native village, Inuvik, and back again -- over 900 miles of gravel. In a period of 2 weeks we hiked, backpacked, climbed and interacted with the descendants of the first people to live in this land. It was an adventure like none we ever experienced. We were sad to leave". ~ GrizzLee commenting on their first experience on the Dempster in 2007
Last year we brought home a souvinier from Wrights pass
We looked pretty feral coming home. We got a permit to bring them home. THey now reside in my family room with my other collection of antlers from up there. I have to get my B.C. cabin built someday.
Love your great pics of of the Dempster.... Love it!!!! It is hard to capture the tundra beauty in photos. You did a good job.
I just randomly picked your RR to read tonight... glad I did. Great pictures.
I'm glad you did, too, StinkyBoy. Thanks for posting.
Glad to hear from another Yukon-lover, THX_337. I'm envious of your experiences up there. I'm looking forward to check out your blog.
Aww, shucks, PersonaNonGrata! That's very kind of you to rank my RR so highly. Thank you.
Gracias, as always, brother. When you/we get up to that neck of the woods you'll see just how beyond expectations the north can be!
Glad to hear you're liking it, Oldone. Putting together a ride report like this both gives me a chance to relive bits of the adventure, and figure out my own "story" about what it meant. In other words, it's my pleasure.
August 27 – The morning in Inuvik was chilly but fine. A camp breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, and then I quickly packed up thinking I’d get out of town early, as I could see the clouds building to the west. But, it was Monday and I got distracted. Jennifer, at the Western Arctic Regional Visitor Center was friendly and fun to talk with. She told me a few places to check out in town for indigenous art, and where to pick up a free Inuvik pin (free pin!). I asked her about the road:
“Oh,” she said. “How is it?”
“Fine riding on the way in. Have you been on it lately?”
“Not in years and years. When folks up here want to get out of town, we fly.”
One last thing about Inuvik - it’s a town built for a purpose, to serve as an administrative hub in the region. The government and tribal buildings – schools, government and tribal agencies, research facilities – are generally the more impressive structures in town. By contrast, the retail establishments are low key at best and a number of places are shuttered. The one place that seemed relatively vibrant was the video/gaming shop.
Anyway, after checking out Jennifer's suggestions (did I mention I got a free pin!), it was past 11am by the time I rolled out.
The road was dry and fast and I made good time through the flatlands between Inuvik and the Peel River ferry. Then I hit the rain. The road surface as I climbed into the Richardson Mountains on the Northwest Territories side was slick and a bit tricky at times. The road improved (less slippery mud, more hardpack) after crossing over into the Yukon and while the rain continued I was able to roll in to Eagle Plains by 5pm.
Another nice evening in Eagle Plains, sipping beers in the bar and as the sun broke through and the rains tapered off in the evening, I went outside and enjoyed a view of many-colored clouds and hills that marched off into the distance.
Jennifer, at the Western Arctic Regional Visitor Center, was friendly and helpful, and a great smile to boot
Tsiigehtchic - across the Mackenzie River
Self-portrait on the Dempster
A popular view of the Dempster, heading south near the Yukon / Northwest Territories border
Evening clouds and horizon from Eagle Plains
August 28 – I woke to thick mist, steady rain and temps that were forecast to stay around 40 degrees F for the entire day. The wide dirt lot fronting Eagle Plains was a sea of mud and standing water. I can’t say I was looking forward to the day’s ride, but I’m accustomed enough to the cold and rain to know how to prepare, and with just 230 miles of road to cover that day I wasn’t concerned about making it through, only how long it would take and how exhausted I would be when it was over. So after a hot breakfast in the cafeteria, I geared up, took one last, long look at Eagle Plains, and rode south.
Several days prior, when I stopped at the Northwest Territories Visitor Center back in Dawson, I had asked about the Dempster. One thing the woman said stuck out at me – “It gets difficult when it’s wet. It’s the trucks, they tear up the road in the rain.” What I discovered is something different.
Riding a motorcycle imparts a sensitivity to road conditions that car drivers don’t experience. The mind focuses very quickly the first time your back tire skips out after hitting a few, unexpected bits of loose gravel in a turn, and it isn’t long before you develop an eagle eye for those loose rocks.
On the Dempster that day the road conditions varied, and the most important thing I learned to watch out for was, as the woman in Dawson had said, the deep tracks of trucks. But not because the trucks had “torn up the road,” rather because when they cut deep tracks I knew that a layer of slick mud was sitting atop the road surface. When I saw the truck tracks ahead, or when I saw them deepen, I knew to slow down and prepare for a loss of traction.
After 30 miles or so of generally good surface out of Eagle Plains, I hit a long, difficult stretch of that “snotty” mud. Probably 40 miles or so when my best, sustained speed dropped to 25 mph, and at times much lower when that mud would get up to an inch deep and it was all I could do to keep from fishtailing. As the mud kept on and on I began to calculate the distance to two campgrounds I remembered along the lower stretch of the Dempster, and how likely I’d be to make one or the other before exhausting myself.
When the truck tracks finally grew shallow and then faded out, I twisted the throttle and held my breath around each curve and hilltop, waiting for the mud to return. But it didn’t and my speed ramped up as I splashed through the small potholes and crashed along the hardpack, in and through the Ogilvie Mountains.
My last hurdles were the two high passes in the northern half of Tombstone. The first as you approach from the north, Windy Pass, rises to 1,100 meters. The temperature dropped and the snowline crept closer as the road carried me along. Up and over Windy Pass I figured it would be touch-and-go at North Fork Pass, the highest point on the Dempster at 1,300 meters. Sure enough, I passed through the snowline and visibility dropped as flakes filled the air and the slushy white stuff clumped up on the sides of the road. But the road stayed clear and firm, and by the time I passed the visitor center on the far side of the pass, it was literally all downhill.
With low clouds, mist and rain obscuring the views, there wasn’t much reason to linger on today’s ride, and after the slow going early on I felt myself compensating by cranking up the GS on the better road conditions, cruising at 60 or 65 mph on the straightaways. As a result, I found myself back in Dawson by 7pm, checked into the Spartan, clean Bunkhouse Hotel.
Flirting with the snowline in Tombstone Territorial Park
A muddy couple of days
I went solo in July. Not a whole lot warmer, no snow:eek1, and just as snotty on the way back. It lured me in with beautiful weather on the way up. Enjoying your report and reliving through your pics..
Great report. I'll be following this one.
Now your bike will never fall apart - it's got all that great muck holding it together!
Thanks, milleralexk, just two or three more entries, I think.
I'll take the cool over the warm, tvbh40a. That said, I timed the trip correctly, I think. About now the temp is staying near the freezing mark on the Dempster most days, and snow is in the forecast. Glad you're enjoying the write-up.