Yukon and Beyond: A mostly solo journey

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by selkins, Sep 12, 2012.

  1. selkins

    selkins No hay banda!

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    August 29 – As I said, the Bunkhouse Hotel was basic. The room was 120 square feet on a good day; furnished with a small wooden desk, straight-backed chair, nightstand and full-size bed. Heat came from a small, portable space heater, but with such a small room it worked fine. Showers and toilets are shared and a short walk down the breezeway. The saving grace was the bed with its firm, comfortable mattress and heavy, warm blankets. I slept very well.

    All of Dawson had the feel of a city starting to buckle down for the winter, with much of the tourist-oriented bits scheduled to close in just a week and a half. On the way out of town I went out to see the big Dredge #4, which had dug gold from a Klondike River tributary for decades before being converted into a national historic site. I’m not particularly big on historic tours, but I figured “what the hell.” A good decision, despite the close of the season and impending unemployment, the tour guide was knowledgeable and entertaining, without coming off as either pandering or working off of a script. I’d suggest that you go by and check it out if you’re up that way, but then I spoke to another parks employee at the site:

    “When are y’all shutting down for the season?” I asked.

    “Well, we’re shutting down on September 9th, but not for the season, for good,” she replied.

    Turns out that the federal government has decided to go after the Parks Canada budget, and while the decision was made to keep open the Keno paddle-boat in town, the Dredge #4 site would be shuttered indefinitely.

    “It doesn’t make sense,” she said. “The Klondike paddle-boat in Whitehorse also does tours, but there’s nothing like the dredge anywhere else in Canada.”

    I heard more about the federal government from folks in the Yukon, but nothing came up so often as the Peel River, where mining interests are eyeing a large chunk of the Yukon for minerals development. “Protect the Peel,” was the dominant sign in both Dawson and Whitehorse. If you're interested, go here to learn more .

    I rode out from Dredge #4 and hit the road. Three-hundred modestly scenic miles and several hours later, I make my way to the quiet and peaceful Robert Service campground, just a mile south of downtown Whitehorse. Lots of nicely spaced campsites, and I find myself having to rush a bit to get my tent up before nightfall. I’m not more than 500 miles or so south of Inuvik, as the crow flies, but whereas in Inuvik just a few days prior the sun didn’t set till 11pm and total darkness didn’t take hold all night, down here it’s dark by shortly after 9pm.

    Dredge #4

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    One last look before heading south

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    Gravel Lake, off the Klondike Highway, between Dawson and Whitehorse

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    Pelly Crossing

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    August 30 – In the morning I took a stroll along the banks of the Yukon, near to the campground. A big raspberry patch about 200 yards from my campsite gave evidence of a bear that had wallowed around, gorging on berries sometime earlier. Upstream a hydro dam had submerged the fabled Whitehorse rapids, but also provided clean energy to power the city. A wooden fish ladder assisted salmon migrating upstream, and again, the fortuitous timing of my trip meant I got to see some moving through the ladder.

    Back at the campground, I chatted with a couple traveling through in their RV from West Virginia. They tell me their thermometer registered 25 Fahrenheit for the low last night. The Western Mountaineering down sleeping bag had kept me warm and cozy – a great investment and a world of improvement from my 15-year-old synthetic bag that I had finally decided to part with some months prior.

    Whitehorse has the feel of a town where everyone likes to get outdoors, reminiscent of Bozeman, Montana. Miles and miles of public hiking/skiing trails are just beyond the city, while the town itself has plenty of walking infrastructure and lots of positive street vibe. I spent the rest of the day wandering around, checking out the town. One high point I recommend to all you coffee drinkers is Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters. Tucked behind a bicycle store north of downtown, they roast the best coffee I tasted the entire trip.

    That evening, back at the Robert Service campground I was hanging out at the outdoor patio area near the office – comfy old couches, a fire pit, book exchange shelf. Up rides a familiar motorcycle. I had first met Kornelius, on his modified DR650, in Dawson. Our paths crossed three times on the Dempster – passing one another as I approached Inuvik; overtaking him heading south as he broke camp in early afternoon near the NW Territories/Yukon border; and once more as I saw him motor past Eagle Plains that evening.

    Probably in his late-50s, Kornelius is an Aussie who one month prior embarked on a planned year-long tour down the Americas – Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. He had already ridden both the Dawson and Dempster Highways. His last day on the Dempster had been a trial:

    “When you first passed me, I was just packing up from the night before. It had been raining all morning and I was hoping to wait it out. It took me 10 hours, but I rode through that day. When I made it in to Dawson at midnight, I was exhausted.”

    Turns out, while the skies had cleared a bit in Eagle Plains that night, further south it was all rain. In a slippery patch, he lost control at one point and nearly went down, with the bike tilted at 45 degrees and perpendicular to the road. “Then the front tire just sort of grabbed and twisted. The next thing I know the bike had just sort of picked itself up and I was headed back down the road.”

    “Good reflexes,” I said.

    “No reflexes,” he replies. “I didn’t have any time to react. The bike just sort of decided to keep going.”

    Good travel experiences, particularly those involving the people you meet, involve a share of serendipity. As Kornelius and I were chatting, up comes another guy, outfitted in BMW rider gear. Doron is from Israel, and came to Whitehorse via three months of travel through Siberia and central Asia. He’s on a big 1200GS, like me:

    “You rode that 1200 through Siberia?” I ask.

    “Yes! And Kazakhstan and Mongolia and other –stans. It’s a great bike!”

    “But how through Siberia? Not the Road of Bones on that bike?”

    “No!” He replies in his accented English, shaking his head. “Road of Bones is not a 1200GS road.” He points to Kornelius’s bike. “That’s a Road of Bones bike. In Siberia they have new paved road across. Just opened a year or two ago. That’s what I rode.”

    Doron is also headed to Tierra del Fuego. I’m suddenly quite envious of these guys. I’m through well more than half of my current journey, but theirs’ are just beginning. I fantasize about a different future, where I run into each of these guys off and on over the next year, gradually heading south, and we swap stories at each meeting of our adventures along the way.

    Doron and Kornelius are a contrast. Doron is big, loquacious and energetic. Kornelius is more slightly built, low-key and self-effacing. A chill is comes on as the sun falls below the horizon. I start a fire and as the full moon rises we lounge around on the couches telling tales well into the night.

    Whitehorse Farmers' Market

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    Farmers' Market Vendors

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    Whitehorse graffitti

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    Katya is the talented roaster and owner of Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters, when I asked to take this she said "I'm about the least photogenic person in Whitehorse." Seems quite the contrary to me.

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    Katya's joint. Go check it out.

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    World-riders: Kornelius and Doron.

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    Full moon in Whitehorse

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    Inuvik to Whitehorse, via Dawson

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    #41
  2. MacG

    MacG Been here awhile

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    I just found this thread. Excellent pics and excellent write-up ! Thanks :clap
    #42
  3. DarkRider

    DarkRider Middle-aged Man

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    You can't be close to finished yet are you? I'm expecting at least another 20-30 entries. :clap
    #43
  4. CallMeBoog

    CallMeBoog hi functioning idiom

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    awesome! You're really making me homesick here!

    I was born in Bella Coola, lived in Dease Lake, lived in Cassiar for 8 years (when it was still a town), that pic of Boya Lake almost brought tears to my eyes - that was where I learned how to swim as a kid. from northern BC I moved to the Yukon, where I lived for most of my life. I started High School in Faro, then half way through eighth grade, moved to Dawson City where I graduated in 2001. I used to go Caribou hunting at glacier creek, about 120 km north of eagle plains. I used to ride my trusty TW200 all around the bonanza creek area near dawson.

    I moved to whitehorse, where I did my carpentry apprenticeship, and lived there until 2008. My mom, stepdad and sister are still in whitehorse. My mom is an engineer at the hydro dam, and my sister manages one of the shopper's drug marts. My stepdad is a maintenance general foreman at a silver mine in Elsa, YT.

    I met my girl there, now my wife. a transplanted east coaster that fell for the lore of the untamed north...except all she found was me. she coaxed me off my mountain and down to the sea, I'm sitting looking out at a coastline, reading your ride report of a place I still think of as my home, and always will.

    Great RR friend, thanks for taking us along.
    #44
  5. GrizzLee

    GrizzLee RubiKon Adventures

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    U lucky bastitch... :D I am damn envious.

    I rode to Bella Coola (see my RR) just recently... awesome country.

    Boya Lake was neat to paddle in this year.

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    I bought my bike 3 years ago to ride up to the Yukon... Still haven't done it.
    I keep going up there to do other treks (paddle, hike, etc...).

    You guys are killing me...

    This RR is awesome. Yukon, solo, GS... does life get any better? Maybe, but I don't think so. :thumb
    #45
  6. CallMeBoog

    CallMeBoog hi functioning idiom

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    Nice. Boya Lake is definitely one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.
    #46
  7. selkins

    selkins No hay banda!

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    Well, Nova Scotia is nothing to sneeze at when it comes to beautiful places! But yes, nothing like the wilderness of the far north. Learning how to swim in Boya Lake, sheesh, some folks have all the luck! Glad you're enjoying the RR.

    Thanks again, THX_337. The Yukon isn't going anywhere, but there's no time like the present...or, well maybe seven or eight months from the present when it comes to riding up there.
    #47
  8. hipnotik

    hipnotik Been here awhile

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    Great report, thank you for sharing.
    We did NYC- Yukon/AK three years ago two up on our 12GS.
    Your pictures and narration brings up nice memories.
    #48
  9. CaptnSlo

    CaptnSlo Derelicte

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    :eek1

    Phenomenal photos!
    #49
  10. LavaBull

    LavaBull Been here awhile

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    Splendid landscape photography; Alaska truly rocks ....

    More reason for me to revisit my 'secret' Lair as soon as I winterize my ride .... :D ... :huh

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    :deal

    .....
    #50
  11. selkins

    selkins No hay banda!

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    Thanks, hipnotik. The privilege of carrying the memories is a great reason for travel.

    I'm proof positive that a good camera makes the difference. I've always used point-and-shoot, but borrowed a Nikon D5000 for a family trip last year and was blown away by how much better the shots looked, even on full-auto. So I bought one for myself and while I took about 10 shots for every one that I felt was good enough for this RR, it still makes a world of difference for an amateur-at-best photographer, like me.

    Happy to help inspire your next adventure, LavaBull. And thanks for checking out my RR!
    #51
  12. Cliff-77

    Cliff-77 Lost Adventurer

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    Thanks for sharing,great photos,i went to Alaska&back this summer,11,129mi.22days on the road,truely beautiful,will go back for more.Rode the Alaska Hwy from Dawson City to Fairbanks.Canada was great also,expensive tho,have more great trips&post more pics.
    #52
  13. selkins

    selkins No hay banda!

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    Thanks, Cliff 77. Canada isn't cheap. My crappy guide (Moon's Western Canada guide, published in 2011) was typically undershooting costs by 25 - 30%. Plus, some of the basic info was obsolete by years. I saw that the author lived in Banff, and I fantasized running into him when I was in town, and giving him a piece of my mind about putting out such a poor guide. Meh. In any event, memories are priceless and I don't begrudge a dollar spent. :norton

    Just two posts left to go, I think. Next one tomorrow.
    #53
  14. Klay

    Klay dreaming adventurer

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    right here on my thermarest

    :lurk


    It's been a great report.
    #54
  15. Andrew

    Andrew Optimus Primer Super Moderator

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    :thumb
    #55
  16. selkins

    selkins No hay banda!

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    August 31 – I saw Doron and Kornelius again as I checked out of the campground. Kornelius was thinking of heading down the Stewart-Cassiar today, while Doron and I were going south on the Alaska Highway.

    “Liard Hot Springs!” Exclaimed Doron. “A world rider deserves to relax in a hot springs when he gets a chance. We should meet there tonight.“

    It sounded like a good idea, and we agreed that whoever arrived first would peg down any open tent site. But as I rode by some hours later, the campground sign said “full” and I passed by. I had ridden 400 scenically unimpressive miles from Whitehorse at that point, and I wasn’t interested in spending the night in a campground already packed full with RVs.

    The scenery picked up very shortly after the park, as the highway wound up into the mountains at the north end of Muncho Lake Provincial Park, and for the next 100 miles I was treated to twisty roads, views, and mountain lakes. It was late in the day as I pulled in to Summit Lake campground in Stone Mountain Provincial Park. This was the place I was looking for – sparsely occupied, a mirrored lake and mountains surrounding. That night I enjoyed a campfire as the near-to-full moon rose over the mountains.

    Bison alongside the Alaska Highway

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    Plenty of shuttered road houses along the way

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    Some scenery in Muncho Lake Provincial Park

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    Evening camp at Summit Lake

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    September 1 – The night had a humid chill, and I woke up to a clear sky and a rainfly that was soaking with condensation. It was a bit before dawn, so I climbed out of the tent and took a short hike up a nearby hillside that gave me a panorama of Summit Lake as the sun rose.

    Today I had a goal in mind, and its name was Prince George. That meant roughly 600 miles of two-lane highway, which for me constitutes a long day of riding. Still, I lingered on the hillside to both enjoy the tranquility and give my tent some time to dry a bit.

    As I’ve mentioned, the Alaska Highway has some good stretches, but overall I found it more of a slog than a pleasure to ride. After thirty or so miles of mountainous twisties, it returned to form. The 200 miles after Fort Nelson were particularly monotonous.

    I shouldn’t complain. The Alaska Highway was constructed at a blinding pace, all 1,700 miles in the course of just eight months, seventy years ago. The stories about its construction by seven military engineer regiments are many and remarkable, but better told by a history buff. In any event, with speed of the essence in its construction, I can’t very well blame them for an emphasis on straight lines.

    North of Saint John I peeled off to follow a more scenic route down BC-29, and then turned on to the John Hart Highway in late afternoon. By that point, it already felt like a long day in the saddle, and I had close to 200 miles yet to go. I had eaten two packs of instant oatmeal in the morning and a power bar in the early afternoon, but the imperative of one…more…mile had a hold on my mind. Time started to slow and the miles barely crept by. After a time the road started winding up to a mountain pass and the temperature dropped. I started shivering and I could feel my torso clenching up. My focus drifted and the curves seemed suddenly unpredictable and edgy.

    I’m happy to say that I finally grasped the situation and pulled over. I downed another power bar, drank a liter of water, added another layer of clothing, and when I got back on the bike it was as though I was a different person.

    About 30 miles out of Prince George I stopped to fill up the tank. A minivan with California plates pulls up as well, and the driver gets out and comes over to me. "How far have you come today?" "Where have you been?" "How far do you usually ride each day?" More questions. I'm tired. I'm covered in road grime and bug guts. I answer his questions one by one. Finally, he looks me up and down and with sincerity in his voice and face says, "Wow, you're a real man." I have no idea how to respond, so I mutter a low "thanks," and ride off.

    Two weeks prior, on the ferry to Prince Rupert, Kelly and Brandi had offered me tent space at their home in town, but by the time I rolled in I was spent. With as much efficiency as I could muster I bought a six-pack, checked into a hotel, ordered a pizza delivery, and after gorging myself and downing a few preventative antacid pills, fell asleep.

    Moonset over Summit Lake

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    Approaching Prince George

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    Time to recoup after two days of hard riding

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    Whitehorse to Prince George

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    #56
  17. selkins

    selkins No hay banda!

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    Thanks, Klay, it's a pleasure to have you along for the ride.

    And thanks to you, too, Andrew. It's an honor to have an old-timer checking up on my report. :lol3
    #57
  18. Andrew

    Andrew Optimus Primer Super Moderator

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    You kidding? Your ride to the Yukon just shows how urgently I need to get out for a long excursion of my own. It was fun talking to you about riding today, and your report here has definitely lit a spark under my ass to get out and ride. I may not make it all the way to the Yukon, or even the MidWest, but I'm gonna get out there, you bet.

    :freaky
    #58
  19. phplemel

    phplemel Adventurer

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    It was a wonderfull day in Whitehorse today +18c , sunny no wind. Leaves mostly off the trees but still vibrant & colorfull on the ground. Scenery just screaming to be ridden thru.
    I have the honor of living, working & riding here and try not to take the Yukon for granted and reading your RR just makes sure that will NEVER happen
    So I did what any of would do, I went for a ride on my Tenere:clap
    Thanks for this

    BTW, I don't wish to mess with your flow, but since I own the bicycle shop where Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters resides, I must correct you on the owner's name. That lovely lady is Katya (her brother is Micha) and Yes she does make the best coffee on earth!
    Keep up the great RR & thanks
    Pat
    #59
  20. tvbh40a

    tvbh40a PSUViking

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    #60