Big Oil and Tree Hugger Junk-it to Tuk

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by DarkRider, Aug 4, 2018.

  1. DarkRider

    DarkRider Curiously refreshing Supporter

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    Day 5 - Watson Lake to Whitehorse

    Ah yes, so Walt (aka @selkins aka Dronemaster) has finally piped in, so I'd better forget about the daily grind and recount another day. After yesterdays long trudgery (ok, 400+ miles on a motorcycle is never trudgerous...if that's even a word), I was hoping for some decent weather - and that's just what we got. We started the day with breakfast at Kathy's, then did the ceremonial stop at the Sign Post Forest. As I walked through it, I couldn't help but think "either a) you planted your license plate here and are now driving illegally, b) you purposely loaded a 5ft x 6ft freeway exit sign into your RV and drove it to the Yukon to leave it here, or c) you just happened to have said exit sign in your RV for unknown reasons and decided this was as good a place as any to dump it. Regardless, it was a quaint place to start the day.

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    After that, it was on to the Alaska Hwy to blaze our way to Whitehorse. I wouldn't say Hwy 1 feels like a super-slab (like I-70 across Kansas), but it definitely is a well maintained highway with a lot more traffic than we'd seen the past few days. Oh well, the views were stunning and it's tough to get a bad photo once you get this far north.

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    We took a stop at an overlook that looks down into Teslin, and @selkins said something to the effect of "I've gotta warn you, that bridge down there is a little squirrelly. Just take it slow and relax." I didn't think much of it, until we got to the edge and I realized it was going to feel like riding across 5 miles of metal grating.

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    After crossing the bridge, we stopped for gas (and for me to change my underwear) and ran into a couple of dual sport guys from Texas heading home. They'd left from Anchorage, ridden across Hwy 1 and were heading back. The older of the 2 guys wasn't happy about the cold, and I wondered why anyone in the Yukon in late August would be any more surprised by the cold than someone in Texas would be surprised by the heat at the same time. Regardless, we wished them safe travels and continued our ride. As we left Teslin, I had one of those realizations that occur on long motorcycle trips involving what I'd call the "gettin phases." As a person progresses through life, they traverse a number of different "gettin phases". As kids, it's gettin schooled...high school shifts to gettin laid...college shifts to gettin smart...upon graduation it's gettin a job and money. You get the idea. A lot of people progress through life never breaking free of the gettin phases and just being happy and grateful to be alive - appreciative of the simple pleasures of life...they're always focused on either the gettin in the current phase or gettin to the next one. I spent a lot of years (way too many) on the gettin, and not enough on the living...and for now, both on the trip at that moment and as I write now, I'm grateful not to be focused on gettin.

    Anyway, I digress. So after Teslin it was on to Marsh Lake

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    I didn't do the lake justice with my photos, but I was ready to be in Whitehorse. We rolled into town at a respectable hour, found lodging, and went for dinner at Klondike Rib and Salmon. I think @selkins is focused on gettin a beer

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    If you're in Whitehorse, I'd definitely recommend the place. My favorite fish and chips are found in London but the Klondike met the challenge and left me stuffed and ready for another day of adventure.
    #21
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  2. MizzouRider

    MizzouRider Long timer Supporter

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    Done the “gettin” phase for way too long. At 64, I’m pretty content. I guess it’s about time.. (although changing bikes isn’t included in this gettin business is it? :jack

    I was up there (Fairbanks and Deadhorse) in late June, several years ago. I ran into smoke and fires then. Not sure with the way things are anymore you can escape them. Hopefully next August it’ll be clear skies, moderate temps, dry hard packed roads, and no rain ( except a few drops to get you to sleep in the tent, but not too much so your tent is still wet the next morning). I’m pretty sure that’s what it’ll be like.
    #22
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  3. selkins

    selkins Gotta light?

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    Okay, trying to catch up with DarkRider so this thread doesn't rubber band quite so much.

    BTW, nicely done @DarkRider. Love that "gettin" frame.

    From Prince George, the downstream path of the Fraser River tracked south for a few hundred more miles before emptying out into the Pacific just south of downtown Vancouver. But we would head west, following the Nechako River to Fraser Lake, and the northwest till we joined the Skeena River and met the base of the Cassier Highway. That, to me, was where the trip was really beginning. From there, the scattered towns thin out considerably, and the sense of remoteness really takes hold.

    This day also marked another turning point, as we rode up and out of the Fraser River valley, the smoke would gradually thicken as we approached the range where the largest firest were burning in the forests north and south of Sheridan.

    The smoke was at its worst where this video was taken just past Fraser Lake, where the firefighter encampment that DarkRider photographed was located. Counting seconds in the longer stretch of video, it looks like visibility was down to about 1/3 of a mile.

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    Gradually, the smoke faded and our moods lifted as we pushed west of the fires.

    By the time we reached Houston, we had relatively clear air as we enjoyed gawking at the world's largest fly rod.

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    This vistas opened up and we got a bit more playful.

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    Lunch in Smithers at the Alpenhorn gave us a chance to demonstrate our propensity for gratuitous hand gesturing. The server took a while to take our order -- I think she was wondering whether or not she'd need to employ sign language to communicate with us.

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    Ah crap. So now I'm looking at google maps, following our route, and I'm seeing all these amazing looking thin little tracks, like this one. It's little discoveries like this that keep making me want to head north again. :cromag

    But anyway, it wasn't too long past Smithers that we reached the base of the Cassier Highway. And for the record books, here's DarkRider's arrival.

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    Yeah, sure, fine - it was actually his second arrival. By this point I was getting pretty obsessive with the video and I had been unsatisfied with the footage of his first arrival. So, of course, I made us ride back a 1/4 mile and do it over again. Whatever, sue me.

    I was so happy that the air had cleared up at this point. The mountain and forest views going up the Cassier are phenomenal, and it was great to be breathing clean air and enjoying all that it had to offer. So now it was north up to Meziadin Junction and then the spur road off to Stewart and Hyder, and a chance for another iconic point in this trip - the first view of Bear Glacier as you plunge down from the highlands toward the Portland Canal.

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    The 37A down to Stewart is a phenomenal ride. Steep mountains flank you most of the way as you pass by lakes and follow a plunging riverway. Clouds whip around the peaks and offer scattered glimpses of dark pines and icefields above. This is the edge of the temperate rainforest in Alaska. It's a rare sort of ecosystem, and the Alaskan coast is one of the last places where remnants of uncut forest remain. Even though the lands we'd see were cut over in recent decades, it was still fantastic to experience this rich, wet environment.

    Downtown Stewart BC

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    The night was rainy and cool, perfect for the setting. We found lodging, as I had several years ago, with the good folks at Ripley Creek Inn. The cost is comparable to the motels in town, but the rooms are all in historic buildings and a much, much better vibe. Strongly recommended if you're in the area and looking for a roof over your head.
    #23
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  4. selkins

    selkins Gotta light?

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    So, yeah, Day 4. It started off grey and drizzly in Stewart. I had visions of showing off the grandeur of Salmon Glacier, so we crossed over to Hyder, AK, then up Fish Creek to the gravel road that wound up the hillsides. And as we gained elevation the rain started in earnest - though there were moments of magic, like following a flock of low-flying Canada Geese for a couple hundred yards.

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    As we gained elevation we actually wound up riding in the clouds themselves...

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    ...which pretty much nixed any chance to see the glacier itself. Still, a nice chance to get off-pavement.

    From there back up the 37A to Meziadin Junction where we ran into another bunch of firefighters. They were on their way back home from a fire that had shut down the road to Telegraph Creek, further up the Cassier. They talked about how several small fires had quickly merged into one, huge fire that had already been burning for weeks. Just two days prior, the rains had finally come, and now they were on their way home - but they expected to be called up again shortly to head to southern BC, where fires continued to burn. It would be weeks before members of the Tahltan First Nation and other residents were able to return to homes near Telegraph Creek.

    One of the firefighters talked about the old-timers amongst them - people who had been doing the work for decades - and how they were saying fires in recent years were behaving like never before.

    In the meantime, we continued riding north. Soon the skies opened up and we had perfect, sunny weather with beautiful views.

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    When I first rode the Cassier six years ago, the road was just being "improved" with fresh gravel being laid for a chipseal. Now, almost the entire length had been paved, which made for faster, more secure riding. But I can't help feeling a bit of loss as the incessant push for easier, safer access pushes north each year.

    In any event, the sunny skies weren't going to last long. Clouds built up and temperatures dropped fast as we worked our way further along. By the time we crossed the Stikine River it was full overcast and spitting rain. As we headed up in elevation to the plateau south of Dease Lake the temp gradually dropped to the high 30s. Dease Lake was a bit warmer in the mid 40s, but the sky was dark and the rain steady at that point. It had already been a long day and we were ready for warm beds, a hot dinner and cool beers. When you've been riding hundreds of miles, and you're cold and feeling the rain seeping between the seams, that sort of anticipation is hard to shake.

    But, as DarkRider has said, it wasn't to be. Firefighters occupied every available bed in town. The idea of setting up tents and trying to get dry and warm seemed impossible. So, with a 160 miles to go, it was off we went to the Yukon and Watson Lake. Not too long of a ride really, and a beautiful mix of hills, forests and vistas, but made slower by our soured expectations. Eventually the grey skies lifted as we approached the Yukon border. Leading up to the border, the landscape became more forbidding as we rode through dozens of miles of burned over lands - the tree trunks standing like burnt matchsticks as far as the eye could see.

    Nevertheless, I couldn't help but feel enthused that we had reached the Yukon! DarkRider was a bit more muted in his excitement.

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    The sun was dipping low, and neither of us were keen to ride through the night. But a short 15-mile ride to Watson Lake was the last we had to manage. At first, all the motels seemed to be booked there as well - more firefighters, this time working fires to the south and east along the Liard River. Our mood veered toward desperate, with the night on us and few options but the tents. Then some good folks at one of the hotels directed us to what seemed to be one of the last rooms in town, at the Cedar Lodge Motel. A funky smell to the room, but we were happy enough.

    I recall feeling chilled and exhaused at the end of this day. But it was nothing compared to my next experience riding into Watson Lake...

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    #24
  5. Rich Rider

    Rich Rider Adventurer

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    A very worthwhile and thought provoking digression. Thank you for this insightful perspective.
    #25
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  6. whatsgnu

    whatsgnu Scheissekopf

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    Great ride report
    #26
  7. RedUly

    RedUly Esse Quam Videri Supporter

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    I agree with your assessment of the Canadian Rockies.
    #27
  8. DarkRider

    DarkRider Curiously refreshing Supporter

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    It could've been all the pot smoke exhaled by locals when we stopped at the overlook after the bridge, but I kept my face shield down because there were "miles to go". Honestly, if trips like this don't bring out random realizations and sincere appreciation for good friends, good scenery, and every breath you're taking along the journey, you're really just not appreciating the experience IMHO.
    #28
  9. selkins

    selkins Gotta light?

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    So I'm just going to put it out there: Watson Lake is no place to spend time. You can't get a meal that tastes more than a step or two above chewing on cardboard, and there's nothing in town to distract from that fact. Don't be telling me about the Sign Post Forest, either. It's a bunch of sign posts... Yeah... Moving on... Kathy's Kitchen had an edible breakfast that morning, and sometimes that'll do the trick.

    The clouds had broken that morning after more rain overnight, and we were also starting to get far enough north to get hints of the fall colors. The days were stretching out, too - 9pm and light still in the sky. Even better, with the sun at our backs I realized what I had missed six years ago when the sun was in my eyes - the AK Hwy from Watson Lake to Whitehorse, particularly the first 150 miles or so, is beautiful. Lakes, forests, mountains, and crystal clear air.

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    At Teslin I met a German couple riding KTMs. She says 10 weeks of riding for him, and she's joining for four of them. They look dirty, fearless and happy.

    Darkrider in the meantime is chatting up two other riders from TX. They had their bikes shipped to Anchorage, and they're riding a bee-line back to Houston. One of them had the patented "old grumpy guy" (OGG) appearance, and sported the never-a-good-look of raised modular helmet with lowered tinted visor. Sort of like this:

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    OGG: "Where are you riding to?"

    Darkrider: "Tuk."

    OGG: <scowling> "A little late in the season, isn't it?"

    Darkrider: ...

    OGG: <scowl deepening> "We're riding south. It's too cold. And there are wildfires down there. I don't know if we'll be able to get through."

    Darkrider: <rides away>


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    This was the first time Darkrider and I had used intercoms. I'm a convert. I had been skeptical about yet one more electronic device, but the fact that it let me drop the wired earbud-to-phone connection sold me. The intercom range isn't what they claim, of course, but the sound clarity both on intercom and via cell phone was amaze-balls. I literally took a couple of calls at highway speeds and the person on the other end of the line had no idea I was riding. A lot of my work is talking to people over the phone, so all sorts of questionnable business practices suddenly seem quite viable. The one downer? Darkrider treating me to his sing-along of the 70s pop songs that populate way too much of his playlist.

    Got to play a bit more with the drone, too. That's Darkrider heading off into the Great Unknown.

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    I had been going back and forth in my mind the past weeks about what to do with this leg of the trip. Whitehorse or the South Canol Road? On the one hand, I really enjoy Whitehorse - beautiful town in a gorgeous setting, a real outdoors vibe, fun things to see and do, and yes, good food. On the other hand, I hadn't yet ridden the Canol Road and was very intrigued to check out a new route and put in some more off-pavement miles before reaching the Dempster.

    In the end, we went for Whitehorse, and I'm glad for it. The vibe of the town was much as I remembered. And as the picture from Darkrider's post indicates, I was not unhappy in this case to substitute a fresh, hot dinner and a cold pitcher of beer for what otherwise would have been rehydrated camp food.

    Yummy Dinner at Klondike Rib and Salmon

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    The bread pudding for dessert was as big as my head. I am not shitting you. As...big...as...my...head. Afterwards we dropped by the (new?) natural history museum, and were treated to a live, packed-house musical performance in the lobby. A guy name of Hank Karr. He's got a 50-year career of packing houses in the Yukon. Quite a treat.

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    I recall that evening how clear and clean the air was. Looking out the window of the Town and Mountain Hotel at the hillside to the west with a dark cloud rising from behind it. The clouds contours and edges sharp in relief. What a welcome difference from a few days ago!

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    And finally, I do want to be clear that this is not a gif - the steel-grate Teslin Bridge really does go on forever.

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    #29
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  10. selkins

    selkins Gotta light?

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    This is @DarkRider 's trick: He gets the thread going and lures me in, then he ghosts me. Grrr.

    Okay, so my compulsion for closure is getting the better of me. We woke up in Whitehorse on Aug 30 with our eyes on Dawson. First, though, a really fine breakfast at Burnt Toast Cafe. And just to prove the world is getting smaller, as they say on their website - they're recommended by the New York Times. Despite the pic, DarkRider was far less glued to his electronica than in rides past :thumb.

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    DarkRider was also generous to let me do a nostalgic drop by Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters. They'd moved around the corner, to what I believe used to be the motorcycle dealership, and sadly the roasting equipment was behind closed doors now. But the coffee was still good and I picked up a couple more of my favorite "Make Coffee Not War" t-shirts. I've got to remember to mail order a couple of pounds of the Sam McGee's blend for the office...

    Then it was a short stretch out of town before a right hand turn and a 300-mile ride northwards to Dawson. Yukon-2 slowly deteriorates heading north - narrowing mile by mile with encroaching vegetation and frost heaves. The weather followed suit, from scattered sun to overcast, to slow rain our final 30 miles into Dawson.

    Yukon 2 has some great vistas, though

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    And the fall colors were showing more with each mile

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    There's just something about the north that pushes my buttons the right way. The woods, the water, and all around, palpably wild nature.

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    And of course, we weren't alone. We played hopscotch with these two a bit, but didn't see them after today.

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    We get up to Dawson in late afternoon. I was a bit shocked because the town was actually pretty booked up. I thought we'd be at the tail end of the season, but folks are still packing in the rooms.

    Riding up Front St in Dawson

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    Dinner that night at Klondike Kate's and we struck up conversation with a youngish guy from Whitehorse. He's a got a work gig doing HVAC installation in town. Originally from near Toronto, he moved up to the Yukon permanently with his wife a few years back. She sounds like an awesome person - working as a treaty rights advocate for her tribe. They're amazing outdoors people - bicycling the North Canol Rd and the Canol Heritage Trail, bushwhacking over mountain ridges in the Alaska panhandle. He loves his job because it gives him the freedom to take the time off for the trips. Most of the Yukon residents I've met have that in common - a deep appreciation for the wildness and a desire to get out and enjoy it.

    DarkRider also had the foresight that evening to call up and hear what things were like at Eagle Plains - and the answer was "fully booked." So, we made the executive decision to hang around town an extra day, and book the last available room for the night after in Eagle Plains.

    So, with time on our hands, we headed over to the Downtown Hotel, and I made the questionnable decision to try the Sourtoe Cocktail. It was an experience, and one I can say I've done now. I got a kick out of "Captain Dick" who presides over the festivities and a long line of gullible folks like myself. When I finally reached the front of the line I got to chat with him a bit. Turns out he is an honest-to-god licensed ship captain, piloting the ferry at Dawson for a number of years. I asked him how a person manages to get a gig like his - accepting buckets of cash in exchange for permitting people to drink a shot with a mummified toe in it. He said, simply "You get very, very lucky."

    "You can drink it fast. You can drink it slow. But your lips must touch that gnarly toe."

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    For you inquiring minds, Atlas Obscura claims to know the origin of each of the toes the bar owns.

    The next day we mostly went our own way, wandering around Dawson, taking care of business, such as it was. It's a good-sized town, but not huge, and once you're off Front Street, pretty quiet. One quality I appreciate about Dawson is it absorbs a fair number of tourists without turning entirely into a Disneyland. There's certainly shops that are oriented to those of us passing through, but the grocery store, hardware store and other necessities sit beside them. They have to. The nearest option is hundreds of miles away.

    Dawson City - the darker colored water is from the Klondike River, which empties into the Yukon River just above town.

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    The view from Midnight Dome

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    The next few days would provide a wealth of highs and lows along the Dempster.
    #30
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  11. DarkRider

    DarkRider Curiously refreshing Supporter

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    Day 6:

    Ok, so having been lapped by @selkins, I'm going to lead off my catch up post with a quote from his post: "questionnable decision". Not only is it misspelled, but it affected much of our trip thereafter - but in a good way I believe.

    As @selkins said, good breakfast at Burnt Toast, but I'm going to post most of my notes from the actual ride (to save time and add more for photos), so here you go:

    It was a cold day - warm for a bit but spit rain the last 1/3 of the day. About 100 miles out of Dawson, saw road construction signs and started with the chip-seal/good road/chip-seal/etc routine...Between that, dodging potholes, and dropping temps, the last 1/3 of the days ride was definitely challenging, but very rewarding getting into Dawson.

    Beautiful scenery the whole way up:

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    @selkins firing up the drone:

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    I've got a fever...and the cure ain't more cowbell...it's more drone!

    With the bulbous aftermarket Safari tank, I don't thing my Triumph could look fuglier...but just wait until after the Dempster:

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    Ok, so then we arrived Dawson, and the streets looked like this (note water):

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    We found a suitable hotel, dropped our gear, and went to dinner. It was during dinner when I asked the fateful question about lodging at Eagle Plains the next night, heard the outcome, reserved a room 2 nights out, and asked the question of what we did the rest of the night. @selkins suggested that we check out the bar serving some sort of famous drink, but rather than embellish, I'll just finish with the exact note I made the morning after securing our lodging at Eagle Plains 2 nights hence (for the record to anyone reading this...DO NOT DO THIS):

    "Of course, after determining that we wouldn't be on the Dempster Friday, I spent the evening getting @selkins liquored up and signed up for the Sour Toe cocktail at the downtown hotel bar. Nothing tastes as refreshing as a shot of single malt scotch and a mummified human toe chaser."

    As Robert Frost said...two roads diverged in the road...and @selkins chose the path chosen by 200 of his closest (and sickest) friends...and that made a good part of the difference..."

    There are a handful of unexpected things that can change the outcome of a trip so far north. I explained these to my wife beforehand as follows (sort of a precursor to "if I die my life insurance is paid up and you have the logins to all the accounts"):

    1. Weather
    2. Mechanical
    3. Illness
    4. Injury

    You can't prepare for any of these...all you can do is appreciate the difference in the journey any of the unintended outcomes any of your choices lead to (ie failing to fill up a tire...or touching the toe). That is what adventure is all about. And as Robert Frost would say..."the toe made all the difference."

    And for the record, the really good pics (ie fall colors) start on day 8...
    #31
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  12. DarkRider

    DarkRider Curiously refreshing Supporter

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    Day 7 - Dawson

    Ok, since @selkins mentioned hanging out in Dawson so we'd have lodging in Eagle Plains, here are a few of the photos I shot while meandering about the town. Dawson really is a neat little town:

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    Did I mention the whole "toe thing"...

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    Oozing sense of pride upon completing the Everest-like challenge of touching a mummified toe to ones lips:

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    Beautiful day in Dawson:

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    Bikes fueled up and resting for the adventure to come:

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    So while @selkins and I explored the town separately, something mid-afternoon crept into my gut - the need to fall back on a strict dietary regimen that keeps me healthy...perhaps it was a premonition. Regardless, the diet calls for a hearty serving of bacon for breakfast and 2-3 malt beverages late afternoon. So after finishing my afternoon health regimen, I returned to the hotel to find @selkins "prepping" for the next day...or perhaps his body was already feeling the after-effects of the toe. I don't know - let's face it, thinking that a "healthy diet" includes bacon and beer excludes me from any medical-expert circles.

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    @selkins was able to rally and we got dinner, hoped for another good weather day for our run up the Dempster, and called it a night.
    #32
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  13. selkins

    selkins Gotta light?

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    The next day was the kind I live for as a rider. We left Dawson in mid-morning, with vivid blue sky and scattered clouds. It had been below freezing the night before, and while it was warming up quickly, there was a beautiful hoarfrost on the foliage as we headed east toward the base of the Demptster.

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    We pulled up and took the requisite photos at the Dempster sign, and then we were off north. This moment had sat in my mind for at least two years - ever since DarkRider had said he'd join me after the Dempster was extended up to Tuktoyaktuk. I had told him early on that timing our Dempster legs for the days around September 1 was the way we had to do it. The lack of bugs and the reduced traffic were big inducements, but truly, it's all about the fall colors. I know none better than what I've seen in the far north, and today delivered.


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    Those pics and gifs are mostly around Tombstone Territorial Park - a highlight of the Dempster, and only 50 or so miles from the highway's start. As you can see, the skies were crazy beautiful and the light showed off the bright rust, yellow, green, orange and the countless other shades of color. Every mile was a kaleidoscope, and just about overpowered my ability to take it all in.

    And it's worth noting that there was four to five times the "traffic" as my visit at the same time six years ago. Of course, it's still open roads, but up and through Tombstone there were quite a few cars and RVs. I know there's a near univeral prohibition on the Dempster by car rental companies in AK and Yukon, but either there are a lot more scofflaws than years past, or they've loosened up and allow folks to go as far as Tombstone these days. Honestly, I'm glad for it. More folks should experience this amazing place.

    The roads were rough up to about the North Fork Pass Summit - a few miles past the Tombstone Interpretive Center. The day prior I had stopped by the Northwest Terr Visitor Center on Front St in Dawson and spent some time chatting with the woman staffing the place. She was born and raised in Inuvik, and on a trip down to Dawson to visit a friend two decades ago, she applied at the visitor center on a lark and got the gig. She stayed, bought a house in town, and settled in, though she told me she had a travel bug "One spring," she mentioned, "I drove my van to Aklavik on the ice road, took a picture, and then drove down to Costa Rica!" She said the Dempster was in worse shape than usual because of the heavy rains this year, "Usually five hours to Eagle Plains, but now six."

    We took longer than six. Even with out a camera...or a GoPro...or a drone...(sigh)...the scenery just begged constant stops and endless gawking. But, we did ride, too:

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    And as made our way north those lower clouds on the horizon became darker. By the time we reached the Gwazhal Kak (Ogilve Ridge) turnout - about 70 miles south of Eagle Plains, the clouds were spitting rain, that became more steady as we continued on. I remembered that stretch from my last trip - in pouring rain, a good 40-50 miles of the distance at a crawl because of 1-2" of snotty, slippery mud/calcium chloride covering the firmer road base. I wasn't interested in repeating that, and fortunately, the rain was light enough that other than some sketchy fishtailing in low sections, the road stayed fairly firm. But when we pulled in to Eagle Plains, the temps and the conditions were almost identical to the last time I pulled out - six years and three days before.

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    Unsurprisingly, very little had changed at Eagle Plains, other than increased traffic. The same German woman running the joint with an iron fist - though we were to learn she was far from lacking in compassion. And, I just love the bar - with its panoramic westerly views out on the wilderness, its well stocked liquor shelves, and of course, it's peerless collection of taxidermy.

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    I'm always curious about the people who choose to work in an environment like this. The young woman tending bar that night was Czech - with a bright smile and a heavy accent. She was mild and modest in conversation, but she splits her time between here in the summer months, and Mexico in the winters. That's an adventurous soul.

    But speaking of adventurous souls. I'll own a bit of smug pride at my "adventure riding" experiences. It's hard not to when colleagues and friends react with wide eyes and disbelief. But let's get real - there may be a level of risk, and certainly there is reward, to this style of travel - but we've all seen the folks on our travels that remind us just how privileged and restrained we are on these trips.

    Case study #1: Two women, walking, pulling a glorified grocery cart loaded with their gear. We saw them about 130 miles up the Dempster on our way up. We were making mileage after lots of pullovers by that point, but in retrospect I wished we had stopped to chat. Though I remember thinking: were I in their shoes I probably wouldn't want to be stopped for 10 minutes every time a curious infernal cumbustion driver/rider passed by. We saw them again, about 20 miles further along, on our way back down.

    Case study #2: Oh my god - this guy is the real deal. You can peruse and be awed at your own pace, but let's just take a geographically relevant slice of his adventures that starts with his bicycling the length of the Canol Road, starting at Johnson's Crossing and heading north-northeast about 280 miles to the Northwest Territories border. But don't stop there. He rides on the length of the Canol Heritage Trail, 220 miles across the Northwest Territories to Norman Wells on the Mackenzie, including endless single-track and multiple water crossings that make the road impassable(?) to motor vehicles. Had enough? Instead, he takes off the inflatable kayak that he's been carryiing on the bike, inflates it, dismantles and loads his bike, and paddles down about 300 river miles of the Mackenzie, to Tsiighetchic. Then, he repacks the kayak, and rides his bicycle down the Dempster to the Arctic Circle until a literal blizzard convinces him to catch a ride with an RV to Dawson.

    I am such a wimp.

    Anyway, enough of that. DarkRider and I whiled away the long evening hours in the Eagle Plains bar.

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    And woke up the next morning to this.

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    The snow wasn't too bad, and it was going to get (a bit) over freezing temps that day. So, despite the setback, I was convinced we could get a late start and make it to Inuvik.

    But the gods weren't done throwing obstacles in our way.

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    Indeed, the road north was actually closed. Turns out we got the light end of the snow, and the road was closed through the day going north. Bah, humbug.

    By this time, DarkRider was pretty convinced that what was important was the journey, not the destination. Particularly if the destination involved icy roads and the prospect of a dropped bike or worse. I held out hope for more until around noon. It was then that I started feeling a funk that couldn't be explained just by being snowbound in Eagle Plains. By mid-afternoon it was official, I was flushed and running a fever, my body aching and convulsing with shivers. Worse than any physical symptoms, I had that malaise that illness brings along, sucking out any sort of energy or optimism you might naturally feel and throwing it down a big, black pit of self-pity. :trp

    DarkRider has his own theory of what brought on the illness. I get sick about once every five years - so it was rotten luck regardless. I spent the bulk of the day shivering under blankets in the room. We knew that Eagle Plains was fully booked that night, but thanks to the poor conditions and our German proprieter's kindness, we stayed housed for one more night. And about the only thing that kept my spirits out of the dumpster was that a Harry Potter marathon was playing on one of the satellite teevee stations. What's not to like about Harry Potter?

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    We did get stories of the conditions north and south. A KTM rider came into Eagle Plains from the south late in the afternoon. He was shaken and deeply relieved to have made it - sharing stories of near impassible stretches of slippery mud. From the north, one heavy-duty RV managed to make it through that day - telling of several inches of unplowed snow on the road over the Richardson Mountains.

    Yes, the weather would be getting warmer in coming days, and as we all know, all it takes is a half day of sun for those wet, slippery patches on the Dempster to dry out. But we didn't have those days - DarkRider had a flight from Anchorage and work to return to. So that settled it -- we'd be turning south.

    As StrikingViking says, "The adventure begins when things stop going according to plan." Still - I kind of wish our plans had been able to hold a few more days.
    #33
    td63 likes this.
  14. DarkRider

    DarkRider Curiously refreshing Supporter

    Joined:
    Jun 23, 2004
    Oddometer:
    660
    Location:
    Far West Texas
    Ok, so with @selkins brooding recount of Day 8, let me finish this leg with some context. A lot of this is going to be copy/pasted from the cursory journal I kept just so @selkins knows I'm not making this sh1t up.

    Here's my first comment:
    - Beautiful ride from Dawson up the Dempster through the Peel overlook.
    - 28 degrees when we left Dawson but the fog lifted and we had sun most of the ride
    - Road was great to Peel, then had light rain and patches of muddy road that had to be ridden very slow

    Here's what it looked like (the photos - while good - don't do it justice. This was the best fall colors I'd ever seen anyplace):

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    It hadn't started raining...yet:

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    @selkins explained the rationale for timing the trip, and while we ended up losing to weather and illness, I wouldn't trade the chance to see those fall colors for anything. It was other worldly.

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    As @selkins mentioned though, the perfect riding conditions didn't persist, and after Peel, things got dicey.

    There it comes:

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    And when we pulled in, this is what I was left with...a hot steaming pile of poo for a bike:

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    And to close, after a VERY long day in the saddle, @selkins and I were grateful to get the last room at Eagle Plains. I almost teared up when my cheeseburger had a pickle on it...how the hell do they get green vegetables this far north! You become incredibly grateful in such remote areas for simple things...like cold beers ($6 apiece...no problem - they're incredible). And friends to share the misery and sense of accomplishment with. That's what these rides are all about after all.
    #34
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  15. GRinCR

    GRinCR Oppressed Nomad

    Joined:
    Apr 29, 2011
    Oddometer:
    592
    Location:
    Alajuela, Costa Rica via MN.
    Had to Googlear the LED flashing bit... that was fun. I am smarter now having read this RR.

    :lurk
    #35
    selkins likes this.
  16. Bugzy

    Bugzy 2014 VStrom DL1000a

    Joined:
    Jun 2, 2011
    Oddometer:
    225
    Location:
    Delta BC Canada
    Your bike doesn't look that dirty.. when riding in Summer, all the dust on that road piles up and the rear end is all one color with no visible plate.
    Bummer you could not get up to the first divide marker, but you guys were riding pretty late in the year. I would say consider yourself lucky you didn't get snowed in for the Winter. lol. Cripes I was looking at temperatures in Tuk in July and it was only max 4c with lows below zero, so snow up there is possible anytime of the year.
    Thanks for the trip report, was fun to read. Is the animosity between you two real or staged? ;)
    #36
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  17. selkins

    selkins Gotta light?

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,680
    Location:
    The Frozen North
    The animosity is completely authentic. Nothing makes you want to rip a person's head off more than being best friends for 33 years.
    #37
    zoid, Bugzy, shuswap1 and 2 others like this.
  18. selkins

    selkins Gotta light?

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,680
    Location:
    The Frozen North
    And yes, @DarkRider is precious about the cleanliness of his Triumph. Which is surprising when you consider the fact that he LITERALLY NEVER washed his 1150 GSA, back in the day.

    That thing was so freakin' filthy he once took it to a dealer for routine service and they washed it for him, simply so they could access the vital bits. Boy, was @DarkRider pissed! I'm pretty sure he ended up suing them. Don't cross DarkRider - he's a litigious bastard!

    But boy, that 1150 was a nasty, beautiful beast.

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    #38
  19. DarkRider

    DarkRider Curiously refreshing Supporter

    Joined:
    Jun 23, 2004
    Oddometer:
    660
    Location:
    Far West Texas
    I’ve never forgiven @selkins for using all my MC chain lube to torch cockroaches off the wall of our slummy apartment in college...that stuff is expensive and we were starving college students. So yeah...I hold a grudge.

    And FTR, I’ve never washed my 800XC...except if I’m on it and it’s raining...just sayin.
    #39
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  20. selkins

    selkins Gotta light?

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,680
    Location:
    The Frozen North
    Morning comes early even a few weeks before the fall equinox in Eagle Plains. I had my fair bit of tossing and turning early in the evening, but around midnight I was asleep and by morning the fever had broken, the shivering had stopped, and best of all, I felt like I had enough mental acuity to ride the Dempster. The weather had turned the corner again - sunny skies, 32 degrees and heading up to the mid 40s that day.

    The evening before, our friend on the KTM was keen to join us heading south. I tried to discourage him as we got on the bikes at 9am, "The road is going to get a lot better today. You've come all this way, head north." He was waffling. As we turned south on the road, I saw his head swiveling back and forth in my rear view mirror, before he turned in behind us and followed.

    I was torn myself. I wanted to get @DarkRider at least to the Arctic Circle, and with conditions improving it would likely add only a little more than an hour to our day. In fact, if conditions were ideal, we could still get to Tuk and back to Anchorage in time for his flight.

    On the flipside, a short section of the road from here to there was notorious in recent weeks for vehicles of all sorts spinning right off the road for how slippery it was. Also, I was feeling about 60% of my normal self, and pushing it wasn't going to do me any favors. And let's get real - anyone relying on ideal conditions in the Arctic is cruisin' for a bruisin'.

    About 40 miles down the road, though, our tag-a-long KTM changed his mind and turned around. I hope he made it all the way.

    Our ride that day was another symphony of color and light.

    DarkRider had an experience of the generosity of Yukoners when we pulled out at the Ogilve Ridge lookout, but I'll let him tell that tale.

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    By the time we reached Dawson, I was barely upright. We pulled up to the Triple J and I lay down over my tankbag as DarkRider went in and secured a room. We hauled up our gear and after stripping off the boots, riding jacket and pants, I threw myself on the bed and didn't move for the next hour. My head was stuffed with cotton again, the fever was back, and now I had a sore throat to boot. Good news was that I still had an appetite, so I met DarkRider out at Backstreet Pizza, swung buy the Dawson General Store for cough drops and NyQuil, and dosed myself up good, hoping for a restful night.

    We didn't make it any further, but at long last DarkRider can stop lusting after my Eagle Plains hat:

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    As I lay in bed that night I wrestled with a thought that had been growing in my mind the past 24 hours. "Is this really where I want to be?"

    I picked up riding at the age of 38. A long-time relationship had ended and I was heart-broken. During a weekend bender with DarkRider and another friend in Las Vegas, he leaned over to me at some point and said, "You know what you need to do? You need to buy yourself a motorcycle, and we'll ride together around the southwest." And sure enough, that's what we did.

    I have this theory that came to mind around that time. I think if you ask most folks "who are you, in a fundamental way?" they'll share with you a small number of things, say three to five. "I'm Margaret's spouse, Renn's father, I'm a professional tree-hugger, and I ride motorcycles." Something like that. I also think that if you take one of those things away, it can get ugly. Identity is a powerful thing, and if you lose a big chunk of it, you want it refilled. At the time of that loss, DarkRider gave me something to fill up the hole. Before then I had no interest in motorcycles, and since then it's been part of who I am.

    And what entered my mind that night, sick and miserable in Eagle Plains, was that maybe motorcyles weren't a part of that equation for me any longer. And 24 hours later the idea was still sitting there, making itself at home in the corner of my mind.

    The next morning I was in worse condition. Barely able to speak for the sore throat - foggy-headed and miserable. DarkRider was a great sport about it - "We stick together, no other option." But by day four, the novelty of Dawson is past and I could only empathize with a desire to get moving. Unfortunately, I was in no condition to ride. Besides a couple of short walks and dinner at Klondike Kates, I was in bed the entire day. My only consolation was knowing I was better off being in Dawson in this condition, than in Inuvik.

    Paul Theroux, the author and travel writer, said something along the lines of, "No one wants to read about all the times you're wretched and sick, or waiting interminably for some thing. But it happens in travel, just like in other parts of life."
    #40
    zoid, BC Biker, Rich Rider and 4 others like this.