West and North (Canada incl. Dempster) - 1972 Moto Guzzi

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by nick949eldo, Jul 1, 2019.

  1. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    The problem with being an early riser is I’m often up and ready for action long before it’s useful or practical. This morning, for instance, it’s 5.16AM and I’m in my little one person tent at the campground near Fort McPherson. The ferry across the Peel River doesn’t start until 9AM, so I have the best part of four hours to kill. I might as well spend it writing to you as I have no interest in feeding the hoards of mosquitos which descend on me whenever I poke my head outside the tent.

    We are a gang of four. I met Rhode Island Sam a couple of days ago before camping together at Pelly Crossing. We have been riding separately, but shared the costs of a room at the Bunkhouse in Dawson City.

    Florida Gerry sat on my tail for many miles after I left Whitehorse and pulled up beside me to chat when I stopped to take a picture. He’s riding a V-Strom loaded like a Klondike pack-mule. He’s been on the road for ages, unlike Alaska Evan who just hopped across from Fairbanks and only has a few days to nip up to Tuk and back on his BMW GS800.

    We are all solo travelers, all clearly quite comfortable in our own company, yet without any deliberate plan, we seem to have banded together in a loose association. With time on my hands I wonder about this. Sam suggests that after a few days most people want a little social contact, and what better than with a few like-minded folks. He put himself in that camp, to which I would add Gerry who basically hunted me down to make the contact. I'm not sure how Evan feels. He seems to keep his cards very close to his chest, although he did let on that this trip to Tuk was a shakedown for a much longer trip involving much of South America.

    It seems a bit tribal to me. We have identified that others share our interest so we loosely associate for confirmation that we're not entirely daft, and perhaps, at some deep unspoken level, so we know that there is at least someone close by to keep an eye out for us.

    I left Dawson City while everyone else was sleeping and got an early start. I love the mornings anyway, but who can sleep when there isn't any night to speak of. It's a forty km road haul to the start of the Dempster, with nothing much to distinguish it, other than the card-lock 24 hour gas bar, of which I availed myself.

    It's going to take me a while to gather my thoughts about the Dempster. There is lots to think about: road conditions, dust, f#@$king RVs, dust etc. But in a nutshell, I was gobsmacked. Here's a sample:

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    jeckyll - Fort McPherson. I'll explain in a bit.
    #41
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  2. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    You too. Good luck with your ride tomorrow. Have fun.

    Nick
    #42
  3. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    Now, where was I? Oh yes, the Dempster. Nice road, very scenic, a bit dusty in places. Too bad the maintenance crews have to lay clean gravel (as I know they must), as it make riding a bit sqirrelly, especially on an old road bike. My tyres didn't help. I have a mostly worn-out Duro on the front. It was never a success right from the start, didn't fit the rim evenly, and bounces the whole bike at low speed on good pavement. On the rear I have a Kenda knobbly. This wasn't from choice. I dropped in to Alberta Cycle and it was the only 4x18 they had in stock.

    The problem isn't so much with the individual tyres - it's that they both want to steer the bike and are in a constant battle. I don't know if riders on more subtle bikes notice, but parts of the Klondike, Alaska and Cassiar Highways have longitudenal ridges and grooves which can throw me around. It's generally OK, but once in a while one will catch me out - usually when I'm too close to the centreline and a transport's hogging most of the road.

    Those ridges were there on the Dempster too, but the sophisticated Moto Guzzi suspension dealt with them admirably. You might be interested to know why my forks didn't bottom out too many times. I run 80/90 gear oil in the fork legs.

    Sam, Gerry and Evan
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    I got sad news from Gerry yesterday. His V-Strom had run low on oil by the time they reached Tuk and appears to have damaged something. I hope it's fixable, but I don't think he'll be riding it south. Donn't forget to check your oil folks. Just because it never uses any between changes doesn't mean that will always be the case.

    So,the Dempster. I left early as a) I prefer to ride on my own and b) I almost always get up early. I was rolling, gassed up and heading the 40 or so Kms back to where the Dempster turns from the Alaska Highway.
    The first part of the riding was nothing special - just a broad dirt road with good footing. It remained that way almost all the way to Eagle Plains, with only a few areas of loose or bumpy. Nothing the Eldo couldn't handle (there isn't much she can't).

    I spent quite a long time playing with cameras, setting up roadside video drive-bys, and generally being wowed by the scenery. You think it's getting spectacular, then you go a little further and it's even better. Eventually Sam caught up with me, and as we were riding the last few kilometres together, Gerry and Evan blasted past. I hadn't seen Gerry since he stalked me near Whitehorse and he gave a big recognition wave as he blasted by in a barrage of dust.


    #43
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  4. johnwesley

    johnwesley wanta be

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    Took a guy up to dead horse and he was on a klr. I was constantly on him about checking the oil. Even with that he run it low twice. I kept a watch when he wasn’t looking. On the way south from dead horse he began to loose power... you guessed it he had run it out of oil. Needless to say he left the bike in Ak. I agree with ya check oil, especially when out like this.


    By the way I’m thoroughly enjoying your ride
    #44
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  5. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    Eagle Plains was exactly what I expected - a sprawling mix of gas bar, sometime garage, restaurant, hotel, campsite. The food was surprisingly wholesome although it helped that it was served by a rather winsome eastern European young lady who rather took Gerry's eye.

    Beyond Eagle Plains there was a definite change in the road. Where before it had mainly been hard-packed gravel, and areas of congealed shaly clay, not whole sections were freshly laid, almost manicured gravel which seemed to have been laid directly on top of the ridged and pitted clay surface.

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    My original plan had been to stop in Dawson City (if you remember, I didn't really have a firm agenda), but Sam talked me in to riding the Dempster at least as far as Eagle Plains. Well, once there I could hardly forego getting to the Arctic Circle. As we finished off our pictures and got ready to get back on the bikes I was trying to decide what to do next. The idea of camping at Eagle Plains wasn't appealing. For one thing, it was full of cyclists, many of whom were working their way from Tuk to Patagonia as part of an organized tour. It was too late in the day and I was already too tired to beat it back to Dawson. Oh well, I may as well meet you guys at the camp site in Fort McPherson.

    It was a tiring ride. With loose gravel on top of hardpack, the Eldorado was doing a fine dance most of the time. The others had gone on ahead, but Sam had waited at the ferry so we could board together.

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    #45
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  6. oldgrizz

    oldgrizz Long timer Supporter

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    Following your ride.
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  7. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    Just a snappy 646kms today between Tatogga on the Cassair Highway to Burns Lake on the road east towards Prince George. I thought about making the whole distance to Prince George but when I saw a cheap looking motel with a Liquor Store across the way I was done for the day. By the way, apologies for the weird spacing and the many typos. My old laptop's keyboard is wonky. Spelling mistakes are mine.

    I'm sharing the motel with three obviously very well-healed guys from Brazil on a mammoth continental trip. They shipped their three new Yamahas (two ST's and a 660T) to Seattle ( I think) and plan to head up to Alaska then down to Patagonia. My poor old Eldorado looks very dowdy and raggedy next to their still spotless bikes. They probably think I'm poor and can't afford anything better. They may be right. :roflNo doubt their bikes will acquire a little patina before they get too much further.

    OK, back to the Dempster.

    Before camping I headed in to Fort McPherson to see what was available. Like an idiot I hadn't thought about supplies and although Sam offered to share his food, I opted to shop locally. The first shop we visited had a few bags of chips and some pop, but generously phoned across town to a young woman who was operating a food truck, to see if it was open. It was - the young woman, it turned out, was the sister-in-law of the first lady - and was happy to make me a burger and fries to go.

    While the food was cooking I spent a delightful few minutes chatting with a group of young girls (some of whom were the daughters of the food truck lady) who had never seen so many cameras hanging off a bike. They weren't in the slightest bit shy and were happy to talk with a dusty old bike guy. One of the cameras was running.....

    young girls.jpg

    Evan, Sam and Gerry had already set up camp by the time I arrived. Nice place. Close to the ferry and with showers, flush toilets (oh, the luxury) and well defined camping areas. The mosquitoes were a trifle annoying, so we all hit the tents early, even though it was about 11PM it felt like mid afternoon. Fort McPherson is a long was north and the sun doesn't really set.

    I was awake at 5.16. I remember it well because it meant I had almost 4 hours to wait before I could catch the ferry back across the Peel River. The other guys were continuing north to Inuvik and Tuk, but I was paying attention to the weather and had no interest of being caught out on slippery shaly clay on a road bike - or any bike for that matter. Getting to the end of the road had never been an objective for me. I'd seen the edge of the magnificent Mackenzie Valley Delta as you head downhill towards the Peel River. That was good enough.

    Looking towards the McKenzie River Delta. Impressive by any scale.
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    I don't expect everyone to share my attitude, but then, most people wouldn't ride an old relic like mine more than a couple of blocks beyond the coffee shop (note subtle plug!).

    By the time we'd got our bikes packed and said goodbyes, it was almost 9 and time for me to head down to the ferry. he ferry guys turned up promptly and set about doing their morning preparation and checks before waving me aboard. I've probably said it before, but I find the people in remote communities to be almost universally pleasant, friendly, chatty and hospitable. It's worth the effort of riding to out-of-the-way places for that reason alone.

    As the ferry closed on the Peel River's southern shore, an eagle was sitting just to the side of the road. I think it's an immature Bald Eagle (a mature one was just along the shore), although shortly thereafter I saw a pair which may have been Goldens. Great way to start the day!

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    When travelling in this land - or for that matter anywhere in North America - it's good to remember that we who are non-indigenous people are late-comers, spending a brief few moments on First Nations traditional lands where people have been living, often in extremely difficult and arduous conditions, for countless generations. Tread lightly and with respect.

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    #47
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  8. jlambo

    jlambo Long timer

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    Caught up, and enjoying this immensely. I’ve had this trip in my sights for a long time, won’t be long now. You and I share outlooks about the local folks, many of whom are indigenous. Respectfully interacting with them can be fulfilling and enlightening beyond mere scenery or remote travel bragging rights.
    Looking forward to the rest of the journey, thanks Nick!
    #48
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  9. siyeh

    siyeh unproductive Supporter

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    Your pics are great but your prose is even better.
    Thank you

    standing by for more commentary about roads I have traveled
    #49
  10. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    Much appreciated. This is off-the-cuff, mostly in motel rooms etc. I'll probably expand and polish as part of my next book.
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  11. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    DSCN6098.JPG I'm increasingly getting ahead of the narrative as I start to smell the hay in the barn. This evening I'm in McBride dodging thunderstorms. I opted to stop early and pay an only slightly usurious amount for a room instead of the ridiculous prices quoted for motels anywhere near Jasper or Hinton. I'm also trying to kill a little time. I ordered a couple of tyres from Fortnine to be delivered to a Guzzi-friend in Edmonton. They hadn't arrived on Friday and I'm seriously hoping they arrive on Monday otherwise.....well, I just don't want to be hanging around Edmonton like a spare part for any longer than necessary. The irony is that the cheapo block-tread Duro I bought because it was the only 4x18 Alberta Cycle had in stock, is lasting absurdly well and would probably get me home. My front tyre shows no significant signs of wear at all. God knows what it's actually made of.

    Riding south from Fort McPherson was just a rewind of the trip up. The loose gravel may have been slightly less slippery as a few truck had been by and hammered down a couple of treads which, as long as I stuck to them and didn't veer into the loose stuff, made riding a lot easier.

    As I wasn't following anyone, I set my own pace, taking time to enjoy the scenery from the return angle and take a few more pictures. At one point I stopped to have a close look at the deadly black shaly clay. Baked dry and hard it was easy to ride on at any speed, although the Eldorado still did a fine fandango every time she caught a rut. But those ruts showed me what a ghastly stuff to ride on it must be when it has been soaked. I could see individual wheel imprints, some of which dug an inch or two into the now-baked surface. Trying to grind a bike through that slippery slop would be dangerous and difficult work. I was glad I'd paid attention to the weather reports and got south before it got wet.

    It may not look bad now (and isn't) - but just add water......
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    On the way back to Dawson City I kept getting passed by a couple of riders on V-Stroms with their support van. They came blasting by a couple of times, gratuitously high on the pegs, the van close on the heels of the rear rider. Not long after I blasted (well, cruised anyway) by them. Their van had a gash in the side of its rear tyre. Eventually the two riders passed me again - but I never did see the van again as I got to Dawson well before them.

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    Grinding back down the Alaska Highway the following day was an exercise in endurance. It's amazing how scenery that stunned and excited you one day can become so ho-hum the next. The day seems to be punctuated by fuel stops. Fill up, run until almost empty or a fuel pump appears, repeat. I might have slipped a coffee or ice cream into the mix, but basically I just rode all day until I swung into a campsite near Teslin. It was a super, quiet place until a young lady from Israel arrived and started to put up her tent. She wanted to make sure that everyone knew where she was from and that she was travelling on her own. She desperately wanted to engage and was probably a bit lonely. I'm only slightly embarrassed to say I hid in my tent.

    Fast forward now. Hoofed it back to Watson Lake then down the Cassiar Highway as far as Tatogga BC. Nice road, fairly scenic, not as quiet as I expected. There wasn't much truck traffic but bikes and pesky RV's galore. I spent the night surrounded by Canadian Rangers who were off on an adventure into the mountains in the morning. Then on to Burns Lake and today McBride.

    tothe13thJuly.jpg

    The old Guzzi continues to roll, although now a fair bit noisier than when I started. She has ejected the copper gasket from the right-side exhaust pipe where it meets the head and I can no longer tighten the mount enough to seal it. She sounds a bit flatulent and I'm sure the gasses not going where they're supposed to doesn't help her run cleanly - at least at low revs. But we press on........
    #51
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  12. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    One important thing happened today. I had been contacted by long-time forum member Oldgrizz with the message that if I was passing through Prince George he'd like to meet. We did. Many motorcycle people are excellent folks and Oldgrizz is certainly one of them. We chatted about bikes, travel etc. he treated me to lunch (thanks Ray!) then led me first to buy fuel and then through the town to set me on the route east. One might expect such encounters to be awkward and the conversation difficult and stilted. Such was not the case. If we lived closer, I'm sure we could spend many happy hours chatting about our many shared interests.
    #52
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  13. twowings

    twowings Comfortably Numb... Supporter

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    I wish I had the money to send you and that marvelous machine around the world...what a book that would make! :thumb

    Please ride more slowly so this adventure doesn't end too soon! :beer
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  14. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    You are too kind twowings. Just an old geezer on a Guzzi.:jjen
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  15. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    If you were wondering what a bike looks like after a dry spell on the Dempster.......... I shudder to think what the air filter looks like - but I'm not checking.

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    #55
  16. Rathlindri

    Rathlindri Guinness fan

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    Nick, just wanted to say how much I'm enjoying your account of your latest adventure. You're an insiration. Ride safe
    #56
  17. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    Many thanks Rathlindri. Right now I'm a chicken sheltering from the rain.:dunno
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  18. woodgrain

    woodgrain In-Dented Savant

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    Only 43 hours from home...
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  19. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    For some maniacs
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  20. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    To paraphrase Matthew (18:20), 'Whenever two or more are gathered together'...............it's too many for me, so it's ironic that I'm deep in darkest Edmonton for a second time on this trip. I'm not fond of cities. Nothing particular against Edmonton, other than from what I've seen it looks like one gigantic box store complex, but I know for a fact that there are some fantastic people here, one of whom I'll be imposing on again tomorrow.

    After 4000 miles, the 15/40 in the Eldorado is in serious need of a change. I don't think I've ever gone that far on one batch of oil and it's been weighing heavily on my mind. I bought three new litres in Edson and came very close to doing a quick and dirty roadside drain into the gravel, working on the principle that since a lot of oil comes out of Alberta, it only seems reasonable to return some. In the end though environmental consciousness won out.

    Lest I'm giving you the impression that pounding up to the Arctic circle and beyond, then back through the mountains of BC and Alberta on a 47 year old bike is a walk in the park, let me itemize a few of the 'issues' I've encountered. I've told you about the raggedly low speed running. Despite the replacement carbs and proper set-up, it's still raggedly at low speed. I suspect the bob-weight springs in the distributor are worn out, although since the distributor cap moves around at will, that too could be part of the problem. Fortunately these hiccups only occur at or near idle and most of the time I'm running at highway speed.

    The horn vibrated itself loose somewhere in Saskatchewan and despite bolting it back in place hasn't worked since. It may have been banging around by its wires for an age before I noticed. I haven't had a rear light since.......I don't know when. I did manage to get the brake light working: that will do for now.

    Then there's the pannier frames. The fibreglass boxes bolt to metal straps, the main one of which bolts directly to the frame. It's a poor design. After about 38 years one of the straps gave way and had to be welded. Now, after 47 years the second one has fractured in exactly the same spot, allowing the box to sag slightly. It's currently supported with a couple of bungees.

    Slightly more worrying issues are the gearbox and the clutch. Upshifting is fine. Downshifting is clunky, with neutral becoming increasingly hard to find. This may be because the clutch is starting to drag, especially if I'm sitting in traffic after a long run. Both the clutch and the gearbox have ways I can adjust them slightly. I'll let you know if it improves things.

    If I make the mistake of leaving my earplugs out, the noises terrify me. That knobbly rear tyre drones mightily and the engine sounds like a bag of nails in a paint shaker. But....it continues to run and is happiest at a steady 100kph hour after hour.

    Oh yes - the mountains around Jasper are very pretty.

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    #60
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