I've never seen roads up there this bad - Yukon-Alaska 2016

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Northstar Beemer, Jan 18, 2017.

  1. Northstar Beemer

    Northstar Beemer Been here awhile

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    "There aren't any hard jobs - just jobs tried with the wrong tools" - words of wisdom from my grandfather.

    A nearly new (and formerly dark blue) BMW 1200 RT sport touring bike and a late model BMW 1200GS dual sport bike emerged from the clouds bumping and grinding down the Southernmost Atigun Pass grade. Both machines actually looked like props from a ‘Mad Max’ movie….a shattered front fender on the RT had resulted in the rider, all his clothing and gear being sprayed by fine grey slime for the past 200 miles – the GS had survived with fenders intact…but looked no better.

    We spoke with the crumpled, muddy and exhausted riders. “The road is absolute hell” was a quote from the RT rider.

    I looked at Craig and my son Drew and said ‘gear up…this is gonna be bad’. Drew started to protest – took another look at my face… thought better of it. He found his heated liner and waterproof gloves and put it all on, all the while glancing around at the clear blue skies, blooming wildflowers and 70F temps with a sideways glance towards the brooding grey clouds capping the Brooks Range Arctic mountain range.

    But we were still on the South side side of the pass.

    The two bedraggled riders saw that we were riding on regardless….. and astonished, wished us luck… ‘You’re going to need it’ were their parting words.
    This would be my third… and almost certainly my last run to Deadhorse – I’ve seen the road in bad shape in 2009 and 2014 but it was always doable and ridable.
    I hadn’t seen anything – anything - like this year’s Dalton run.

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    But I’m getting ahead of myself…this year’s adventure would include;
    • Herds of Caribou with towering antlers still covered with soft velvet
    • Moose with calves so young their legs still wobbled
    • Mother Black bears with tiny football sized cubs trying to keep up with her
    • Brown Grizzlies with rippling muscles under silver tipped fur
    • Herds of Musk oxen shedding their heavy winter coats and grazing on spring’s bounty
    • Suicidal rabbits
    • Vast and countless glaciers
    • Raging forest fires
    • Massive flooding washing out the Alaska Highway in our wake
    • Fantastic blooming fields and borders of fragrant intensely purple Fireweed and stunning blue wildflowers alongside the Yukon roads
    • Endless vistas and boundless skies at the end of the earth
    • Gracious hospitality at the homes and island cabins of friends
    • An ambulance run to a hospital emergency room
    • A runaway drone. Twice.
    • Chopping down trees to retrieve the above mentioned drone
    • Big bikes crashing hard
    • The worst road conditions I’ve ever seen across three trips up there – potholes, silt, Loon ****, roads being constructed out of polished river rock – did I mention the potholes?

    (This may actually be a story worth telling)

    In 2014 two friends of mine accompanied me on wildly inappropriate motorcycles on a similar trip to the Arctic – Three bikes left Chicago…. just two returned.
    http://forums.bmwmoa.org/showthread...riate-equipment-to-out-of-the-way-places-quot

    Last January, I suggested that we try it again – but that we didn’t need to have the ‘selection of proper motorcycles’ discussion again…. right? Both guys demurred and said they would acquire and ride appropriate Adventure or dual sport bikes this time… as opposed to trying this trip on loaded RT luxury cruiser or a clapped out Triumph sports bike with a car tire on the rear wheel. (You think I'm kidding? Check the link above for the actual pictures. Hint - it didn't end well for either inappropriate bike.)

    My son even agreed to fly up from NYC to Anchorage, rent a bike and meet us for much of the the Alaska and Yukon portions of the trip!

    These are the parties involved –

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    Drew and Bryan

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    Thomas

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    Fran

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    Craig feeding the Eagle Plains dogs

    And so it starts........
    #1
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  2. Northstar Beemer

    Northstar Beemer Been here awhile

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    And we're off -

    700 miles


    Kickstands up before dawn, the parties met separately - and then together at our traditional meetup spot outside Madison, Wisconsin. The ride across Wisconsin this spring morning was absolutely beautiful, dappled sunlight, high puffy white cumulus clouds with mild temps and Bluebirds flitting around.

    And then we rode down into Duluth/Superior.

    Low clouds, intermittent heavy rain, temps plunging to the 40s…and incredibly the group got separated as we headed over to Aerostich… after Garmin gave us obviously incorrect directions.

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    Eventually we all got to Aerostich, which Richard was kind enough to keep open late, providing hot coffee and even gave us a quick tour of their small production facility. (That we all wore his products probably helped the interaction.) We eventually escaped the cold and wet of Duluth – guided and escorted by my older son Brent, who is a student there and seems to enjoy this highly variable climate astride one of the coldest and largest lakes in the world.

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    Several hundred miles later we crossed into Canada and after a couple of detours and missed turns, we arrived at the dock on aptly named Clearwater Lake, Ont.

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    My old friend Steve, had graciously agreed to host these four weary travelers for the evening. Steve has built a magnificent wilderness lakeside cabin which is only accessible by boat or snowmobile - We sped across the calm waters in his boat– had a welcome dinner and relaxed on his screened porch and later in his fantastic 18’ diameter cedar and pine gazebo with a huge custom steel center fireplace.

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    Morning comes early up there.

    It will get earlier still.
    #2
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  3. Northstar Beemer

    Northstar Beemer Been here awhile

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    680 and 638 mile days



    We awoke early and sped back across the calm lake after a waffle and walleye breakfast.

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    We chose to ride up through the Lake Country in Ontario – often seeing float planes taking off and landing, these aging planes service remote resorts and countless wilderness fishing camps.

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    Too soon we turned West onto the TransCanada highway and the forests and lakes of this pretty region were soon (and abruptly) replaced by the flat, endless and windy Canadian prairies.

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    We vectored through Winnipeg, had a quick soda with Craig’s cousin at a decidedly sketchy restaurant/hotel in a downtown area that also has quite a reputation for being completely wind-blown and desolate. Thomas – the ex-cop - wisely stayed outside to keep an eye on the bikes and gear.

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    Craig’s cousin offered up that many stations ‘out west’ were running out of gasoline – he was proven to be correct.

    Pressing West we eventually stopped at a campground in Moosin, Saskatchewan for the evening, frankly exhausted by the strong crosswinds that had pummeled us all afternoon. I broke out my instant backpacker’s meals, boiled some water and served dinner. I thought they were pretty good.

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    I was in a minority... since this was the last time we relied on these for dinner.

    The next morning we got up early and again hit the TransCanada to Calgary where Craig had old friends..Dave and Heidi… who graciously had agreed to host us for the evening in their beautiful home in the foothills West of the city. Our bikes completely filled their garage…. and Dave’s grill completely filled our appetites.

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    We slept like the dead… and probably used up all their hot water in the showers.
    #3
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  4. Northstar Beemer

    Northstar Beemer Been here awhile

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    575 mile day


    Dave’s youngest son Carter wanted a ride on a motorcycle….and Fran was the only guy who had a passenger seat on his bike.

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    You have to understand that Fran’s religion is essentially motorcycles – finally finding a ten year old wanting a motorcycle ride, he was like a Mormon missionary finally being welcomed into someone’s home and offered a gallon of ice cream. Carter got his ride that morning….. and was then given a lengthy and detailed handwritten list of suggested motorcycle reading material, motorcycle history, mandatory riding gear, movies and websites on which to learn even more.

    The ride lasted 30 minutes or so… I’m not sure Carter enjoyed the ride as much as Fran did. I think Carter just wanted a bike ride to show off for his friends, not get signed into a cult.

    Heidi fixed us a lavish breakfast – and then we headed off towards the looming and towering Canadian Rockies. We pulled into Lake Louise (well worth the stop) took the requisite pictures – which required wading through the throngs of Chinese tourists snapping selfies.

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    We kept riding up and turned North onto the Icefields Parkway – a road that never, ever disappoints. High rocky crags, snowy glaciers, random Dall Sheep and wandering Moose…and since we were riding in tourist season… a few too many rented RVs and busses full of tourists with faces and cameras pressed to the windows. And as expected, these same vehicles slammed to a complete stop when a large animal of any description was sighted – even 100 meters off the highway – doors fly open and passengers stumble out clutching their camera devices.

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    We refueled in Jasper and headed off on the occasionally lethal Yellowhead highway…although our wildlife sightings were fewer than on earlier trips, when I was convinced that bears, moose and deer were all plotting to kill me. I think they were just observing us from the edge of the forest this time.

    We stopped at a Provincial Park outside Prince George BC to make camp – note to future travelers – Canada’s Provincial campgrounds are generally very clean and very well maintained… and they seem to have a really, really hard time keeping seasonal employees. Take the internet away from a millennial and they go into withdrawal… and actually quit this summer job after only a few days. Anyhow, nice camping, free firewood and a chance to enjoy a scotch, a cigar and a crackling campfire.

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    The days are getting noticeably longer.
    #4
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  5. rubline

    rubline Coddiwomple

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    Great writing, more please!
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  6. Tewster2

    Tewster2 Long timer

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  7. kingofZroad

    kingofZroad Been here awhile

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    I'm in!!!


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  8. Gadawg803

    Gadawg803 Adventurer

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  9. XRman

    XRman Long timer

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    I like your writing style; please continue.
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  10. strsout

    strsout Banned Camp

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    Can't wait for the next chapter!!! :) :)
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  11. Northstar Beemer

    Northstar Beemer Been here awhile

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    600 mile day



    Some beautiful riding today leading up to the Alaska Highway – nice curves and sweepers under gathering clouds with much of the road following the Peace River. We actually barely kept pace with a couple ahead of us, two up on an older model BMW 1100RS. The pillion rider, a slight woman, was clearly just as experienced as the rider, as they were able to stay well ahead of our efforts to close the gap.

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    Eventually however, the forecasted weather arrived in cold sheets of driving rain. Several of us stopped to add heated gear and waterproof gloves when we started to head North by Northwest on the Alaska Highway. The road here isn’t very interesting – but is pretty fast and open with the trees cleared back 30 meters or so on each side to keep large animal collisions to an acceptable minimum. Not that I could have seen an animal in the dim light and heavy rain.

    We eventually stopped for dinner to escape the rain at a roadside restaurant with a muddy parking lot, and were soon joined by other wet, muddy and bedraggled riders at a common table in the back. The couple on the BMW 1000RS reappeared as well as a Polish guy with his Mexican wife who were riding on a late model BMW R1200GS. We had a good conversation and warmed up a little with food and coffee – the Polish guy, John, had burned out his Halogen low beam, so I dug through my tank bag and gave him my spare.

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    We got back on our bikes and kept riding and finally got out of the rain, eventually stopping way North at Fort Nelson….a 600 mile day that saw a lot of weather, fast roads and random riders meeting over food and coffee..
    #11
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  12. Northstar Beemer

    Northstar Beemer Been here awhile

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    Hot Springs, Road Signs, the Air Force Lodge and a crashed Victory bagger

    We rolled out of our campground in Ft. Nelson early. Today’s ride was to be far more comfortable (and interesting) as the Alaska Highway entered mountains, skirted icy lakes, took us to Toad River for gas and coffee (and a short and good humored bible lecture from a retired trucker and his wife).
    We stopped at Liard Hot Springs and washed way road dust… and soaked away aches and pains in these beautiful and natural hot springs deep in the Canadian forest. Note to future travelers – bring your own drinking water to these springs. After 15 minutes you’ll need it!

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    Refreshed, we rode on to Watson Lake, Yukon Territory and the ‘soon to be famous’ Air Force Lodge. The owner of this lodge, Michael, is a German ex-pat who brought a WW2 vintage Canadian Air Force barracks and remodeled them into nice and perfectly reasonably priced accommodations… which are seemingly well known to motorcyclists from around the world.

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    After Fran swapped out his worn front tire for a TKC 80 knobby he’d carried up on the back of his bike - we then headed over to the Watson Lake Sign Forest – which is an astonishing collection of town signs from all over the universe…. or at least the globe. The legend is that it was all started by a homesick GI back in 1942 when he was detailed out to be on the team that built the Alaska Highway across Canada and into Alaska. Fran produced an old Illinois license plate, we all signed our names with a Sharpie and he nailed it to a post for posterity. Thomas carried a small felt banner as a remembrance of a fellow soldier, Larry who died recently – this reappears in a lot of our pictures. He had been a close comrade at arms to Thomas, and before he died had encouraged Thomas to take this trip.

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    We adjourned to the restaurant down the road for a decent meal –though I do wish that they would someday start selling ice cold beer to go with these meals.

    We returned to the Air Force Lodge and saw a really banged up new red Victory motorcycle… with its owner walking around with his arm in a sling. The poor guy had never ridden gravel before – and when faced with a gravel stretch on the ‘always under repair’ Alaska Highway, he’d grabbed the front brakes and instantly high sided his bike, injuring himself and badly damaging his bike in the process.

    Not good, and not necessary.

    The sun never sets here in June – tomorrow we gas up and head out on the Campbell Highway – 350 miles to the next gas…. and the gravel roads that destroyed tires back in 2014... and was the beginning of the end for Thomas’ knobby shod RT BMW.

    This year would be completely different – we all had equipped our rear wheels with the extra tough K60 Scout tires from Heidenau, we packed a backup inner tube for the worst case scenario of a slashed tire sidewall, a can of slime, extra patches, worms and glue and carried three electric air pumps…..all in a reaction to the ****storm we got into back in 2014 – we hoped.

    And prayed. No one had told us about this...

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    #12
  13. azdesertdad

    azdesertdad VN1600A "It's a Harley... compatible" -Mr. Furious

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    This is relevant to my interests... well written so far, looking forward to the next installment of "As the Highway Crumbles"...
    #13
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  14. Bultaco206

    Bultaco206 Back-to-back motos suck

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    In. :lurk
    #14
  15. Northstar Beemer

    Northstar Beemer Been here awhile

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    Day Six – Bad Gas, rough roads, chopping down trees to recover escaped drones

    Up early, we ate breakfast and eventually found gas – the main gas station in Watson Lake was completely out of fuel due - I was told - to the earlier in the season massive fires over in the Tar Sands region– and we made sure that all our extra fuel cans were topped off…the next fuel could be 350 miles away.

    I say could, because the hoped for first fuel stop was in Ross River – a desolate First Nations reservation town, where fuel outages are pretty common… and fuel quality sometimes spotty.

    We rode the Campbell Highway. Up North they use the term ‘Highway’ pretty liberally. Any road with gravel and a bit of maintenance gets the ‘Highway’ designation. The Campbell is hundreds of miles of gravel, dust, mountain passes, forests, moose, deer and bears – and is essentially the only road connecting Ross River to the outer world.

    In 2014, there was freshly dumped and uncompacted gravel – really closer to really large stone railroad ballast with knife edged corners. Miles and miles and miles of it – terrifying stuff that made us ride in terror, until it ripped and punctured a rear tire into submission.

    This time..not so bad. It’s always the “Tale of Two Cities” up there. The same road is radically different almost every day…the best of times and the worst of times all within the same day sometimes. The dust was thick, but the gravel far more compacted.

    Except at the Watson Lake end.

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    You need to understand that there is almost no traffic on the Campbell Highway – it was originally constructed in the 1970s roughly tracking ancient trails to service the mining interests, today it exists for a very, very limited number of travelers and truckers. Nonetheless, in 2014 and again in 2016 (and presumably 2015) there was a massive road reconstruction project going on for miles and miles and miles on the Eastern end. I’m talking several hundred workers, dozens of those HUGE Volvo dump trucks, gigantic Cat Dozers, pickups, flag girls, the works. I figure that Yukon gets an annual road allocation from their Federal Government, and lacking more meaningful projects, every year they launch into this Campbell Highway road reconstruction frenzy. Essentially a Canadian Government ‘make work’ project to spend the allocated monies and to create local jobs.

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    And to make a serious mess out of what had previously been a perfectly good bad gravel road.

    Since there is so little traffic here, there was naturally no pilot truck to lead us through this moving morass of mud, sand and giant trucks…. the pretty flag girl just told us to ride through and WHEN we crashed someone would be along eventually to help pick us up. All of us made it through, except Craig, who dumped his GSA into the soft, deep and wet sand that had – moments earlier - seemed to be a logical route through the mess. Apart from some damage to his riding lights and ego, everything was OK.

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    And none of the Volvo truck drivers stopped to assist.

    We later stopped at that wide spot in the road at Finlayson Lake – literally a sign and an overlook on the recently thawed out lake. We refueled our bikes from our extra fuel cans, swatted mosquitos and enjoyed the view.

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    I think I was the one with the bright idea for Craig to pull out his drone and get some pictures.

    Backtracking a moment – Craig, after having recently seen an otherwise dismal motorcycle movie was quite taken by the aerial drone footage. So he bought a drone from Costco – two actually since the first one was caught by a gust of wind and probably wound up two counties away when he was practicing back in Chicago.

    Craig claimed to have now practiced and to be a Drone master.

    He placed the drone on the gravel pullout and activated it. We watched as it slowly lifted up, circled around our parked bikes…. got caught by a gust of wind and wound up stuck in a stunted pine tree deep in the adjacent forest.

    The camera kept rolling as we tried to climb the tree and eventually gave up and chopped it down to retrieve the drone.

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    We rolled into Ross River with very little gas to spare and were gratified to see that the refueling truck had literally just arrived. True to form, the town had been without gas for the last day or so. We topped off our tanks – btw this far North, you have two choices of fuel – gas and diesel. God only knows what the octane and sometimes quality levels are.

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    We rode out of town, taking care to swerve around the mutt sleeping in the middle of the dusty street and headed to Carmacks. The road conditions improved dramatically and we arrived at the Coal Mine Camp in time to have a burger and soft drink after we set up camp next to the fast flowing Yukon River.
    #15
  16. refokus

    refokus Hmmmmmm

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  17. Northstar Beemer

    Northstar Beemer Been here awhile

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    Day Seven – The dreaded Dempster, Loon ****, scary silt, awful potholes, drone escape

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    We rolled early and discovered that the ‘Res gas’ we’d fueled up with was absolute crap, undoubtedly a function of the refueling truck arriving just before we did and probably our taking in gas from one end as the tankers were refilling the big above ground tanks on the other. All three bikes that took on this fuel were hard to start and very difficult to keep running in the morning. We stopped in Carmacks after breakfast to top off our tanks with what we hoped would be better gasoline, diluting the abysmal stuff already in the tanks.

    70 or so miles up the road we again topped off our tanks and fuel cans (and with some trepidation on my, Fran and Thomas’ parts) we headed North on the fabled Dempster Highway.

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    In 2014, the Dempster had been our Waterloo…Thomas had to ship his bike back motor freight. And now we were going to try it again.

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    The road started out well enough, nicely graded and compacted gravel as we gained latitude and altitude, the skies were overcast but temps were moderate and the roadbed dry.

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    We stopped by Two Moose Lake – saw the requisite moose family posing on the far shore and I once again suggested to Craig that this would be a nearly epic place to fly his drone.

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    No tall trees – just open subarctic tundra.

    Craig should know by now never to listen to me.

    His drone lifted off – slowly circled us at perhaps 15 feet altitude (this was going to be FANTASTIC footage!) rose up a few feet further…got caught by a sudden breeze and vanished to the East like the Starship Enterprise at warp drive speed. And crashed on the other side of a raging icy river… which was complete with class two rapids.

    I didn’t know the river was even there. We gave up on the Drone idea. Someone will eventually find it in 30 years.

    Craig’s load was now lightened by perhaps two ounces…. we continued Northward and gained a lot of altitude as we climbed up the foothills and then rode the high ridges on the Dempster. Unlike 2014, the gravel was generally compacted and manageable – but the gravel hazards of ’14 were replaced by long stretches of dry deep silt with the consistency of talcum powder.

    And it is exactly the same color as the road.

    When you hit these silt traps at 55 MPH – several things happen…. almost at once.
    1. Your heart enters your throat.
    2. The front tire starts to wander as it slows down searching for traction.
    3. The rear tire starts to fishtail. Violently, as the rear tire.. under power… tries to now pass the front tire.

    And then as suddenly as you entered this silty stretch – you ride out back into the rough potholed road and both wheels regain traction and stability is momentarily restored.

    Until you hit the next silt stretch 100 yards down the road.

    In between there are endless violent potholes that are essentially unavoidable. Swerve to miss one and you slam into three more as a result. And then you hit the silt again. And you pray it’s a short stretch, because you never saw it coming until you were in it.

    Interesting stuff and an exciting and colorful new addition and dimension to the Dempster.

    We eventually made it to Eagle Plains and set up our camp on that high windswept ridge. Literally windswept. We were erecting tents in 30 MPH winds, scrambling to try and nail them down before they were carried off into the valley below. Fran took one look at our looming disaster and rode over to find a slightly more sheltered spot on which to set up his tent.

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    This is Eagle Plains...sorry to disappoint you.

    I noticed the seven inch Grizzly paw print in the hardened mud over a few feet from my tent. Oh good, he’s still around. And the German Shepherd and Golden Retriever I’d befriended in 2014 are now gone, replaced by a smaller herding collie mix and another general northwoods mutt.

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    Dogs seldom live to a ripe old age around Eagle Plains…. they chase rabbits into the surrounding forests and are killed and eaten by the bears. Probably the one that had left the massive paw print next to my tent pad.

    There is actually a decent restaurant there and they do serve cold beer. We had dinner of something, tossed down a few beers and planned our next day’s trip up into the Northwest Territories…my great white whale. I’ve tried unsuccessfully twice before to get there, but was always foiled by the ferries across the Peel and McKinzie Rivers not operating due to ice on the water.

    This would hopefully be our year.

    Not.

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    #17
  18. oldgrizz

    oldgrizz Long timer

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    This is one I want to follow

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    #18
  19. Runswithscizzors

    Runswithscizzors Been here awhile

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    Agreed, this is shaping up just fine......
    #19
  20. superdutyGS

    superdutyGS lone rider

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    planning to do the Dempster in late July. I am subscribed....but perhaps I should be reluctant to follow this. Thanks for sharing the report. Several great ones going right now.
    #20