Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Dempster Highway Part 2 Yukon Territory Canada

So... the Dempster experience continues.  I'm still just doing my little test of the road.. and still have NOT A CLUE why people tell me it's too dangerous!!  This road is, at least this far, one of the nicest easiest dirt roads I have ever been on.. anywhere.. even in the rain!  They certainly look after it and maintain it very well.

The majority of the traffic on the road are truckers who travel back and forth to the mine at Inuvik.. right up at the top of the world.

Once the big pour of rain calmed down I was able to take a somewhat photo.. and have a look!  This road really is as good as any paved road.  I'm always on alert though waiting for this greasy icy part to start.  There were far too many people who told me the horrors and if it was only one, I'd say I found a crazy person. But with many warnings, I'm guessing that I just haven't reached it yet.  So I'm still prepared to check it out and if it gets really bad, I'll turn around.

But I just can't 'bear' to do that yet.. I'm loving it too much.  Those mounds look interesting ahead, more motivation to continue.  

I've honestly never seen a mound of rock like this.. like one big solid rock and smooth.

So I go a bit farther and still the road is good.. but I need to make an important decision whether I like it here or not.  I have to turn around right now to make it back to the fuel station at the beginning of the Dempster Highway.  Or else, I disregard the warnings for good and continue through whatever must be so horrible about this road until I reach Eagle Plains (the only midway stop on this road with fuel).

Curiosity got the best of me and I continued on.. Seriously, this road does not give me the slightest reason to give up on it and turn back. I bet you've got that point by now.. hey? ;-)

I pulled over here at Ogilvie.. (Gwazhal Kak is the First Nations language) and a trucker was also stopped here at the sign.  He came right over to me and asked what am I doing here - especially alone.

He explains to me how horrible this road is, people on motorcycles die out here often, etc etc.  I look at him and nod... He tells me of a guy he stopped for last year who crashed his bike near where we are standing now.. broke his leg, tore up the bike and had to be airlifted out by helicopter.  This year, the same guy tried again, crashed again closer to Eagle Plains.. didn't get so hurt, but still had to take the bike out by truck due to damage.  After he finishes his rant, I tell him, "Sir, I can't turn back even if I wanted to, I don't have enough fuel".

Then he explains the next 100 km from here to Eagle Plains is the worst part with extremely rough conditions.

He was a nice trucker and asked me to follow him through this.  I agreed. He went quite slowly. It was really nice for the man to care that much about a crazy lady on a motorcycle, and he kept an eye on me for a while.

I was riding standing up as the road was truly rougher in some sections here but still nothing compared to other roads I have been on and I wouldn't put in the "dangerous" category.  And despite this nice mans caring, I would be better to go faster over the bumps.

I went up along side him and waved him on. Truckers here go super fast and I'd rather that he be ahead of me and drive his truck at his normal speed.

The trees are looking a bit funny up this way!

The farther north I go, the trees diminish, shorter.. smaller.. until they are only bushes.  The permafrost doesn't allow them to grow, as well as the very short season.

 100 k's later, on what I considered to be a very fun road and an absolutely great day regardless of all the warnings, I made it to Eagle Plains!!!!!  What a sight!  (especially since I am now running seriously low on fuel).

After 3 nights primitive camping at Tombstone and brushing my teeth in the ice cold creek, I was ready for a real bed and a shower.. and a normal meal.. I got all three!

And most importantly-  fuel!

I can not tell you how thrilled I was to make it here..  This is 300 km from the camp I rode out of this morning which I agonized for 2 1/2 days about whether I should do.. listening to more and more people tell me not to. And then needing to make a decision not to listen to any of them.  I initially decided not to do it, when as I said before, 'I' turned right, but my bike turned left and heading north anyway. And then when my bike took over the decision making process, it chose the worst time of all in heavy pouring rain!

The rain dimished within a 1/2 hour and I just couldn't stop myself.  And then, I had no need to stop. There was nothing to fear!  I wasted so much time listening to people and if I had a road halfway as nice as this one while in Russia,  my Siberian experience would have been a breeze!

Eagle Plains sunrise

 Birdy on a bike!  A good sign!

  I learn the weather will be better today, so it was an easy decision to carry on to the north.  From this point I am only 40 km from the Arctic Circle.  I am so excited to get an early start!

Not much different when I was a kid.. always tons happier doing something I am not supposed to do.. ha! (hopefully my nieces and nephews are not reading this.. ;-)

Even though they scare me, the trucks are still rare enough in numbers that it's just good to see SOMEBODY else is out here..

I get right out of the way.. these trucks are on a mission.

Have a look at the slimey road I am riding on this morning.. definitely a big change for the worse.  My excitement bubble was burst right out of Eagle Plains.

This is definitely justified with the "greasey" title I have been warned about.. whew!!  And greasey it is!!  They put down this calcium chloride stuff for the trucks.

It was wet and slimey, and I was only topping 20-30 km/hr.  I know the tough guys on bikes would go faster, but I come up with imaginations on my own and I visualize me falling in the center of the slick stuff, bike pins me down and one of those fast semi trucks runs right over me and squishes me like a bug.  So I go slow.. ;-)

I wouldn't want to ride all day in this.. torture!  But I knew the Arctic Circle was so close and I confirmed with some people in a car that the road is exactly like this all the way to Inuvik, another 300+ km.  There's nothing up there except a goal destination, then you get to turn right around and come back through it again..  I'm quite happy for the Arctic Circle to be my goal destination. This is far more than I expected of myself and where I will actually turn back..  

Can that Arctic land be any more beautiful!!???  It's so peaceful, wild and remote.. totally my cup of tea.

My tires had zero tread as the mud clonked on and stuck to them like slimey glue.  Totally made the road that much harder and slippier to ride.

It's literally like keeping all my weight balanced on two spinning balloons covered in grease. It was really difficult and nerve wracking.  If somebody could have taken a photo of my face while riding, my eyes would have been bugging right out of my head in concentration.  I can only knock on wood that I didn't fall even once.

So.. let's go back!  I know I'm including far too many photos in this post, but I haven't been so in love with a place on the planet since I was in remote Siberia.  So unique and amazing, so few tourists, really special..

I made it past Eagle Plains again on my way back down the Dempster and now I have more little challenges than on the way up.  New calcium laid this morning.  Doesn't seem to effect my ride, but I wonder what it does to the bike.

Next challenge.. new grading!  Should be better, but I have always found newly grated roads to be more slippery.  I was also warned about those dark patches from the grating in the photo below from locals.  They tell me bikers don't expect them to be soft and deep, throwing the bike off which are often the cause of bikes going down.  I avoided most that I could.

I come through these odd "mounds"  I call them..  I'm sure there is a far more technical term. ;-)  They are not really a mountain to me even though they are rock.. they are not really a hill because all the hills I know have dirt and trees or grass.  This is my reasoning anyway.. I clearly didn't go to geology school. ;-)

The mountains return. And do you see what I see on this one?  It looks to me like either a super size alien or a very large aboriginal elder's shadow on a walk.


  I also saw another wolf cross the road.  Darn it, I missed it with my camera!  He's gone...


Plenty of moose and caribou on the way..

It's only the beginning of September, and those trees are the brightest color of gold.  I have heard about the masses of rain all season long.. so my timing here couldn't be more perfect.. golden even! ;-))

And then back to camp.  It's the end of a very long exciting day and I'm looking forward to my moose steak and a beer!

First thing I do is hear the story of the grizzly bear that JUST WALKED BY!! Geez.. miss the wolf, miss the bear. Not my day for getting the good animal shots.  But Darren video taped the griz as he or she walked around the Tombstone Interpretive center and the rangers cabins just before I arrived back to camp. Darn, I missed it!!  But here is Darren's video anyway taken just shortly before I arrived. 

(video)  Sorry I tried to upload the video many times.  It came in once, but very jumbled, now it uploads and then disappears.  I give up..  It was a big grizzly, very big!!

After I fearfully set up my TENT and hear the worries from the other campers (all of whom have a hard shell camper by the way)..  I go back for the dinner on a campfire. and another surprise!  Darren wrote me a very cool song while I was away.  He sings away while Sniper keeps an eye on me!  Very cool dog, I really enjoyed him.

The Sherri Jo song is fantastic to hear by guitar,  the words are below..   

Sherri Jo Road calling
You have traveled the world
But your journey slows here
The rain brings your spirits down so you build a fire to dry your day
You soar on the road made of hell never looking back
Till you see the river with the light at the end of the day
Jelly jam and a fire bug make a good time the coldest nights
Whistling at the dancing lights for the spirit takers
Laughter was heard for miles around
The roar of the road was calling again
Ride with the wind and the rain
The sun comes up and goes, but never dies.
Written by Darren Bullen

Thank you Darren! Besides being a good songwriter, he's an excellent cook!  Great moose, veggies and beer.  I'm so glad I didn't chicken out on the Dempster.

One last thing, a good face wash in that ice cold water (instant head ache!) and a good brush of my teeth.  Then I'm ready to head back to civilization tomorrow.

That nicely concludes my Dempster Highway experience..

Parting shots of fall colors as I come to the end of the road the following morning.

I get back to the cross road of the Klondike and Dempster Highways, which so conveniently is placed a fuel station and a very expensive power wash. Didn't matter, I am so happy it's here.  Can't say it got the bike totally clean,  but much better to get that calcium and mud off as much as possible. 

My sprocket is not looking too flash, actually lost some teeth on it. Hopefully I make it now to Anchorage Alaska.  Why I am talking about that now.. Time to celebrate!! Whew!  What a trip.. What an experience!!  Love Yukon, Canada.. !!

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Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Yukon Territory Canada to Dempster Highway

Onwards and upwards toward the top of the world from Whitehorse on the Klondike Highway!

Road hazards.. ;-)

Road hazards extended family... too cute!

Spotted this old wood cabin in the woods... my mind starts daydreaming about what it must be like to live a life up here in the bush, off the land.. pretty harsh but beautiful!

Rather common site ever since Yellowstone to here when I pass remnants of forest fires.. in a way it's sad, but in another way it's really beautiful too.

I like to see the new life.  It's interesting they tell me in a town up the road that the Yukon did not get their summer bloom of flowers until August.. and by the end of August the season is changing back to cold already! My timing to be here must be right!

So, I'm getting close to the Dempster Highway.. I chose to explore this area early on as being a most spectacular part of the world to ride a motorcycle.

Most people who come to the northwest by motorcycle tend to do the exact same track as everyone else.  Prudhoe Bay (top of Alaska) to Ushuaia (bottom of South America).. I purposely didn't want to do the Dalton Highway in Alaska simply because I get put off by doing the same as everybody else. Sometimes this can't be helped, but if I can, I would rather do something different. I asked enough people about it though to make sure I wasn't missing something, and the most common response regarding the Dalton vs Dempster, they would choose Dempster.  If I had more time and I was here earlier in the season, I would love to see both!  But I had to pick one and Dempster is what I picked.  (I have looked at photos of the Dalton from other riders and to me it looks as spectacular as the Dempster.. so either one is a good choice I would imagine)

Knowing the time of year was iffy, Shelley and I enquired in Whitehorse with a trucking company about the road conditions.  He said truckers are reporting bad, greasy and icy for the Dempster.  He more or less said I'd be foolish to go up there on a motorcycle.  She also has other friends around here she called on to get advice about the road, everyone said the road is too bad.  My goal was to get to Inuvik, but the sound of it not too promising.  Plus a couple of motorcyclists had just died on the Dempster about 2 weeks ago.

The more I thought about that though, I bet motorcyclists died just this week on Highway 65 which is all flat and concrete!  And even more people died in cars!  I'm trying to keep perspective as it seems like the majority of people are putting fear into my head.

Hmmm.. for real though, it's not sounding good.  We pondered whether I should just get a ride on one of the big trucks so at least I can see that part of the planet since I'm so close, but don't want to be stupid about insisting on motorcycle.  Then my reasoning turned back, I'm not going up there just to see a destination, it's riding my bike along the way that I want to do.

The last straw was when I stopped at the only fuel station at the base of the Dempster Highway.  Everyone checks in here, either to get fuel to go up or when they come out.

I decide to stop here and ask the people who experienced the road this actual day to tell me the conditions. Same story, urging me not to do it.  And then the owner of the fuel station came up to me outside by my bike as he owns a bike too and he said if it was him, he definitely wouldn't do it.  Okay okay!!!  I get it!!!  To dangerous for Sherri Jo!!!!

But what this guy DID recommend is that I at least get a taste of it.  There is a campground about 60 miles up the road called Tombstone and he thought I would at least enjoy that and not feel like a total failure.

I agreed, didn't even fill my fuel and went that night to the camp.

 The beginning of Dempster Highway, Yukon Territory

Gee whiz, I know the road is wet, but I wouldn't describe it as greasy and I would more describe it as EASY!  (and super duper beautiful!!!)

About 60 k's down the road I come up to Tombstone National Park, so I'm assuming I will see a campground soon.. I first see an Interpretive Center and decide to pull in.  I guess if this is as far as I'm going to go, I'd like to learn more about it.  It was late in the day AND the season and I was only lucky they were still open and about to close up for the night.  Added to that, this is the last weekend for them to be open for the season.. I am sooooo lucky!

I meet young Darren, an interpreter for the park who tells me the campground is full.. Full!!!  It's the end of season, how could this be??? Well it is the weekend, but still.  There is no city around here for people to escape from.

Ah well, he says I can put my tent up in the parking area for free, and he gave me a can of bear spray as I'm not traveling with one.  I decided to go and check out the campground anyway, "cuz you never know!"  And score!  I found a vacant site right away.  There was actually still smoke coming from the fire pit with nobody around.

I asked the man across the way who was also packing up his tent at 5:30 pm, couldn't understand.  And he said, I could even have his spot if I like.  I ask him why would he leave this magical place and especially at this time of day, where will he go?  He was a German man traveling by car and he said "I'm going to a hotel in Dawson City where I will stay warm and dry tonight".   Okay then!  His campsite was awesome, so I took his!

You can see I'm well prepared for grizzly bears tonight!  Now this will be a little different than the little black bears I just sort of got used to.. Grizzly!!  BIG bears, I want to be prepared.. So, you know the drill.. All food and cosmetic stuff with smells get packed away in the panniers.  I've got not only the bear spray, but my air horn, flashlight and my leatherman (haven't pulled out the big knife yet).  I decided I wouldn't do the knife, I'd be better off to play dead if all else fails.

This is the view of the closest mountain from the campground.. so it looks like the snow is low enough to prepare myself for a very chilly evening....

Chilly evening it was.. I wore every bit of winter gear I had IN my sleeping bag.. 3 pairs of socks, beenie hat, the whole deal.. but I slept, mostly.

The next morning, I decided rather than pack up the bike and move on from the Dempster as originally intended, I might stay in this gorgeous camp one more day.  Still disappointed I won't be going up the road, I was thinking it would be good to soak up the atmosphere of such a wild place rather than escaping too quickly.

Early morning walk, I stick to the road where I can see big furry things with teeth coming my way in plenty of time.. ha!

Hey, are those grizzly tracks over there??

Yep, grizzly.. I'll head back to camp now...

I went back to the interpretive center, and they have their very last organized nature walk for the season.  Good for me, to be able to hike into the bush with a group, I would never do on my own in this grizzly country.

Before I left with the small group for a bushwalk, Darren invites me to go fishing with him later on.. Ha, fishing!  Me? then I thought, I'm in the middle of nowhere, and whether I catch a fish or not, it must be a cool experience in a beautiful place, so I said yes! ;-)

But first, the bushwalk with a geologist. We're taking our shoes and socks off and walking through the freezing cold water.. good morning!!

Besides the amazing education about the land we walk on, we have cranberries.. !!

 We spot a moose!

And then.. blueberries!!  Oh man, now I am in total love!!!!!

Of which we all commence to be like bears and gorge ourselves on blueberries and cranberries.. I can see what the bears love about them.. they are so incredibly delicious pulled off the plant, I personally ate so many I got completely full.  I was the slowest one of the pack,  picking berries all the way back to camp.

So.. now to continue my Tombstone experience, it's time to go fishing!

 By the way, the mountain top in the middle that looks like a Tombstone, is Tombstone Mountain ;-)

Darren picks his favorite fishing hole.. and loads up a pole for me to use too.. I haven't been fishing since I was a kid, so I hope he doesn't expect much from me.

Darrens totally cool dog, Sniper, is our bear guard.. and a perfect little guard he was!

Couldn't pick a prettier land on this planet to be tonight..  I am aware how lucky I am..

We made plenty of noise while we wandered through the bush to the water toward any potential bears.  However, our noise may have backfired as we were completely unsuccessful at catching a fish.

Never fear, the experienced First Nations fisherman comes prepared..  the sun went down, we made a really big fire along a river, had leftover pizza and a beer which he had well stashed in the cooler..  for desert, bread with jam.. perfect!

Along the way, he hears me talk about all the people who insist I can not ride a motorcycle up the Dempster Highway.. and he agrees, he knows about the motorcyclists that recently died.. and he refuses to tell me the story about them. Smart man knows not to put visions and fears in my head.

But he's been up the road many times himself and he's not convinced that I wouldn't make it.  This is the first person AT ALL that actually gave me a bit of hope.

However, the next morning in the center, and after I pack up my gear on to the bike, a young girl from Australia just came down from attempting to go up the road herself in a car (4 wheels!) and she she said she was sliding all over the place, so she turned around and came back. She also described the road as too greasey and icy.  Ugh!

Then!!  Comes a big hard core heavy rain.. Geez freakin' whiz...okay!! That seals the deal for me.. If it was that bad of a road without rain, then it can only be worse.  I'm giving up and moving on to Dawson City.

However, Darren, still stands by the fact that I could do it, even in the rain..  He tells me the weather changes dramatically here, that I'm so close I should do it and if I do,  he'll have a moose steak and a beer waiting for me when I get back.  I thoroughly explained that now with the rain,  it's not gonna happen!!

He gave me a funny face, a can of  bear spray to take and walked away.  I thought.. well, I'll take the bear spray, but I'm not going.  I pull out of the center in the pouring rain and started to turn right toward Dawson City..

However!  My bike turned left toward the Arctic Circle!!!  Seriously!! How did it do that!!  I swear I had no control over the wheel of my bike anymore!!!

I didn't stop immediately.. I decided with myself to go a few kilometers up the road and see for myself how bad it is.  I did this in Mongolia too, when I was too scared to go on the track there.. just test it out Sherri Jo, if you can't do it, turn back! But at least I will know for myself.

To be continued...