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All posts for the month June, 2012

Day 3 turned into the most eventful day.  Waking up and packing the bike in the pounding rain was not the start I was hoping for.  Ed likes to bush camp.  I’m fine with that, but we spent 45 minutes driving around in the dark, with pouring rain looking for this gem of a camping spot.  I had to set this up the night before in the rain and by the time it was setup I was exhausted, eaten my mosquitos and just fell asleep in all my gear.  My tent was setup on a slight hill and I was laying on a number of sharp branches and sticks.  This isn’t the Holiday Inn.

Moto_Tuk_OLD 006_1024x768

After packing up my mood had changed, I wasnt going to let a little adventure get in the way of enjoying the trip.  A rainbow came out and I was sure it was my sign that my bad luck had run out…right?

Rainbows are either gay or good luck, I cant recall which

The day was long and wet, but as we got close to the Yukon border the sun came out and it was warm and sunny.

This road is a dead end

 

Riding in Northern BC is perfect, empty highways, well maintained, well marked, perfect scenery and changing geography.

The stretch of highway right before the border had rows and rows of campers in the ditch.  Its too early for hunting so we asked a guy, turns out everyone was mushroom pickers.  At $500 per pound (dried) its very lucrative.  I chatted up a guy who buys from pickers, he explained the process, pretty interesting.

 

Not Magic.

As it was getting late and there were so many campers, I asked him if its ok if we pitch our tents and camp here too.  He says its no problem setup a tent anywhere.  Since I didnt know the mushroom pickers protocol, we opted to ride down the road another km before setting up camp.  With so many people trouncing through the woods we were more concerned about human encounters than wildlife.

Hidden Camp

We setup camp on the west side of the road up on a bluff so cars wont stop and mess with our bikes.  We take our food to the other side of the road where its gravel and easy to get a campfire going.  We get a small fire going and begin to open up some food.

Kitchen, with camp across the road

I asked Ed if he thought opening up a can of Tuna was smart.  I didnt have anything I could eat raw and I didnt want to spend the time to cook.  He says he is going to open up a can of salmon so it should be fine.  We are away from our campsite, relatively close to people, and have a fire going.

Empty road at 1am

We pop open our cans and start to eat.  Suddenly I look past Ed and about 25 yards away see a large Black Bear walking directly towards us.  My heart skipped a beat and I calmly tell Ed to not turn around, that there is a bear, and to drop his food and start walking away.  He spins around and gives me the same look I must have been giving him.  Ed is 6’10”, that’s almost seven feet tall, but the bear was not worried at all, it just calmly walked closer, stopped about 15 yards from us and stared.  I kept staring at him and slowly walked backwards.  I had my camera in my pocket, but was too busy trying to keep my pants from filling up with sheppards pie to even think about snapping a picture.  In hindsight I regret not snapping a pic as he was so close.

We briskly walk down to the road, then hustled up the embankment to our tents.  The bear starts to come even closer, but is on the opposite side of the road.  Ed frantically packs up his tent and gear and I grab the spray and air horn that I had on standby.  I give the bear four loud airhorn blasts and he doesnt blink.  The Fox40 Ecoblast didnt even phase the bear.  This is when the ‘oh s**t’ moment hit me.  My bike is buried behind a bush and my tent and gear is setup.  I decide its better to get my bike out in case I need to make a quick exit.  The only escape without going closer is down the embankment, I hold on and pound down the gravel hill towards the road, once on the road I honk the horn and bear doesnt flinch.  I now have to decide whether I even get my gear.

I have never packed up camp that fast in my life.  Im running up the hill grabbing as much as I can, running down the hill, jamming it anywhere on my bike it will stay (and not melt), running back up the hill.  I decided to put on my moto gear and helmet just in case, and even with all that gear I could run up a 20 foot hill in seconds.  One person would watch the bear while the other packed, but he kept coming closer and sniffing around where our food was.  I figured he just wanted our food, but didnt want him to think we were a threat. I  was angry with the prospect of some bear getting his grubby paws on all the snacks that Ash packed, I knew how angry Ash would be if I told her a bear ate my snacks.

Both Ed and I were rattled, had our bikes on the side of an empty road jamming stuff whereever it would fit, both bikes running, ready to jump on if the bear charged.  A truck came down the road and we frantically flag it down.  I was a family and I think they were a bit freaked out to see two guys (one seven feet tall) with their helmets on waving their hands to stop.  We got them to block the bear and our bikes so we could finish packing.  As soon as we had our stuff loaded we took off.  I must have looked like a gypsy driving down the road with open bags and gear jammed in everywhere.  We got about 2km down the road where we stopped at the Yukon boarder to pack our stuff.  That was the last time I was going to bush camp, we decided to make the drive the Watson Lake.  It was 1am and still light out, so it was an easy decision.

I ended up getting the Yukon border picture a day earlier.  This explains to those following our Spot tracking why we had 2 camp places.

Yukon!

We drove into Watson lake and I chose the site with the most people around. It was late, but I had never thought I would find solice up North when surrounded by people.  If I ever write a Guide to Northern travel, rule #1 is going to be “Don’t Camp outside of Campgrounds”.  Rule #2 will be “Dont eat canned fish in Bear country, stupid”.

 

Sleeping in a one man tent is not ideal. Its designed to lay still, there is no room for the disco fever tossing and turning that usually happens when I sleep.  It was raining lightly in the morning and we got a late start.

Not much space

Camp

Into BC

Along the way there were two things we have seeing a lot of: Bears and Germans.  After the 3rd or 4th bear we just stopped stopping.  The scenery on the yellowhead is amazing, but with the cold wet weather I didnt stop to take many pictures.

 

Hello Bear

The only eventful part of the day was stopping for dinner, a group Germans  walked over and were impressed with my BMW.  I replied to them in German which seemed to impresses them more than the latest Hasselhoff album.

 

 

In my frenzy to get packed up and on the road I noticed the incriminating pool of oil returned under my bike. This time it was clear and obviously new oil leaking from somewhere on the bike. I don’t have time to do anything about it and figure I would continue to monitor it on the road.

John and Robin come by in the late afternoon and we get ready to hit the road to meed Edward. I ask John to lean on the front of my bike so I can lift the back and lube the chain. As John pushed down on the front fender I hear a ‘Snap’, I look over and see John looking down at a broken off front fender in disbelief

First the Oil leak, now the front fender. I cant ride up north on dirt roads without a front fender so I’m starting to believe this trip just may not get going. We drive down to Blackfoot and talk to the parts guys – 7 days to order a new part. 7 Days waiting on a part would consume almost half of my available time. They inform me there is nothing I can do but wait.

I just purchased my bike at Blackfoot and know they have a number of Gs in the showroom. I figure why not just harvest a part from one of those. The parts guy assurs me that it is just not possible, actually it was “absolutely no way” was how he put it.

 

Determined to get this resolved I go off to find my sales guy. After explaining my situation and pleading with him he leaves to go see what he can do. My whole trip is hinged on whether or not he will go out of his way and do me a favor. Based on my recent dealings with BF I was not optimisitc. A few minutes later he comes back and says “go pay for the part and we’ll take a front fender off the one of the showroom bikes”. NICE! I’m unbelieveably apprceciative of this. There is a reason some people are in sales and some are not, if I left after speaking to the parts guy, I would never go back to Blackfoot, but the sales guy knew the long term benefits of making it right and helping a customer out – nice work!

 

Old and New Fender

 

We hit the road dripping in sweat, but as soon as we hit the mountains the conditions change. In typical rocky mountain fashion the weather takes a sudden nosedive. At this point I just want to get out to Jasper without burning any more daylight. We stop in Lake lousie to gas up and I notice my boot and leg are covered in oil. It appears that small oil concern I had has turned into a major issue. I start the tear down to find the leak tracing it back to the oil reservoir. The obvious places are bolts that Blackfoot would have removed as part of the oil change. I put a wrench to the bottom drain plug and it was tight. I put a wrench to the upper oil reserve tank and it was ready to fall out. My felling of anger towards Blackfoot service, quickly turned into joy for finally finding the oil leak. It was like a pebble in my shoe, I was trying to ignore it, but I knew it was always there. We put my bike back together and head towards Jasper.

The ride from Lake Louise to Jasper was cold, every shiver down my spine transferred down my arms and gave the bike a bit of a wiggle. The scenery was world class, amazing ride, even saw our first wild life – a little black bear.

 

Found the Leak!

 

Brown Bear

About 60 km from Jasper my reserve light comes on, I only get 50km on reserve. I now remember John filling my bike while it was on the center stand,

but the bike is designed to be filled while on its side stand, I probably got 2-3 liters less than I thought. I had extra gas in my pack, but it was cold and getting dark and I had little desire to stop, unpack my gear and fill my tank. I made it to Jasper and filled up after a great meal with John, Robin and Edward.

Laying in my tent my tent back at camp, I wonder if that ‘almost’ running out of gas counted as the 3rd incident of bad luck. However as I drifed off to sleep the sky opened up and the rain came pounding down…

A package of parts from Germany arrived this evening – perfect timing.  I let Touratech know that I was leaving on a trip and they were nice enough to rush the parts here, even had them labeled “Urgent!”  They were super responsive and let me know they were rushing them out – Thanks!

Achtung! Schnell.

The oil issue appears to have been resolved, no more leaking oil so it looks like it was just leftover oil spilled on the center stand during the oil change.  Nice of them to wipe it off after.  I mounted up my Spot GPS which will be sending the map updates, also tossed some fork socks on to keep the rocks and mud from doing some damage.

Spot GPS

 

I was looking to upgrade the horn so I went with the Fox40 EcoBlast.  Super loud and looks cool.

Fox40 EcoBlast Marine Strength

 

With a bunch of work to finish off tomorrow morning I’m not in travel mode yet, but that should change the moment I pull out of the driveway.  A few years ago in Cuba I watched a guy crash the rental scooter 3 times in the parking lot before they revoked his rental, I’d like to prevent a similar Elegant Departure.

With only 2 days to go I decided to ensure the electrical wiring for my electrical devices was working as planned.  As its a new bike I also wanted some practice taking things apart, nothing worse then trying to figure how to remove a side panel at night in the middle of nowhere.

Running some power off the battery

Its late, I’m tired and as I roll my bike into the center of the garage I see a small oil slick under where my bike was parked.

Oh oh – Fresh Oil Under the Bike

My bike never leaked any oil before taking it in.  I check the drain plugs and try to trace where the mystery oil is coming from.  Cant seem to find anything obvious, everything looks good.  The only thing with oil on it is my center stand.  I’m hoping that its as simple as excess oil left on the bike from the recent oil change, I wipe down the undercarriage and will check tomorrow – the day before I hit the road.

About a month ago I started a list of gear I needed to bring, however, I left it until today to actually try packing everything in the small bags I have.  Soon after starting I realized that I have significantly more gear than space available.  Like a kids hockey team I start making cuts.

Rain Gear – you’re cut, it never rains in the arctic

Polar Fleece – you’re cut, its summer

Thermos – you’re cut, I’ll drink right from pot

Either this works out or it I may be finding myself wet, cold and thirsty.

With the bike ready to go, I decided to fabricate some velcro straps for my Ortleib saddle bags.  Not exactly the pre-trip hardcore wrenching I was expecting, but nonetheless a required piece of equipment.  I also thought it may be a good idea to start acclimatising myself to the Arctic with a cold Yukon Gold.  Suddenly I no longer worried about trivial articles I’m leaving behind.

Fabrication

With 5 days before I head out, I headed down to Blackfoot Motosports to pickup my bike. I had taken it in for its 1000km initial servicing and wanted everything ready before I left.

A large component of my trip is up the Dempster Highway .  The Dempster is 736km (457mi) of tire popping crushed shale gravel.  Tire punctures are very common and I really wanted to prepare my bike to mitigate having to replace a punctured inner tube on the side of a cold muddy road on a rain soaked day.  A good way to prevent such situations is to purchase good tires and to use thick inner tubes.

I purchased a set of Heidenau K60 tires, one the highest rated dual sport tires available. When replacing the tires I had asked Blackfoot to replace the tubes.  Nope, they forgot, but they did offer to sell me new tubes (after paying $450 in servicing).  I’m not a mechanic, but I assume you need the thick tubes in the tire for them to work.

New Heidenau Tires

New Heidenaus compared to the stock Metzlers

In the end I settled on buying a set of regular tubes to carry with me as replacements.  Blackfoot was kind enough to knock $2 off the sale price to compensate me for the inconvenience of having left the factory tubes in the tires.

Part of any adventure is the excitement of uncertainty.  Planning for the unknown is the first step to overcoming adversity on the road, but sometimes sh*ts going to happen regardless.  Maybe I’m making this a bigger deal than it is,  either way I’m dedicating my first road side tube repair to the fine folks at Blackfoot Motosports.

 

I’ve been planning a trip up north ever since returning from a road trip to Mexico a few years back.  I had intended on including Mexico and Alaska in the same trip, but vastly underestimated how difficult it is to cover long distances on an enduro motorcycle.  Riding through extreme heat was unpleasant, however I have a feeling extreme cold will be no more pleasant.  Having never been further north of Edmonton  I’m not entirely sure what to expect.  I plan on camping and being as self sufficient as possible, not riding on busy freeways or passing gas and fast food stops every 20km is very much part of the appeal.  This is truly one of the last frontiers on earth.

With the impending expansion of our family unit I figure this summer is my last immediate opportunity to head out on a bit of adventure.  The next trip report will likely have pictures with Mickey Mouse ears, line ups and drool.

As my riding partners slowly backed out (you know who you are), I decided to head out regardless.  I set a date for June 15th, which should coincide with relative warmth, relative dryness and some civic holidays to give me some extra time.  In total I’ll have 18 days to make it from Calgary to Inuvik and hopefully on to Tuktoyaktuk. Below is my intended route up and down including the Dempster highway:

Calgary to Tuktoyaktuk

The most common response when people hear about my intended route is Why?’  This is typically followed by one of the following:

  • Mosquitos
  • Black Flies
  • Bears
  • Wolves
  • Mud
  • Rain
  • Cold