All posts for the month June, 2012

Who would have thought we would have to come to the end of the road north to get some summer weather.  Its been sunny and hot the entire time in NWT.  Today we woke up to more sunny weather and temperatures over 30.

We managed to get a charter into Tuk today, they would only fly if there were at least 4 people so the last minute another couple signed up.  They showed up last night and turned out to be Andrew and Stephanie who rode from Texas and I was going to ride from Calgary with.  They got delayed in Montana and I lost touch with them until today – small world.

The airport in Inuvik is small but remarkably modern and nice.  Its actually much nicer than many of the regional airports in the US I fly out of.

Watch out behind you

Our pilot Tim was from Ontario, but moved out for a 3 year contract to get more hands on captain experience.

Our plane

Flying over the arctic gives you an appreciation for why there are so many mosquitoes, because of the permafrost the ground water stays on the surface, the topography is littered with small lakes and rivers.  Tuk is on the Arctic Ocean coast, it is only drivable in the winter when the rivers freeze and turn into Ice Roads (ever watched Ice Road Truckers).

Inuvik from the air

Tuk gets its name from the Iqualiat name for Caribou because the penisnsula looks like a caribou.  The original name was Port Roberts (I believe), but in 1956ish it was the first northern settlement to be renamed to its original native name.

Landing in Tuktoyaktuk (Tuk)

Tuk also has a new modern one room airport.  The previous airport terminal was sold to the town by an energy company for $1, it was in dire need of replacement and was just recently replaced.

Our tour guide Eileen was very friendly and had grown up in Tuk her entire life.  She knew a lot about the history and future for Tuk.  There are rumors about building an all season road, which would be great for tourism, but would also bring drugs and alcohol issues.


Tuk was remarkable, it still had much of its history in place, both traditional and brought by Europeans.  There are at least 5 churches of different denominations here and even the boat that was used by the catholic church to take children to bording schools.  Its amazing to see people that were so poorly treated in the past have such a positive outlook.  When asked if people go to the church, the response was that the people don’t feel they need a translator to speak to the man upstairs. Interesting.

The housing is very primitive which reflects the cost and difficulty to bring materials in.

Street with Housing Boat

We took a trip down to an ice cellar, there were traditional freezers that were dug around 40 feet deep down into the permafrost.  It was over 30 outside, but well below freezing inside.

The permafrost has a marbled look to it, there is actually much more ice than dirt in the permafrost.  If the permafrost melted the entire Tuk penensula would slip into the sea.

The traditional houses were built using the plentiful driftwood along the beaches and used sod for the wall insulation.  The middle had a fireplace that would keep it warm.

Once inside it was perfect temperature, very comfortable.  Remarkable how traditional dwelling can perform better than the raised houses blasted AC all day.

Tuk was part of the Distance Early Warning System, or DEW Line.  It was a series of radar stations build by Norad to monitor against Soviet strikes during the cold war.  If the Soviets were to fire missiles, they would come over the Arctic towards the US.  The DEW Line stations were strung along the Arctic coast an actively monitored for a strike that never came.

The DEW Line radar station in Tuk was still standing.  They actually fixed it up and it was back in use (probably not monitoring Soviets).  My Dad was stationed here in the 60s, but you cant do tours inside.  There is nothing left of the housing buildings, just the towers and radar building.  They plan on keeping the station as a piece of history and moved one of the doppler domes to downtown Inuvik.

Below are a few of my Dad’s pictures of the radar station in use in 1964:

1964 the bay still had ice in the summer this year it was gone for months

1964 the bay still had ice in the summer this year it was gone for months

High Noon

High Noon

Dad monitoring equipment

Dad monitoring equipment

Towers in Winter

Towers in Winter

Eileen showed us some traditional clothing including this kick-ass pair of polar bear pants.  These were actually used during last years whale and caribou hunt when the guy wearing the pants commented “I hope its not polar bear mating season”.

Lastly we went down to the beach where you could see the Pingos.  They are volcano looking hills that are formed when lakes get low and the frost heaves the center up.

Below is a picture of my dad in 1964 on the top of the pingo on the left looking out across the Arctic Ocean towards the other pingo.  Its hard to deny global warming when looking at pictures of Tuk in the middle of summer and seeing ice still floating out in the ocean.  This year was hot, over 30C in Tuk in late June, the Ocean would remain ice free for the next few months.

Arctic Ocean 1964

Arctic Ocean 1964

It was really hot out so we decided to take the plunge into the Arctic Ocean.  It was actually not to cold and because the McKenzie enters the ocean here it was more freshwater feeling than saltwater.

I’ll add this one to my Dawson City Toe Drinking Certificate.



2 Years ago there was a spurt of energy exploration in the Inuvik area and the local government pocketed over 60 million on royalties, last year was 0 (zer0).  The source for that stat was an older local guy, but regardless of its accuracy the town shows the pains of some hard times.  Few restaurants remain open and many people have moved on, regardless those that remain are friendly and willing to stop and chat.  Many are bullish on the future and acknowledge living in special corner of the world.

Aside from the troubled economic situation in Inuvik, I have also noticed the not uncommon small town social issues.  I get a feeling of polarization between the native and non-native population especially amongst the youth.  Alcohol abuse appears fairly common and may explain the 12 full time RCMP officers the small town has.  The fun run I participated in had no representation by the native population which was disappointing.  However, everyone I have met has had the qualities of been a good person and its difficult for me to judge their situation as an outsider.

On an unrelated note, I havent experienced the darkness of night since Smithers BC, almost a week ago.  Its great to have endless sunshine, even went for a hike last night at midnight, but it has really skewed my circadian rhythm.  The darkness usually lets my body know its late and starts to wind down, however, since coming to Inuvik I have rarely been tired.  Its well over 30 Celsius during the day, not exactly what I expected from the arctic.  With no AC the short stints of sleep I have taken are not the most pleasant, especially having to wrap myself up in a blanket to hide from the tormenting mosquitoes.  However its part of the experience and these heat waves dont last long.

I’m staying in the Arctic Chalet bed and breakfast.  A great family run group of cabins that are primary a dog sledding vacation destination in the winter. I woke up today and had coffee in the sun room while catching up on emails.

Arctic Chalet

The Arctic Chalet specializes in a breed of white Huskies, primarily Siberian Husky.  One of the dogs had just given birth to a litter of 5 a few days ago, so I was invited down to see the new family.

Shelter to keep away the bugs

Proud Mom

The puppies eyes weren’t open yet, but they would start to get sqeeky if away from mom too long. They will know after about 8 months of these pups will make good sled dogs, if they wont pull, they will become pets.

The rest of the pack is housed in outdoor kennels.

Trips can last anywhere from 1 day to 6 day excursions to Tuk.  This includes getting suited up in traditional furs and muck-lucks – I would really like to make a trip back in the winter to give sledding a try.

In the afternoon I went out to explore the city a bit more.  First I wanted to get as far down the ice road to Tuk as I could.  This didnt last long as the road quickly hits the  Mckenzie river.  After riding to the bottom of Baja, I have now completed the road to the top of North America, can go any further without a boat.

Road to Tuk


I also found it interesting how all the utilities are run above ground.  With the permafrost being so deep there is no way to run these below ground without disturbing the stability of the ground.


The towns main water supply is on the hill surrounding the city.


The only building to have a foundation is the Catholic Church, which is shaped like an igloo.  This landmark church is still used today, but the congregation has shrunk dramatically.

Next door was a charity ‘Shine and Show’ fundraiser.  There were a few Harleys, a Vespa and some other motorcycles on display.  My favorite was this Honda XL250 owned by a local named Brian who use to race.  I spoke to him for over an hour and got a lot of insight about the local area.  Brian obviously missed the ‘shine’ component of the ‘Shine and Show’ – really nice guy.  A girl from the local paper came by and snapped a photo of us, I’ll try to get a copy tomorrow.

Brian and his 250

One of my favorite housing complexes in Inuvik is the ‘smartie boxes’.  Its at least an attempt to get some color going in a region that can at times be dark and cold.  They were also featured in a Tropicana commercial.

Smartie Boxes


Woke up after about 6 hours sleep, once the sun got high enough the tent became sauna.  Another clear blue sky day. As I’m packing up my tent a guy on a bicycle rides up, his name is Simon and started in Vancouver.  His plan is to ride to Inuvik, then down to Mexico, very impressive.  He says he bush camps and I ask if he has had any bear issues “Nope, have you”.  I try not to freak him out, but give him some cautions to take, it would really suck to be alone without a car/motorbike when a bear walks out.

A real adventurist

We head in to the Eagle Plains Motel but miss breakfast, its the only restaurant in Eagle Plains so I settle for some fish and chips.  We chat up some other bikers and after a few more cups of coffee hit the road.

Eagle Plains

The first stop is the Arctic Circle, this is where the GPS gets all wonky and confused when sunrise and sunset are.

Arctic Circle

There are a number of ride roads you can take to explore, its difficult to judge the scale of the hills and valleys.  The next picture shows my bike, up one hill, and Ed and his bike up the next hill.  You can barely make him out.


Next up the final border crossing: NWT


The ditches are anywhere from 6 to 10 feet down on either side.  This is required this far north to insulate the road from the permafrost.  If they dont do this the road will buckle.  There was a section of road in Alaska that was buckled, it looked like a serpents back, super fun to ride the motorbike on as you could almost launch the bike in the air each hump, but the RV drivers were cursing it.

We took the ferry over to Fort Mcpherson, which is actually pretty large settlement, but unfortunately suffers from many of the social issues of small northern towns.  Although dry, vodka bottles lined the roads.

A Wolf would have been more threatening

This far north all the houses are on stilts.  The ground is too frozen for a foundation, the warmth from the building would melt the permafrost and the building would sink.  Dawson has a street with sunken buildings thats is interesting to see the actual effects.

The Mighty McKenzie River

The last stretch of the dempster was brutal, the gravel was deep and would grab your front tire.  I had a number of scary ‘tank slappers’ and once thought I was going over.

Finally pulling up into Inuvik I puled over to wait for Ed.  A car pulled up and some organizers took a table and water cooler out of the back.  They were dressed in jogging gear and obviously setting up for a race.  I walked over to talk to them and it turns out the annual Solstice Half Marathon and 10K was being setup.  She said the race stars in 1 hour, which was 11:30pm.  Great I thought, where do I register.

I zipped over to the cabin we rented, dropped my gear, showered the layer of dempster dirt off my body and jumped into the most suitable jogging attire I had (which didnt include jogging shoes).


Moto_Tuk_2012 805_1024x768




I got over before the start and ran the 10K, perfect way to get a tour of the town. Apparently even north of the arctic circle my face goes beat red when jogging.

After the race, I walked down to the grocery store, bought some stuff for the BBQ and rode back to the cabin to grill up some dogs, it was the first meal I had since my fish and chips 12 hours ago.  By the time I finished eating it was close to 3am, still sunny out, Dempster finished.

End of the Dempster


It was sunny and hot out, and after a few days in Dawson we decided to head out a day early from D2D.  We would miss the ride, but it would give us a buffer day on the Dempster.

The day started perfect, we had breakfast with some of the guys from Texas and parted ways.  Dan headed south back to Calgary and Ed and I continued on.  I felt bad for the other guys that were suppose to be joining us, but with no cell connectivity I couldn’t track them down.

We gassed up and hit the road.

Start of the Dempster

Perfect Day

When the Dempster is wet, its a complete nightmare, the road is made out of calcium carbonate and turns into grease when wet.  However, when dry the road is a dust bowl.  After 20km we hit a convoy of  large rigs moving construction material, passing them was difficult because you have to eat their dust and they shower you with rocks.  Because they are working, there is little incentive for them to slow down and let you pass.

About 80 km into the day, and after getting passed the trucks I stopped to take a few picture and notice a geiser of coolant spraying from my radiator.  A rock form the trucks I passed hit a coolant tube on the rad and punctured a hole, 80km from anywhere.  Ed drove by and I waved for him to stop, but he thought I was just waving and rode past.  I didnt see him for another hour.  I tried to ride back as far as I could, but after a kilometer engine temp warning light came on.  I spent the next few hours riding, stopping and filling the rad with water.  Ed caught back up with me and we limped my bike back to mile 1 of the dempster.


Back at the start, time for repairs

I was really gutted as I didnt want this to be the end of the trip before even reaching Inuvik.  I has also planned on covering the rad with mesh before leaving, but time ran out and now I’m paying for it.  My only chance was if the the gas station at the junction had some epoxy, I could try to make a patch.  I cleaned off the rad and after searching the gas station mechanic gave me some 5 minute epoxy.  Essentially you roll it around into a puddy, then it harders over the course of an hour.  I made a patch, took a nap, then filled the rad and crossed my fingers – NO LEAKS!  It was weeping a little, but I figured as the epoxy hardened the weeping should stop, worst case I will have to top up the rad at the end of each day, but at least im mobile again.

More Northern Innovation (from a Southerner)

By this time it was 11:00pm, but still sunny.  At truck driver we were speaking to said it was the best time to ride the dempster because  it would be sunny, not too hot and no traffic on the road.  We decided to head out and see how far we could get.

The road was dusty but great, the weather got pretty cool, and most importantly there were no cars on the road.

About 250km into the ride I stopped to take a picture of a perfectly still lake.  At this time in the morning (about 2am) the mosquitoes are ruthless, so I wanted to be quick.  I went to pop off and as I tried to drop the kickstand the bike rolled back, I leaned over thinking the stand would be down and the bike started to drop.  Fully loaded its too heavy to try to stop it from dropping, but these bikes are designed to fall so I let it down as gently as possible.

At first it was funny, but then the mosquitoes swarmed and I remembered Ed was up ahead.  He knows I stop for photos so he usually keeps going.  I tried to quickly lift the bike but it was way to heavy loaded up, I couldnt get a grip anywhere.  Then I see the gas tank overflow pouring gas out the bottom.  This is bad because this stretch is 371km, we need every drop of gas to make it to Eagle Plains.  Seeing the gas run out I thought I could jam it up with a stick and wait for Ed to return, but there are no branches around.  I quickly begin to remove the luggage. In a frenzy I pull all the baggage off and lift my bike.  Unsure how much gas leaked out I load the bike back off and continue.  My neck and face were feasted on by mosquitos and I was dripping in sweat.

Perfectly still, no one to help lift the beast.


About 30km on I was riding past a long skinny lake that borders the road.  I look over to see a bald eagle flying just over the surface and about the speed I’m going, he flys beside me for about 800meters then pearches on the top of a lone pine tree.

Bald Eagle

 We roll into Eagle Plains (halfway) at about 5am.  Totally exhausted we pitch our tents in the day use area of the hotel lot fending off mosquitos.  There were a few other riders camped and we couldnt be bothered to try to check into the motel.  The second my head hit the pillow I was asleep.  Tomorrow would be much of the same, but at least I heard Eagle Plains Hotel makes a mean breakfast.

Dawson is a great town, we were early but the streets were already lined with dual sport motorcycles.

Bikes starting to roll in for D2D

People up north are interesting, always have a lot of stories and willing to talk your ear off.  They are also very innovative and problem solving with minimal resources.  I saw a lot of northern innovation including this child transportation system (currently not transportation canada approved).

It was also the summer solstice, and there is a big party at the top of the dome.  The only problem is after a few beers we didn’t want to ride up, so we hiked halfway and hitched the rest of the way to the top.

Once up top you can watch the sun circle the horizon, just barly going down before reappearing.  Very cool.

Solstice – Darkest bit before the sun reappears

Yukon River


Before the solstice they got a big fire going and a few people dressed up.  This guy actually wasn’t dressed up, Dan and I walked over to him and asked him if he knew who he reminded us of.  He wasn’t too impressed and said ‘I know I know Zach Galifianakis, I get that all the time”

He was good enough to get a pic with us.


The Original

Karate pose with Randy in Komoto – Not sure why he is in a Komoto

We grabbed some breakfast and headed out on what would be the best ride of the trip thus far.  The Top of the World road is epic.  We took some side roads and found a trail that leads out to the top of a ridge overlooking the border and valley below.  This was the experience I was hoping to get out of this trip.

Top of the World


Chicken, AK

Gold Mining Machine used to dredge dirt


Canadian Customs Station

Snow Still

The nice thing about the north is the sun never goes down.  So you can sleep if you are tired, or ride if you aren’t.  Schedules and time is meaningless.  Its perfect.  We got into Dawson and headed down to the Dust To Dawson Rally signup.  Its in the Downtown Hotel, which is famous for its ‘Toe Shot’.

Quirky guy that sold the toe shots at the hotel


After watching a group of older tourists do the toe shot, I bellied up.  The shot was fine, but the toe tumbled into my mouth – yuck!

Dawson is an awesome town, lots of history, laid back and super friendly.  The bar we went to has  curtains because the sun never sets.

Finally got a hotel and a chance to do laundry and have a hot shower.  We left Whitehorse the next morning and the sky finally cleared.  It was blue sky and little traffic for the entire day.

Stopping for gas I met Dave who was riding the same bike I have.  He showed me a few maintenance tips and gave me a set of spare levers to take up the Dempster.  Otherwise, if you drop your bike and break your clutch lever out in the bush you stuck.

Blue Sky Finally

Dave and his Dakar

After the border you hit the mountains the the scenery changes dramatically.  Lots of wildlife including coyote, moose, black bears, and a large Grizzly on the road as I came around a blind corner.

Blood BathFinally Made it to Alaska by Motorcycle

Finally made it to Alaska by motorcycle. Customs were great, just wanted to know where we were going and for how long.  Not the friendliest, but what was I expecting when crossing between countries with such a long history of friendship and cooperation.

Crossing the Geographic Border

Crossing the Geographic Border

We got into Tok and gassed up when Dan pulled up.  He was riding solo from Calgary and decided to join us.  We picked up some beers at 10pm (gotta love the US) and made camp.

The North makes you feel small

Considering the visit by Yogi last night my sleep was relatively deep.  The sun was out and there was enough light in my tent to not even require the use of my headlamp.  Nights are very cold and I’m glad I brought my thick down sleeping bag.  The other night I was so exhausted I crashed in my tent wearing my riding gear, figuring I would just wake up and keep going.  In the middle of the night I woke up shivering and had to get our of my gear and into my bag.  Not fun in a one man tent.

Watson Lake – No Bears

Its finally sunny and warm, which is ironic that we had to travel to the Yukon to get some good weather.  Roads are perfect, no traffic and sun is shining.

Many large rivers to cross

The closer we get to Dawson, the more Dust to Dawson riders we bump into.  Chatted with a retired guy from Georgia with an older BMW R series, I asked where he was going and he rattled off 12 places, all on opposite ends of the continent, he just finished it off with an ear to ear smile and said  ‘I’m going everywhere’ – I believe it.

Started talking with a few guys from Edmonton at a gas station, and as each Dual Sport bike would pull up the group chatting grew larger.  Stories of where people are going, or where they have been, adventure riders have a pretty good community.  Its also impressive how many riders are being funneled into Dawson.

Stopping at Whitehorse today was great, not only is it a cool town with a local Brewery downtown, but gave me the first opportunity in 4 days to have a shower and launder the only pair of clothes I have.

Went out for a Yukon Gold beer and Reindeer Stew – good hearty northern meal.

I had to ask the front desk girl 3 times what the name was

Klondike Rib and Salmon

Reindeer Stew and Yukon Gold Beer

Tomorrow we hit Alaska, thinking of heading to Tok where a bunch of riders are camping out in preparation for D2D in Dawson. D2D aka Dust to Dawson is a 2 day gathering of Dual Sport riders from around the world.  There are about 260 riders attending, so it should be a good time.

After the past long days I have enough slack in my schedule to start going where I want, its a good feeling not having to make miles.