All posts for the month July, 2012

Woke up early today looking forward to finishing off the dirt road and getting to Watson Lake. The weather was perfect again, and we rode past many huge lakes, felt like riding in the Okanagan without any towns or lakefront cabins.

There was little traffic on the #4 and was stopped by a family in a huge RV asking where they were.  I guess they figured after driving for hours and seeing nobody, they must be lost.  After talking with the RV driver a guy in an old KLR pulled up.  He was from Arkansas, his riding partner that was going to be joining him had passed away a month prior to leaving, he was riding with his buddy’s ashes hanging from his handlebars.

We hit Watson Lake and checked out the Signpost Forest, people bring signposts from all over the world and nail them up here.  No surprise there are a ton of signs from Germany.  I even found a replacement GS fender.

Signpost Forest

New Fender

This one is for Caroline and Laura

After leaving Watson Lake we headed for Laird Hotsprings, along this stretch of road he ran into 12 black bears, 3 Grizzly Bears, 20+ Bison, 3 Moose, 3 Deer and a Fox.  I couldnt believe how many Bears were hanging out along the road, its not wonder we were camping within this area on the way up when the bear walked up to us.  The best animal to run across is a Moose, they are terrified of humans and tend to run back into the forest, not like deer that will dart back into traffic.  Moose seem clumsy and goofy and always make me laugh as they scramble to get away from you.  This large male was swimming in the ditch when I pulled up.  He just scrambled to get away, except he was in the middle of a swamp, was hilarious to watch him stumble through the marsh to get away.

Wild Buffalo

Sad reality of hanging out by the road

We stumbled on a mother Grizzly and her cubs playing along the side of the road, watched them for close to an hour, its rare to get so see so many animals up close, but I didnt want to get too close not being in a car.  The little cubs were very curious and ran up to any car that stopped, finally he sat on the side of the road watching us and watching the odd car that passed.

Grizzly Family

Finally we arrived at Laird Hotsprings.  Its one of the largest natural hotsprings in Canada and well worth the stop.  Aside from the deck and stairs in, its all natural.  The source is a pile of rocks and it gets progressively hotter the closer you get upstream to them, makes it easy to find the perfect temperature.  I stayed there until 2am, perfect way to end the day.

Boardwalk to the hotsprings

Moose like to hang out around the hotsprings to eat the vegetation, on the walk back I was startled by a large moose hiding in the bushes, they stay still until they think you’ve spotted them, and then just take off.  Still makes me laugh.

We got back into the Dawson junction by noon, I had a huge breakfast and checked the coolant levels on my bike.  After the oil leak caused by Blackfoot, and the coolant leak caused by the rock, I wanted to check all pertinent fluid levels.  Both were perfect.  Before heading up the Dempster I had stashed some supplies under an old abandoned bus.  I thought they may come in handy if I need a coolant top-up on my return trip.  Since everything was looking good I donated the supplies to the local shop that had given me the epoxy I used to fix my radiator a few days ago.

Supplies hidden behind front right tire

From this point there was no backtracking on the way back to Calgary.  I had mapped out a route that would take us on different roads, the frist section was from Flat Creek to Carmacks.  From here we would take a gravel road for 2 days to Watson Lake.  In Carmacks we met a German guy and girl from Schwerin who were spending the next few months exploring the north, would be nice to get that much time off.

The road from Carmacks was a great mix of gravel, dirt, and rough pavement.  We camped at Ross River that had a nice site overlooking the canyon.  I thought it would be a good idea to hike down a steep hill to the river to replenish our water reserves.  The hill was mossy and damp and I lost my footing tossing my filter and bottle in the air and tumbling down.  I couldnt help but laugh as the hill was soft and mossy, but could have done without the laughing and heckling from Ed who after seeing how I got down was curious how I was going to get back up.

The Dempster Highway

The arctic is great, like no place I’ve ever been, its been a very worthwhile experience and enjoyable journey up to this point.  On the way up the excitment of reaching the final destination keeps you motivated.  On the way home that motivation changes to the excitment for me to see Ash and our soon-to-be baby boy.  Either way, its true when people say its about the journey, not the destination.  The countless experiences throughout the day can never be articulated in a blog or described properly in pictures.

The way back is less about exploration and more about reconnecting with people.  We had left Dawson a day early and are now bumping into many of the friends we had met along the way.  After packing up I stopped by to say goodbye to Andrew and Stephanie, they had ridden up from Texas and had a long way back.  Stephanie had taken a bad spill on the Dempster and they planned on having their bikes trailered back to Dawson.  There was a guy who drives up from Vancouver with a truck full of fruit, he just happened to be heading back the next day.  The Dempster for them had been a joy up to the arctic circle, but a nightmare after as the road conditions changed.  Once you hit the NWT border the road got very unpredictable, it would be smooth and hard packed, then instantly change to deep loose gravel.  We had a couple close calls, but apparently a number of bikers had taken nasty spills.

We gassed up at $1.89/liter, and were heading out of Inuvik, when we bumped into Simon, the cyclist from France, just arriving into town.  We pulled over and he was excited to see us.  We talked to him for almost an hour and I couldn’t believe the positivity Simon had, he was smiling from ear to ear, even after a crash, mosquito swarms, and biking in deep gravel for days.  He showed us a video of large Grizzly he took, the bear was about 200 meters away and he was alone in the middle of nowhere.  I liked that he wasn’t phased, its one thing to be ignorant of dangers, but he seems to accept the risks in life that keep many of us from undertaking great feats.  A true adventurer.


Simon was planning on getting a ride back to the Yukon border, he said he saw a number of motorcycles crashed on the NWT section of the road.  I suspect these were overloaded, larger bikes, with street tires.  My 650 just cruised through the rough sections, with no problems, I was starting to really appreciate the bike selection I made.

End of the Dempster – Homebound

About 30 minutes into our departure it sky opened up and it started to rain.  We were fortunate to have perfect weather on the way up, so I accepted it could get messy the way down.  People who ride the Dempster in the rain have a miserable chip on their shoulder when talking about it, I was almost looking forward to be able to experience the ‘other’ Dempster.

The rain turned the road into a slick grease, with the K60 tires it was fine, we just had the slow down to around 80.  The more inconvenient aspect was being spattered with mud, it covered everything.  Just north of Tsiigeghchic I rounded a corner up a hill and spotted a Wolf running across the road.  I stopped and looked where he ran into the trees, but he was long gone.

In Fort Mcpherson we were approached by a local, named Frank, who had lived his life in the small town of around 800.  We chatted with him for quite a while, and although we were burning riding time, I was quite content to hear about life up north and the history of the area.  Frank was native, but his grandfather was from Scotland.  He had the standard Canadian accent and spoke with sentences spattered in expletives and ‘eh’ on the end.  He was a smart guy and had a great sense of humor.

We were making good progress and by the time we hit Eagle Plains (halfway) we decided to eat a big meal and continue on.  A few days ago, just as we were on our way up a forest fire closed the highway down.  We were lucky enough to avoid the delay and could now see and smell the aftermath.  The sky was still smoky in this area, luckily there are no settlements that were in danger.

Forest Fire on the Dempster

Just past the forest fire section at about 1am we bumped into Etienne, a cyclist from Montreal.  He flew his bike and gear up to Inuvik and was planning on riding down to the bottom of Argentina!  You can track him on his site, pretty impressive.  We gave him some water and continued on.

By 2am there wasn’t a breeze, it was dead calm.

Still Lake

The rain had kicked up the calcium chloride that is in the material used to make the road.  My bike, pants and boots were covered with a concrete type material.

We decided to camp in Tombstone Park as the gas station and restaruant at the start of the Dempster would be closed at this hour.  Otherwise, being only 80km away, we could have easily rode the entire Dempster in one day.  Camp sites in Yukon are cheap ($12), have free wood, bathrooms and are very scenic, much better than trying to find hotels here.

The camping ritual includes picking a site, setting up the tent while mitigating the number of mosquitos that get in, covering gear in the event of rain and relaxing in front of the fire with a beer or tea.  After a long day like today you fall asleep the second your head hits the pillow.