Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Arctic Circle Trip - Days: 12 - 15

Hola friends,

Thought I'd just update y'all how the rest of the trip went - not as thrilling as the Dempster part I'm afraid... Anyway:

We sadly left Dawson City with the feeling that it was somewhere we'd never return to. We stayed at the Bunkhouse again. By the way, I have a surefire way to find the cheapest hotel in town:

After Dawson City we went to Whitehorse. Got absolutely drenched in a sudden and intense rain storm. Our rain gear which was really intended for occasional use was not up to the task - especially since it had been called into use every day of the trip so far. Wanted to camp, but again we felt like camping in pouring rain in soaking clothes would be not worth how much we saved on a hotel. So Days Inn it was.

The most exciting part of the journey was over. The anticipation of riding the Dempster had made the kilometres fly by at the beginning of the trip. At this point, we both were feeling like we just wanted to get home. We reworked the schedule that night to try to cut out a day of riding - this would allow us to get back on the originally planned date since we had spent a whole extra night in the NWT waiting for the ferry. We decided if we could make it to Liard Hotsprings campsite, we would be on track. 

The riding the next day was mostly dry with only a short shower or two. We had been backtracking up until Watson Lake, but now we were on new road. The Alaska Highway, instead of the Cassiar we had taken on our way north, There were many prominent signs warning of bison on the road. We heeded the warning, but were not prepared for the sheer number of free roaming bison we ended up seeing. Unfortunately my Cardo Scalarider Q3 had decided to stop charging so once that died we were limited to brake light flashing and pointing to indicate bison. I've since ordered a new shiny set of Sena units. At times, we rode through the middle of herds of bison lining the road. We were reminded of our friend from Dawson, Enrique, who told us about the bison on the road and how he chased one on his r1200gs until it stopped and stared him down at which point he decided to leave it alone.

When we made it to Liard Hotsprings provincial campground we were dismayed to find the campground full and the "overflow" campground to be an uninspiring gravel parking lot across the highway. Despite this, the price for camping in overflow was still $26 - no cheaper than camping in the real campground. We decided to press on further south. The bikes needed fuel but nothing was open. We passed campground after campground - all full. We did see a caribou at one point, which was neat. We made it to the southern tip of Muncho lake where we found a closed gas station/motel. There were people inside the small diner so dad tapped on the window and was greeted by a provincial park operator. She told us we were free to camp anywhere outside the provincial park - or she could sell us a camping permit for $20 to camp at Macdonald Campsite on Muncho lake. Foolishly we decided to make for the edge of the provincial park and try our luck with roadside camping. We'd barely set off again when I realized from the GPS that the edge of the park was a bit further than comfortable with the amount of fuel we had left. We turned back and tracked down our park operator again. I imagine she was a bit annoyed, but she sold us a camping permit and directed us back north a few kms to get back to MacDonald campsite. It was dark by the time we arrived. Finally after being in the land of the midnight sun, we got to use the headlamps we'd packed all the way from Calgary to set up our tent and campstove for a dinner of Kraft Dinner Mac n' Cheese,

A man named Rick from one campsite over came by to chat and invited us for coffee in the morning. Sure enough, as we packed up the next day Rick wandered over and informed us the coffee was almost done. He had made it on a campfire using a nifty peculator machine. He was an interesting chap - a real outdoorsman with a jetboat (see photo). He lived in Fort Nelson and often went on long hunting trips into the woods in the surrounding areas. We had our coffee and chatted with him and his buddy for a while then got back on the bikes to go find breakfast and gasoline.

Where we ended up was the Northern Rockies Lodge which had gas and a breakfast buffet. The breakfast buffet was basic but cost $18 per head for some reason. I nearly made myself sick trying to consume $18 worth of bacon, coffee and french toast. It was all good - but not $18 good.

Stopped in Toad River was the next stop for a quick bathroom break (remember, I had drank about 4 cups of coffee already trying to recoup the money spent on breakfast). There was a lot of chipseal road construction - some of the worst we had encountered yet. We did spot the first moose of the trip. It was just a baby and the mother must have been hiding in the trees as she never made an appearance.

At some point a bug hit me in the neck and managed to bite me twice. It surprised me and it hurt quite a bit. We stopped for a photo, as you do.

The goal was Grande Prairie AB. We did not make it. The roads after Toad River were industrial and dull with big trucks in big hurries. Nighfall and our growling stomachs made us stop in Dawson Creek. Plus, we kept getting rained on. 700kms in a day seemed like a lot. The Boston Royal Pizza at the local BP seemed extra delicious. 

We crashed (not literally) at a Super 8 for the night and managed an early start the next day after a complimentary breakfast (during which one or two muffins and apples were pocketed for later).

On our way out I hit an unmarked fresh tar snake which sent the bike into a terrifying near-tankslapper. I instinctively raised myself out of the seat and the front wheel stopped swerving. Just what I needed in the morning - a shot of adrenaline right to the heart. With the loose gravel and road construction, it seems the roads in northern BC are trying to kill you.

The rest of the way home was fairly uneventful. It was a 900km day so my butt was getting sore as we got back into Calgary in the pouring rain (of course). Suddenly we were back on our own little street riding side by side as we came down the boulevard. Horns were honked and engines were revved despite it being about 9pm. 

And then it was over. Home safe and sound. Now where to go next year?

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Arctic Circle Trip - The Dempster Days

Day 7 – Dempster Day 1

Left Dawson City just after 10am under ominous cloud after a hearty breakfast and a quick snack top-up.
We filled the gas cans and the bikes at a station in town, then rode to the start of the Dempster where we topped up the bikes again. Eagle plains was about 360km away. That was the goal for the day.
We were timid for the first bit but started loosening up until we came across a grader in our lane in the middle of a hill. It was road construction where they were putting down more dirt and grading it. This was a bit dicey and the bikes moved a lot under us side to side (in hindsight, this was not all that bad compared to what was to come). After that, conditions improved. We had to stop to put on rain gear as it was spitting all in all the road was fine. It even dried up enough that we were averaging 90km/h with the only issue being the long lines of potholes. We were passing campers and everything felt good.

We put on a lot of kilometers while the road was wet but rideable. The aired down TKC80s bit into the surface no problem.

Then the surface changed. Suddenly the wet hardpack turned into wet muck with deep truck tyre ruts. I don’t think I’ve ever maintained that much focus for so long. 10km, maybe more, of goopy mud. The truck ruts were the worst. The rear slipped back and forth, and then the front, the bars twisting side to side. We had the words of our off-road instructor in our heads reminding us to stay loose in the arms and grip the bike with your legs, keep your eyes up, and when the bike started getting too out of shape, apply a bit more throttle. We each had a couple ‘big moments’ where the bucking of the bike seemed to be too much to possible recover from but each time it came back. We kept wondering if the next rut would be the one to throw us off the bike.

Eventually we stopped on the side of the road to plug in our communication devices which were low on battery. This turned out to be the exact spot where the pea soup section ended and the road became hard packed (more or less) and just wet. This was at about 50km to go to Eagle Plains.
The last 10km seemed to last forever as the rain came back. Finally we made it into the resort. We checked in at the hotel and headed towards the car wash. It was occupied by a man basically disassembling a BMW. His radiator had clogged with mud and the bike was overheating. We later chatted with him in the bar. His name was Bruce and he’d headed up to the Arctic Circle sign earlier that day and said the conditions were really bad. Yikes.

Day 8 – Dempster Day 2

We awoke full of hope for the day. It certainly looked brighter out. At breakfast we saw Bruce again, who never had good news. He said the ferry was still down at Peel River because of high water.
We talked to some KLR and V-Strom guys who had heard the same thing. They planned to only go as far as the Arctic Circle then go back to Dawson city. We knew we at least wanted to get to the Arctic Circle so we hung around until about 12 noon and set off for the sign. The snot like mud Bruce had described had almost dried entirely. The road was moist, but fine. We took it really easy. I must admit, I teared up a bit when we reached the sign indicating we were in the Arctic Circle.

We decided that we might as well press on to the Northwest Territories border and cross that off the list too. Again, the road was wet but not muddy. Imagine our surprise when we hit a deep mud bog in the middle of the road. I gassed it through the greasy muck and dad almost made it through but dropped the bike. We efficiently unloaded the luggage and used the 2-person bike lifting technique taught at Too Cool Motorcycle School to right the bike.

We had a break at the NWT sign to decide what to do next. We used a few pricey satphone minutes to call the ferry report line just to learn it was still closed. Determined to keep going until we literally could not go further, we continued towards the ferry anyway. We were stopped by a woman in an RV who told us again that the ferry was closed. At this point we actually turned around on the road, intending to head back. But again, we decided to keep going. We had a day in hand so if we had to camp one night at the terminal, so be it.

We finally reached the terminal. I say terminal, but it really is just the road disappearing into the Peel river. There are a few run down shacks around, but nothing official. The ferry was out in the river; the river was still too high for it to land on either side. There were big trucks all lined up so we joined the queue.

Locals were getting ferried across by relatives in small boats – leaving their cars on our side. They’d come back and retrieve them when the water dropped in a few days or weeks.
A French couple in a badass offroad RV unit were in line in front of us.
No information was given from the ferryman. We just waited and waited, thinking eventually he’d try landing. We cooked 2 tins of soup on our camp stove and discovered we didn’t have a ton of water left. It was getting later and later. We’d arrived at 5:15pm. We didn’t want to unpack too much in case the ferry suddenly resumed operation so we slept a bit on and around the bikes. The mosquitos were horrendous. Absolutely terrible. Much bugspray was applied but its effects were always short lived. A family traveling back across the river in a boat gave us some juice boxes from their car. Very nice considering we had only a couple bottles of water left and would have to start heading back to Eagle Plains if it got too low.

Day 9 – Dempster Day 3

In the morning, the ferry was still stuck. Some people asked if we’d like to sit in their car for a while to escape the mosquitos, so we did.
After a while we walked down to the water to check the level again. It had gone down a bit in the night, but not very much.
The French lady in the RV made us ‘tiny coffees like from France’ to sip on.

Eventually we resigned ourselves to lying in the tent, hiding from mosquitoes. Then we heard a bike go by. Coming from the shore. We thought they must have opened the ferry but we discovered that a man had ferried across a bunch of bikes in his scow (a small wooden motor boat).

We got the man’s phone number and packed up the bikes as fast as we could and rode them down to the water’s edge. In about 15 minutes, a man named Robert, who owns the campground across the river, and a boy named Tony showed up. They agreed that he’d take the bikes across for $40 each. Getting the bikes on was sketchy and he could only take one at a time. We backed the bikes across a teetering board and into the boat. They seemed wobbly but secure. At the other side of the river we walked the bikes off the boat with very fine clutch control. The sketchiest part was the teeter totter moment as the bike reached the tipping point of the board.

We crossed a second ferry (this one was working) and discovered that the Dempster had become relatively dull. We had no problem ripping along at 90kph even in the deeper gravel. The road was pretty straight and dusty. Just as we were nearing Inuvik, the rain started again. The road got sloppy and we picked our way through the final few kms to Inuvik. Then it brightened up and we were there. Inuvik is paved and it was weird riding on tarmac again, especially with the low tyre pressures. We stopped at the ‘End of the Dempster’ sign for photos. The cheapest hotel was full, so we sprang for an upgrade – tonight we did not feel like camping.

Day 10 – Dempster Day 4

We woke up in the luxury suite of the Capital Suites in Inuvik. We were looking forward to another day of riding, but dreading crossing the Peel River again. We didn’t know if the ferry would be open yet, and if we could find Robert, our motorboat captain, again if it was not open. After a delicious breakfast of waffles with whipped cream and blueberries, we left Inuvik and set out from the end of the Dempster.

The morning’s ride to the ferry was nice – the road was dry and the weather warm.  Just before Fort MacPherson the road got a bit wet but still no problem.
When we got down the ferry terminal, it was evident that the ferry was not running. We were just about to phone Robert when we heard someone calling to us. It was a man named Wilbur and his friend Dave were standing near a boat. They said they’d take the bikes accross for $30 instead of Robert’s $50. So in front of the queue of traffic waiting for the ferry we loaded Dad’s bike into the small boat, backing it down the riverbank. Soon we were at the other side. Again the bike was walked out of the boat with precision clutch control. Perfect. Then the next bike was ferried across. Again, perfect. We ended up paying Wilbur and Dave the full $40/bike – it seemed only fair.

 We stood around and talked for a bit with the guys. One man was walking from the river with some fish he’d caught. He invited us to watch how he smoked the fish in his smokehouse. We watched the man’s wife Lucy slice the fish up expertly. They hang the fish in the smokehouse for a week or more to dry it out. It was a delicious smell. After the fish smoking demo, we got back on the bikes and set off down the road.

What followed was an excellent day of riding. The road was mostly dry the whole way from the ferry all the way back to Eagle Plains. Since it had been wet the first time we had ridden this section, it felt like a totally different road. Our average speed was about 80km/s as opposed to the snail’ pace we had been travelling at on the way north. In no time we were back at the Eagle Plains hotel for a burger and a cold beer. Yukon Gold and Yukon Red. The bikes got a chain lube, chain tighten and a wash ready for tomorrow’s ride.

Day 11 – Dempster Day 5

We were not too concerned about the ride this morning as the sun was shining. Fuel, for us and the bikes, then we were off. For a large section of the ride we were ripping along at a rapid pace in the dust. The road was totally different from what we remembered. Where there had been muck, there was now dried mud. This made the road a bit bumpy. We had one rain shower which was short lived. The day was going well and the kilometers were ticking down. With about 20kms left we hit more soupy mud from construction. The Dempster wasn’t going to let us go without one last fight. With so little left to go we were extra cautious. Eventually the mud ended and we could see the bridge that marked the end of the road. The gravel ended and we crossed over the bridge, pumping our fists. 

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Arctic Circle Trip - Update

The mud up here is real. Made it to Eagle Plains - we have to reevaluate the plan if conditions get worse. I'm tempted to post a longer report at the end of the Dempster days (however long that turns out to be) when I have a whole story.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Arctic Circle Trip - Days: 5 - 6

Had coffee with Mick at the 6 Mile River Resort this morning. He is the owner and a bike guy. This campground is biker friendly and highly recommended. Go there if you are near Tagish YT. Lake view, bar, cleanest washrooms I’ve ever seen at a campground, and they rent cabins too! 

Decided to hit Whitehorse for breakfast at the local Tim Hortons. After breakfast we went to a motorcycle shop to try to locate some brake pad spares after hearing what our friends in Stewart had said about the Dempster eating brakes. Unfortunately we only found a rear pad in the shop which means in total we have 1 full bike worth of spare pads and 1 extra rear set. Hope that is enough.

We continued on the Alaska Highway and then the Klondike Highway. The plan was to camp in Mayo, but the campsite was not all that good so we backtracked back to the highway and presses on towards Dawson City. Along the way we found a great little campsite at Moose Creek and stayed there.

Man Exits Campsite

The next morning we set off for Dawson. We had a lot of rain along the way but it had started to look clearer by the time we arrived. We had left a half day to change 4 tyres from the TKC70s to the TKC80s (a more aggressive tire for dirt). We headed to a gas station in town that had an outdoor carwash and an air compressor (which we needed to seat the beads on our tyres). 

We met a chap named Jessie with his F800GS on his “Big Trip”. He’d sold his house, quick his job, and gone riding He’d done the Dempster earlier in the wet and seemed to think we would manage alright.  We said goodbye to Jessie and started changing tyres. It went surprisingly well due largly to the softness of the TKC80s. In 3 hours we were done all 4 tyres. The bikes look gnarly with the new rubber.

Just as we were starting to pack up it started pouring with rain. All our jackets and pants got wet as well as our tool rolls. Jessie stopped by again to see how we were doing. He’d decided to stay over in Dawson one night before starting to head south.

We made it to The Bunkhouse. Loads of bikes here (because bikers are cheap). The room is (very) small but clean. The bathrooms and showers are shared. Here we met Enrique from Spain originally but living in NY. He’d been on the road for many months on his GS and only has 2 states left to visit before he has been to them all: Alaska and Hawaii. He checks off Alaska tomorrow. 

We have met nothing but awesome people on this trip.

Dempster Tomorrow.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Arctic Circle Trip - Days: 2 - 4

Wifi has been kinda sparse so you get 3 days in one chunk.

Day 2:
What a day! Pretty solid ride from this morning until this evening.
Started in Prince George with the goal being a campsite Stewart BC, on recommendation from my friend Alan. Rode for a while then had lunch in Burns Lake. The rain was unrelenting from that point on – but the scenery was beautiful.

It was very exciting to reach the Alaska Highway – even in the pouring rain. The raingear was working well but after a solid day of rain I was feeling my socks dampen.
The road so far is beautiful and twisty. The road surface is decent and there was almost no one on it at all.

We turned down the Glacier Highway for Stewart where the road got even nicer. Finally ended up in Stewart after 8:30.

My socks were now more than a bit damp and we made the call to hotel it for another night to dry out. This turned out to be a wise decision. The King Edward is a pretty nice motel spanning the main street of Stewart. Janice, who checked us in, let us park the bikes right on the sidewalk and store our tires in the conference room on the first floor instead of having to carry them up the stairs. We met up with 2 guys who had just been on the Dempster with their BMWs. It had been very wet when they were there and they had horror stories of mud like “4-inch deep wet cement” which clogged their radiator, ripped off their rear mud guard, and ate their brake pads.
We went for a walk around Stewart and inadvertently wandered into an area where many big white cylinders were sitting. Turns out they were sections of wind turbine that just came off a ship in Stewart.

Back at the hotel, Janice told us that Stewart used to be home to over 10000 people who mostly mined for gold. There even used to be a railroad (the street where it used to be is called Railroad St.) Janice showed us some old photographs of Stewart as it used to be. Glad we ended up staying at the hotel after all and learning so much about this small town.

Off to bed now. Sorry for lack of pics, just 'bear' with me.

Day 3
Woke up in Stewart and went into Alaska to see Salmon Glacier. We did not see Salmon Glacier. The cloud was just too low. On the bright side, the road up to the Salmon Glacier lookout was a very nice twisty gravel and dirt road – the first taste of gravel for the trip. Breakfasted in Stewart in a bakery. Some motorcyclists on a Super Tenere were in there and told us that someone on a bike had hit a moose north of Dease lake. We were assured by the lady working in the bakery that the rain was over.
The rest of the day it rained very hard. We made our way up the Cassier Highway. The scenery was lovely but probably 90% of our radio communications were moose based. The rain made certain under construction areas of the road a bit sketchy. We stopped at a place called Bell 2 and talked to a couple bikers and the British owner of the establishment. Bell 2 is a Heli-skiing base, resort and gas station which gives you free coffee if you fill up your tank with gas (but you didn’t hear that from me).

When we made it to the Watersedge Campground in Dease Lake, the rain had stopped. We had a fire and used our camp stove to make ramen noodles, which tasted delicious after all the rain we’d endured. We unloaded the bikes to go get gasoline. The bike handled terribly as the tyre pressures and shock preload were still set up for carrying 100lbs of luggage. As we were leaving the campsite we saw 2 bears looking at us not 500ft away from where we would be sleeping.

We met some new friends in the Dease Lake Campground. A family in a camper (who we ran in to repeatedly throughout the next day at various gas stations); 2 fellas from Florida on a V-Strom 1000 and BMW r1200 GS; and Mick and Jen from Australia had been traveling and working in Canada for the past few months and were doing some siteseeing before heading back to Aus. Before we left, Mick and Jen recommended for the next night we go to 6 Mile River Campground in Tagish instead of Teslin as they had been working there for the past month.

Day 4
Woke up on day 4. No rain. We optimistically packed our rain gear away and rode away on the Cassier. After a while on the road, we started thinking about coffee. Suddenly, a “Free Coffee” sign appeared as if by magic! We pulled into a place called Jade City. My dad vaguely recalled a television program about jade mining. Turns out that we were in the location where they shoot the program called Jade Fever. We had our free coffee and the sales associate graciously topped up our water containers.

We passed through a place called Boyer which literally had the smoothest roads I have ever encountered in my life. This would be a big difference from what would come later that day.
We crossed the line into the Yukon at some point today. Of course we stopped and had photos by the sign.

In the Yukon, they have an interesting method for making roads. They put down a ton of oil then spread gravel on it and pack it down then leave loose gravel on the top until it cures. This is not the most fun thing for a bike. Gravel roads are one thing – gravel on the road is a different matter entirely. As we turned onto the Alaska highway we were met with just that. ½ inch deep gravel on top of a paved road with 2 thin tire tracks to follow. Later that day when we were stopped for construction, one of the construction workers filled us in on the process called chip something or other. All I know is it suuuuuuuucks. Going throught the construction is where we had bear encounter 3, this time it was just a bear running across the road. Still haven’t seen a moose (and I’d be totally fine if it stayed that way!)

Throughout the day we’d come upon sections under construction which were at various stages of curing. Some sections still had a lot of loose gravel just sitting on the surface, some sections had 2 oily tire tracks running down them and some sections were just bumpy.

We stopped at the Yukon Motel and Restaurant for a burger. This had been our original planned stopping place, but we decided to trust our Aussie friends and make for Tagish instead (I tend to trust anyone with an Australian accent for some reason). Along the way we met a man from China who bought his BMW F800GS in California and took 80 days off work to come ride.

We arrived at the campground recommended by Mick and Jen and we mentioned their names. Apparently everyone here loved them and had been very sad to see them leave yesterday. The campground owner says she’ll text them to let them know we arrived. We made friends with Ted, a local, and Peter from Ontario on a trip on his Triumph Tiger.

Peter had just done the Dempster highway but had to turn back after the arctic circle sign because of wet conditions. He said he’d seen a number of bad wrecks up there. He reminds us of something that has been in the back of our mind – failure is definitely an option here. If it rains, we might not make it up to Inuvik. 

Bedtime now. WiFi seems to be rare so there aren’t as many photos as I’d like as it eats data. Will do a photo dump later.

Arctic Circle Trip - Day: 1

Happy Canada Day! Fitting that we start this trip today.

Today the plan was Calgary AB to Prince George BC via the Yellowhead Hwy

We left around 8:30am and set off for Lake Louise with our heavily loaded bikes. Didn't get far before we had to stop as there was a major wreck on the #1 highway near Cochrane. Looked like several cars, a boat and a motorcycle all involved.

After getting through the traffic we headed west on #1 with the goal to get to Lake Louise for a coffee. When we saw queue of cars waiting to turn off the highway into Lake Louise, we thought better of it.

Stopped for Gas at The Crossing Resort which was bizzare because they had modern pumps, but they had a guy who supervised you pump gas and then when you finished, he wrote it down on a post it and you took it to a cashier to pay.

Saw the Columbian ice field.

Jasper was nice, but we got in just as their Canada Day parade was ending so it was very crowded. Still had our sandwiches and a coffee from Tim Hortons. The people were very friendly - lots of people stopped to ask where we were going. Someone told us there was nothing between McBride and Prince George. We made a mental note to make sure we filled the bikes up in McBride. It started raining just as we left.

We continued up the Yellowhead Highway to get to our destination for the night: Prince George. There are signs all over the place warning of Moose and Elk. At one point we say what was either a smallish moose or a bear crossing the road (it was too far away to tell which it was).

We had short burst of rain as we approached McBride and then finally Prince George. The hotel gave us the wrong key and we ended up walking into a room and finding clothes spread out on the bed and the shower running. We exited quickly and got the correct key.