Lake Laberge to Five Finger Rapids
Back on the highway it is a long run up to Dawson. The pavement is good, the road meanders around mountains, over hills and through gentle valleys. The path of the highway is along the eastern slope of the Dawson range of mountains roughly following the path of the Yukon River. Gas stops are between 100 km and 160 km apart, separated by the spectacular scenery showcasing northern wilderness. If your machine fails out here, it is a long walk to civilization unless another vehicle happens to pass by.
Rounding a gentle curve in the road, I am surprised by a flag lady in the middle of nowhere commanding me to stop and wait for some road construction. I shut my bike off and we have a pleasant conversation about this being her summer job and plans to return to University down south in the fall. In the five minutes I wait for the all clear sign, two vehicles line up behind me. This provides a good indication of traffic frequency along this route.
About ten minutes north of my first gas stop at Carmacks there is a pullout for the overlook of the Five Finger rapids section of the Yukon River. This was another tricky section for the early gold rushers. Floating down the Yukon on your homemade barge (assuming you made it through Miles Canyon) with the two thousand pounds of food and supplies you hauled up over the Chilkoot trail, you drift around a corner to find you are faced with the choice of floating through one of four channels separated by pillars of rock. Those that had been through this before knew that the broadest channel which seemed like the easiest one to float through was actually the most dangerous. An underwater ledge cause the water to drop two feet which capsized or broke apart many of these handmade barges. Only one narrow channel was deep enough to be safe.
Once again I am struck by another example in life where sharing your experiences openly with others can help them through a rough spot. Had the knowledgeable locals and experienced Yukoners kept their experiences to themselves, many more ÔÇ£greenhorn flotillasÔÇØ would have been destroyed on their journey down the Yukon. How much better could we do with our mental health journeys if we would more openly share our experiences with others? I am sure the first person to lose his ÔÇ£outfitÔÇØ through the Five Finger Rapids was not ostracized when he shared his experience with the next person to try. Why and how has society decided to allow this stigma to be attached to mental health?
Ogilvie Bridge to the Arctic Circle
Contrary to my initial thoughts, the Dempster is not a straight path through a boring prairie tundra. The road winds through gentle sweeping turns, climbing, descending and banking through gentle mountain passes. The road surface changes from gravel to clay and back again and I have to concentrate completely on the path I am taking. Riding on many other desolate Yukon highways, concentration may slip to 30% or 40% as the mind chases other fleeting thoughts but on this road, anything less than 100% concentration is quickly rewarded with very exciting consequences. Ruts, bumps and soft mounds of gravel all conspire to throw my narrow tires off course. The miles and hours pass in an almost zen-like existence. The concentration is tiring and by mid morning I find the warmth of the sun is adding weight to my eyelids. I find a pullout, stop the bike and listen for a moment to buzz of mosquitoes, chirp of birds, the nearby babbling creek and the whisper of wind through the leaves. Propping my bike on the sidestand, I slump over my stuffed tank bag and drift off into dreamworld. Twenty minutes later, I awake with a start and return completely refreshed to the road.
IÔÇÖm only on the road for about ten minutes when I round a bend and a view of the Ogilvie River greets my eyes. I stop for a few minutes at this seemingly innocuous crossing to take a number of pictures. This bridge is one of two on the Dempster that was constructed by Canadian Army units based in Chilliwack during the initial construction of the highway. A friend of mine who was part of that operation told me they set the forms for the concrete supports in the middle of winter at forty below and colder when the river was frozen. In this land of permafrost and constantly shifting soils, the bridge has remained solid all these years, a tribute to the fine engineering capabilities of our Canadian soldiers.
The road winds along the Ogilvie River for a short time before climbing up and following the ridgeline of mountains as it heads north. The tripmeter on my motorcycle reads 285 as the low fuel light flickers on. IÔÇÖm not as worried this time as I was back on Highway 37, IÔÇÖm now packing an additional 5 litres of gas which should give me the range to bring me safely to Eagle Plains.
My calculations are accurate as I roll into the service area with my engine still running strong. My tank requires 16.27 litres to top it off so I think I had about 3 litres left before I had to start walking. Looking up and down the highway as far as I could see (the Eagle Plains complex is built on a hilltop so I could see quite a distance) there was not another fuel station in sight so I did not argue with their $1.69 per litre.
It strikes me, as I buy my gas, that IÔÇÖm about at the half way point on my journey to Inuvik. Before I left, I was telling people that when I was half way between Inuvik and Dawson on the Dempster Highway, I would be in a very isolated location and could be in great danger. I should have researched that location a little better I suppose. There have been times on this journey so far when I have been much more isolated than I am now.
This was a ÔÇ£gas and goÔÇØ stop for me. I had topped off my tank at the Dempster Corner six hours ago. I was half way to Inuvik and the ferries stop running close to midnight (I wasnÔÇÖt sure exactly when but I knew I had no time to dawdle).
Back on the road to the bottom of the hill, I stop for pictures of the Eagle River crossing. This was the other bridge constructed by the guys from CFB Chilliwack but differs from the first in that it is a freespan rather than supported cantilever bridge.
As the road climbs out of the Eagle River Valley, winds become noticeably more forceful. About 17 km from the bridge I pull to the side of the road for another photo opportunity. I have reached the Arctic Circle. As I roll into this turnout I am surprised to see a gentleman sitting at a picnic table with a bicycle hooked up to a trailer parked in front of the commemorative/information panel. Despite a time constraint imposed by the ferry schedule, I am interested to hear about his experiences.
Against the backdrop of incredible scenery, he tells me that he is only a few years from retirement but he had always wanted to bicycle across Canada. A number of years ago he set up a schedule where he would take about three weeks every year to cycle a leg that will take him closer to his goal, this year it was time for the north. Cycling alone gives him a time to reflect on the past year and consider the future direction he wants to take personally as well as with his career. He meets many interesting people along the way and sees amazing things. He considers himself extremely fortunate to be healthy enough for this activity and to have a career that he not only enjoys immensely but allows him the freedom to pursue this interest. The wisdom he shares with me reminds me how important it is to have big goals. In order to realistically achieve big goals we often have to be flexible enough to set smaller achievable goals that together will realize our overall target.
Riding around the Klondike Gold Fields
The Klondike Gold rush story has been a fascination of mine for many years.
My first night in Dawson (before riding up the Dempster), I had camped beside some people who were working a claim located about ninety minutes drive out of town (and nearly inaccessible at that). They are in the process of trying to reach bedrock so they can discover if there is enough gold at current prices to actually establish a mine. When I expressed interest in coming out to see what they were working on they referred me to a more established operation that was sure to be more appropriate for my level of interest. I questioned a few other people in town and was referred to the same operation.
Goldbottom Creek, I am told, is about an hourÔÇÖs drive out of town along Hunker Creek Road. I check the time and find there is more than enough time to get there but not enough to see both the Goldbottom operation and the Number 4 Dredge out on Bonanza Creek. I recall reading in one of my books about a disillusioned miner from the 1898 gold rush hiking out of Dawson and up the Midnight Dome, looking sadly down on the city of dreams that ÔÇ£left so many unfulfilled.ÔÇØ The Midnight DomeÔÇª.I think I saw a road for that close to my campgroundÔÇª..and off I go.
The road up the Midnight Dome leaves from the main road just east of Dawson, winds through a large lot subdivision and ends up atop a hill overlooking the city and Yukon River Valley. The road up is flawless asphalt with beautiful twists and peg scraping turns. This is unquestionably a road that can not be missed if you are in the area on a motorcycle. It is short but sweet ÔÇô I ride up and down a few times just because it is so much fun. The vista from the top is very helpful for putting the geography of the goldfields into perspective. Facing south I look over Dawson to my right and can look up the Yukon River at the bend miners would float around on their final approach into the Klondike. To the southeast I can see straight down Bonanza Creek and off to the east I can trace the Klondike River almost out to where Hunker Creek joins it. For those who donÔÇÖt know the story, the biggest finds were on Bonanza Creek and the discovery was made by a couple of people who had just been visiting a long-time prospector over on Hunker Creek days before they struck it rich. There was some tension in the visit and although the two creeks are not far apart, the long-time prospector was never told what he was missing until it was too late to stake anything.
I ponder that start to the gold rush as I drop off the Midnight Dome and ride up the valley to the east. Hunker Creek Road is a winding dirt, gravel and sand road that takes me up to the Goldbottom mine located at the confluence of Hunker and Goldbottom creeks.
IÔÇÖm still about 20 minutes early for the tour but a young lady comes out of one of the ramshackle buildings and gives me a short overview on the gold panning process so that I can play in the dirt and water while I wait for the official tour to begin. I find out that she is a local girl who has just graduated from high school and will be off to college in the fall. She is the daughter of the mine owner and has been teaching tourists to pan for gold since she was six years old (ÔÇ£they listen now better than they used toÔÇØ she tells me). Her dad took over the mine operation from her grandfather who had been working it since the early 1950s and her grandmother is still actively leading tours through the operation. The bigger surprise comes when I discover that her grandmother spends winters in my hometown and is good friends with a few of my friends.
It is a small group of three that tour the mine and learn about the mining process. Our tour guide is also a young local girl who does a great job of explaining the mining process including the bureaucratic parts pertaining to registering a claim, proving it and working it. She tells us this operation has to recover at least one ounce per hour to break even and much of the land in this area is now being mined for at least the third time. As I listen to her explanations, watch the equipment working and think about the prospectors I was camped beside that first night in Dawson I am struck by the amount of work and capital it takes to establish and maintain a mine in this area. I didnÔÇÖt see a lot of new shiny equipment around so I suspect the margins are pretty thin in this business.
The innate optimism and inner strength a person must have to be successful as a fledgling operator in this business is absolutely astonishing. I think about all the pitfalls and disappointments that are bound to occur but I donÔÇÖt see despair in the faces of those who are working away their dreams (despite the small returns).
The tour is over, I have a great visit with Rona Millar, the lady who spends her winters in my home town and I head south on my motorcycle to ride the ÔÇ£Goldfields LoopÔÇØ. On my motorcycle or any dual sport bike, this is a great ride. During the gold rush these creeks were populated by thousands of people. The Bonanza Creek was the richest but there was gold on Hunker Creek, Quartz Creek, Sulphur Creek and Dominion Creek. All of these creeks have their headwaters in an area that came to be known as ÔÇ£King SolomonÔÇÖs Dome.ÔÇØ For many years, miners thought the mother lode of the gold in all the creeks lay in hidden in ÔÇ£King SolomonÔÇÖs Dome ÔÇô the mountain in the centre of the five rich gold bearing creeks. Today there are roads through out this area and the mountainsides are scarred with exploration trails and channels of years gone by. The ride down Hunker Creek to King SolomonÔÇÖs Dome and back up Bonanza Creek is about a 90 km loop. I ride up to the top of the Dome (where a microwave tower now stands ÔÇô sign at the bottom says the road is not maintained, use at your own risk). The road is rough and steep but my 650 manages very well. At the top I dismount and walk around the summit viewing each creek radiating out like spokes from a central hub. It is easy to see how this hill would be suspected of holding a mother lode.
I ride down the steep little hill and turn the bike out toward Bonanza Creek. The road descends rather steeply and I travel quite a distance further than I thought I should. I seem to be a little further southÔÇª.the map and my GPS are in a bit of disagreement. I end up in the middle of a fairly active mine site and think I may be lost. Well, I know how to get back to where I was, but not how to get to where I want to be which is on Bonanza Creek. I find someone to talk to and they confirm that I missed a directional sign. I ride back toward King SolomonÔÇÖs Dome and out to Bonanza Creek, Gold Dredge # 4 and Discovery Claim.
As I approach the Dredge, I can see it is closed for the day. This was not high on my priority list although it would be interesting to go through. I ride further down the road to Discover Claim and see Parks Canada has created a very informative walking path through the area with informational panels. I park my bike and walk over to the creek where the first discovery was made. I wonder how much this area has changed and what it really looked like 104 years ago when George Carmacks dipped his pan into the water washing out those first nuggets. The area looks pristine and natural now but I know the land has been mined at least three times since that day.
As I turn and think about walking further down the path, the sky opens releasing a torrent of rain. I head back to my bike and ride into town for supper.
Tonight IÔÇÖll eat out. IÔÇÖve seen the gold fields and I head over to the Eldorado Hotel. Rona had told me the Eldorado was the local hangout and I had to go there just to experience it.
Tomorrow I head up over the Top of the World HighwayÔÇª.I hope the weather will clear. The picture is of Bonanza Creek, where the gold rush began, taken from the top of the Midnight Dome. More pictures are on my website [url]www.road2blue.com[/url]