Tatoo segment is coming...
Day 4 Flathead Lake MT to outside Prince George, BC May 22
We arose early, crossed the rest of beautiful Montana, auguring North into Canada via Eureka, MT. The boarder crossing was uneventful - I switched the speed reading on my GPS over to KPH and settled in for the ride.
By midday we were heading up into Banff National Park, soon greeted by Big Horn Sheep patiently sunning themselves by the side of the road. Banff abuts Jasper National Park - really a continuous park right on the spine of the Canadian Rockies. Put this on your 'Bucket List" if you've never been here.
Here lies the Icefields Parkway - an astonishing ribbon of smooth asphalt slicing between two ranges of unique towering (and this early in the season snowy) mountains. On and on this road ran Northwest - sometimes through snowfields but always on nearly empty roads - a benefit of heading North early in the season.
A local BMW rider Dave had met a couple of years earlier, Bill, had been tracking us via Dave's 'Spot' GPS Transponder on the internet - and met us at the Crossing Resort about half way up the Parkway. Coffee and a quick sandwich - Bill was ready to twist throttles, ride with us and show us his fantastic 'backyard'.
The Columbia Glacier was awe inspiring - the sheer size of the glacier and the vast distance both conspired to confuse us flatlanders. Bill pointed out a dot in the distance that was a glacier tour bus… then showed us its twin in the parking lot. I got it. Glaciers are almost incomprehensibly huge.
We rode to Jasper, fueled up bikes (and bodies), and headed further up to Mt. Robson - Bill peeled off to camp and Dave and I pressed Northward, dropping in altitude as the darkness gathered.
We stopped for fuel and a cute lady Greyhound driver - walking back to her waiting bus and passengers - asked if we were riding North to Prince George? I answered in the affirmative and she cautioned that - though the 'moose, bear and critters' were generally 'well behaved', staying on the side of the road - they occasionally wandered. "Be very careful", she warned - clearly a voice of experience.
Highway 16 twisted and turned - I watched both the altitude - and temperature drop - and the shadows on the narrow highway darkened into inky black night. We had ridden 14 hours at this point but I turned up the wick, lit up the powerful Hella driving lights - turning night into day and powered on.
I glimpsed moose and bear on the roadside, and prayed that the driver was right. Quickly we caught up to her Greyhound bus - I doused my driving lights, passed, waved and lit up the Hellas again.
I passed a number of vehicles - Dave told me later that a large deer ran right behind my bike as I passed a pickup missing me by just a few feet - Dave was wisely trailing a ways back.
At some point Dave passed me - I flicked off the driving lights and let Dave's PIIAs take point.
Suddenly Dave's brake lights went full on and I saw a gigantic Moose lumber (gallop?) (Sprint?) across the road in front of him. Threshold braking - and a thoughtful gap between us - kept this story.. and trip.. from ending.
We wisely decided to pull into the next campground and called it a day after 16 hours of hard riding. I went straight to my sleeping bag with no dinner - I think I saw Dave grumpily chewing a Granola bar as I zipped my tent shut.
Last edited by Beemer01; 07-29-2009 at 03:35 PM.
Awesome is a word that has been beaten to death and somehow in my mind has lost it's punch from overuse but those mountains are truly . . . . . awesome.
OK, bring on the tats . . . oh and the pirates and parrots and . . . . . .
Last edited by wezul; 07-30-2009 at 01:28 PM.
Dave's version of the 'Blood on the highway' segment...
.....'blood on the highway'. excerpt from my trip notes...it's not like adventure won't find you out there.
"The road was in pretty good shape, although there were the usual gravel construction zones including some on long grades. No real difficulty if you stayed alert. We had maintained good speed and were running 75 on chipseal when I raised my visor to push my sunglasses back up. Before I closed the visor, something hit me on the right side of my nose, a bull’s eye. I have no idea what hit me, but it opened me up like I’d been cut with a straight razor. By the time I hit the brakes and got to the shoulder I was already covered with blood. I had blood all over my face and neck, helmet, riding jacket, pants, boots, bike…everywhere. I had a hand up to my face to try to keep it under control and was afraid to let go long enough to get my helmet off.
The bike was still running, and blood was just pouring out of me. Freakin’ A, I think I have a little problem here. I fumbled around in my cargo pockets for some paper towels I keep to clean the visor. They get used up one after the other and now there was a growing pile of blood soaked paper towels beside the bike. I see Beemer coming back and he turns around and parks in front of me, walks back and says “What the hells going on, you look like you’ve been shot”.
I’m not sure what’s going on, but the only thing I can do is to wait it out. I can’t ride right now anyway, and there’s no help for miles in either direction.
After 45 minutes the bleeding had slowed to a drip and after an hour I was able to get cleaned up enough to ride. We took it easy to the next fuel stop and when I pulled up to the pump a smiling young gal came out to fuel the bike. I was looking her direction when I raised my visor and when she got a look at my face she jumped back about five feet.
I said “I need to get cleaned up.” She pointed in the direction of the restrooms, turned on her heels, and took off in the other direction. Never said a word, I must have scared her. I locked myself in the restroom and tried to get some of the blood off me. Every time I touched my nose it would start bleeding again.
A half hour of work and it was as good as I could get it. Unfortunately, the restroom looked like there had been a chainsaw murder in there. Sorry about that. This whole thing was real old at this point and I was starting to get a little twitch in my left eye. I didn’t feel like thinking about it anymore.
Maybe I could get Beemer to ride ahead and find some bar with a wet T-shirt contest.
Let’s hit the road, things can only get better."
Last edited by Beemer01; 01-19-2010 at 02:59 AM.
Day 7. Watson Lake to Mayo - 15 hours May 25
The Campbell Highway is a stunning road, and a great introduction to the dirt roads of the far North. Graded - kinda, and sometimes treated with a calcium chloride solution (Maintenance crews mix bags of calcium chloride with tankers of water and flood the dirt roads - the solution sets up, binding the dirt and rocks into a harder road surface which is largely dust free. However when it is still wet, it's like riding in wet concrete - and when it rains it gets as slick as owl **** - what fun!)
Fantastic views, but travel speeds on any road like this are far slower than paved roads - we encountered rain, squalls of hail, mud, deep gravel, freshly graded sections and deep windrows of dirt and gravel that had to be navigated with great care.
The TCK-80 tires worked very well, traction was good…. and often needed. Note - if you go to Google maps, the Campbell Highway isn't even shown out of Watson Lake YT - switch to the satellite view and you can see it as a trace through the forests and mountains.
We made it to Ross River, and were grateful to find gas…. we'd burned our primary tanks and emptied our gas cans many, many, many miles back.
We found a 'restaurant' in a hotel that was under reconstruction and they fed us. Then it started to rain in earnest, sheets of water and hail, further converting the dirt roads around the town to slop. We shrugged, remounted our bikes and headed out.
BTW, the solution to nearly all problems in riding in slop is to power on - that's exactly what we did.
We wound up in Carmacks - another mining town of yore where we stopped to try and wash off some of the Campbell Highway dust, mud and grime. A Dutch tourist - who incredibly keeps his personal RV in Anchorage and comes over for extended vacations in the spring and fall every year - came over to practice his English.
If I hadn't mentioned this, Dave is amazingly outgoing and seems to attract people. He was soon swapping stories with our new friend. Our visitor went on to tell us that Black bears were the most dangerous - he wasn't worried about Grizzlies.
Dave and I grew up in Minnesota and both have more than a bit of bear experience - I think we collectively gasped.
Dave explained the Bear hierarchy - Polar Bears are probably the most dangerous - Grizzlies are close behind and black bears generally the least threat. All can be lethal, but we've both chased a lot of black bears out of camps and lived to tell the tale. We were just concerned that the Grizzlies that he loves to watch catching fall salmon, might develop a taste for Dutch tourists.
We made Mayo and the Provincial campground…. which was completely empty. We paid our fees to the envelope box and decided to set up our tents in the pavilion on the smooth level wooden floors. I started a fire in the fire box, opened my whisky and kicked back to relax in relative comfort.
Last edited by Beemer01; 01-15-2010 at 09:49 PM.
Day 8. Mayo to Eagle Plain Lodge on the Dempster. May 26
We packed and left the campground and decided to head further up the Sliver Trail Highway to Keno City - a very old and completely authentic Silver Mining Town at the end of the road. No 'Disney treatment' here - a few people actually do live here, but we saw not a soul.
No gas, no breakfast, no coffee (gasp).
There is a very rough 'path/road' graded out of the mountain to let scientists and tourists go up the mountain to view indigenous Arctic Butterflies in season. Evidently the season starts a bit later, for though we rode miles and miles up this winding 'trail' - I didn't see a single butterfly.
I did however see a whole lot of snow and mud…. and the deeply rutted rocky muddy road often with ice water rushing down in the ruts. Several times I was forced to stop, and plot my strategy and route up the next section - here a loaded 550 pound bike can be a bit of a liability. We finally stopped when this fading path vanished into melting snow drifts.
We rode down the grade without incident and headed onto the paved Klondike Highway and then North to the start of the legendary Dempster Highway.
On my GPS, I set up sunrise and sundown times, as we relentlessly made our way North these times got closer and closer together.. and then suddenly blanked out. We'd reached the land of the Midnight sun.
The Dempster Highway was built to reach the Canadian Arctic's oil and mining regions - like the Campbell it’s a graded dirt road, sometimes treated with calcium chloride, often not …. to paraphrase Dickens - it's the best of roads and the worst of roads - sometimes the same section.
And all within 24 hours.
The Dempster terminates at Inuvik hard on the Arctic Ocean- but we couldn't going to make it that far this May - the two ferries that cross the rivers weren't operating yet, something about ice chunks the size of suburban houses still floating downstream to the Arctic Ocean.
There were two signs at the foot of the Dempster, one for tourist snapshots and the other - well, the other was a warning that I don't see too often.
The vistas were stunning - and the road seemed endless, constantly stretching across valleys and disappearing over still another hill. The weather is constantly and sometimes violently shifting driven by winds, eerie mountains of the Nahoni Range and the not too distant Arctic Ocean.
The Dempster seemed endless - I could sometimes see the road stretching across valleys ten or more miles in the distance.
We rode 14 hours this day, crossing more mountain passes, riding along ridges with endless views to either side, and finding the usual mix of seasonal weather, arriving at long anticipated Eagle Plain Lodge… just after the restaurant closed. The manager was good enough to call the cook back to work - he fixed us some very expensive sandwiches. Rooms at this empty dusty 'lodge' started.. and ended.. at $140 a night, we opted for the free camping on the edge of the dusty parking lot…. but you couldn't beat our view.....As long as you didn't look at the ramshackle collection of fading prefab buildings that constituted the Eagle Plain Lodge.
Since there would be no night, I slept with my baseball cap over my eyes - dead to the world.
Last edited by Beemer01; 01-19-2010 at 03:11 AM.
Facinating story the way you are telling it. I have spent lots of time hunting the Yukon, BC and AK and am reliving all of those trips. I have my Yukon map in front of the computer and am really living it.
Have made it as far as Hyder , AK on two wheels but hope to change that if the body holds up for a few more years. The years are piling up.
Keep it coming and "Thanks" for the memories.
Day 9 - Eagle Plain Lodge to Dawson City. May 27
I'd say that we awoke at dawn, but since there was no dawn, it was probably 5:00AM. I was also starting to lose track of what time zone we were in.
We knocked down camp in a matter of minutes and returned to the Lodge (really the usual bunch of prefab structures so common up here - architecture and aesthetics take a back seat to quick construction and insulation)
I arrived a few minutes after Dave and found him completely engaged in conversation with everyone in the dining room - OK there were only 3 other people, but still..
One of the people was a young First Nations guy. Dave had taught himself quite a bit about the various tribes indigenous to this region, and knew them by name. There are darn few tourists up here and even fewer who know the various tribes names. At the end of the conversation, the young man gave Dave two enameled Tribal pins as a gift. Very neat and a very memorable moment.
Breakfast was - well whatever they had. Substitutions on the menu due to unavailable ingredients are a standard part of the ordering process.
Dave and I headed North again to reach the Arctic Circle… for the first time this trip.
Note - the local ground squirrel resident under the display may have been on vacation - perhaps relaxing in Florida.
We returned through Eagle Plain and topped off the tanks and cans - Dave noticed the center of an alloy wheel off of a car nailed to the wall and asked the story behind it. The attendant said that a Chinese guy had driven his rental car - against every possible written clause in the rental contract - up the Dempster, probably business related since the Chinese have reportedly invested in mining activities up there.
They think he blew a tire 80 miles or more from Eagle Plain Lodge …. and rather than stopping to change the tire he kept driving. And driving. Someone back in China had told him that if you stopped on the Dempster packs of wolves would kill and eat you. Terrified, he kept driving, through what was left of the rubber tire, wore off the rim, the brake disc and half of the control arm. And I would imagine significant parts of the car body. All that was left when he ground into the station was a 6" cross section of the alloy wheel bolted to what was left of the assembly.
OK, don't believe us - the wheel is nailed to the wall of the station and that's the story we got…. honest.
The return trip was just as trying as the trip up, both ways were made easier by the general absence of the eighteen wheelers that ply this route heading up to Inuvik - they'd shut down their trips due to the closed ferries.
Note - drivers of the heavy trucks on these roads on all these transport roads are on a mission - they do not slow down for bikers heading the opposite direction. Golf ball sized stones are routinely hurled in your direction at high speed - the few drivers we did encounter gave me useful practice in dodging these incoming missiles.
We got back to the Klondike Highway after 300 more miles of the Dempster and wound up in Dawson City where we washed down the road dust with a couple of beers and dinner.
Dawson City is ringed by a fantastic number of stone piles, remnants of the town's gold mining past. Dave and I rode to the top of the Dome, a high point overlooking Dawson and the Yukon River. Jack London would have been pround of us.
We queued up to take the ferry across the rampaging Yukon River - really this river must flow past at 20 or more KPH. The access ramps for the ferry consistent of gravel dumped into the river to form a temporary ramp to shore - they have a Cat dozer on both sides of the river with gigantic piles of sacrificial gravel - they rebuild each 'ramp' several times a day. (These soft gravel ramps are great fun to ride on with loaded bikes.)
We camped in the Provincial Campground across the river. Tomorrow we were to cross the 'Top of the World' mountain pass.
I noted that there were no vehicles of any type coming down the mountain from that pass. Hmmm.
Last edited by Beemer01; 08-01-2009 at 02:42 PM.
Day 10 - Dawson City to Fairbanks via Chicken, Alaska May 29
We started off bright and early - as per usual - and headed up to the Top of the World Highway. I'm sure the views are fantastic - except I could see absolutely nothing. Blowing clouds, rain, fog and a varied road surface (mud, gravel, paved sections) all conspired to make this a bit of a harrowing run.
Naturally there are absolutely no barriers on the sides of this treacherous road - Dave tells me that there were very steep drop offs hiding in the clouds, fog and snow.
Eventually we wound down to lower altitudes and crossed into Alaska at Poker Creek, the Northernmost and certainly one of the more isolated boarder crossings on this continent. The customs agent was dutiful and cheerful as he stamped our passports and waved us through.
We wound down to Chicken Alaska - a truly motley and cheerful collection of three rather vintage buildings. With an outhouse at the end. The lovely proprietor of the restaurant was baking up a storm - pies, cinnamon rolls, and muffins were lined up on the counter while the short order cook fixed us our delayed breakfast - ummmm!
I looked askance at the baked goods, I mean how many people could possibly find, much less visit Chicken? She told us that the tour busses - full of Asian and European Tourists were enroute up from Fairbanks - this outpost was a fixed stop on their 'wilderness tour' of Alaska.
We gassed up and headed down to Fairbanks. Returning to civilization was jarring - paved roads - access ramps, even paved areas around the fuel pumps! As we rode into urban Fairbanks, I noticed a young woman on a Harley riding down an access ramp and pulling in front of us. 30ish, and cute with the usual jeans, chaps, sunglasses and a shorty helmet over her brunette ponytail. At the first stop light she leaned over and invited us for a drink… and a chance to see all her tattoos.
Obviously ATGATT (All the gear, all the time), works well, she couldn't possibly have known she was propositioning two guys who would never see 50 again!
I was probably in my full BMW curmudgeon mode… we declined and rode on.
Dave had wisely booked ahead availing the generosity of the University of Alaska Fairbanks - they will rent to summer travelers. Soft beds, free showers and a free laundry make for a great deal.
I hit the hay early, grateful for not having to inflate my mattress - dimly aware that we were aiming for the Haul Road tomorrow - Dave assured me that it was easier than the Dempster.
That was not to be the case.
Last edited by Beemer01; 08-01-2009 at 02:50 PM.
Day 11. Fairbanks to Deadhorse (Prudhoe Bay) on the Arctic Ocean. May 30
This was the day to tackle the Haul Road - the James Dalton Highway currently featured on Ice road Truckers. The Haul road was built to support the construction of the Alaskan Pipeline in 1974 - parallel engineering feats of the highest order.
We fueled up bikes, gas cans and bellies and headed North. Early reports were that the distant Atigun Pass - the highest and Northernmost mountain pass in Alaska - was closed due to a late season blizzard.
My gut told me that it takes a lot for them to close this pass.
We headed in - the pavement vanishing just a few yards onto the Dalton. Riding conditions were… interesting. Road crews were grading and flooding the roadway with calcium chloride and water. As they are doing this, they are creating a road of deep slippery mud and gravel with deep windrows that must be crossed at acute angles at road speed. Great fun when you add in oncoming trucks and graders working the road.
Rule #1. Never put your feet down when you feel the wheels break traction. Nothing good will come from this.
Rule #2. More power solves most problems most of the time.
The Haul Road was initially far worse than the Dempster - scary bad some moments. Steep grades and the abovementioned road conditions made me despair. Then suddenly we were on pavement. Speeds increased and life was good, until it suddenly vanished as quickly as it began. This pattern would repeat at seemingly random intervals for the next 500 miles - I occasionally wonder how they select which sections get the asphalt.
Unlike the Canadians, Americans are not so good at marking when the pavement ends and the gravel and muck resume. I was more than occasionally caught off guard - launching onto treacherous gravel and mud at 60 MPH.
On the side of the road we could see the pipeline snaking its way South - sometimes above ground, sometimes buried, always a presence.
We got to Coldfoot - the halfway point and read the eighteen hours old road closure report on the pass. The waitress said that she'd heard that some people had gotten through - but her information was sketchy and second hand. The Brooks Range to the North was draped in clouds. We gassed up and twisted throttles. I was apprehensive as I turned up my grips and electric vest and turned up the Dalton pointing North.
The altitude got steadily higher - I crested a rise and saw white as the road began to snake up switchbacks to the pass. A semi truck was headed down the grade on to refined slop that passes for a roadbed on this part of the Dalton. I braked, let him pass and followed Dave up the grade - snow getting deeper on the sides of the road, freezing 6" deep mud getting even deeper under my tires.
Visibility dropped to perhaps 100 feet as occasionally snowflakes mixed in with the blowing clouds and fog….. and still upward we ground on grades that got steep - 8-12 degrees with switchbacks.
Atigun pass tops out at 4800 feet, I'm sorry to say that while I'm sure the views are breathtaking, I saw none of them - I focused on maintaining traction, staying upright and navigating ruts, not using the front brake and trying to see the road.
Whilst I was thinking of myself as the noble adventurer, I did note another set of motorcycle tracks that had preceded us - some other lunatic had our front door.
Eventually we began to lose altitude and rolled out of the Brooks Range onto the high Tundra. The views just got more and more fantastic - the camera cannot do justice to what we saw that day.
An Arctic Fox ran across the road, his coat almost finished changing from snow white to red and brown - herds of Caribou grazed along the road, some grazing almost beneath the pipeline.
A dot appeared on the distant road ahead - OMG. It was a bicyclist. Riding up grade, loaded with panniers, bumping on the dodgy gravel surface and managing 4.0 MPH against the wind.
Naturally he was British.
A cheerful chap, he'd hatched this adventure by checking maps and had flown into Deadhorse with his bike and kit all packed up. Thinking back 80 miles or so, I wondered if he'd anticipated Atigun Pass.
We wished him luck and continued our quest for Deadhorse. Gradually the high Tundra gave way to vast unending wetlands - as the snow and ice receded, this region is converted into pools of water and brush. Hundreds of thousands of Ross Geese had paired off and were making nests - everywhere… and as far as the eye could see.
We eventually made Prudhoe Bay - you can see the equipment 20 miles away… it's that flat. Deadhorse is essentially a series of corporate compounds with muddy roads weaving between them. Since we were there in the early Spring - we saw billions of dollars worth of oilfield equipment parked for the season - entire rigs were sitting in the fenced yards. Deadhorse is also completely manufactured - the entire compound sits on millions of truckloads of compacted gravel and dirt - thus creating and raising Deadhorse above the swampy tundra.
At the Arctic Caribou Inn we discovered the bike ridden by the guy who preceded us up this 500 mile road…. He'd ridden this sloppy, snowy, muddy road on a BMW R1200 RT…with street tires. We were impressed.
We rented a room - $190 per night - there are no choices, there is no camping. The First Nations lady, Isabelle, who ran the place was friendly and showed us around. These places live and die by their food - the Inn had an executive chef and a full complement of food to select from 7/24/365. No alcohol.
The men (and a few women) who work the Arctic oilfields do so for a good paycheck - looked like a pretty focused bunch to us.
We looked around for the rider of the RT - he was nowhere to be seen. We grabbed some food and I hit the hay - the midnight sun blocked by heavy curtains and my baseball cap.
Little did I know that the mechanical demons that lurk in our machines would manifest themselves the next day…
Last edited by Beemer01; 01-15-2010 at 09:47 PM.
Dave's version of the Yukon River crossing - he's right - I forgot her..
Crossing the Yukon
from Dave's trip notes-
"When we get to the other side of the river there arenÔÇÖt any cars waiting for the trip back to Dawson. Just a lone walk on passenger was waiting for the ferry and the whole thing started a slight list to port when all the deck hands came over to get a look.
A statuesque blond, she was wearing about 40% of her entire body weight up high on her chest. Not only that, but she was making some casual ÔÇ£adjustmentsÔÇØ to her night-on-the-town attire, oblivious to her audience.
IÔÇÖm betting that as a child she left the underwear off her Barbie doll. Good Lordy! ÔÇ£Hey Beemer, maybe we should go back to Dawson and see what happens.ÔÇØ That girl could find herself the object of a couple good fist fights wherever she went, maybe even gunfire if she set her mind to it.
ÔÇ£Nah, we gottaÔÇÖ go campingÔÇØ. Damn, we were going to miss out for sure. "
She looked even better in person-words don't do her justice.
I do remember this Lass - I don't remember suggesting that camping would be better than following her back to the local watering holes. I do recall that Dave - for once - called it a night before I did. North of 50 tends to reduce my late nights.
Hey I'm ready for more. Great pictures and RR!