Through the Yukon

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I’ve been riding through the Yukon Territory for two days and I still don’t know whether it’s called Yukon Territory, the Yukon or simply Yukon. I guess it doesn’t really matter in the long run. In any case, it’s awe-inspiring country.

I don’t know why, but in my mind’s eye, I had always pictured the Yukon as a vast, frozen and featureless expanse of ice and snow. I realized after arriving here that somewhere in my brain, I must have gotten the Yukon confused with the North Pole.

Sure, it’s vast. In fact, it’s vying for the top spot in the vastness department of any place I’ve ever seen. And, yes, for a good portion of the year it is a frozen expanse of ice and snow; but it is anything but featureless. It is an amazing landscape of valleys, mountain ranges and enormous rivers and lakes that everyone probably would have heard of if they were located anywhere south of here.

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I ran into a friend in Whitehorse. I met Dana Meise two years ago in Canmore. He stayed at my cabin for a few nights while waiting for some gear to be shipped from his sponsors to help him in his quest to become the first person to hike all 16,500 kilometers of the Trans Canada Trail. He’s since achieved that goal and is now hiking the northern trail all the way from Whitehorse to Tuktoyaktuk.

I’ve been following his progress on his page, “The Great Hike,” and realized we’d be in town at the same time, so we arranged to catch up over a couple of beers.
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Dana has a book coming out that will chronicle his journey. He passed on some advice that his publisher gave him about taking the time to experience the people and places along the way.

“Nobody wants to read about how many bunny rabbits you’ve seen and you can only write about the pain in your feet (or in my case, butt) so much before it gets tiresome,” he told me. For the record, I’ve seen four bunnies so far in case anyone does actually care.

I feel like I’ve been furiously clicking off the miles since I left Canmore, so I’m going to try to take that advice to heart. With that sentiment in mind, I plan on taking advantage of my early arrival into Dawson City and stop and smell the roses; the roses in Dawson City being an infamous shot of whisky with a mummified human toe in it at the Downtown Hotel, perhaps followed by a burlesque show. Hopefully it won’t run late, because I need to be in bed early.

I’ll need the rest because the next stretch of road is the Dempster Highway, an arduous 735 kilometer stretch of gravel and dirt that extends well past the Arctic Circle and continues all the way to Inuvik. Ooooh, sounds daunting…
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Starting Out on the Alaska Highway

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I hope everyone had a great July 4th with friends and family. Although there were no fireworks here, my day was exciting, nonetheless.

I started my morning at mile 1 of the famous Alaska Highway at the town of Dawson Creek with a raw gusty wind blowing sideways drizzle. The first few hundred kilometers took me through oil field country, so about once every ten seconds a massive semi would roar past in the opposite direction, buffeting the bike with a blast of muddy mist. Eventually, the rain let up and although the trucks were still ubiquitous, at least it was dry.

By this time I needed fuel, so I decided to stop at a town that, according to my top-notch research, had a gas station. In this neck of the woods, the towns are getting sparser and sparser and fuel stop planning is becoming more and more critical. When I arrived, I found an abandoned complex resembling a horror movie set.

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My trip computer predicted I would run out of fuel before the next town, but all I could do was cross my fingers and curse myself for not keeping the jerry can full in an attempt to save weight. I motored into Fort Nelson, BC with the indicator on E and the “km to Empty” display reading “——-.”

The jerry can is now full.

I sat next to a celebrity at lunch, which I wouldn’t have realized had not the guy on the other side of him said, “Are you Ken from ‘Yukon Gold?’”

“Yukon Gold” is apparently a reality show about prospectors in the Yukon.

Ken said he was indeed and the other guy, who must be Ken’s #1 fan, started shouting throughout the restaurant and pointing.

“Holy cow! It’s Ken from ‘Yukon Gold!’ This guy’s on television! Hey everybody! This guy’s on television! What are you doing in our little town? Unreal! Everyone! It’s Ken!”

At this point, this Ken guy was in such a hurry to get out of there that he accidentally paid my bill, which was more than his, and boogied out the front door. I figure a big shot TV star with bags full of gold can afford it.

The rest of the ride along the Alaskan Highway was breathtaking with long sweeping turns through northern Rocky Mountain passes and along cascading rivers only meters from the banks.

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At my next fuel stop, I met a busload of Amish tourists in the parking lot of. I didn’t know they took bus tours, but then why shouldn’t they? They seemed to be having a great time and I suppose it’s like any other group of retirees on a bus tour, except everyone has matching suspenders and beards. Daniel from Kentucky let me use his binoculars to look at a moose and her calf on the other side of the lake. Most of the Amish tourists had binoculars, but I saw no cameras. Apparently the line between acceptable and unacceptable technology falls somewhere between the two? A few miles later into the ride, I had to come to a complete stop for a herd of bison crossing the road and slowed down for a black bear.
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Now, at the end of an 850 km day, I’ve set up camp in Coal River, British Columbia and am working on this post. If all goes well, I should be in Whitehorse, Yukon by tomorrow afternoon.
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Setting Out – Camore to Dawson Creek

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I woke up in my Canmore cabin at 4:00 am and stared at the ceiling for half an hour before deciding that since I wasn’t going to get any more sleep, I might as well hit the road. I loaded up the bike and was on the road at 5:30 as the sun was coming over the mountains.

It was an early start, but here’s the thing, before I can turn around and start heading south, I have to go north; a very, very long way north. I figured I might as well get started.

Inuvik, where the road runs out near the shore of the Arctic Ocean on the Mackenzie River Delta, is the spot where I plan to turn around and head back south (not many other options, really). It sits at 68° North latitude and is 2200 road miles away. Incredibly, it is 400 miles farther from Canmore to Inuvik than from Canmore to Tijuana, Mexico. It’s a long haul.

The good news is that the road to Inuvik passes through some of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery on the planet.

I rode through Banff National Park as the sun crested the mountains in the east and gradually flooded the Bow Valley with sunlight. At that hour of the morning, I had the road to myself. This was to be short-lived, however, as the summer tourist traffic began to appear in droves and I was soon sharing the road with an armada of cars, RVs, buses and fellow motorcyclists. This usually isn’t a problem until somebody does something stupid.

As I rounded a blind curve, I found myself facing the rear end of a Nimitz Class-sized RV, stopped in the middle of the highway, its occupants aiming cameras at a family of bighorn sheep. I was able to pass them on the shoulder (where they should have been) and continued on. I reminded myself that most drivers are probably paying attention to the scenery and not the road and decided to ride with that fact in mind.

Soon I was out of the mountain parks and into rolling forested foothills, then following the plains along the eastern edge of the Rockies toward British Columbia. I passed timber mills and oil fields, farms, factories and mines. I reached Dawson Creek, British Columbia at the end of an 520-mile day, and although I’m exhausted, the ride didn’t feel that far at all; which is a good sign, I guess.

Prepping for the Ride

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About a year ago I decided to take a road trip. From one end of the world’s longest road to the other. On a motorcycle. Alone.

I’m planning to leave tomorrow morning and have spent much of my time over the past year planning, choosing gear, organizing insurance for both the bike and myself, and spending more time in the travel medicine office than I would have liked. I pored over books and visited countless adventure cycling websites. I have devoted hours to reading the blogs and websites of those who have attempted this trip before. Despite all of this I feel woefully underprepared.

Perhaps that’s part of the appeal.

Even though, on some level, I know what to expect, on another level I have no idea what to expect. It is an awfully long road, after all; from above the Arctic Circle at Inuvik in the Northwest Territories, Canada to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world at the tip of Tierra del Fuego. If all goes well I’ll be putting close to 30,000 miles on the Triumph Tiger 800xc through tundra, mountains, deserts, and swamps while carrying enough clothing and gear to serve me in all of those locations. I have to carry camping gear. I’ll be carrying electronics and cameras (and the attendant mass of appropriate cables and chargers) to document the trip and stay in touch with folks back home. At the same time, there are some serious weight and space constraints. Having never attempted anything like this, I’ll be learning as I go.

With less than 24 hours until go time, I’m feeling a serious case of the nerves. At the same time, I’m excited and happy.

The easy part is behind me. The hard part starts tomorrow.