(16) The Dempster Highway
Sunday August 15 2004
A nice day for a drive up the Dempster.
1,472 kilometers return on a very rough, gravel & rock, tire slicing sharp shale rock road.
As I begin, it is difficult to adjust to the gravel, but I have driven gravel roads before so I have cofidence in my ability, I'm just a little unsure of this heavy bike on these roads.
I drive 60 kms/hr or less, it is slow going to start with.
I take it 1 km at a time, sometimes I think it will be too much on the bike, but I push on.
I meet other cars, vans, trucks, RV's, campers and big tractor trailers hauling freight.
I have to pull over carefully to the sides of the road when I meet someone as it is so dusty and rocks flying everywhere.
People were saying many things to me beforehand like, I was crazy to take a new Harley Davidson up the Dempster Highway, I wouldn't have any paint left on it "if" I got back to Dawson.
I was beginning to wonder if I'd made the right call by continuing.
Something inside kept saying, relax, enjoy the beauty, I don't have to rush, keep alert, I had to try.
I see a red fox stroll across the road with a grouse in its mouth, probably bringing dinner home to the young ones.
Near the 192 km marker I see something up ahead on the road, it looks like a man walking on the roadside.
As I approach closer i see that it is a bear, it hears me and goes into the scrub, I pass that spot that I last saw it and stop about 25-30 meters.
I am excited and hopeful that i will see my first grizzly bear in the wild.
I turn off the bike, ready it for a fast getaway (in my mind anyway) and stand with camera in hand ready for the grizzly photos.
I'm just hoping that he will want to cross the road and go up towards the ridge in the distance.
The bear comes up out of the ditch, smells towards me and looks at me, crosses the road and walks up towards the ridge.
I click away at the camera and hope for the best, all the time not even thinking about what if it comes after me.
It looked like a juvenile bear, not the big burly, big headed bear with the hump on their back, but it is brown so I am confident that it is a grizzly bear.
I continue and think about how lucky I was to have a bear sighting.
All along the way the views are just awesome to behold, everything feels so pristine, so untouched, the water in the rivers are so clear you can see all on the riverbed, almost looks as if there is no water in them, amazing!
I rumble into Eagle Plains, the first stop, 369 kms from mile 0, I look at my fuel gauge and there is almost a 1/4 tank of fuel still in there.
So much for needing the extra little gas can.
It is simple, go slower...save fuel!
Fuel up, fill up my water bottle but the fuel attendant tells me where where to stop up further and fill up on cold, clean glacial water from a river.
I stop often to take photos, the scenery is so beautiful, I hope I have enough space on my cameras card for all the photos.
The weather has been georgeous today, the wind has changed and blown all the smoke from the forest fires back to the direction they came from, I seize the opportunity and try to get a lot of photos because the wind could shift directions at any time.
I stop beside a big sign that states that you have reached the Arctic circle, I am very happy that I made it this far.
Originally my goal was to make it to the Arctic circle on my motorcycle.
Two nice ladies that I met along the way earlier take my photo for me.
There is still a few hours of daylight, I push on.
I reach the Yukon/N.W.T. border and the views here are fantastic.
Not so long before the border I see caribou out on the plains and then the local Inuit people walking with big packs on their shoulders, they are bringing the caribou that they've shot out to their vehicles, we wave and I push on.
As I get more photos at the border I begin to think I will just pitch my tent somewhere off the road and spend the night here, what a view from my tent!
What an awesome day! Saw my first grizzly, crossed the Arctic Circle and camping on the Yukon/N.W.T. border.
I'm all alone at this amazing spot...then I start to think about what if there is any bears near by.
There are no trees here as I am way above the tree line so I should be able to see anything that is coming.
I eat & make tea...a fantastic day!
Monday August 16 2004
I wake early, eat breakfast, have a filter coffee, pack up camp and set out with intentions to get to Inuvik, the end of the road.
I get to Fort McPherson and catch the ferry over the river, onto Tsligehtchic where I wait for another ferry to cross over the MacKenzie River, the longest river in Canada (second longest in North America to the mighty Mississippi) covering a distance of around 1,800 kms.
I push on and suddenly I come onto asphalt again, Alright!
I've made it to Inuvik, I am quite proud to get the bike & me here in one piece, but I don't celebrate as I am only half way...but still pretty happy.
I met a motorcyclist yesterday and one today, they were on BMW's.
We stopped to chat some and it was good to know that others were on the road and that they were both on their way back down, one was made for gravel and the other was a street bike.
The street bike was complaining about the truckers not slowing down when they passed him and I found out later that he dumped his on the slippery when wet shale.
When water comes into the mix it is almost impossible to drive on this stuff, you better stop, make camp and wait out the rain.
I got a taste of the slippery roads earlier today when the few miles that were under construction was watered early in the morning so as to compact it better...well let me tell you.
Have you ever driven 1,000lbs. of motorcycle(me & stuff included) over marbles or soap.
I had sweat on my brow trying to keep the bike upright, it felt like it was going to go out from underneath me at the first second that I made a mistake, very interesting to say the least.
I was real happy it was only for a few kms.
I stay at the local campground right in the town, another cool town.
A very helpful Info center, all the locals are very friendly.
The people say hi when we meet and want to talk and ask where you come from, a very friendly place to be.
It reminded me of the friendly people from the Maritimes and Newfoundland, nice folk!
The weather is sunny and beautiful in Inuvik.
I walk the streets to explore, buy groceries (quite expensive up here, gets crazy in the winter or if supplies can't get through for some reason) and just enjoy this place.
I will sleep well tonight.
Posted by Jeff Nicholls at August 16, 2004 06:33 AM GMT