Thursday, July 24, 2008

Last leg - Vancouver

3 Jul
Caught the 10.30 ferry to West Vancouver and made my way to Coquitlam and teed up the shipper for tomorrows pack up. Stayed in a nice camp/RV ground not far from the shipper and repacked for the next day. Solo celebration with a good Canadian beer and the best steak dinner I have ever had. I thought the one I had with VSP in Williams, AZ was good but this beat it hands down.
The adventure is now all but over. Tomorrow it is a hotel in downtown Vancouver.
The odo on the DR tells me that we did 13,500km together in 5 weeks. We chopped out two sets of tyres plus a sprocket and the chain will need replacing when the bike gets back. God knows how much fuel we went through. Everything worked as planned and nothing broke. I could have taken slightly less clothes - the 'fly home' clothes were hardly used. The merino wool T shirts were a life saver but my thin footy socks were to thin and were replaced with thick wool ones. I bought 2 T shirts and threw 2 out and I also had to replace my self inflating sleeping mat because my one of 25 years finally died. So I got back with no more stuff than I took over.
Canada and the north is expensive but camping out helped a lot. A warmer sleeping bag would also have helped as would warmer weather. I was thankful I had only 1 wet day. Seems I was lucky as this was not the experience of many I came across. I really went to early to benefit from seeing the flowers and wild life and this was not helped by spring being 'late'. The constant riding in forest in BC was just too much and a big let down. The Dempster hwy was a major highlight closely followed by the Denali hwy and the general Anchorage area. You cannot go this far north on an adventure bike and not go to Deadhorse but the Dempster for me was better. It is a riders paradise up north in Alaska and the Yukon. I will never ride BC again it is simply not worth the fuel cost. However Vancouver is a lovely city and on my last night there it was warm and the people seemed in a festive mood. I would come here again.
Many Canadians I met expressed a desire to come to New Zealand. Quite why I don't know. There is nothing we have that they do not have more of and better. Canada, at least the little I saw of it, and Alaska are magic places.

Vancouver Island

Inside Passage

Qualican camping ground

The ferry left at 7.30am so it was an early rise and a painless embarkation. There were a couple of road bikers also embarking and they looked clean and washed. My bike and me looked looked like we had just come out of the bush. I suppose we had to some extent.
The boat trip was not as interesting as I had expected based on what others had said. If you have been through Queen Charlot sound in Marlborough then you have seen the inside passage. This one just happened to last 12 hours. All the same I was very relieved not to be riding to Vancouver so this was a relaxing day.
We arrived at Port Hardy at 10.45pm and it was pitch black so I put my tent up in the dark for the first time. No bugs.
Tue 1 July
Today is Canada day, it is warm and sunny so I stay the day. I wash my cloths and the bike and generally relax. At 7pm all the campers gathered together for cake to celebrate Canada day and just for good measure they had one with an American flag for the 4th of July. Interesting bunch of people. Many are here for the summer with their motorhomes while others seem to be permanent such as the ex biker who has turned to booze and Jan who is running away from a troubled past.
Wed 2 July
The ride to Nanaimo where I catch the ferry to the mainland is around 400 k so I take my time wandering down the coast and stay the night in a native american owned camp site right on the sea shore at Qualican. The weather is now pleasant and warm. Tomorrow I catch the ferry to the mainland.

Whitehorse to Prince Rupert

Three days for this leg. Tim Horton's is a coffee shop sort of in the Starbucks mould but better and is a Canadian institution. Had breakfast there in Whitehorse - not bad and with good coffee. It sure is popular with the locals.
Have decided to skip the icefields parkway and instead do the boat trip from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. This means retracing my steps down the Cassier hwy so day one was the long trip back to Watson Lake, followed in day 2 the 440km to Bell II and day 3 into Prince Rupert. Nothing much to report en route. Was entertained by a fellow camper at Bell II with an endless supply of red wine and the cutest husky pup. Experienced the dark at night for the first time in a long while - I guess the land of the midnight sun has gone.
By now it is the end of Jun and in the intervening month the wild flowers are starting to appear. It is also noticeably warmer. The run from Terrace to the Port along the Sheena River was lovely and I get friendly with a tame crow.
Arrived at Port Hardy late afternoon and camped in an RV park next to the ferry terminal. Grumpy sour faced sods running the place but they had a shower.
It's been a tough few days what with getting little sleep at night due to the cold and the long distance travelled.


26 Jun
Met a couple of Kiwis in Dawson who were gold mining up here. They knew my sister-in-law Maud. Fitted sprocket and did laundry. Left Dawson by 1pm and made Whitehorse by 10pm. Back to being cold at night. Unspectacular ride.

Dempster Highway & Inuvik

Start of the Dempster Hwy

Walter on our tail

Arctic Circle in Canada

Welcome to Inuvik

Goodbye NWT. Hello Yukon

Fields of flowers

Farewells at Klondike Corner

The ride to Inuvik is a 4 day affair involving two overnight stops in Eagle Plains. It is a 1440km gravel road ride. By luck I picked up a travelers guide to the road which was excellent and made the whole event quite special. I also got to tag along with 3 Americans who were not scared of gravel roads and that added to the enjoyment. They in turn had picked up a trucker hauling 137,000 lbs of calcium chloride up to Ft McPherson. He is something of an amateur photographer and they caught him taking pictures of his truck - as you do. He is also an ice road trucker and promises to add some appropriate photos to his web site.
This road is quite unlike the Dalton where there are trees then tundra. Here it's tree, tundra then trees again. Much of the area shows the scars of ice age glaciation with U shaped valleys while further north it was to cold for glaciers and the area was covered in a layer of ice. The landscape is spectacular and visually more stunning than the Dalton. By now it is mid Jun and the warm weather produced fields of white flowers that at a distance looked like a covering of snow. Unfortunately there was little wildlife to be seen.
Mossies are real bad and drove us indoors at Eagle Plain.
There is a sign advising that you have arrived at the arctic circle and here most vehicles turn back to civilisation. Later there is a sign saying you have crossed into North West Territories. The ride is hot and dusty - in fact probably the first time I have felt warm on the whole journey.
Inuvik is the end of the Dempster hwy but as Walter, our trucker mate, will tell you, you can drive on the ice road in winter to the ocean. For us this is the end of the road. Strangely it is very hot - I would think maybe 30 degree C and we are 200 miles north of the arctic circle. We retreated to an air conditioned room and had beer and steak for dinner to celebrate.
The ride back to the Klondike junction (the other end of the Dempster) is just as enjoyable as the ride up. My bike turned over 20,000 km right on the farewell sign of the NWT.
I bad farewell to my riding companions, Frank, Dale and Mike and Walter the trucker who had caught us up once more. They were heading south to Whitehorse and I was going north back to Dawson to fit a new front sprocket. Oh and I met the Californian BMW pair for the 6th and final time.

Dust 2 Dawson

Site of the D2D dinner

HQ of the D2D

Midnight sun over Yukon River on 21 Jun

Dawson City at midnight. Yukon River

There are over 120 bikers here for the D2D. Furtherest traveled came from Florida and there were three foreigners - Holland, Germany and NZ. Toured the town in the morning and the #4 dredge in the afternoon. Cleaned the bike.
D2D function in the evening with photo and sticker session at mid night.
Sat 21 Jun
Most of the guests in the B&B left this morning leaving 1 biker couple and me. Changed my rear tyre with the help of Dick, the owner of the Downtown Hotel, and the local NAPA tyre change facility. My U beaut tyre tool did not work. Dick proved to be a God send - he arranged for a sprocket to come from Vancouver to Dawson and the system worked. No one else managed to succeed at sorting it.
Found a grave yard of stern wheel paddle boats so spent time picking over the bones. At midnight (solstice) rode up Dome Hill to join the others in watching the sun trying to set. At midnight it was still high in the sky but by 1.30am it was just below the horizon. You need to be at the arctic circle for it to remain above the horizon.
All-in-all a relaxing day.

Tok to Dawson

Welcome to Canada

Downtown Chicken

Following the Californians into Dawson

19 Jun
Rained last night and in the morning there were even more bodies and tents - so many in fact that I could not get out till most had left. Easy trip over the Top of the World hwy including a side trip to Eagle. The trip to Eagle was hardly worth it for what there was at the end but it was a nice scenic road in. Stopped at Chicken for the obligatory photo op and crossed back into Canada. Chicken is just a collection of 3 shops and down the road a bit a gas station and store. Caught the ferry over the Yukon into Dawson quite late in the evening to pre booked accommodation. Just as well - the town was pretty full. Met the Californian BMW pair again.
Today was a long day.

McCarthy to Tok

It was a long ride out of McCarthy to Chitina and an even longer one to Tok. I arrived around 9pm and took one of the standing tents at Eagles Claw. It is starting to rain and it will get cold during the night.
Decided to stay an extra night so spent the day catching up on laundry, another oil change (I've done 8,500 km to date) and I changed the front tyre. By mid afternoon the Californian BMW pair rode into town - this is the 4th time we have crossed paths - and we shared a beer on the side of the road.
More and more bikes were arriving in town, most were to stay the night and there was not a bed left in town. The Eagle Claw site filled to overflowing and we sat round a fire BSing till midnight. All the riders at Eagle Claw were heading towards Dawson for the Dust 2 Dawson solstice ride and had for the most part ridden in from Anchorage.

Valdez to McCarthy

16 Jun
Hung around Valdez all morning trying to get a sprocket delivered from Anchorage to Dawson. No luck at all. Visited the museum which was largely devoted to the stampeders heading to the Copper River gold fields* but there was a little on the oil spill tragedy - the Exxon Valdez. Seems the town now is at a relocated site thanks to an earthquake that destroyed the old town. I was in Valdez on a rare fine day. Valdez is also the terminal of the oil pipeline from Prudhoe bay, not that you can see anything of the tanker loading operation.
More glaciers en route to Chitina and McCarthy. McCarthy is a long way from Chitina where the tarseal ends and even then you have to negotiate a foot bridge to get to the town. Stayed at the back packers and spent the evening BSing with the other tourists. A couple of other bikes in town.
It's still daylight at midnight so you have to measure the time you spend awake.
Next day I spent most of the morning touring the old Kennicott mine. It was a copper mine and has long been abandoned by the owners but has been found by the tourists so is currently being made safe for visitors. A fascinating place. The story of the railway into the mine is equally fascinating. Today the rails have been removed and the road in is largely built on the old rail bed.
* The Copper River find appears to have been a hoax perpetrated by the shipping company that transported the hopefuls.

Seward to Valdez

Portage Glacier

Downtown Whittier

Colombia Glacier

I planned to take the ferry from Whittier to Valdez which proved to be a good choice. To get to Whittier you pass the Portage glacier and the associated info centre. The glacier has retreated quite some distance since 1911 when its terminal would have been at the info centre. You also have to pass through a long combined road & rail tunnel. There is a $12 fee for this and the bikes go through at the end of the car packet. They have obviously had some problems with bikers falling off or something because they give you a special bikers brief on how to ride through the thing. Contains helpful hints like 'don't ride on the rail lines' and 'remove your sunglasses'.
Whittier is the oddest town - there are almost no houses. Everyone lives in one or the other of two condos. There is an abandoned military 'condo' in town that tends to dominate the landscape. There were RV's everywhere but little sign of any tourists.
The ferry had only 28 people for the trip and there was a US Parks Service person on board giving a commentary. The captain took us off course to see the Colombia glacier, the terminal of which exits to sea. Sea is full of baby ice bergs from the glacier.
Arrived at Valdez at 8.30pm and stayed at the Eagle Nest RV park. 163k of riding today and the 6 hour boat trip was a nice relief from the constant riding.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


14 Jun
A day from hell - it rained during the night and was bitterly cold and it was still cold and miserable in the morning. Headed towards Homer, which is a must see according to the Californian BMW lot, but I will never know. It hosed down and I could barely see ahead of the front wheel. Then my boots took in water. I got as far as Anchor Point, the most westerly point by road in the US and went no further. It was just to miserable. The weather improved heading north but it was still cold and overcast with a bitter wind in Seward. Towards evening the wind died down and I got the tent etc dried out. There is a nice public camp on the foreshore and it was full to bursting. There is a big tourist sightseeing system here and the thing to do is go halibut fishing. I settled for halibut and chips at a local cafe - nice fish
There really is a huge outdoor culture up here (Alaska) and as for Seward, I've been told "you wait till summer".
Front sprocket needs replacing - wished I had checked in Anchorage - though as it turned out it would have been no use since the Suzuki agent did not have one - this is KLR 650 and GS1200 territory. I've done 7,661km to date.

Kenai Peninsula

Barb's Alaska Leather

Exit Glacier

13 Jun
634 k today and to the Kenai Peninsula. Met the ever helpful Barb at Alaska Leather before heading down to Kenai where I intended to stay the night. Crap, it was cold and windswept so ended up in some rough state park by a lake. This whole peninsula is clearly the playground of Anchorage -ites. Heavy traffic and lots of RV's heading out for the weekend - it's Friday today. Had the most delightful pulled pork BBQ sub for dinner at a roadside caravan. If you like fishing then this is clearly the place - they line the banks of the Russian River like they do on the mouth of the Rakaia.

Denali Highway

Owner of last nights lodge was originally from Central and knew Sinful Cindy. It's a small world up here.
The Denali hwy is a short gravel road out of Paxon and heads towards Denali National Park. The mountains in the National Park slowly unfold with each corner and rise in the road and with the absence of traffic the road is a pleasure to ride. I spent a lot of time on this road just taking in the scenery. This is truly a great ride.
I am starting to see more RV's and motor homes as I get closer to Anchorage. My intention was to make Anchorage for the night but fell short by about 100 k so stayed at a cheap lodge/bar. Even here I met a guy who knew Sinful Cindy. 350 miles today. This about day 17 of the trip. Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula tomorrow.


11 Jun
Did a bit of bike maintenance in the morning - chain took a battering on the Dalton. Breakfast of reindeer sausage (you are not supposed to call it caribou when you eat it) and met a delightful couple from Florida on a Goldwing. They are a long way from home for sure. Also met the party from Coldfoot - they still could not shed any light on why their friend died*. It turned out he was the organiser of their little adventure and the father of one the the other riders. All this in the breakfast cafe. Delightful ride to Paxon which is the start of the Denali hwy for me. I'm riding it this way because you ride towards Mt McKinley rather than away from it and if you get lucky might see it without cloud - no such luck. Met up again with the California BMW couples last seen at Telegraph creek.
Tyres only just holding out. I doubt that they will make it to Vancouver.
* In Anchorage, a few days later, I was told of this accident. By now the story had escalated to 'he had nowhere to go trying to dodge the traffic'. BS clearly travels at the speed of light.


10 Jun
Had breakfast in Coldfoot with a Canadian trucker and learned of the trials of running the Dalton in the winter - now I know why there are gaps in the armco in the Brooks mountains. Met up with a group of bikers on KLR's heading to Deadhorse who had one of their party ride off the road and die. They were arranging to fly the body back when I met them. They think he may have had a lapse of concentration or a heart attack - it was a straight road.
Ride into Fairbanks uneventful but missed the sign pointing to the arctic circle sign. I was keen to show what is behind the camera - picnic tables.
Spent $10 at a car wash trying to get the baked on calcium carbide off the bike. Also gave the riding gear a bit of a wash under a tap in the camping ground. Met the two bikes I saw at Deadhorse - recognised the Buell Ulysses.
Picture of bike and tent taken at 20 past midnight - without flash.


Only 500 miles to the next latte
The continental divide

9 Jun.
Foggy again this morning so delayed my departure till 10.30. Quite cold but fog lifted about 50 k down the road. By 2.30 PM I was on the south side of the continental divide and it was noticeably warmer. It sort of feels as if I've done the Dalton now that the trees are back but I am less than half way to Fairbanks. Stayed the night at Boreal Lodge in Wiseman and for $60 it was very nice. The residents confirmed that they built their house, generate their own electricity, heat the house via a huge wood burner and eat salmon and moose. And at -50 in the winter they dress 'appropriately'.
Have changed my itinerary. On local advice I will skip Central, Chena hot springs and a day in Denali. So I expect to be in Anchorage by the 12th to meet with Gavin's sister. I will add the Kenai peninsular instead.



Calcium carbide sticks like shite

Met the other biker at breakfast so we hung around for the day. Deadhorse is all the world like a giant construction site full of F250's and tracked vehicles. The dorm blocks are on blocks, no vegitation everywhere and for $120 I get a sitting room with TV, bed and shower and all food. Ex military people will recognise the dining arrangements. At night it is foggy, there is no one on the streets and there is the constant rumble of generators. I guess the temperature to be about zero.
Got to dabble my feet in the arctic ocean which was a little lame compared to the swimmer who jumped in quite unconcerned by the ice flow just off shore. This is as far north as I can go.
I farewelled my friend at about 6PM. He was going to ride back south during the "night" because the calcium carbide on the road would be hard. He accompanied a Colombian who we met at the Caribou Inn. The Colombian had just arrived from Fairbanks (about 500 miles south of here), got his picture taken as a trophy and was heading back. Is that what GS1200's do for you? As a postcript: he was to come to an unfortunate end about a week later with a crash that wrote his bike off.

Yukon River - Deadhorse

Obligatory shot of the arctic circle

The truckers are friendly to the bikers

7 Jun
The Dalton hwy is a strange mix of gravel road with the odd section of tarseal. Quite why you would want tarseal up here beats me. The boreal forest finishes on this road and after the North Slope the tundra begins. At 5.30 pm the sun is still high in the sky, there is a cold wind and I have about 75 miles to go. The road is incredibly slippery and slushy in places but mostly it has a hard base. It would be a bitch in the rain. With 100 km to go I come across a stop sign on a side road – who thinks up this crap. Met one other biker on the road going my way but he is so petrified by the greasy surface I left him behind. At 7.45 pm I am just short of Deadhorse and 5,000 km north of Vancouver*, the sun is behind cloud and is now very cold. A couple of hardy Japanese push cyclists are making camp for the night beside a gravel mound. I have taken 2 days to get here, they must have been on the road for a week. Not much wild life about. Saw no Dall sheep in the mountains and only 3 caribou. Very little bird life and only the slightest sign of spring growth flora. It's also to early for the mossies - there are none at all, probably on account the lakes are frozen solid. There is one other biker at the Prudhoe Bay Hotel.
* To put this in perspective - this is over 5,000 k south of Invercargill and down around the Ross ice shelf.

Yukon River Camp

6 Jun
Froze to death last night – it is getting just a little to cold to camp comfortably. Not surprised really – the rivers are below 3 feet of snow and most water bodies are frozen. Lunch at Rika's Road House, a former ferry terminal over the Tanana River in Big Delta just north of Delta Junction. Also got my first glimpse of the oil pipeline. Headed north through Fairbanks, dinner at Fox with “Sinful Cindy”* and made it to Yukon River Camp on the Dalton hwy by 8 PM. YRC rough as guts - $99 for a room in a long barrack block with shared facilities and no TV. First crossing of the Yukon river - there would be many more before the trip ends. Mossies are real bad. 540km today.
* She is known locally by that name and has something of a reputation as a firebrand.

Tok - Alaska

5 Jun
Never really got dark last night and ride to Tok was cold. Crossed the border into Alaska proper just south of Tok so this is the end of BC for a while. Saw both black and grizzly bears today and almost got run down by a moose that jumped out from the undergrowth. Staying at Thompson's Eagles Claw motorcycle park run by a couple of motorcyclists for motorcyclists. They have tent sites and some fixed accommodation blocks and a workshop for visitors. Changed oil – 4022 km to date. On target date wise so have made up for delayed start in Vancouver. Tok is a cluster of shops and services on an intersection. One way goes to Anchorage and the other to Fairbanks. There is a relaxed and casual feel about the place.
Met the guy with the Ultra on the back of his truck. Sure beats an F150. Seems he got sick of 10 years on the haul road so is heading to the lower 48 to start a bike moving business.


4 Jun
Have been on the road for a week now and it has been one big forest except for yesterday and today. Very cold coming back over the mountains out of Skagway – misty – but warmed up by the time I pitched the tend at Congdon by lake Kluane. Wind blowing so no mossies and visor clean for first time. Told that there are lots of bikers on the road, not that I have seen any. These camp grounds are pretty rough and not worth the $10 the Yukon govt wants for the pleasure of your company. 440 k today.


3 Jun
It's getting colder and not helped much by being overcast. Ride into Skagway was excellent but freezing especially over the mountain pass. All the lakes and rivers are still frozen over but the sun was out so was not so bad. Crossed into the US today for the first time. I had all these documents for the bike and they were not remotely interested. Seems that if the bike is OK for Canada it is OK to them. All the official did was stamp my passport with a picture of a steam train. I found out the significance in the afternoon - there is a historic train ride into the mountains.
There are 4 cruise ships in town – this is a tourist town, big time. I gather that most of the retail stores are also owned by the shipping line. Stayed at Sgt Preston's Lodge – expensive but nice and warm after lasts nights shiver. Took side trip to Dyea, the entry point of the 1898 Klondikers heading to the gold fields. 420 ks today. Had dinner with another biker on an F650 also staying at Sgt Preston's.