The Goal: Ride from Vancouver to Tuktoyaktuk NWT.
Reality: Rode up the Robert Campbell Hwy (#4 Yukon) and decided that was enough dirt, rain, cold for this year.
This is an account of the basics of the trip, what is missing is all of the details of what actually goes on, and a million little things that will likely come back to me in little fleeting memories as the days progress. I go through a lot of emotions on these trips, wanting to explore, but also wanting to be home in my bed nice and warm. Riding in rain is OK if you are setup for it, but being dirty and sweaty and bulky is not always agreeable, and there is always the danger of riding a motorcycle through unfamiliar roads and the real possibility of injury or death from anything knocking you off your bike, or even a mechanical failure that takes you down, but you just have to try your best and keep on truckin. Try to keep the momentum going, and I spend a lot of time talking to myself since there is nobody with me to talk to, it helps keep me awake too. If you get drowsy, shout obscenities at yourself really loud, it helps.
Day 1: Vancouver to Lac La Hache Campground. Departure was Thursday June 7 2018, one day before a large rain storm hit the City.
The weather was nice, Sunny for most of the way up. A few clouds, and it did drizzle in a few spots, but not enough to care about. It was looking a lot more bleak as I traveled North, but the campground at Lac La Hache was dry. Lac La Hache is North of 100 Mile House, and South of Williams Lake.
Getting off the bike I was bombarded by mosquitoes, so I kept all my gear on and set the tent up. By the end I was huffing and puffing from the strain with a fogged up visor that I could not open, but managed to get everything into the tent I needed for the night. The camp attendant came by shortly after and I fed her some money through the zipper of the tent without getting out. She understood why.
I needed to use the washroom, so put on my bug jacket gloves and boots and headed out. The mosquitoes were swarming thick around me searching for something to land on, it was quite incredible.
The washroom had a few dozen biters in it too and I got a few bites trying to do my stuff in there. Can't even sit on the toilet without some of them being underneath.
So back to the tent, and in order to get into it, I had to walk to end of campsite and wait for the swarm around me, then run like crazy to the tent, unzip it and jump in. Then spend the next 15 minutes killing the ones that followed me in.
Was a decent nights sleep though, despite all of that. No rain that I can recall.
When I crawled out of the tent in the morning, there was a Fox staring at me. He looked nervous, but did not run away, and every time I moved he would react as though he expected me to attack him, so I just ignored him and went about packing things. I moved a few items over to the table and when I turned around he was standing next to the tent looking inside, like he wanted to go in, but as I turned around he took off and I never saw him again.
No pictures from this part of the trip. I have been up this way far too many times to have much interest in that.
Day 2: Lac La Hache campsite to a Hotel in Fort Saint John.
I had decided I was going to put my riding suit on at the entrance to the campsite instead of at the tent spot, thinking there would not be as many mosquitoes near the highway. Bug suit on, I packed everything up and just threw my one piece suit across the back seat and rode to the entrance.
Unfortunately the swarm followed me, or I found a new swarm, and I managed to get a lot more bites trying to suit up down there since I had to take the bug suit off first, that plan totally failed. Once again, huffing and puffing, finally managed to escape.
As I rode North the clouds were forming, and it started to drizzle North of Prince George. The clouds were getting much blacker and there was lightning directly ahead, so I stopped and put on my rain gear, and not long after it started to rain much harder. As I approached Fort Saint John, lightning started to flash over my head and then the sky opened up with large hail and rain. The entire street turned into a river and the winds were going nuts, it was like being in (my perceived version of) a hurricane. I could not see the road anymore, so pulled over at the first place I found, which turned out to be a Howard Johnson Hotel with very reasonable rates ($69), and the place had a restaurant close by, a hot tub and breakfast the next morning starting at 5am. A great deal.
I looked like a drowned rat walking in there, but they didn't seem to care. They gave me one of the handicap rooms near the entrance to make it easier to bring all my stuff inside. I slept very well and got to sit in the hottub for a while as well which warmed me up considerably.
Nope, no pictures.
Day 3: Fort Saint John to Laird Hotsprings
I was up at 5am and had the breakfast offered, which was decent with sausages and eggs, cereals, toast, muffins and some other baked goods. Juices and all the usual caffeine drinks.
It was still cloudy outside, but was not raining anymore, until I started packing up the bike, then it started to rain again, so on went the rain gear. I headed out and the rain increased once again, and I ended up riding most of the day in it. Not the greatest weather.
When I got to Laird Hotsprings they were full, not even room for one more tent, but I could camp across the street in the overflow for $28 which included admission to the hotsprings. I rode over to have a look, but it was not for me, it was just an open parking lot with mostly RV's in it. I do not like camping with the sound of generators running so went looking for something else. Right next door was a camping place. They had tent spots at the back so I rode down to see, and selected one in the back corner. Someone had let their dog poop in the campsite and didn't bother to clean it up, but I found a place to pitch the tent without it affecting me too much, just the odd wiff of it when the wind blew the wrong direction. At least I didn't need to be worried about bears eating me, I was more worried a dog might pee on my tent, but thankfully nothing happened in that regard.
After all of that, I didn't feel up to going to the hotsprings and paying to get in as it was after 6pm already, and my understanding was that it would be free if you waited until 8pm when they close the ticket booth, but I was too tired to wait for that, so just crashed. It started raining hard as I fell asleep.
Again, no pictures.
Day 4: Laird Hotsprings to Francis Lake Yukon
It rained for most of the night, and the bottom of the tent was sitting in a puddle in the morning getting everything wet inside. Fortunately my Thermarest pad kept it off my sleeping bag and pillow so I was able to sleep fine. It did suck packing up the wet tent the next morning. The tent I put in its bag, but the fly I put under a cargo net on the top box so it had a chance to dry, assuming it stopped raining.
The ride up was mostly dry, saw several moose, bear, and bison, which is pretty typical for the area. Turning on to Hwy 4 from Watson Lake I was surprised how much of this road was paved, it seemed to be never ending, but once I came to the first construction sign that was the end of it. I had stopped a while earlier for a break, and had dried the tent fly out enough to put it in the bag behind my seat.
Clouds were forming once again, but there was blue sky around too so I continued. The construction area had a pilot car and the lady told me there were wet muddy sections with deep mud and sand, and it would be a bit hairy in spots. I was the only traveler following her through it, and she was right, there were a few pucker moments where I was wondering if I was going to dump it, but managed to get through without making a scene.
After the construction area, the road was sand at first, gradually turning to dirt further up, deep in spots, but rideable, it had started to rain on and off going up, but not a heavy rain. I got to the campsite OK and set up. Once again crashing early since it was intermittent showers. The campsite was nice, right on the lake, and some people had brought boats, so there are some nice options for campers, and of course camping in Yukon costs $12 with free firewood, so what a great place to hang out. There were some bugs here, but nothing like Lac La Hache, I suspect the rain and colder temps were keeping their numbers down. It started to downpour about 10pm and rained all night (again.. sigh).
Bike was getting a bit dirty, hard to read the gauges
Day 5: Francis Lake to Little Salmon Lake Campground
Once again the tent was flooded. When I crawled out everything was in complete fog and the temp was about 3c. I packed up and was on the road North. The road was dirt here mostly, but didn't seem affected by the rain at all, just had to stay clear of puddles and it was fine. There was no traffic on this road in the morning as I had departed before any work crews were out. I only passed a half dozen cars the whole rest of the trip up to Ross River, but traffic did pick up after that.
I rode through fog from the campsite and my visor had fogged over so much I could not see with it closed, luckily there were no bugs at this temperature so I did not have anything hit me in the eye or face. As I wound through the mountains here the temp dropped to 1c, but there was no ice on the road, and the only snow was gathered around the many streams. I suspect this area would be beautiful on a clear day, unfortunately I could see very little. Eventually I climbed above the fog and visibility came back although my eyes were watering from the cold air blowing directly on them. It took several hours before I was able to close my visor and be able to see through it.
There were no animal encounters, I figured they had all gone back into Winter hybernation.
I was a bit worried about gas consumption going up, the sign at the entrance said next gas was Ross River and it was 375km ahead. Looking at my range indicator on the bike it said I had 289km worth of gas, but I had installed a SpeedoDRD before I left for the trip, which corrected my speedometer, but I suspect it also affected the onboard calculators. The year before, without SpeedoDRD, when I filled the tank, it would tell me I have over 400km range. I had 5L extra gas with me anyways, so knew it would be fine and kept going. I got to Ross River with about 30km left in the tank, and I know there is another 40k on top of that once it gets to empty (tested on another trip).
The road from Robert Campbell Hwy to Ross River is about 10km each way, and it was the worst road surface of the trip with lots of deep sections, potholes, mud sections and just very rough road. Getting into Ross River I felt like a spaceman landing on an ancient civilization although there were some modern touches to the place, for the most part everything just looked run down and the people were hardened to living there. I was thinking, if they wanted to fix the place up, they first need to get that road into the place sorted, it should be the nicest part of the drive up since it is only 10km to maintain, but I guess they only care about pickup trucks up that way. I gassed up and bought a few fruit drinks which were rather expensive compared to other places, then headed back out.
It wasn't far past this junction that the road turned back into hard chipseal and easy to ride, with some gravel repair sections to keep you alert. Traffic also picked up here, mostly coming in from the West.
I pulled off the road down a side trail to take a break from riding, it wound down a hill to a river away from the main road. There was an old fire pit here, and up the hill someone had built an outhouse. No sign of it having been used recently, and I scoped the area for bear droppings and there were none, so I decided to camp here. The river was right beside this location and I think it was a popular fishing spot, I am guessing on weekends during fishing season maybe?
I parked the bike parallel to the river, then set my tent up between the bike and the river, with my head toward the bike, just in case a bear wandered over. I was thinking it might be cautious of the bike, but I don't know what bears really think of them, they always stare when I ride past where they seem to ignore cars. This spot was amazing, and the sound of the river running had me sleeping soundly all night, and I also saved a wopping $12. I love free camping.
Day 6: Near Little Salmon Lake to Meziadin Junction
At Carmacks I had to decide whether to go North or South. North into Dawson, or straight onto the Dempster, or South where the prospect of Sunshine was pulling at me. North it looked cold and wet, and Blue sky South, so I went South.
I kind of felt I had enough dirt riding for the year without going up the Dempster and didn't really want to get into the mass of other bikers heading up that way. It turned out they were getting snow in Eagle Plains anyways, so I am glad I didn't head that direction.
Riding down from Carmacks I had a white pickup truck pass me doing 140km+ towing two snow mobiles on a trailer, and my thought was that this guy's snow mobile days had ended for the year, and he was pissed about it. About 15 minutes later I came up on him again, he had pulled over on the side of the road, 4 way flashers on, the drivers door open slightly, and he was standing on the other side of the roadway with a rifle in his hand pointing at something in the bush. As I passed him he fired, but I did not see what he was shooting at.
I do not believe it is legal to a) drive with a loaded weapon, b) kill animals from the highway
I did not get a license plate number, and was not too interested in confronting a pissed off hunter with a gun so kept on going. A little further up there was a sign warning about Elk crossing, so I suspect that is what he was shooting at. There was no cell phone reception in the area.
I thought about stopping at the next place along the road to report it, but that might just get me into more trouble, maybe the guy lives there, or his relative does, or the guy at this place also hunts this way. I hoped to be able to flag down a police vehicle coming the other direction, but did not see any, and wouldn't see one until I was getting close to Prince George the next day. Maybe it's even legal for all I know, so I just let it go. I stopped at a rest stop a while later and the guy drove past, again driving like his ass was on fire, probably wanted to get his fresh kill home for dinner.
One place I wanted to detour to was Carcross, but I missed the turn after Whitehorse and ended up on the road going into it further down at Jakes Corner. It was a nice drive in and very secluded, and Carcross was beautiful, surrounded by mountains and rivers. Nice and quiet in there too, not many tourists yet. The road in had some construction happening that was a little treacherous to ride on a bike with a few pucker moments, but I made it through. Once in Carcross I started driving the road going back up to Whitehorse, but ended up turning around and going out the same way I had entered. I didn't want to do that construction zone a second time, but ended up doing it anyways, it seemed easier going the other direction.
I continued down Alaska hwy to the 37 turnoff, and headed South, but first had to go through Teslin and their dreaded bridge. This is the worst metal bridge anywhere I have found. It has larger metal grooves that really grab your tire and the bike feels very unstable no matter how you ride it. It always feels like the bike is about to dump but then it recovers. Standing up, sitting down, loose grip, it has no effect on where the wheels go. There were also a few gravel road areas along this section, one had freshly laid gravel on it that was not compacted yet and was a big squirrely too, but I would take this over that darn bridge any day, at least standing up has an effect on gravel.
Lots of animal encounters on Hwy 37 before Dease Lake. Saw two groups of Moose with calves, and two sets of bears with cubs, one mom had two, the other one. No mountain sheep this time like I have seen in the past and I wondered if poachers had been there, but maybe they were just higher up in the hills this day.
Gassed up in Dease Lake and kept going. The road was all repaired this time, a few years ago when I went through it was all torn up with deep potholes and dusty gravel, and I remember losing one of my externally attached running shoes from all the bumps, so it was nice to ride this time.
I stopped to put on rain gear again at a lookout over a lake area. There were millions of little bugs here, and then I saw the name of the lake "Midge Lake", which described these bugs perfectly. They were trying to get into everything and in incredible numbers, so I quickly got out of there. Later when I looked at the bike, I had piles of them on different parts of the bike as they kamakazi onto it.
Next gas was at Bell2, and it was getting late in the day so I asked about a room for the night, something with easy access, but they had them all rented out, but I could rent their Deluxe Suite at $225/night. I had a good laugh at that, after paying $69 for a Hotel in Fort Saint John, and $139 at the MGM Grande in Las Vegas, how can they charge $225 for a room out here in the middle of nowhere with zippy zap to do except get eaten by mosquitoes. Maybe couples go there for a honeymoon or its just a money grab or something, not really sure. Perhaps if you were a group of 4 guys it might make financial sense if some don't mind sleeping on the floor for $50+.
I continued on to Meziadin Junction. Here they have rooms you can rent that are used by road crews. It is a very small room with a bed, a desk, a TV and a small wardrobe. The walls are plastic and you can hear everything the guy does next door, but it was $69, and as it had started to rain again, I was glad to accept it. I needed a shower badly by this time, it had been 3 days without.
They have food in here too, a real kitchen with specials for the crews, but after ordering the ribs special, and the lady putting it on a plate for me, it was decided they could not sell it to me because "the crews were still coming in, and this food was meant for them", so I had to order a Chicken burger off the menu. The sight of those ribs had me craving them the next day. The Chicken burger was good too, just kind of plain.
While in the eating area I had a conversation with a guy who I had met outside on his bicycle. He was heading up to Tuk and then was planning a tour of the Yukon and NWT after that. He had until August to complete his journey which started in Victoria BC.
This guy was amazing, he had ridden his bike from Nova Scotia to Victoria BC, and was now heading North on part 2 of his journey. He said bears were not a problem, they just stared at him as he rode past, but of course they are not a problem until one eats him one day, but I let that slide. He camped anywhere he could along the way and never had any issues with animals. It was an interesting conversation, I hope he gets it all done and back to Victoria safely.
That night I made the mistake of turning on the heat in the room. These rooms have no Mosquito protection at all, they seem to come in through the doors and windows, and were attracted to the warm room. That night I could not sleep with so many of them in the room, and I had not thought to bring my bug jacket in from the bike, so I ended up sleeping with the bed covers pulled over my head and breathing through a little gap in the side. It was way too hot under there and I sweated all night, had a terrible sleep. I had turned off the heat in the room before sleeping, and by morning the room was cold enough that the mosquitoes were dorment, either that or they had already extracted all the blood they wanted from me, or moved into the room of the guy next door. I could hear him slapping things over there in the night and it kind of made me chuckle. I wondered if they purposely put tourists into the known Mosquito infested rooms as a kind of joke, but maybe all the rooms are the same.
I think these next few pics are from Midge Lake
Day 7, Meziadin Junction to Lac La Hache
I skipped breakfast the next morning although the kitchen there opens early, and just kept heading South. I didn't want to give them any more of my money after the fiasco with the ribs the night before, and the crappy sleep I had in the mosquito infested building.
No animal sightings this time, although I usually see a Moose or bear or two in this section. it was raining on and off heading through the mountains.
Sure is pretty going South, and I suspect South is the direct to see Highway 37, otherwise you miss all the amazing views.
Gassed up in Kitwanga, and continued East. The rain seemed to stop for a time, and I had high hopes it was going to get Sunny as I approached Prince George, but then it started to shower again, and as I got into Prince George it was raining hard. Those huge drops that really get you soaked fast. The clouds were broken up though, so it would rain for 15 minutes, and then stop, and the sun would shine for a bit, then rain hard again.
I could not get the thought of those ribs out of my mind, perhaps it was because I had skipped breakfast, but I made a promise to stop at the next place that sold Ribs and get some. As I went through Quesnel I happened to pass a place called Wings, and thought surely they must have Ribs in a place like this too, so pulling off my rain jacket and glove covers I went inside.
Nope, no Ribs in here, but they sell lots of chicken wings, and they had one they called Bobby Wings, which they claim to be the hottest wings in existence. I am camping, so wasn't too interested in it, but they did offer a sampler rib you could try for a couple of bucks, so I got one along with a plate of Jamaican wings. The Jamaican wings were rated two chillies and the Bobby Wings was rated 5 chillies by comparison. In order to get a Bobby, you had to sign a waver saying you understand this is nasty stuff and might kill you. After signing the waver, they tell you to be sure never to touch your eyes, or even your genitals after touching it since it will burn sensitive skin.
The plate of Jamaican wings was good, and had my nose and eyes running pretty good. The waitress suggested I leave the Bobby until the end as it tends to burn off your taste buds, so I left it sitting there in the bowl looking all evil. The guys at the table next to mine asked the waitress if anyone had tried a Bobby lately, and then their whole table turned to look at me like I was on death row or something.
Finally after recovering a bit from the Jamaican Wings, I had a lick and a bite of the Bobby. It tasted like some harsh chemical thing, not a wing anymore, not a big hit at first, but after a couple of minutes it started to get my nose running again, and I ended up ordering a bowl of plain rice to cover it all in my stomach. I think hot wings should always come with rice.
The Jamaican wings were great with ranch dressing dip.. yummy.
The waitress was dissapointed that I didn't eat the whole Bobby quickly so they could all watch me writhe on the floor until I died, but I explained that I was camping, and spices do nasty things to my guts sometimes, not something you want inside a tent, and I did just eat a plate of Jamaican wings. Anyways, I survived the encounter, anyone heading up that way, be sure to get a plate of Bobby Wings to show everyone how tough you really are.
As I continued South, there were serious clouds further ahead so I kept going, getting wet, then drying off, finally ending up late in the day at Lac La Hache again. It was a long day of riding and Lac La Hache was located in between two banks of black clouds, and besides I had a plan this time to avoid the Mosquitoes, I would put all my riding gear on before getting out of the tent in the morning, then packing up the same way I had unpacked.
It is not easy or fun putting on a one piece suit inside a tent that is sitting in a puddle of water all night. The heavy rain had started again and went all night, and I did not want to go outside to pull out my tarp and cover things up with all the mosquitoes.
You would think the mosquitoes would go into hiding when it started to rain, but not in this place, I guess there are just so many of them that if a few billion of them drowned nobody would notice. I suspect most of them were hiding under my tent fly, I could see them buzzing around trying to get inside.. Sorry ladies, nothing for you here tonight.. bwahaha..
Day 8: Lac La Hache to Home
Packing up the tent in the rain the next morning was icing on the cake. Its so nice rolling up a wet tent and trying to stuff it into a dry bag with mosquitoe proof gloves on, and even my bed pad was soaked and needed an hour to dry after I got home.
No breakfast again this day. I did stop and eat a couple of power bars later though, which seemed to help. It amazed me how long I could actually go without food on this trip, the riding takes up so much of my concentration that the hunger pains are easy to ignore, and after a few hours they go away entirely. Just drink a lot of juice and water and it's fine. Probably not the best diet plan, but it works, at least for me.
As I got into the Clinton/Cache Creek area the rain had stopped and it was mostly cloudy, but there were lots of dark clouds further ahead so I kept my rain gear on. Aside from a few showers though, no more precipitation for the ride home and I finally stopped to take the rain gear off at a gas stop.
They are doing construction in two places down the Fraser Canyon, in the first spot they were up on high ramps doing something to the cliff rocks, and I was thinking.. cripes.. if it isn't falling down, just leave it alone, otherwise your likely to cause it to break off and kill you. I guess they have some plan though. They could not pay me enough to do that job.. oh look the cliff might fall at any moment, here stand on this lifter and go up there to drill holes in it, or cover it with something... yeesh.. no thanks.
The second construction area is a bridge repair where it currently has only one lane open, and you have to sit a while waiting.
The Fraser Canyon is an amazing place though, and highly recommended to any tourists going through. The cliffs near Yale BC are especially amazing, and I intend to head up that way this week with my drone to try and capture some of the beauty of it, hopefully it is not all protected area up there. As you pass through you go through 8 tunnels which are really cool, and you travel up and down mountains while competing for road space with a million truckers. Why they don't make that road truck free is beyond me, but I guess it's been there for trucks forever so why change it now. Trucks could access Okanagan via Coquihalla Highway, but seem to like this route.
Getting back home was nice, my dog missed me more than anyone I think, and it felt sooooooo nice to have a hot shower and be able to sit without bug gear on, dirty clothes and unknowns in your future. There is a lot to be said about being home, but that adventure is also amazing. Every year I tell myself this is the last year I am heading North.. six times I have lied to myself. I wonder if there will be a seventh.
- I get a backache from sleeping on the Thermarest pad every night. It inflates to about 2 inches, and it helps to let a bit of air out of it, comfortable at first, but by morning my back is hurting enough that it is hard to get up. I was thinking maybe I should bring a roll of memory foam to lay on top of it, or should the head part be elevated more, kind of like a wedge rather than completely flat? I do have two pillows to get my head up, but this does not help my shoulders.
- Moisture wicking socks are great, just be careful not to pull them up too high, when you put your boots on they can put pressure on your toes and after several days you start to get sore toes. Happens to me regularly. It also helps to loosen the buckle at the front part of the boot to allow your feet to expand a bit and increase circulation, and keep toenails short. If you get a hangnail, a pair of pliers works great to pull the toe nail out enough for some relief, then smear some antiseptic on it.