Spotted this old wood cabin in the woods… my mind starts daydreaming about what it must be like to live a life up here in the bush, off the land.. pretty harsh but beautiful!
Rather common site ever since Yellowstone to here when I pass remnants of forest fires.. in a way it’s sad, but in another way it’s really beautiful too.
I like to see the new life. It’s interesting they tell me in a town up the road that the Yukon did not get their summer bloom of flowers until August.. and by the end of August the season is changing back to cold already! My timing to be here must be right!
So, I’m getting close to the Dempster Highway.. I chose to explore this area early on as being a most spectacular part of the world to ride a motorcycle.
Most people who come to the northwest by motorcycle tend to do the exact same track as everyone else. Prudhoe Bay (top of Alaska) to Ushuaia (bottom of South America).. I purposely didn’t want to do the Dalton Highway in Alaska simply because I get put off by doing the same as everybody else. Sometimes this can’t be helped, but if I can, I would rather do something different. I asked enough people about it though to make sure I wasn’t missing something, and the most common response regarding the Dalton vs Dempster, they would choose Dempster. If I had more time and I was here earlier in the season, I would love to see both! But I had to pick one and Dempster is what I picked. (I have looked at photos of the Dalton from other riders and to me it looks as spectacular as the Dempster.. so either one is a good choice I would imagine)
Knowing the time of year was iffy, Shelley and I enquired in Whitehorse with a trucking company about the road conditions. He said truckers are reporting bad, greasy and icy for the Dempster. He more or less said I’d be foolish to go up there on a motorcycle. She also has other friends around here she called on to get advice about the road, everyone said the road is too bad. My goal was to get to Inuvik, but the sound of it not too promising. Plus a couple of motorcyclists had just died on the Dempster about 2 weeks ago.
The more I thought about that though, I bet motorcyclists died just this week on Highway 65 which is all flat and concrete! And even more people died in cars! I’m trying to keep perspective as it seems like the majority of people are putting fear into my head.
Hmmm.. for real though, it’s not sounding good. We pondered whether I should just get a ride on one of the big trucks so at least I can see that part of the planet since I’m so close, but don’t want to be stupid about insisting on motorcycle. Then my reasoning turned back, I’m not going up there just to see a destination, it’s riding my bike along the way that I want to do.
The last straw was when I stopped at the only fuel station at the base of the Dempster Highway. Everyone checks in here, either to get fuel to go up or when they come out.
I decide to stop here and ask the people who experienced the road this actual day to tell me the conditions. Same story, urging me not to do it. And then the owner of the fuel station came up to me outside by my bike as he owns a bike too and he said if it was him, he definitely wouldn’t do it. Okay okay!!! I get it!!! To dangerous for Sherri Jo!!!!
But what this guy DID recommend is that I at least get a taste of it. There is a campground about 60 miles up the road called Tombstone and he thought I would at least enjoy that and not feel like a total failure.
I agreed, didn’t even fill my fuel and went that night to the camp.
Gee whiz, I know the road is wet, but I wouldn’t describe it as greasy and I would more describe it as EASY! (and super duper beautiful!!!)
About 60 k’s down the road I come up to Tombstone National Park, so I’m assuming I will see a campground soon.. I first see an Interpretive Center and decide to pull in. I guess if this is as far as I’m going to go, I’d like to learn more about it. It was late in the day AND the season and I was only lucky they were still open and about to close up for the night. Added to that, this is the last weekend for them to be open for the season.. I am sooooo lucky!
I meet young Darren, an interpreter for the park who tells me the campground is full.. Full!!! It’s the end of season, how could this be??? Well it is the weekend, but still. There is no city around here for people to escape from.
Ah well, he says I can put my tent up in the parking area for free, and he gave me a can of bear spray as I’m not traveling with one. I decided to go and check out the campground anyway, “cuz you never know!” And score! I found a vacant site right away. There was actually still smoke coming from the fire pit with nobody around.
I asked the man across the way who was also packing up his tent at 5:30 pm, couldn’t understand. And he said, I could even have his spot if I like. I ask him why would he leave this magical place and especially at this time of day, where will he go? He was a German man traveling by car and he said “I’m going to a hotel in Dawson City where I will stay warm and dry tonight”. Okay then! His campsite was awesome, so I took his!
You can see I’m well prepared for grizzly bears tonight! Now this will be a little different than the little black bears I just sort of got used to.. Grizzly!! BIG bears, I want to be prepared.. So, you know the drill.. All food and cosmetic stuff with smells get packed away in the panniers. I’ve got not only the bear spray, but my air horn, flashlight and my leatherman (haven’t pulled out the big knife yet). I decided I wouldn’t do the knife, I’d be better off to play dead if all else fails.
This is the view of the closest mountain from the campground.. so it looks like the snow is low enough to prepare myself for a very chilly evening….
Chilly evening it was.. I wore every bit of winter gear I had IN my sleeping bag.. 3 pairs of socks, beenie hat, the whole deal.. but I slept, mostly.
The next morning, I decided rather than pack up the bike and move on from the Dempster as originally intended, I might stay in this gorgeous camp one more day. Still disappointed I won’t be going up the road, I was thinking it would be good to soak up the atmosphere of such a wild place rather than escaping too quickly.
Early morning walk, I stick to the road where I can see big furry things with teeth coming my way in plenty of time.. ha!
Hey, are those grizzly tracks over there??
Yep, grizzly.. I’ll head back to camp now…
I went back to the interpretive center, and they have their very last organized nature walk for the season. Good for me, to be able to hike into the bush with a group, I would never do on my own in this grizzly country.
Before I left with the small group for a bushwalk, Darren invites me to go fishing with him later on.. Ha, fishing! Me? then I thought, I’m in the middle of nowhere, and whether I catch a fish or not, it must be a cool experience in a beautiful place, so I said yes! 😉
But first, the bushwalk with a geologist. We’re taking our shoes and socks off and walking through the freezing cold water.. good morning!!
Besides the amazing education about the land we walk on, we have cranberries.. !!
Of which we all commence to be like bears and gorge ourselves on blueberries and cranberries.. I can see what the bears love about them.. they are so incredibly delicious pulled off the plant, I personally ate so many I got completely full. I was the slowest one of the pack, picking berries all the way back to camp.
So.. now to continue my Tombstone experience, it’s time to go fishing!
By the way, the mountain top in the middle that looks like a Tombstone, is Tombstone Mountain 😉
Darren picks his favorite fishing hole.. and loads up a pole for me to use too.. I haven’t been fishing since I was a kid, so I hope he doesn’t expect much from me.
Darrens totally cool dog, Sniper, is our bear guard.. and a perfect little guard he was!
Couldn’t pick a prettier land on this planet to be tonight.. I am aware how lucky I am..
We made plenty of noise while we wandered through the bush to the water toward any potential bears. However, our noise may have backfired as we were completely unsuccessful at catching a fish.
Never fear, the experienced First Nations fisherman comes prepared.. the sun went down, we made a really big fire along a river, had leftover pizza and a beer which he had well stashed in the cooler.. for desert, bread with jam.. perfect!
Along the way, he hears me talk about all the people who insist I can not ride a motorcycle up the Dempster Highway.. and he agrees, he knows about the motorcyclists that recently died.. and he refuses to tell me the story about them. Smart man knows not to put visions and fears in my head.
But he’s been up the road many times himself and he’s not convinced that I wouldn’t make it. This is the first person AT ALL that actually gave me a bit of hope.
However, the next morning in the center, and after I pack up my gear on to the bike, a young girl from Australia just came down from attempting to go up the road herself in a car (4 wheels!) and she she said she was sliding all over the place, so she turned around and came back. She also described the road as too greasey and icy. Ugh!
Then!! Comes a big hard core heavy rain.. Geez freakin’ whiz…okay!! That seals the deal for me.. If it was that bad of a road without rain, then it can only be worse. I’m giving up and moving on to Dawson City.
However, Darren, still stands by the fact that I could do it, even in the rain.. He tells me the weather changes dramatically here, that I’m so close I should do it and if I do, he’ll have a moose steak and a beer waiting for me when I get back. I thoroughly explained that now with the rain, it’s not gonna happen!!
He gave me a funny face, a can of bear spray to take and walked away. I thought.. well, I’ll take the bear spray, but I’m not going. I pull out of the center in the pouring rain and started to turn right toward Dawson City..
However! My bike turned left toward the Arctic Circle!!! Seriously!! How did it do that!! I swear I had no control over the wheel of my bike anymore!!!
I didn’t stop immediately.. I decided with myself to go a few kilometers up the road and see for myself how bad it is. I did this in Mongolia too, when I was too scared to go on the track there.. just test it out Sherri Jo, if you can’t do it, turn back! But at least I will know for myself.
To be continued…