18 June 2018. Good morning Aches and Pains…er…Eagle Plains. Rooms were limited, but Mr. Jones got one for himself and the rest of us split a small, two bed unit. One knucklehead per bed and the other two were floor-bound and squeezed around riding gear, essentials, valuables, etc a bit sardines-like. Post breakfast, it’s time to review the carnage and prepare for the day’s ride to Inuvik. We did have some fun with Hyde as Mike picked out his carb covers…
Kevin and Mike inspect the metal mules:
There are quite a few riders making (or returning from) the trip to Tuk. None are riding similar vintage machines however, so our story gets at least a little interest. I mean who isn’t interested in people that appear normal on the surface but certainly must be a bit mad? On this fine morning, we meet a genuine gentleman (proof next) and scholar (physicist if memory serves) that goes by the name Hi-De-Ho (formerly HeidiHo) on ADV. He is riding up to Tuk solo and was gracious enough to GIVE us a set of motorcycle jumper cables (since Hyde’s battery is dead). Aside from being the real deal, he’s had the unlucky fortune of being struck by lightning…while riding on I-5 many years ago!!! Link:https://www.kiro7.com/news/motorcycle-rider-hit-lightning/246449379
He made it to Inuvik easily but didn’t fare so well further north. More on his story later.
The meat of the Dempster is long stretches of dirt and gravel. Until it rains at least. We are lucky on this day to have a sunny start and the forecast looks good. Reports from riders heading back south paint a dire picture of the road immediately upon crossing the Northwest Territory border. These are sane people riding ‘real’ dirt-biased adventure bikes.
For the curious, the orange cones indicate the road is also a landing strip. Hopefully, nobody gets voted off this island via mechanical DNF or medical necessity.
At this point, we are starting to check off milestones. Dawson: check. Eagle Plains: check. Now we can check off the Arctic Circle:
Quick flashback: In 2009, we took a picture at the Arctic Circle marker along the Dalton highway. I’ll post for reference because it was around 3am on the Summer Solstice (we are 3 days early this time around):
Once again given our late start to the day, we feel the pressure to take a quick pic and get rolling. But considering that facilities are scarce, Kevin decides to make Beluga whale mating calls in the nearby outhouse. Given his OCD on sanitary conditions, it must’ve been at least DEFCON 2. Common sense prevailed but only after we got Hyde’s bike jumped and running. So Hyde chooses to circle the parking lot for several laps while we wait for the coffee-induced bombing. I think Kevin displays the gang sign for mission accomplished:
Another milestone bagged. The Northwest Territory / Yukon border, and the start of trouble if the most recent ride reports are accurate.
While enjoying the splendor at the border, a multigenerational Asian family pulls up in a black Tahoe. They are taking pictures just like we are, but the youngest (college age) daughter comes up and asks if they can take our picture with her. “This is so cool” she says. We feel like rock stars for a bit and at the very least someone will have recent pictures of us for the rescue teams.
The NWT/YT border on the Dempster is the point of no return. The road going north descends gently away from our parking area so we are not sure what is just around the bend. The rumors and stories from riders that have made this trek recently make it seem like we are genuinely doomed.
Hyde is not one to back down so easily and takes the lead down the long downhill section and we each follow suit. Fortunately, the road has dried out to the point we had no issues with this section. If I can offer a Public Service Announcement about the Dempster, it’s this: the weather will make or break the trip. Fortune is smiling on (laughing at) us so far.
Not too long after the border, Hyde’s bike is giving him fits. It’s no longer adequate to jump start and roll. We know his regulator is suspect but power is going in/out and frustrating him like nothing else could. We pull over and we troubleshoot again. Eventually, we learn that his electric fuel pump is shot, perhaps due to the chronic electrical issues. And yes, we actually have a spare fuel pump and install it on the side of the road.
We await our first ferry crossing over the Peel River just a bit south of Fort McPherson.
For the most part, the relative remaining dampness and humidity made the passage up to this point tolerable. But from Ft. McPherson and north it was a different beast. The dry dirt and gravel road made for severe dust-tails. The bikes are one thing, but the tractor-trailers hauling up and down the road make for major suckiness for us. The drivers have places to be and yet for the most part are respectful of the annoying, mobile hood ornaments in their way. But literally the visibility drops to mere feet for 15 or more seconds when passing one of these big rigs going the other way. Following one is unbearable and passing (blindly) is Dempster Roulette.
For those of us comfortable on dirt and gravel, going with the flow is easy. For others, it’s not and we have to stick together. Its instances like this I wish we had cartridge filters mounted on our helmets. I did not take pictures of this unpleasantness for several reasons.
Then there are sections of the road that are being groomed. This is where they are hosing down the road and re-grading it. During these sections, I’m sure with some muscle relaxants and charcoal we could make TARDs (Terrified Acute Rectal Diamonds) – possibly of high enough quality to pay for this trip. Seriously though, these sections are slick and gooey. The best way to ride it is counter intuitive: keep it steady and at a reasonable pace. The slower you go, the more fighting you have to do. It reminds me of sand in that way, but without an ounce of the stability of sand. Fortunately, I don't think anyone laid it down.
Our next ferry is across the Mackenzie River at Tsiigehtchic (say that 10 times real fast).
We find a pull off area not too much later to have a meal. By meal I mean the ever tasty camping/MRE just-add-water delicacies. I’m not sure which flavor of rubber band I had, but I hope to never have it again. The bugs are everywhere and I’m sure a few kamikazes made my meal a bit tastier than it otherwise would be.
Back on the road, not too far from Inuvik:
We finally get to Inuvik just a bit before midnight. Here’s about the only place to eat that late. A motley crew indeed: