The Dempster Run.
Note to self: Never, ever start a ride with only a candy bar and a 16 oz bottle of water on what is deemed one of the most demanding roads in North America. Also stop for breakfast.
I had a very hard time getting to sleep. The 'Inn" has no blackout curtains and I find it difficult to sleep when the room is lit like there is a twin four-foot fluorescent light 6 inches above the bed at 0200.
Cleanly shaven and my breath minty fresh I leave late. Who says you have to leave early for adventures in northern Canada? Out on 2 from town (also known as the Klondike Highway) I head to the Klondike River Lodge which is the start of the Dempster.
Last night I bought an extra gas can that holds just over a gallon US. I had gone back over the figures in my mind (maybe I shouldn't do that) and felt I needed a little more fuel. If I'm going to do this full time on my own reality TV show I need to get a calculator or at least an assistant with a math degree.
Stopping at the Klondike River Lodge I topped off the tank as it was about 25 miles from Dawson City. I also bought a candy bar completely forgetting that it would be a long time until I could get a meal. I had water bottle left over from a few days ago in one of the saddle bags.
Let me make this clear; I started the Dempster with a candy bar (1) and a 16 oz bottle of water (1). But I wouldn't have been shocked if there was no water as I didn't do an inventory prior to making the turn from the parking lot of the Klondike on to the Dempster.
At the lodge you turn out onto 5, the Dempster Highway. While getting gas I noticed three BMW 1200GSAs over by the sign at the beginning of the highway. They were gone when I went back to pump after paying for my gas. I'm sure they were scared off by the roads reputation.
With much trepidation I crossed the Klondike River. No really, I was a bit nervous. Would the Eagle Plains Hotel have WiFi, Bud Light Lime, a washer and dryer? I mean I was in serious territory here.
There are signs warning of 'no emergency services', 'next services' (fuel and rib-eye steaks) for 370 km - a long, long way. I laughed like a little girl as I passed them.
It was cool so I had on my poly-pro long johns, and most of my fleece. It looked like it was going to rain at any minute. And as I've heard the Dempster is a mess when wet.
For the first 3 miles or so you're on pavement. Very deceptive as you're probably thinking "Hey maybe they paved this Dempster to Inuvik since I last looked at ADVRider.com" and no one reported it. Wrong. You soon run into dirt, gravel and if you're really unlucky ankle deep mud.
The road was rough with many small potholes. It had rained last night so the road was slick as well. Early on I was riding on a deep gravel road bed that sits fairly high off the 'ground'. In other words if you fall off the road it's quite a long way to the ground. For quite a few miles the sides are steep drop offs probably 15 feet in height. The gravel along the road edges, right before you drop the 15 feet, looks soft; deep mushy soft. I didn't test it I just took my senses at their word with no debate.
The road itself was surprisingly in good shape. It was difficult at times to find a clean line. I found myself all over the road for the first couple of hours. Sometimes running on the left side of the road for several miles at a time because of gravel build up or the fact I could see for miles and no one was the other lane.
But running on the left side is not recommended on a slick road with blind turns. Some of the turns have an inside camber so as you're fighting to climb out, back to the right, you're wondering if something is hurtling around that corner at you.
I had very few close calls on the turns. A few, but not many. I was taking my time as I didn't want to go down or become a grill ornament.
The wind picked up a bit early on but a lot of it was blocked by the trees it wasn't that bad. There were lots of varied vegetation and trees as well as some small ponds from run offs that lined large parts of the road especially at the start.
At about 45 Km you enter the Olgvie Mountains and will shortly come up on the Interpretive Center on your left. The buildings look brand new and they were still working on the road leading into it as well as the parking lot. I didn't stop because I knew I had many hours of riding in front of me.
After the center you begin a short climb with some switch backs. The views are getting better and better. You're entering North Fork Pass and the trees seem to fall off and open up to an area predominately of tundra. Here you'll cross what is advertised as the highest point on the Dempster Highway. It didn't seem like it as some later climbs felt much higher.
It's not too long that Two Moose Lake is on your left. I saw a couple fishing when I went by. Sadly, no moose. In fact all I would see today was one Marmot, a field mouse, a hawk and a Swedish helicopter pilot.
The next summit is Windy Pass Summit. The 'word on the street' is that this area hasn't changed much in the last 100,000 years (which is about how long it seems it take to get to Eagle Plains). This area is amazing. You're looking out at areas that have probably never been trod by man before.
Further on you cross the Jeckell Bridge which spans the Ogilvie River. The road continues to climb from here. It feels like you are higher than North Fork Pass by now but apparently not. Again you get some great views from the road. Montana may have a lock on 'Big Sky Country' but I think that the Yukon could give them a run for their money. I so wished the sun was out more but even overcast it was beautiful.
Stopping sometimes I was mesmerized by just how far I could see. I call it looking back into history. You're looking, at times, over a plain that is so vast and broad you wonder could one man even traverse it in a lifetime.
I stopped at the Ogilvie-Peel viewpoint and put in fuel from one of the cans. I realized by now that I didn't need to bring the second extra can. Usually the low fuel light comes on at about 115 to mid 120 miles but with the low speeds it did not come on until 160 miles! The 1 gallon was plenty for the run into Eagle Plains.
I ate my candy bar and drank all my water here. I'm not ashamed to say that I dropped a piece of the candy bar on the ground and I didn't hesitate to pick it up, blow off the dirt and pop it in my mouth. I was that hungry.
For most of the day the clouds were intermittent with the sun shining on occasion. The temperatures for the trip varied from low 40s to high 50s. Cool to cold.
The view from Ogilvie-Peel was spectacular even with the overcast lighting. To the north, the plateau stretches 300 km to the British Mountains and the coastal plain off the Beaufort Sea. This apparently was the area that oil was discovered and in turn created a need for the Dempster highway.
From here I figured I had about 90 minutes of riding at the speeds I was going. The road conditions were consistent with a few areas being markedly different from the others but the entire road was excellent on this day.
I passed a few graders either laying out new gravel/soil or turning over the road to smooth it out. These areas were soft causing me to slow further. I was being very cautious on this run. This road has this reputation as being very difficult and I didn't want to throw caution to the wind quite yet.
From the Ogilvie-Peel viewpoint which is pretty high above the valley you are now travelling on the Eagle Plains. It's not a plains but more of a ridge line.
When you finally get to the Eagle Plains complex it is very unassuming with a gas and repair station as well as a landing area/refueling stop for helicopters. I was expecting a brass band and balloons.
I pulled in 9 hours after starting. Yeah, nine hours, one dirty candy bar and 16 ounces of water. I was beat. Looking back I could have pushed it more but this was the first long run on gravel and there were many slick surfaces. Also, that thing about no emergency services for essentially hundreds of miles was on my mind.
I passed two airstrips on the way to Eagle Plains. They seemed to be positioned about 1/3rd and 2/3rds of the way to Eagle Plains. At the first one there was a small bush plane parked and at the second I saw no activity.
I checked in, checked the room. I'm sure that nothing has changed here since the place was built in the 70s. Wait they have Wi-Fi which I'm sure came after the 70s. The room had semi-blackout curtains so I was happy. And a bed.
I ate dinner as soon and as quickly as I could as I was planning continuing on the Arctic Circle today. I had the rib-eye special. The meal was fantastic.
And so was the eye-popping helicopter pilot I saw eating in the dining hall as well. Oh my god, where's the charter desk I'm booking the helicopter for the entire next week. I'm not sure what language she was speaking but to me it was the 'Language of Love'. Of course all I had in the past 9 hours was that candy bar and a bottle of water which may have played a special role in the excellence of the meal and the beauty of the pilot.
I fueled up after the meal and headed on to the Arctic Circle. The clouds were breaking up and more and more of the sun was out.
You drop down from Eagle Plains towards Eagle River. On the way there is a sign warning that the road may be used as an 'Emergency Runway at Anytime'. Cool. A little further on the road is marked with a wind sock and cones for use as a 'roadwayrunway'. I searched the skies but saw no planes.
Down to the Eagle River and you cross it on a small trestle bridge and then back up and out of this small valley. When you get back up out of the valley I can't emphasize enough about how grand the views are. This is big country!
bit later you make a long weeping turn and the road begins to drop away and in the distance you can see a brown smudge; a marker. That marker is the Arctic Circle. I had made it.
Dropping down a mile or so and I was there. A few photos, a short chat about the scooter with a group that pulled up and then back to Eagle Plains.
I had a few beers in the bar, which closes at 1100 so time your trip accordingly. Then to bed.
A bit anti-climatic, eh?
I'll admit I had some trepidation about it but I can't see this road being out of reach for many riders. True, I was turning around at Eagle Plains and would not go on to Inuvik. I really wanted to go to Inuvik but I needed new front tires and I didn't think they were going to last long enough to get me to Inuvik, back to Dawson city and then to Anchorage.
To turn around was a decision made by me not by the shortcomings of the scooter. I should have gotten new front tires when I had the rear tire done in Seattle. If I had done that I'm sure I would have continued on.
I hate turning around but this place is huge, incredibly huge and it made quite an impression on me. Mistakes here hurt.
I'm sure someone will chime in and say "...well the REAL Dempster doesn't start until AFTER the Arctic Circle. You need to know the secret handshake to go on."
Ok, I'm fine with that. I got off a plane from Iraq, bought a scooter, rode it a few miles, threw some tools in a pannier, strapped a 'freakin' large roller duffle bag on the back and rode from Key West to the Arctic Circle. I won't hang my head in shame over that.
I was passed by 10 cars outbound and 3-4 inbound. I was passed by 5 big trucks outbound and 4 inbound. This is a big place, tread lightly as you are on your own. Oh, pack a lunch.
Let's just get right down to business. The ARCTIC CIRCLE on an MP3 500!
Another one. Do I look fat in this one?
Fuel stop and candy bar stop.
It's really big here.
Follow the road. That little brown spot is the Arctic Circle.
Give credit where credit is due.
You fall, it hurts for a long time.
There is no one out here for miles and hours.
I call this looking back a million years.
My photos don't due this place justice.
Very few, if any, have walked across this plain.
You're on your own here. Be prepared.
This is what you see when you climb out from the Interpertive Center.
This is very early on.
This is some sort of an artifact left by prehistoric people who roamed this area. Perhaps an altar? There were no interpertive signs here.
Last edited by Chiaroscuro on Wed, 09 Feb 2011 04:21:21 +0000; edited 1 time