RubiKon Adventures

Tales and travels of "GrizzLee", "Looksha Lori" & "Yukon Johann"

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

GrizzLee Stories From The North: Episode 5 - Finishing the Canol Road

Continuing from Episode 4.....

So I made some dinner in the “shack” I was staying and I changed out of my wet riding gear. It is still very much light out… like dusk, but it gets no darker. There are 2 windows in the shack and I kept an eye on the weather and the workers out on the airstrip. After a quick bite, I made some hot cocoa. By this time the rain had died down to a heavy mist. I took a walk out to chat with the workers loading the trailer onto another trailer. They were driving out tonight back to Ross River. They were bringing back more equipment the next day to pull the semi out of the muskeg. They told me that I was wise to come back to the valley as the tundra above on the NWT side was full of grizzlies. A fact I validated with all the bear scat I witnessed.

Old WWII Vintage trucks and equipment at MacMillan Pass

It was about midnight when I crawled into my sleeping bag. On a plywood bunk. I was soo tired. Before hand, I secured all my gear and packed away my trash from dinner and snacks I had for the day. Up in the north, I normally store all that stuff in a pannier and keep the pannier about 100 yds from where I sleep and even spray it with WD40 to keep bears from sniffing it out. I also never make it a habit to cook where I sleep as well. This night I broke all those rules. All that was in the shack with me. I noted that the hollow core door wouldn’t latch and had a makeshift wire looped around the knob (like a coat hanger) with a nail in the wall to hold the door shut. There was a bottle of bear spray and water bottles half full of water left behind by others as well. All was well, I was warm, dry and fed. I was asleep within minutes of crawling into my bag. I knew I had a big day again tomorrow. They ferry crossing at Ross River shut down at 5:00 pm. I aimed to get up early and arrive before then.

About an hour and a half later, I was abruptly woken by heavy scratching on the wall of the shack. Initially, in my half awake state, I though it was a raven. The scratching got more intense and I noticed the shack was shaking. I sat up and noted the plywood wall was arcing inward from whatever was clawing at the wall. OH NO!!! Bear! I quickly got up and banged on the wall and it stopped. They it began again with more intensity. The wall was buckling inward and I could feel the creature pushing on the other side. Only plywood separated us. I looked over my shoulder at the puny door and the wire that secured it shut. Any animal could get in with very little effort. I was in calm panic now. Yelling and beating on the walls while I put my riding pants on, my armored jacket, my boots and yes, my helmet. I was ready to do battle. All the while the creature kept at it, undeterred by my attempts to scare it off. I grabbed my bear spray and unlatched the door and cautiously looked outside.  It was still wet and misty. I began to make my way around the shack, hugging the walls with the bear spray cocked and loaded like a policeman would with a pistol. I could still hear the creature clawing intently at the shack wall. I made my way pas the outdoor shower and peered around the corner. I was momentarily relieved, for it was the biggest damn porcupine I have ever seen. He was HUGE! At least twice the size of the one I videoed the day before. For some odd reason he was clawing the shack to shreds. I yelled at it and it turned towards me and waddled puffed up. I quickly backed around the corner and picked up some big rocks to chuck at it. I waited, and waited and I waited a bit more. The critter never came. I went to look around the corner and it was waddling across the airstrip. Whew!! That was an experience. My heart was racing and I was relieved to say the least. It could have been worse. I made my way back to the shack, but first I took my food and trash out of the shack in a secured pannier and stowed about 75 yards away from the shack. I stack my other panniers against the door after latching it. Not that it would help, but any critter trying to come in would make a racket and hopefully wake me long before it would make its way in.  I crawled back into my sleeping bag, my bear spray next to. I really didn’t sleep much more that night. Catching the odd 20 minute cat nap every now and then. In hindsight, it all seems silly, but out there, alone in the north, 160 miles from nowhere, one’s mind can really let the imagination run free.

The next morning, I found the weather no better. I retrieved my pannier and made some breakfast in the shack. It was about 10:00 am when I got packed and left the airstrip. I was still lightly rainy, foggy and cold out. But one thing was going through my mind. I had to get back to Ross River before 5:00 pm as that is when the ferry stopped service each day. Now this may seem trivial to many pavement riders, but 150 miles on dirt can be like riding 300 miles on pavement. It takes more than twice as long to travel the miles out here.

I returned back to the trucks assembled in the mouth of the pass and spent some time there, cursing the rain while looking through the old trucks and equipment. I made it a point to enjoy what I was seeing, knowing that I may never be back. The very thought of this this made me sad as I felt cheated by the weather and it was obvious that this is a very special place on the planet. I made a vow then and there to return.

Going back out the Canol wasn’t as exciting as it was coming up. Time constraints, and the rain just dampened the mood. It was turning out to be a very wet summer up here. The Yukon interior is usually pretty dry and arid in the summer. Perhaps climate change was the reason. This type of weather would haunt me for most of time on this trip.
Back on the Robert Campbell Highway

I did make it back to Ross River in time (4:42 pm) was the time I read on my dashboard. 18 minutes to spare. J  I stopped in the little village store to get a weather report….not good, more rain for the foreseeable future. I had a decision to make. Head over towards Faro and up to Dawson City, OR ride the South Canol and pray for little to no rain. I decided to do a little praying. South of me, I could see some blue skies. Maybe, just maybe I could skirt on through and enjoy the treasures of the Lapie Lakes area. My friend at Whitehorse had told me about a road just south of the lakes that made its way up into the mountains that would be worth checking out. So that is where I headed. For the next couple of hours, It was heavenly.
The Lapie River as seen from the Robert Campbell Highway
I arrived at the Lapie lakes and there was a hole in the clouds and glorious sunshine came through. However, it wasn’t going to last. South of me and North of me dark clouds were coming it with a wall of rain. Fierce winds were swirling about. It seemed that the polar weather gods were arm wrestling over who would get to piss on me first.
High canyon bridge crossing the Lapie River on the South Canol
I pulled in to one of the lakes that had a boat launch and some picnic tables. Nobody was there. I helped myself to a campsite and quickly put up my rain tarp and then my tent underneath. All the while the skies were spitting bits of rain, but nothing major. In fact the wind would dry the rain pretty quickly after it fell.

The South Canol has magical beauty to spare.

Sometime later, in between squalls, I made some dinner around 10:00 pm. As I was enjoying my late night meal, I heard familiar sounds. The same sounds of heavy clawing and scratching on plywood like I experienced at the shack the night before. WTH!!! I grabbed my bear spray and went to investigate. I soon discovered a plywood outhouse in the bush with another huge porcupine tearing up the walls. What is it with these critters? They are worse than termites. I tossed a couple of stones on the roof of the outhouse and it spooked the porcupine. They must not see very well, because it quickly waddled directly towards me as if I wasn’t there.  The spikey critter was nearly on top of me when it realized I was in his path. Suddenly he puffed up and turned around slapping his tail violently at me. Fortunately, I was out of his range and I thoroughly enjoyed his fit.

I finally went to sleep. But deep sleep evaded me. It may have been the pitter-patter of rain on my tarp all through the night, the disappointment, the cold, the ride out on potentially muddy road. Whatever it was, I just didn’t sleep well. Morning seem to come as quick as an eye blink. It was still raining when I awoke. I waited and stalled as much as I could in the comfort of my dry and toasty warm sleeping bag, but, mother nature was calling. So I dashed out of the tent into the morning misty rain. I came back in and slept (if you can call it that) until 10:00 am or so. At which point I decided that it was time to nut up or shut up. So I began slowly packing my gear up within the tent. Amazingly, the rain stopped during this exercise. I quickly made hay while the sun didn’t shine and packed my bike. I even found some time to enjoy a little bit of breakfast. From there I headed out and took a side road just south of Lapie Lakes to some old mines that a friend of mine in Whitehorse told me about. However, the weather deteriorated and I turned around and continued my journey down the south canol. I did make a few stops along the way. Quiet Lake is a must see place and I met some canoeist launching to paddle the Big Salmon River. A must do trip for me that I added to my expansive bucket list.  But, other than that , it rained off and on until I popped out on the Alaskan Highway at Johnsons Crossing. I made tracks to Whitehorse to meet up with my friend and recharge. Hoping for better weather in the days to come.

My next destination… Dawson City, The Dempster Highway and Tuktoyuktuk.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

GrizzLee Stories From The North: Ep4 -Good Weather, Good Roads, Good Friends, Good Times (Video)

GrizzLee Stories From The North: Ep4 -Good Weather, Good Roads, Good Friends, Good Times (Video)

You read the story, now see the video.

Stay tuned for more....

Monday, April 15, 2019

GrizzLee Stories From the North : Episode 4 - Good Times, Good Friends, and Good Roads (Part 2)

Part II Episode 4: Good Times, Good Friends, and Good Roads

Back out on the Robert Campbell Hwy, I picked up where I left off. As I headed further northwest, I could see rain clouds forming. I was hoping that they wouldn’t amount to anything of significance.
I was really enjoying the ride. However, about an hour out of camp, I lost my sunshine and it started getting cold and windy.  In fact, I got a few sprinkles. I stopped for a bit at Finlayson Lake to put on my warmer gear. I was beginning to have second thoughts about riding farther north again up the Canol Road. Three years earlier, I tried in the same type of weather and had a miserable time up that way. Rain, hail, bits of snow, high winds and a long night huddled in a wet tent… an experience that  dampened my sprits back then. Now all those memories were coming back. I didn’t want to re-live the same pain as before. After all, I’m on vacation…

I arrived at Ross River to get gas and groceries. The little hamlet store was crowded. I got a couple of burritos and some cheese, trail mix and an ice cream sandwich. All that was a bit expensive and to top it off, I had to wait in line. I soon learned that the reason for the crowds, was the store was just restocked with fresh goods and the locals are always aware of the day the truck arrives.

Back outside I noticed a young man working on his bicycle fully loaded with expeditionary gear. We chatted a bit and it turns out he just returned from riding up to the NWT border on the north Canol. Actually he rode up and got a ride bike. HE told me he was excited for a little bit of rain, because the road was super dusty. I told him about my previous experience and preferred dry weather.

We parted was and I crossed Ross River on the cable ferry. Soon I found myself on my way into a lonesome land. The road wasn’t wet and there was enough rain spritz to keep the road dust down and make for good traction, but not enough to make the ride uncomfortable. I had 150 miles or so to go to the NWT border. I needed to keep an eye on my fuel as I was not carrying any extra. If careful, I know I can go nearly 400 miles on a tankful. This should get me there and back with little to no side trips. To make things interesting, the fuel strip on my bike is absolute garbage, a known problem that BMW refuses to address. As a result, I was going solely by my trip meter.

Unlike last time, I came this way, I didn’t see one bear on my way up. Lots of porcupines though. The weather began to deteriorate ever so slowly the farther north I got and it started getting cold. At one point the road was elevated going through some muskeg. I stopped to get some water and shoot some video. I was startled a bit by rustling in the bush. It sounded like a sizeable creature crashing through it, but further investigation revealed nothing.

I tootled along and came upon really muddy conditions. I could tell a road crew had recently been working the road. I saw a grader and a couple of trucks parked off the road in various spots. While the road was muddy, it wasn’t really hard to manage. However, there is no gravel put down and the road graders had made a mess of the road by upturning fist size and even larger rocks at random on the road.

Finally at mile 94 or along the Canol road north, I came across some WWII vintage construction equipment that had been left abandoned from the construction of the Canada Oil pipeline project. Three years earlier, this was as far as I made it, as the rain, wind and hail was too much for me to handle back then. Even though it was now raining, the conditions were nowhere like my previous trip. I stopped and got some video. The trees and bush were reclaiming the historical “junk” left behind by the failed project.

From there, it wasn’t too far from there where I got my first views of the MacMillan river. The views of the river running through the pristine valley will be forever etched upon my memories. From here on the scenery changed. The sun was making a feeble attempt to come out, but failing miserably. It was now 8:30 or so in the evening, but being near the summer solstice I had daylight to spare.

I made my way deeper into the northern Yukon, pressing my way towards the NWT border. There were many streams crossings to be done, many of which had swelled to small rivers. A few times I got of my bike to scout the crossings, but nothing I couldn’t handle on the big bike with all my gear. The trees began to get smaller and in fact really only grew in places where the permafrost had melted away along creeks, streams and rivers. The road wound its way through the muskeg towards the border mountains. The mountains were beautiful with views of glaciers beginning to appear. One particular mountain stood out more than the rest, that being Itsa mountain. I managed to get some nice footage and photos of it. I even crossed Itsa creek a few times.

For a brief period, the sun came out as I got swallowed by the mountains at the border. I am sad to report that my videos and photos cannot do it justice. It was an amazing experience with green and gold colors painting the mountain sides with hints of red ore to adding highlights. I was now crossing and re-crossing the MacMillan river in the narrow valley. It’s size and girth began to dwindle and the mountains rose up on either side of me. I was getting near MacMillan pass.

Just before the the NWT/Yukon border there is an airstrip, and just before that is another conglomerate of WWII vintage trucks and road building equipment. However, just before that I came across a bridge with a sharp turn where I met some miners loading gear and supplies on a flatbed trailer. It seems that a truck and failed to make the turn and rolled off the road here. Now, 9:30 at night, they were working to get it all cleaned up.

Just down the road, I stopped and looked at the vintage WWI “junk” lining the side of the road. It was a surreal scene. The old fenders and the large headlights on the trucks gave them a personality and they even seem to give them life. They had stories to tell, I was certain of that. I was trying to imagine what life was like out here during WWII as they cut a road through the virgin wilderness in the long days of summer and the bitter cold of the winter. Romantic vision for me, but I am can only imagine the urgency and such that came with the fear and preparing infrastructure to defend a continent from invasion in such a foreign environment.  

Eventually, I made my way to the NWT border at Mac pass and the tundra opened up into a maze of brush. I when about 10 Km farther down the road beyond the border. But several factors played in my decision to turn around. (1) The road conditions were deteriorating quickly with potholes big enough to swallow my bike ; (2) The road was littered with bear scat likened to a walking in a cow pasture of well fed cattle; (3) It was now 10:30 at night; (4) I could see a wall of rain coming towards me from the Yukon border where I just came; (5) I had gone over 160 miles and I knew my bike had a safe range of about 340 miles before needing to be filled (I carried no extra fuel with me on my GSA); (6) There was really no “safe” camping spots out here. The tundra was a maze of brush and muskeg, and I would be hard pressed to see any wildlife, especially bears that would want to make a surprise visit.

With all this in mind, I turned around and headed back to towards the valley where the airstrip at the pass was in hopes of finding a suitable camping spot and some good drinking water. I failed to mention this, but the water in the MacMillan river and many of the side streams was a reddish-orange color and didn’t look to inviting to drink. It was another reason why I had no desire to camp up by the pass as the water was not looking good. I found a good stream of clean water coming off the mountainside and filtered it. In the time it took me to find water and filter, I was now in the midst of a rain storm that was frigidly cold and it was mixed with snow. Brrrr…

I decided that I didn’t want to deal with setting up my tent in such wet conditions and that I’d head for the airstrip and make some sort of makeshift lean-to to setup my tent. There were, after all tarps and lumber stacked out there with generators, digging tools and machine parts all sitting on the edge of the runway like a backcountry hardware store. All brought in to support the exploratory mining going on in these parts, I’m sure.

I arrived at the airstrip and found the folks whom I met earlier loading a flatbed trailer onto another flatbed trailer to haul out. It was indeed the trailer that had spilled it goods. The truck, was still down of the side of the road… presumably, it may join the countless other vintage trucks I saw from WW II. I hope not. While some consider that stuff historical artifacts, the fact of the matter is, it’s all garbage left by man and should be cleaned up. We have no business tainting such country with our trash.

In any event, there was a sign there that stated one needed permission to enter the airstrip area and I stopped to asked about camping there. They stated that I could stay at a shack at the end of the runway. I found this shack, and while it wasn’t a Holiday Inn or even a Motel 6, but….. it may as well have been for me. I was so thankful to pull in and get out of the rain. It wasn’t much more than a plywood shed, with an interior hollow door that wouldn’t latch, 2 plywood bunks and an outdoor shower. But, it was dry and I could hand my wet gear inside and even think about making dinner. It was now 11:00 pm at night. Although, it was still very much light out I was tired, spent and ready to hit the sack big time. It was a huge day of riding for me or anybody else for that matter. I was out of adrenaline, cold, hungry, and just plain worn to a frazzle staying on “my game” for most of the day to keep the bike upright in this beautifully hostile country.

I eventually made it to bed and one would have thought that I would have slept through the night like a log, but around 1:30 am, I was awakened by the most horrible sound imaginable. The plywood walls were being pushed in as I heard the sound of scratching…. OMG!! Was this a bear trying to get in?

Stay tuned for more....