RubiKon Adventures

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

Friday, April 26, 2019

Grizzlee Stories From the North: Dismal Days Ahead

Grizzlee Stories From the North: Dismal Days Ahead

I left Whitehorse after spending 2 days with a friend in hopes of doing the Dempster Highway.
The weather was in flux and It seemed that the forecast changed every couple of hours. In my research of the ride reports, riders were having an extremely hard time on the Dempster as a whole. They had nearly record rainfall for June and thus reports of injuries, abandoned bikes and other harrowing tales of woe were rampant. And in talking with locals, it seems the road to Tuk was in bad shape form the severe wetness, some even stated that the road was rushed to get open for the season and as a result wasn’t quite ready for all the tourist.

On My way to Dawson City - Weather not looking promising
The ride to Dawson was at times misty and for the most part under clouds with little to no sunshine. I stopped in Carmacks to meet the owners of the Coalmine Campground to get more skinny on the road conditions and weather. I got more of the same … complaints of how wet it has been and the road to Tuk isn’t what it should be.  I happened to have lunch with a road worker and his buddies who worked on the stretch from Inuvik to Tuk and they told me that I should with until next year. They complained heavily about the type of rock that was used on the road… it wasn’t good and that they will have to harvest shale form another site to repair the road properly.  They said in its current state the road was dangerous and that the Dempster had been shut down due to slides.

I took all this too heart and motored my way further north. I love this country. At Carmack I crossed the might Yukon River and shortly thereafter stopped to gaze at Five Finger Rapids. I know this river well, for I have paddled it three times previously and every time I see it I get emotional and am reminded of the great times I had paddling it with my family. The first time, I paddled it with my son when he was 11 years old. That was a grand adventure.

Yukon River

Five Finger Rapids
I continued my way north, passing through Pelly and eventually coming to Stuarts crossing, about 80 miles away from Dawson. It was here that I met up with a lone bicyclist who just came off of 14 days of riding up and down the Dempster Highway. I listened with great horror the tales he told of the accidents and the abandoned bikes left on the road. He stated that it was extremely wet and muddy at times. However he did say, there were some days of sunshine. The day before however, he told me the road had been closed due to a slide and that some motorcyclist was injured and had to be medevac’d out.

Damp Camp at Dawson (say that fast five times :-)
Steamship Graveyard
My hopes of riding to Tuk were dwindling at this point. And sure enough, as I arrived at the junction of the Dempster and Klondike highways, there was a sign stating that that Dempster was closed at mile marker XXX (I don’t recall the exact mile marker). Disappointed, I made my way into Dawson city setup camp at the campground across the Yukon river. That was actually fun. It was about 9:00 at night by now and I took the ferry across the river to get there. I found a nice secluded campsite and setup my tarp and my tent. All through the day and night I would get spritz of rain. It was very humid and sticky.

Old Paddlewheel
The next morning I took a walk to the see the steamship graveyard down river form the camp. It is a short walk along the beach. I am always amazed at the history that is parked here. It is too bad that some of these steamships were not preserved for historical reference. The steamers were abandoned in the 1950’s when the Klondike highway was finally built and connected Dawson to Whitehorse. The need for the old sailing vessels disappeared overnight. Many of them parked here and left to decay.

Afterwards, I made my way back over the river, via ferry, and stopped by the NWT visitor’s center. I asked about the road conditions of the Dempster Hwy and was told that the Dempster was temporarily closed due to mud slides. Furthermore, I was “strongly” asked not to try to ride the road until later in the summer or to come back next year, especially alone. They repeated most of what I already heard… It seems that had an unseasonable heavy rains and the road conditions are in decay as the maintenance crews are working round the clock to repair the road… more so than ever this year.

View Dawson City, the Klondike River and the Yukon River form the Midnight Dome
GrizzLee at the Dome
So, instead, I decided to ride the Midnight Dome and then do a circular ride out to Bonanza Creek and ride the Hunker Creek road to Gold Bottom and up towards Solomons Dome. It was a wonderful ride for the most part and I got some great footage of modern placer mining in action. It did rain on me and up towards the summit I could see north into the Dempster country and it wasn’t looking good at all. Rain, rain, rain and more F@#%ing rain as far as the eye could see. Damn it!!!

One of the best seats in all of the Yukon
Yukon River heading into Alaska

Enjoying the views

It was at this moment, I decided to head over to Alaska and ride towards Prudhoe Bay.

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.