Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Yukon Territory and Klondike Highway

The Cassiar highway ends just a few miles over the British Columbia/Yukon Territory border, where it joins the Alcan a few miles west of Watson Lake.  I'd been through Watson Lake before; it's not much of a town, although it does have the famous "Signpost Forest".  But I'd already gotten my photo there in 2009 and had no reason to visit again, so I pushed west for a few hours in the direction of Whitehorse.  I camped for the night at a random clearing just off the highway that I'd used on a prior road trip as well.

I made it to Whitehorse early the next day; I'd resolved to take some time off here.  I'd been pushing myself fairly constantly since I'd gotten into Canada, and I wanted a day off the bike to write, relax, and get supplies before making the big push up to Inuvick.

I stayed at a motel that had shown me great kindness when I got stuck in Whitehorse back in 2009, and as part of the treat to myself of staying indoors, I made full use of their grill to make myself some lunch/dinner.

Being a grown-up means that I can have this and only this for dinner

I only spent one night in the motel, but took most of the next day off to run some errands and do more writing as well.  Internet access is a precious commodity in this part of the world; all the usual places that one goes such as libraries and tourist info centers all have half-hour limits.  Even the local coffee shops were either unreliable or were so slow it was almost un-usable.  As much as I felt a bit dirty for it, the fastest and most reliable internet that I was able to find ended up being the McDonalds.

Whitehorse was also where the Dual-Sports finally began to outnumber the Harleys and Goldwings

It was at this McDonalds that I got some very bad news when I went to check my e-mail; I had a job again.  :(  I do seasonal contract work in far-flung areas of the planet, places so remote that they make the Northern Yukon look like the epicenter of civilization, and when I opened my inbox I found that I'd been hired for another six-month contract.  Having a job is nice in a way, but unfortunately this job was going to require me to deploy on September 8th.  Less than three weeks in the future, and completely torpedoing my plans to have a lazy trip into Alaska and then down through California.

Stupid work.  Wanting to give me money all the time.  >: (

With a heavy heart I signed the employment contract and mailed it back to them, and now had a decision to make.  The sensible thing would be to turn around and burn miles back to my home base of Chicago; it would take at least two weeks to get back under at any sort of normal pace, and I needed as much time as possible to get prepared and packed for my new contract.  But . . . I was so close to Inuvick, and I didn't know when I was going to be up this way again . . . Do I make the sensible choice, or say "Fuck it, I'm going North!"?

The decision took about .002 seconds to make; I strapped another can of fuel onto the bike, and headed up the Klondike Highway to Dawson City.

Slowly loosing the comforts of civilization.

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The Klondike Highway from Whitehorse up to Dawson City is mostly paved, but there are still long stretches of gravel and dirt.  Either from construction, or just places they haven't bothered to pave yet.

It's the usual unpredictable surfaces and big dust clouds from passing vehicles.  Sometimes it's smooth and solid, sometimes it's loose and scary.  Keep your eyes on the horizon and stay on the throttle, try and relax if you start sliding.

I left Whitehorse at something like 6pm, with copious daylight left.  Even though we were well past the solstice, the farther north I got the longer the sun was going to hang in the sky.  But this was accompanied by something else, a smell and haze that I'd last seen back in Quebec.

Smoke, it smelled like, from a forest fire.  But there'd been nothing in the news, the people at the info center hadn't mentioned anything, and I'd seen nothing in the way of road closures. 

And oddly, though there was nary a cloud in the sky, there WAS a large section of road that seemed like it had gotten a huge volume of rain very recently.

The only semi-logical conclusion that I could come to is that they'd water-bombed the road recently to prevent it from burning, but . . . would they actually do that on an open, active road?  If the fire is that close, wouldn't they close it?

I made camp that night just up a path off the side of the highway, just as the sun was dipping below the horizon.  I think I heard only two vehicles pass me the whole night; not much going on in this part of the world at this time of year.

The next day I kept riding north; more mostly paved roads slowly winding through alpine hills and mountains.

 A few hours of riding later and I arrived at the Rt 5 junction, which should be my turn-off point to head up the Dempster Highway.

But I was low on gas; I'd never make in the 250 miles to Ft. McPherson, and the gas station at the junction had burned down a couple years ago and not gotten rebuilt.

I had to detour about 20 miles farther north, up to Dawson City.

Dawson was a gold rush town in the prior century and now serves as a hub for many of the far-flung settlements in the northern part of the Yukon.  Tourism seems to play a significant part in the local economy, and they've cranked the Wild West kitch up to 11.

As makes sense for permanently occupied buildings in places where the streets are mud, the public library/school has a mandatory shoes-off policy.

I'd gotten most of my required supplies in Whitehorse, so Dawson was mostly just a fuel and internet stop.  After gassing up, I rode the 20 miles back down the highway to the junction.

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