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Archive for September, 2009

September 6th, 2009 - Top of the world highway

“People who get up early in the morning cause war, death and famine.” Bansky

I woke up late again. Dempster took a lot out of me and resting up seemed like a good idea. Let’s backtrack a day or two so when you read this post, you are familiar with the characters.

When I got back from the Dempster and met up with Gib again, I found out that he wasn’t the owner of the lodge. Gib Acuna is a Californian who’s been traveling for over a year now and decided to go up the Dempster on his Fat Boy Harley. On his way back, he asked for a job at the lodge and he’s been working there for a month now. The best way to describe this man is to say he is a “people person.” He can start a conversation with a dead tree stump if you let him. He loves candy bars (he already ate half my candy collection) and to cap it off, he is the coolest guy you’ll ever meet. Pushing 61, he still jumps around like a 5 year old and has more energy than a humming bird. After 4 days, it feels like I’ve known the guy my entire life. He offered to let me stay at his place and as I never say no, I moved in right away. He has also shared his employee meals with me ever since I’ve been here, and I’m indebted to this man greatly.

Gib had a master plan to build a motorcycle park right at the gate of the Dempster highway, with campsites next to the river, mechanic shop, food service and entertainment! His idea was a brilliant one and the location he had in mind was unbelievable. You can’t go a meter on the Dempster without relying on the Klondike River Lodge, and he wanted to pitch his idea to the owner of the lodge. I helped him prepare his business plan, make a PowerPoint presentation, and we worked on the details for a long time. When “show time” came, he nailed it and the great news is: starting in May of 2010, there will be an amazing motorcycle campground at the base of the Dempster highway with full support, from tires to towing and rescue. He is the right man to do it and I’m sure it will be successful. I’m designing his website, logo, and taking care of the computer stuff while he does his construction. I wish him the best of luck.

I also met the owner of the lodge, Ross Weitzel. Ross is an interesting sort of guy who does his business on a hand shake. Up here in Yukon, there are no lawyers or legal complications, you shake the man’s hand and your word is your contract. He sponsored my lodging and my meals throughout my stay and reimbursed my camping fees. I liked the place to begin with, now I like it even more. The cook’s name is Brian and being a long time biker, he feeds me every night and supplies the beer while we talk all night and he has more stories than you could imagine. One hell of a nice guy.

The most revolting encounter I had was a conversation with a guy named Mario who was dating Christy, one of the waitresses. Mario is a German who moved to Canada some years back and is a farmer in Whitehorse, Yukon. He asked me what was all the world hunger stuff about and as I was explaining, he said something that I will never forget. “What happens after we feed everyone and no one is hungry? They are going to want more, they would want to eat beef, they would want a motorbike, and they would want a house. I am not ready to give up what I have so they can get what they want. It’s a cruel reality but that’s how it is. They have to be poor so we can be rich.” Is it the ignorance or the arrogance or both?

Brian marinated two moose steaks for me to take along for dinner and after exchanging numbers and emails, I finally got on the road. First stop was Dawson City and I got aboard the ferry to cross the river. Top Of The World Highway starts from the river bank and goes all the way to Alaska. It’s a gravel road with occasional potholes and some paved patches. The road was OK and the scenery beautiful, but to be honest, I didn’t see much of it as I was cold and the wind blew so hard I could barely keep the bike upright. I concentrated on the road and zipped through for hope of lower elevations.

At the American border, the drama started. At the border crossing, I stopped at the red light. I put both of my feet down and put the bike in neutral and as I raised my head, I noticed the border patrol man in his shack waving at me, so I took it as a sign to go to him. I covered the 20 feet or so and stopped at his window and turned the bike off.

He asked why I ran the red light and didn’t wait for the green light. I told him that he signaled me to come over and so I did. He said that he was signaling me to stop. I told him I was already stopped and there was no need to signal me to do so. The conversation went on and on as to who was right, so I finally asked him straight up “what is it you want me to do?”

He said to go around and come back to the light again and wait till it was green, then approach him. I’m getting pretty pissed off at this point but I did what he wanted. I crossed into United States and came back into Canada and stopped at the light again. On green, I approached the window and this time he asked me why I didn’t stop at Canadian Customs while I was turning around! I told him that I was instructed to turn around and come back to him and that he didn’t tell me to stop at Canadian Customs. He looked at me and said: “You people don’t have a stoplight in your country?”

That’s when I blew up and said: “Well I’m an American and we do have a goddamn stoplight in our country. We also have another thing called Freedom of Speech and expression. Watch me exercise it for you now: Go F*** Yourself.”

There was a silence and his eyes were starting to open up, so I went on by telling him that he turned me around for no reason and I don’t care if he’s going to let me in Alaska or not. I will write a complaint letter to the Department of Homeland Security and will see it through to the end. He looked at me for a second or two, then asked for my passport very firmly calling me ‘Sir’. I thought to myself that he was going to rip the bike apart but to my astonishment, he stamped my passport with a big caribou stamp and said “No hard feelings. We are just testing our new light system. Have a good day.”

Warning: You should never tell a man to go f*** himself if he is the only one with a gun in the middle of nowhere! I got lucky; do it at your own risk.

All in all, I enjoyed my stay in the Yukon and met some amazing people. Yukon with little over 30,000 in population is still a wild place. Hope it stays that way…

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September 4th, 2009 - Crossing Dempster Highway

I dedicate the following verse from an Alaskan bumper sticker to this infamous highway:

Dempster Highway

Winding in and winding out

Fills my heart with serious doubt

As to whether the lout, who built this route

Was going to hell, or coming out

The ride from Whitehorse to Dawson City went without a glitch. When I woke up that morning, Jean-Luc was ready to go but I was not. I told him to go ahead and we will meet at The Pit, a local bar in Dawson, in case I did’nt catch up to him on the road. I got to Dawson at 6pm and went straight to The Pit. There was no sign of Jean-Luc there or anywhere in the town. I waited at the bar for a couple hours and he didn’t show up so I figured he stopped somewhere along the way and called it good. He was trying to get out of going up the Dempster after all the horror stories he heard in Whitehorse and I think that was his way. It was raining on and off but nothing too bad, so I headed out of town to look for a camp spot. 15km out of Dawson, I found a small regional airport with a gravel parking lot. I pitched my tent in a corner and crawled into my sleeping bag.

I woke up to a jet landing 50 feet away from me and it was time to go. Dempster Highway starts 40 km before Dawson as Klondike Highway and there are only 3 fuel stations in the 750km stretch of the road. The first is called the Klondike River Lodge at mile zero; the next is at Eagle Plains, 370km deep into the Dempster; and the last is in Inuvik. My tank has a 450km range so reaching Eagle Plains should be easy but with the rain and the road conditions, I carried 3 extra gallons of fuel just in case I need a bailout before reaching Eagle Plains. I filled up at the river lodge and as I was pulling out, a guy from the restaurant ran out and asked me where I was heading. He said his name was Gib and if anything happened, that I should call the lodge and he would come up there to get me. I thought to myself what a nice owner.

The sun came out for a minute and it looked like a good day to go, but I knew it rained non-stop here for the past 7 days so I was expecting some bad sections. The first 5km of the road is paved, the next 5 is packed gravel of decent quality, and after that the road turns into chocolate pudding. Potholes 4-7 inches deep all over the place filled with water, deep tire grooves in the mud also covered with water, and the shiny surface of the road was a bad sign. I started at 110km/h on the paved section and gradually slowed down to a crawl of 30km/h. If I went any slower, I would dig into the mud so deep that I couldn’t get out, and if I went any faster, the bike would go all over the place. Since none of the road hazards were visible due to being filled with water, I couldn’t tell where the holes or the mud grooves were, so every time I hit one, especially the grooves, the bike would start shifting hard to the left and right which was scary as hell. I had my entire load with me and at 1,000 lbs, this bike isn’t exactly a light dirt bike.

I pushed on despite the conditions in hope of better sections to come, but it got worse as the day went by. 55km into the highway, I saw a truck coming toward me at full speed, and since I was riding in the middle of the road (the highest and driest section), I had to get out of the way just in case he slipped, so I slowly inched my way toward the shoulder, but all of the sudden I hit one of the mud grooves and flying into the air I went. I realized I still had hold of the handlebars, so I stood up on the foot pegs, shifting my weight to counter balance and rolled on the throttle hoping more speed would bring the bike upright again. At this point the truck is getting ready to pass me and he was freaking out seeing me out of control and heading straight for him. With all my might, I got the bike out of his way and kept rolling on the throttle till the beast was going in a straight line again. It all took only a few seconds but the bike fish-tailed the whole section of the road maybe 5 times before I barely escaped my death.

I was so shaken that all I wanted was to pull over but the mud was so deep that I knew if I stopped, I would never get out of that mess. With adrenaline so high and shaking uncontrollably, I pushed on and found a somewhat dry spot and stopped. I carry a piece of 1×4 plywood with me to put under my kickstand on soft ground, but even with that, the bike was leaning at a 45º angle with the wood buried in mud. Astonishingly, I decided to go on, and on I went. The road was getting better until the rain started and now I couldn’t see anything out of my goggles and the bike went for another slip. This time there was no other vehicle around and as soon as I got it under control, I found solid ground and stopped. I had to make a call then and there and I made the hard decision. As hard-headed as I am, this ride was suicidal and I had no such death wish. Turning back meant going back over the same road now in rain, but still seemed like a more logical choice than to continue north. The ride back was even scarier, but at least I knew what to expect. After a lot of sliding and slipping I made it back to the pavement and was home free.

I pulled into the parking lot of the River Lodge covered in mud and Gib asked me what happened. I said I stayed upright! I spent the rest of the day working on my World Hunger presentation and ended up doing two shows that night. As I never give up on anything, the next morning, I started planning my second assault on the highway.

The rain eventually stopped and the sun came out. 2 days of sunshine dried out the road somewhat and I unloaded 80 percent of my gear at Gib’s place. On the afternoon of Sep, 2nd, Dempster looked like a different road. There is nothing more beautiful and majestic than seeing the Tombstone Mountains in full sunshine and not worrying about when you are going to hit the ground.

Autumn is the best season to go on Dempster (scenery wise) and locals agree. The whole land starts changing colors and the brisk air of the arctic is refreshing to breath. This road is a perfect practice ground for dirt riding as it changes every 10 miles to a different surface. I ran mud puddles, potholes, loose gravel patches, sharp corners but nothing even came close to the experience that I had on my first attempt. The Pirelli Scorpions held up and gave me the much-needed traction on the road and I averaged 80km/h on the highway. Wildlife is abundant here and rivers and creeks cut through the landscape all along the road. Passes and high plateaus cover much of the area and the road opens up in the boreal forest and the tundra follows. The most beautiful sections of the road are from Tombstone to Eagle Plains and through the Richardson Mountains in the Northwest Territories.

I reached Eagle Plains sometime after 5, fueled up, and headed north again. I passed the Arctic Circle without stopping and made it to Forth McPherson in Northwest Territories on the McKenzie River. That’s as far as I wanted to go and I passed on going to Inuvik so I could do the Top Of The World Highway in Alaska before snowfall instead.

I rode back to the Arctic Circle and pitched my camp right on 66º 33’north. After a dinner of soup and mashed potatoes, I retired for the night under a perfect arctic sky. I crashed like a log.The ride back was a treat on a dry road and I took my time taking in the scenery and taking pictures of everything. (I took 231 pictures on the way back).

If you are thinking of doing the Dempster, there are few things you should know:

  1. Do NOT trust the weather reports and give yourself an ample amount of time to get up and down.
  2. Go as light as possible but take good cold weather gear with you. (There was snow at the NWT border.)
  3. Be sure of your riding abilities; this is not a time to bullshit yourself.
  4. If your instincts are telling you that you shouldn’t go on, don’t go on.
  5. Take a bottle of brandy with you for celebration ( I celebrated with mashed potatoes which sucked)
  6. Don’t attempt the Dempster in torrential rain. No matter who you are and how many years you’ve been riding. Dempster is the most dangerous road in North America when wet. No question about it.
  7. Don’t pass on the ride; it is the most gorgeous ride of your life.

I’m heading for the “Top Of The World Highway” in Alaska tomorrow. Next Stop: Chicken, Alaska. Population: 27.

I’d like to thank Geoffrey Tayner and Kim Geisbecht for their generous donations. I’m not asking you to buy me a beer or pay for my gas; all I’m asking is that if you are enjoying these reports, support me by helping to fulfill the goal of $1500 for the month of September as I’m doing my best, fundraising on the road. This expedition is financed out of my own pocket and with the help of my generous sponsors, NOT from the donations. All donations are directed toward the cause not one penny excluded. Sparing one espresso or a sandwich a week goes a long way. Be mindful of people out there who have nothing to eat, day after day after day. Their story could be your story. Your donations keep me going and make me more enthusiastic about updating the website more regularly.

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