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July 4th, 2011 - Dempster By Coburn Black

Dempster Highway is a 740 km gravel experience that reaches far into the Arctic Circle. Named after RCMP inspector William Dempster, the highway is loosely based off a dog sled route he used to travel between Dawson City and Fort McPherson. Originally built for the prospect of oil in the North, the road now attracts tourists, photographers, hiker and adventure seekers from all over the world. It is the only all season road that connects to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. In the winter the highway extends even farther north through a series of ice roads to the northern village of Tuktoyaktuk.

When I started researching riding a motorcycle around the world there where many destinations that caught my eye, from Mongolia to Bolivia and beyond. Dempster Highway was one of these destinations for me and it was right here in my own back yard in Canada. After the photo shoot with the sign at the beginning of the road I had goose bumps as I accelerated into what felt like a dream. As we rode into the Dempster the everyday shrubs and trees of an average logging road started to melt away beside us and opened up to soft rolling green hills and endless horizons littered with timeworn mountains. A single road meandered its way through this northern landscape a road that now belonged to Erin and me.

This road begged to be ridden and taunted me to go faster and faster with its smooth ever stretching surface but after riding for 23 minutes we had only traveled 3 km’s. How do you get anywhere when you have to stop every 5 seconds to take a picture or run up a random hill just for the sake of doing it. Although the adrenaline junky in me wanted to max out the bike and float into the never setting sun, I found myself stuck in first and second gear trying not to ride off the road as my eyes were glued to the scenery. We laughed at our ridiculously slow pace and decided that we needed to start grabbing gears if we were to finish the Dempster in anything short of a month. As we rode on the scenery constantly changed surprising us around every turn to a point where I even thought I was riding on the moon. Reaching the Arctic Circle was more rewarding than I had imagined and I really enjoyed trying to capture the moment though a lens.

With our slow pace we spent an amazing 3 days to reach Inuvik and although the 3rd day was exhausting plowing through some new round gravel that had been graded over the last 200 km’s we looked forward to that victory beer. To our disappointment when we arrived we discovered that with the time change and the summer hours of the liquor store there was no victory beer.

Through all our days up and down the Dempster we never encountered any of the horrible myths that people seems to spread like wildfire. Talks about the black shale that will shred your tires, mosquitoes the size of wasps and even mud three feet deep. Perhaps it has been our amazing luck with the weather that we never encountered any horrors of the Dempster. After riding for about a month now we’ve only had 4 days of rain and only rode in 2 of them. Even coming off the Dempster and riding over the Top of the World Highway to loop through Alaska the black clouds always seemed to part for us and we road through the only pocket of blue sky. Back in Whitehorse the hospitality has been outstanding, our friend Chad treated us to the best bison burger in town and I can say it’s one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten. Chad is still loyally rocking his MTI hat and as you can see in the picture it has been through a few seasons.

We had originally only planned on staying one day in Whitehorse but after an amazing offer from Chad’s brother Scott to take us out fishing, we had to stay and enjoy more of this northern hospitality. Although we didn’t catch any fish there was no better way to spend a Sunday, floating around on Fish Lake surrounded by beautiful Yukon mountains. After a full day on the lake Scott opened up his home to us where his wife Wendy had prepared a chicken feast complete with peach pie and ice cream for dessert. We also gladly accepted the offer to use their shower and get all squeaky clean before hitting the open road. Now you can see how hard it is for us to leave Whitehorse and our good friends and their great hospitality. I’m excited to get back on the road and discover more of the beauty that Canada has to offer but it’s hard leaving a place you feel so comfortable and can really just be yourself. Come on, it’s ride the world together not ride the Yukon together! Until next time kids…

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