Day 12 – Dawson, YT to Eagle Plains

Distance: 407 kilometers
Time on bike: 8:00 am – 3:45 pm
Temps: Low 8 (Dawson) / High 22 (Eagle Plains)

The camping experience in Dawson was quite interesting. It was nice to have the entire campground, or at least one section, almost completely to myself. I say, almost…. There were some twenty-somethings that rolled in across the way from me while I was down in town and went to pay for my site.

It was very quiet and peaceful until the aforementioned turned up their car stereo to eleven. Then because their music was so loud they had to basically scream to talk to each other. I must say I did the same thing when I was their age but I really do appreciate the quiet sometimes, too. When their revelry was finished before eleven you could hear dogs/wolves howling in the distance to each other. I’m guessing it was sled dogs as I’ve heard them howl like that in the winter night when I lived in Yellowknife. It was cool to hear their voices echo back and forth in the river valley.

I slept like a rock last night. Sleeping outside in the fresh air after such a physically demanding day was the recipe for a great night’s sleep. The temperature dipped down near zero last night and I ended up sleeping right inside the sleeping the bag – head included, to keep warm. The sleeping bag from the MEC did it’s job and kept me warm right down to zero as advertised.

I’ve got the knack now for organizing all the gear so it can be quickly assembled and put on the bike. Packed up, crossed the ferry, fueled up and hit the highway.

I was a bit concerned about the distance and lack of fuel stations. It’s 374 kilometers from the junction to Eagle Plains. Plus another 42 from Dawson to the junction. Luckily, there is another gas station at the junction. Without it, the journey would come perilously close to causing me to run out of fuel again.

The turn to the Dempster Highway is well-marked but when you look at its entrance it looks like a small side road. The first few kilometers are paved then the road turns into gravel and packed mud which is easy to ride on and continue to maintain highway speed. As the highway continues, however, the road devolves into a bit of a mess. Some sections, usually the ones marked with a construction company’s sign, are very well-maintained. Many sections, roughly 1/2 of the road, on the way to Eagle Plains are not. A lot of potholes, missing sections of road and some really dangerous thick gravel, sand and mud sections. I’ve read all the hyperbolic statements about this highway. For the most part they are correct – it’s a bit of a gong show. It’s also that reputation that appeals to many travelers – to see if they can do it – me included.

The scenery again today is absolutely stunning. There are high passes, river valleys, tundra and alien arctic landscapes. There is no shortage of interesting things to look at on this route. There are also plenty of animals along the way – a family of moose, grouse, birds of all kinds, among others. It’s amazing to see how completely untouched most of the region is. Even with the highway access there is very little visible human impact.

The highway is very quiet and I saw maybe 15-20 vehicles throughout the day’s travels. One truck was unfortunate enough to have a flat but was quickly assisted by two passing trucks working on the highway. That’s one thing I really appreciate about the north – people really need to help each other. This is such an unforgiving place that you can get by without needing some help at some point.

The going today was quite slow and distance covered was far less than by highway. For an entire day I covered only about 416 kilometers. After hitting several thousand potholes and divots in the road, and missing just about as many, I was physically exhausted by the end of the day.

I stopped for lunch at about 3:15 in Eagle Plains. After finishing off my chow I was informed by the waitress that if I was traveling north that the road is closed. The Peel River ferry at Fort McPherson is closed due to high water. Apparently they are having a tough time maintaining landing areas for the ferry. It’s been out all day today. Everyone heading north has been stopped at the river crossing. This effectively stops the movement of everyone in and out of the Red River/Tsiigehtchic and Inuvik areas including supplies.

So, I’ll wait it out here tonight in Eagle Plains. The ferry may not be open again tomorrow. If that is the case I’ll venture up the road about 40 kilometers for the obligatory picture at the Arctic Circle sign then head right back down to Dawson or farther south and begin the run back towards home. It would be a bit disappointing to not reach the ‘end of the road’ but Mother Nature sets the rules up here. With about three weeks of steady rain I feel fortunate to have made it this far. I also know that if the weather changes I certainly do NOT want to be riding the Dempster Highway.

I’ll wait and see how things turn out tomorrow. I’m guessing that I’ll be making the run back towards the south. So far I’ve already ridden 6,000+ kilometers – the farthest ride I’ve taken to date. And I still have to ride all the way back home to Calgary….