Day 13 – Eagle Plains, YT to Carmacks, YT

Distance: 682 kilometers
Time on bike: 7:30 am – 5:30 pm
Temps: Low 8 (Eagle Plains) / High Carmacks 24

Well, sometimes things don’t work out as planned. I checked with the front desk at the hotel who has been relaying information about the Peel River ferry. Sounds like the ferry will be running “intermittently” through the day. Unfortunately, “intermittently” is not going to work. It’s about 250 to the ferry and there are no services at the ferry. If the ferry is down again I’ll be stuck without accommodation and will have to wait it out.

The other unfortunate part is the weather has changed dramatically – it’s the Arctic after all. The weather to the North was forecast as heavy rain and the weather to the South was forecast as showers throughout the day.

These two factors made my decision clear – the final push of 400 kilometers was off. I’m disappointed to not make it all the way as planned but I’m also not risking being stuck somewhere along the way or having to wait for ferry service on the way back. I’m also not interested in the risks of riding on a very difficult road in heavy rain – too dangerous. I decided to head back down and get off the Dempster Highway as quickly as possible.

I was fortunate enough to sneak in between the fronts to the North and South and actually have a really good ride on the way out on the Dempster. After reading about the number of accidents, fatalities (recently – motorcyclist), and people’s reports of 21 hour days riding out in the rain, I’m okay with the decision not to go forward. I know others may go on just to prove the point that they ‘did it’ but I’m quite happy with how things have gone on the trip thus far and I wan’t to keep it that way.

I set my alarm for 6:00 which because of the time change was actually 7:00 am. Doh! Oh well, I would have plenty of time to ride out and wasn’t exactly sure where I’d stop for the day.

The Dempster commands a lot of respect for the harsh environment, road conditions and potential for nasty weather. It also is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever ridden. It travels through several high passes, alongside beautiful and often huge rivers, and has an abundance of wildlife. A truly entertaining and enjoyable ride.

Minutes after leaving I saw a big black bum hightailing it into the brush – a black bear. About 10 kilometers later another interesting beast – some type of fox (black with white tail tip). And more birds than you can shake a stick at.

I even had a ‘mexican standoff’ at the halfway point – Engineers Creek. As I was motoring along down the road, just past most of the worst parts of the highway conditions, I noticed two forms on the horizon. Big forms. Even with my glasses on I wasn’t quite sure what they were until I was right on top of the them – two grizzlies. Momma Griz and Baby Griz (a yearling) were wandering down the highway nonchalantly. As I approached Momma showed no interest of leaving her path through the centre of the road. I honked, yelled, stood up on the pegs to ‘look big’ but Momma wasn’t interested in what I had to say. As I kept moving away to get a photo she kept on her merry way towards me – a bit unnerving. Every time I was going to get off for a picture she’d approach to a distance I wasn’t comfortable with. What do you do in this situation? She owns the road and I’m just a guest. Finally I had time to jump off and snap a few quick picks (adrenaline running at full by this point). I then hopped on and decided to try and quickly ride around the pair – Momma thought best and finally took Jr. off to the side of the road and stood up on her hind legs to protect her offspring. What a magnificent creature. I’ve never been so close and this was a truly amazing experience.

I stopped at many points along the way for photos. What was particularly funny was to pass by “Two Moose Lake” the point where, ironically enough, I saw the two moose yesterday. The Tombstone park and range of mountains are spectacular with spongy looking green hills and mountains, tundra and valleys that stretch for as far as the eye can see which at one point is about 180 kilometers.

I stopped at the Dempster Highway sign for a picture. I was lucky to see a couple from Drumheller who offered to take my photo for me. And after two full days of travel on the Dempster this part of the adventure is done. A quick stop at the junction for gas and now the return south and towards home.

The ride to Carmacks was largely uneventful and the Klondike Highway is less than spectacular. There are some enormous rivers along the way but the rest of the ride is relatively scenery free.

One final event to report. At the junction for Stewart Crossing I had a ‘get off’. Yep, after all the difficult riding I actually had a wipe out on the highway. Lucky for me it was at very low speed. The junction at Stewart Crossing goes immediately over a bridge at a ninety degree angle to the highway. There is no runout or place to slow down until just before the quick right turn. Unfortunately for me as I was completing the corner I noticed that the road was covered in pea sized gravel from one side to the other. This posed a significant problem – haha. Tough to corner, break and navigate not hitting the embankment on the bridge. As I tried to break the front end washed out and I low-sided the bike (tires first slide) and slid across the pavement for about twenty feet. Ouch! Not to worry as I am okay except for a road rash on my elbow (inside and through my riding gear) and a bit of a sore shoulder joint. The bike made out okay, too – minor scratches on the protective bars, bash bars on the handle bars and a bit of scraping to the aluminum panniers. All in all not too bad. Might have been different if I’d hid the railing or concrete around the bridge. But alas, everything is AOK.

The last few hundred kilometers were uneventful. Made it safely to Carmacks for the night. Still undecided which way I’ll go back. Part of me wants to return down the Cassiar Highway but the other wants to explore new routes through Fort Nelson. Guess I’ll decide before I set out tomorrow.