My Biking Trip Across the Yukon and the Northwest Territories
| Before getting to town you reach a moonlike landscape, land turned upside down by the gold diggers. Dawson City is indeed an amazing place. The town looks like a Hollywood set. You might think you are in the Far West in a western movie.
I took a ferry and crossed the magnificent Yukon River. I was going to stay at the Youth Hostel. The most rustic and also the most interesting hostel I ever stayed. A Japanese lady attended me and explained me how the hostel was run. She told me that there was no electricity and no running water. The baths were like in the old movies where you pour yourself some hot water with a bucket while you are seating on a bench, The hot water comes from a barrel heated with logs and the water comes from a creek via some pipes.
I had a great time going for supper at Klondike Kate and I had the chance of testing a great fish called the Arctic Char. At night we sat by a fire with a group of people from all over the world. I was thrilled in particular with some inexperienced Swiss that had canoed the Yukon River all the way to Dawson starting from Whitehorse. Amazingly this was their first trip. It was a memorable evening.
Day7: Dawson City to the Dempster Highway, camp one, 71 km
Today I will be biking the Dempster Highway. It got me very excited but before that happened I had to do some errands. I had to buy more groceries for the last part of my trip. I visited the tourist office of the Northwest Territories to be sure that I had all the information necessary concerning the dirt highway, the lady told me that they could ask travelers to Inuvik to carry some of my stuff to Eagles Plains 400 km away . This would make my bike lighter and faster and I could pick it up on my way. I was a bit suspicious at first especially that this service was free, I was also wondering if it will get there before me or if I had to wait a few days to arrive.
But this was also another God send meeting and another example of the generosity of the people of the north. When I stopped at Eagle plains, all my stuff was there.
I left around 4 pm but by then it was too late to go to a gold panning tour in Dawson. I was somewhat disappointed at first but I was excited to reach the Dempster. I stopped by the North Klondike River to fish but I did not catch anything. Before getting on the highway, I had supper at the lodge and it felt really good. I took a picture by the welcome to the Dempster sign. The first kilometers were paved. After 70 km of biking I planted my tent but I was slightly wary of bears. Luckily no bears that night and I slept well.
Day 8: Dempster Highway, camp one to Tombstone Territorial Park, 40 km
I started cycling around 10 am. Things were going well but the wind started to pick up as a result I was barely moving. The Mountains were splendid, far in the distance we could see the Tombstone Mountains. The territorial park which bares the same name is one of the most beautiful in Canada even if it is relatively unheard of. At the campground there was a nature center. Two very friendly people were working there, they were awesome, they made me coffee and gave me some fresh fruits( a rare commodity in these parts of the world). There I felt better after a horrible day of steep and windy biking.
I stayed in the comfort of the nature center for a long period of time admiring the displays and chatting about lots of topics. Somebody came to the center with a report of a sighting of a grizzly. The biologist working there packed her binoculars brought another teenager with her and amazingly she asked me if I wanted to come along. She did not need to ask me twice. I had never seen a grizzly in my life. It was an amazing sight to see that giant beast from a safe distance of one kilometer through binoculars. I felt very privileged to be on such a trip and witness such magnificent display of nature.
Later on I went for an amazing hike by the campground. The MLA of the Yukon gave me a ride to the beginning of the trail. I was really lucky. I hiked a long time before reaching the summit. I had a view of the whole valley and the Tombstone Mountains. At the time the clouds started to come down. It was time to leave before the visibility was reduced to zero.
I came back to camp; I made some soup with noodles and a bag of veggies. It even tasted better when a couple from Edmonton gave me some fresh bread. I went to bed more than satisfied about my exciting day.
Day 9: Tombstone Territorial Park to Engineer Campground 122 km
I left around 10:00: I had to climb the Fork Pass (the highest point on the Dempster Highway). It took me a long time to climb but I had a long descent. I had a few more passes before I got to the Mckenzie Delta where it is totally flat.
I was looking for a great place to fish by the Blackstone River when I met a German couple stopped by the road. They had a camper and they offered me some hot coffee. Another Blessing. Along our conversion, the couple told me they were going to stay at the next camping which happened to be the same spot where I was going to spend the night. They told me that if I wanted, they could carry my biking luggage in their pickup and we could meet later. This was a great offer, I had to put some faith into the couple. I went fishing under a bridge on the Blackstone River . I was fishing for grayling and I knew the fish hang around deep holes past the rapids. Using small spinners as recommended, I caught a fish almost on my first throw. It was a really big grayling about 2 pounds. When everything was done, I had 3 beautiful graylings. They were enough for a supper.
Without any equipment to hinder me, I was biking really fast. I covered 80 km in a few hours. It was really enjoyable to bike freely. On my way down, I passed creeks covered with red and yellow rocks splashed with sulphur and the sun was shinning on them. It was quite a sight painted by nature.
When I got to camp the German couple were there. They were surprised to see me with a loaded bag of fish. Another camper came to join our feast after I barbecued my catch of the day on the fire. They offered a beer to everybody. It was another memorable night. .
Day 10: Engineer Campground to Bushcamp near Eagle Plains, 117 km
I had breakfast with my new friends. I boiled some water to drink to last me to the next campground. Drinkable water was getting rare. I felt lazy and I left at around 11 a.m. By the Ogilvie Station I met a native man in his truck, a highway worker. He gave me a can of coke, peanuts and banana. He told me he had a lot of supplies back in camp. I was touched again by some stranger's generosity.
Later on, a couple on a RV asked me: “Are you in your right mind”. They were driving behind me and had noticed bike tracks. They could not believe that anybody will be biking on the Dempster Highway.
The Northern Ogilvies Mountains, especially before Eagle Plains seem to go up forever. From far away, hills look like they are black diamond ski hills, they looked that steep. I realized later that this was an optical illusion and it was not as bad as it looked from far away.
It still made for rough biking. Later on I met a couple from Texas right on the top of the pass enjoying the view at the Ogilvie Ridge Viewpoint. They offered me fresh water, I replaced it with my boiled water that smelled like burned wood and they offered me also a cold coke.
I thought since I was on top of the pass the mountains would be ending. They assured me that there were tough hills ahead, not something I wanted to hear. I met another couple that told me "This is quite an adventure". I took it as a form of encouragement.
Before the pass I saw a grizzly behind me just when I was having a can of ravioli for lunch. The wind was blowing in the right direction; I did not think he saw or smelled me. Taking no chance, I still packed quickly and climbed the hill as fast as I could. I looked behind me for a long time but I never saw the bear again.
Later on, I was running low on water. This part of the highway has few creeks. I was lucky that I found a patch of blueberries. I ate a few pounds and felt great; they were delicious. I biked for 117 km, an amazing day considering the rough conditions and the dirt road. I was happy for my effort.
It took me awhile to find a camping spot since there were fresh bear prints and bear pooh still smoking everywhere. I kept moving further away until I found a bushy area with no berry patches, which are the feeding grounds for the bears. Only then did I decide to set up camp feeling safe. I slept like a baby.
Day 11: Bushcamp near Eagle Plains to Eagle Plains, 58 km
The next day I left knowing that I was only about twenty kilometers from civilization. I was near a place where I can indulge myself in the small luxuries that we take for granted. The road was still full of steep hills. One person told me what I was doing was insane, another told me this was quite an achievement( he asked me seriously if I was some sort of ironman). made me feel good.
I finally saw Eagle Plains stop. It's some sort of roadhouse like they have them in Australia which include a restaurant, camping, motel, garage, laundry and more, all in one. I choose a spot to set my tent before the big winds hit.
I made the restaurant my headquarters. I enjoyed a day of three good meals surrounded by pictures of the history of the area. There were many pictures of the mad trapper and the lost patrol.
I saw a couple and I felt somewhat lonely. I wished that Tara, my wife, could have been here to enjoy this isolated place. I opened the newspaper, something I had not done for a long time. There was a bombing in a university in Jerusalem. The victims were just regular students just going into classes and were blown into pieces. I felt that being in the wild you miss all that suffering that goes around the world. Thank God.
Day 12: Eagle Plains to Rock River Campground, 83 km
There was an incredible fog outside; it was sort of chilly and very damp for a summer day. I was excited about the fact that I was going to cross the Arctic Circle imaginary line. I viewed it as an incredible milestone, I was proud of myself but in the same time I felt humbled. Some people told me that the road would start to get easier.
On the news, I saw it was snowing in Calgary some 2500 km south. The road was muddy. Should I stay or should I go? I was to motivated by the goal of standing by the Article circle. 35 km later I reached the monument. I asked somebody to take me a picture, one of my all times favorites.
Once I reached the line I added raingear and a fleece. The weather suddenly felt worse, I was chilly. The rest of the way to Rock Creek Camp, the Richardson Mountains were tremendously beautiful. The beauty of the scenery and the great condition of the road from there made me forget the weather. Despite everything I loved being in God's territory.
Day 13: Rock River Campground to Nitainlaii
I had to bike in winds of 50 to 100 km in hour all uphill. It was very tiring. I felt like quitting after 20 km but where do you go if you quit? I arrived at the border of the Yukon and Northwest Territories border and Wright Pass. It was raining quite hard and the wind made it colder. There was a huge bulldozer by the road. There was no construction workers in sight so luckily the door was open or it was left that way. Who is going to steal a bulldozer in this icy desert anyway? After I warmed up in my cubicle the rain stopped quickly and I felt great.
Later on, I went fishing on the crystal clear James Creek, a supposedly good creek, for grayling but I did not have any luck. Few kilometers down the road, I saw some natives collecting berries and I decided to do the same but I was not going to store any for the winter. I gobbled mine right on the spot. They felt sorry for me and they offered me a ride to the top of the hill but I could not live with myself if was not going to bike ALL of the famous Dempster, gently I refused their generous offer. The last 20 km were almost downhill.
I finally reached the Peel River crossing which it is also called Eight Miles because it is the distance to Fort Mc Pherson. It was raining so I used the cabin as a shelter and as my cooking quarters. The caretaker told me I was welcome to sleep in the shelter but I felt I would have better protection against the voracious bugs in my tent.
Day 14: Nitainlaii campground to Rengling River, 97 km
I left the Nitainlaii campground . The guy at the camping did not even charge me anything. I did not have any breakfast since I was expecting to eat at Fort McPherson. I went to eat at the Co-op at what looked to be the only restaurant in town. The server did not seem too enthused. I was looking around and I was noticing that the natives had really dark skin in this part of the country. I had 3 eggs and bacon for $12.00 coffee not included. Later on a few more customers showed up. I was happy to see more people.
After breakfast, I visited the village. Some houses seemed to be on stilts. Houses were a bit run down but it did not take away the charm of the place. It screams at you, this place is different, this is the Northwest Territories!!
I had a moment of reflection in front of the grave of the Lost Patrol at the cemetery. The patrol was a group of four RCMP who died frozen during a mission to Dawson. They died on their way back to Fort Mc Pherson.
I took the road, and a few km from town a black bear was eating by the side of the road. He ran away when he saw me.
Later on, I went fishing at Frog Creek and I caught a pike very quickly. I took me forever to kill it even after I smashed its head with a huge rock. It was still jumping around. I felt sick in my stomach even when I was eating it. It still seemed I could see it move.
I camped at the River Rengreen. Before that I had the privileged to cross the magnificent Red River. Far away I could still see the village of Red Artic perched on the shores of the great river.
My camping spot by the river was infested with insects. They were killing me during the setting of the tent and the preparation of supper. I decided to go against one of my safety principles. I hate my spaghetti inside of my tent. I figured out, I had the choice of dying of being eaten by bugs or of being mauled by a bear.
Day 15: Rengling River to Inuvik, 99 km
There were no more mountains stopping your view. This looked like the plains; I could see car lights far in a distance. After about 10 minutes it will finally come near you.
It was such a great feeling to be biking easy kilometers for a change. I was also getting emotional because I was nearing the end of my trip. I was thanking God for finishing the trip safely. I took time to pick more delicious berries along the way. Later on, I saw the welcoming sign of Inuvik. It took me about 7 hours to finish the trip.
I really enjoyed life in the City of Inuvik. I got a camping spot for ten dollars a day and I met some interesting people. There was a couple from London, Ontario that was starting their trip. They were going to cycle all the way to Panama. I did some fishing by the campground but I did not catch anything. I had the pleasure of trying northern meats such as caribou and muskox. The latter one was by far my favorite. It tasted like beef but sweeter and almost tenderer. I also had some Arctic char again. In Inuvik you can order meals that have a combination of northern delicacies.
While I was there a sixty-seven year man had just finished his cycling trip. He had started in South America in Tierra del Fuego and was honored by the mayor of the city. He was at the campground but I did not have the chance to meet him.
I visited the museum in the city. I made plans to visit Tuktoyaktuk. The village is located by the Arctic ocean and you have to fly there since there is no roads connecting both communities. Only an ice road can be used in winter. The plane trip cost was $175.00 it included a guide for the 4 hours while we visited this Arctic village.
I left on a Sunday morning to hitchhike out of town and while biking out I rode by the beautiful Catholic church which was shaped like an igloo. It is one of the most recognizable churches in the country. I listened to a great sermon from a young priest. The place was very peaceful.
I started hitchhiking by the edge of town back on the Dempster highway near the airport. After few a hours nobody stopped . Even an American who had befriended me back at the camping, drove by me trying his best to avoid me. I went to the airport and got a standby ticket to Edmonton for about $400.00.
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