Doug Grosjean's
Alaska Trip Report

June 1999

 

Day 12; Wednesday, June 9th, 1999
Start: Dawson City, Yukon Territory
End: Eagle Plains, Yukon Territory
267 Miles



In the morning, we awake to another picture-perfect blue sky day.

We shave and shower, do laundry, then each of us runs some errands on their own.

I head over to the public library to check e-mail and send some mail home to my family. The library is nearly brand-new, and since it's on a dirt road there's a sign at the entrance telling people to leave their shoes at the door, along with some places to put the shoes below.

Bad news - my father-in-law is very ill, with kidney failure, his kidneys are at 40% of their normal function. Strange to be so far from home, and yet in such close contact as well.

When we meet again, Joe asks if I want to head home due to my father-in-law's situation, but after realizing that I'm at best a week from home, and that there's nothing I could do for him anyway, I decide there's no reason to scrub the trip.

We head east out of town, to the turnoff for the Dempster Highway. Right at the turnoff, there's a gas station where we fill our gas tanks, our extra fuel supplies, and our water supplies. Between the two of us, we're carrying two extra gallons of gas, and two gallons of water.

At the beginning of the Dempster, there's a very large sign that says:

Warning! No emergency medical services next 460 miles!

Wow! I've never seen a sign like that in my life - serious business, this road.

We cross a wooden bridge over the Klondike River, and then we're officially on the Dempster Highway. Actually a very good dirt and gravel road, in many places it's bladed smooth and is almost like good pavement, we're hitting 60 mph and sometimes more on the good spots. Piece of cake, we're going to be in Inuvik in just a few hours at this rate.

The scenery is absolutely magnificent! It starts off as rather open scrub land, maybe just a little bit like the American west, then climbs up into heavily forested mountains, crossing over rivers and creeks as it goes, dropping back down onto the tundra in places before climbing again into the hills and forests. As in previous days since leaving the ferry, we're never out of sight of snow capped mountains, and in a lot of places you can scan from far left to far right and pick out various mountain ranges, all covered with snow, in the distance.

In the meantime, the road is covered with more and more gravel. While my own speed drops bit by bit in the loose stuff on the RS, Joe and the GS pull out a bigger and bigger lead until eventually he's gone and I'm on my own ride. I imagine Joe is grinning real big at that point....! No worries, we're both big boys, and I'm left to enjoy the ride at my own pace - we meet up again periodically when Joe waits for me at a particularly scenic spot along the way.

Then, at mile 129.4, alone, just after crossing the Ogilvie River, my bike feels funny as I accelerate through a long sweeping gravel corner...... I pull over. Damn!! A flat tire! Suddenly the words from the guidebook and veterans of the Dempster return to haunt me, paraphrased here: "Sharp gravel between Ogilvie River and the Richardson mountains causes frequent flat tires...." Three hundred miles of this crap each way, and I've gotten about 300 feet before my first flat? Aaaarrgh!! This could be a very long day. I naively thought that with fresh tires I'd be immune, somehow, and I don't like this situation at all right now. So let's see, it's 129 miles back to help or 106 miles forward to Eagle Plains. Hmm.

I'm actually quite lucky, because as I pull off my helmet and earplugs I can hear the air escaping from the hole, and the hole is facing rearward so:

(a) I don't have to roll the rear wheel around to find the hole.
(b) I don't have to waste one of my limited supply of CO2 cartridges trying to tell the difference between the "real" hole and all the other little tears that I see have been inflicted on my two week old Dunlop D-205's in just the past 129 miles.

Dempster Highway,
North of the Ogilvie River
Dempster Highway
Typical stone chip
Dempster Highway
Roadside tire repair
Having found the hole, I look around and relax a little bit. I'm on the side of the road, and the Ogilvie River is gurgling by on my right, easily visible through the trees, and the only other sound is the wind rustling through the trees. Across the road, there are tall gray cliffs, and in the background gray mountains speckled with pines. The sky is blue, with just a few white clouds. A rider could do much worse than to have a problem at this spot. I lay my gear on the bike, and take a couple pictures before starting to work on the tire problem.

My flat repair kit is under the seat, so I pull the drybags off the rear seat and get out the flat repair kit, and I realize that I'm lucky once more. I have CO2 cartridges with me intended for BB guns, not BMW cartridges, and the only reason I can use the BB gun cartridges is because of the adapter gun that I picked up on the spur of the moment at the motorcycle shop in Seattle. Dumb luck, again. No complaints here.

A pickup truck goes by, doesn't stop, doesn't wave - I think mean thoughts at the driver and continue with repairs. It's not like I needed the help, but it would've been nice for the pickup driver to at least have checked to see what's up.

I plug the hole, and then inflate the tire using all the cartridges that I have, and the pressure's around 32 psi - lower than recommended, so I decide to take it easy and limp up to the settlement at Eagle Plains, roughly the halfway point on the Dempster at the 235 mile mark. As I'm emptying the last cartridge into the tire, a southbound car stops to check on me. I have a hard time convincing them that I'm alright now, that they can go, as I thank them profusely for caring enough to stop.

Let's see - in the time it took me to unload, patch, reload the bike, clean my hands with rubbing alcohol, etc, two cars went by. This isn't a busy road..... The tire plug kit moves from tail-piece to tank bag, permanently.

I go maybe 10 miles at around 30 mph, and out on the open tundra I see a plume of dust ahead.... it's Joe, he's doubled back for me after waiting a very long time for me to catch up. I explain about the flat tire, and the subsequent low pressure in the rear tire. Joe's glad that I'm alright, and then explains that he's somewhat concerned because in turning around to check on me, he may run out of fuel in the main tank of the GS before we get to Eagle Plains. We talk, there's two spare gallons between us so we'll be fine, and then we continue north.

At 30 mph, 100 miles is a very long way, and a very long time, so little by little, and after making several stops to check the pressure, we ratchet the speed up to around 40 mph or so. The most annoying thing is being paranoid about the tire, any wiggle that the bike does in the gravel is (in my mind) a new flat tire.

In spite of the worries about low tire pressure, the scenery is still awe-inspiring. One place where we stop to check my rear tire is an overlook on the side of a mountain, and as far as the eye can see stretches pine forests, in every direction, just a lush green carpet....... except that there are occasional arrow-straight lines of lighter green in the forest, stretching off into the distance. An interpretive sign at the overlook explains that the light green lines are the result of geological testing in the 1950's (if memory serves), where trees were bulldozed in lines miles long, charges planted, and seismic readings taken in an effort to see what minerals might lie underground. Little of value was found, only the lighter-green lines remain.

Eagle Plains, Yukon Territory
We arrive at Eagle Plains, Yukon; with fuel to spare, neither of us had to dip into our extra fuel supplies. The parking lot is dirt, and in some places rutted, while in other places muddy, and I'm reminded of a movie where two cowboys ride into a small town in an old western.

Eagle Plains is the halfway point on the Dempster Highway, and has various services available, such as (taken from the business card I picked up there):

  • Dining room

  • Lounge

  • Conference room

  • Service station and garage, including helicopter fueling service, conveniently located aircraft landing strip, souvenir and gift shop, and miniature golf

There's also a laundry, a campground; and a guy in the service area who's only job, 40 hours a week, is to fix flats. Do you suppose this might be a clue that the road is hard on tires? Eagle Plains is self contained, with it's own generator, it's own water supply, it's own sewage system, some sort of radio link for phone calls, a Yukon road crew stationed there, and employees living on-site. Several of the employees are college girls earning money for the next school year.

Settlement is probably not the right term, "motel with a gas station, service station, and a few tent sites" would be more accurate.

I pull the rear wheel off the BMW, and ask if I can borrow their dunk tank to double check my tire repair for leaks. No problem, and the repair is fine. While in the shop I notice several motorcycle tires in the rack, they look like Metzeler Saharas, I assume used, maybe they had belonged to people who were adverse to plugging? No pride here. I re-install the rear wheel on my bike (love that single-sided swingarm!); then Joe and I have dinner together in the restaurant.

There's a sign in the entrance to the motel, just like in the library in Dawson City, guests are advised to leave their shoes at the door. The wild west meets modern carpet, and I assume the carpet doesn't come out so well.

While we're eating, a couple riders arrive southbound from Inuvik aboard a KLR-650 and an R100GS-PD, we talk a bit before they continue southbound. At that time, the road north isn't bad at all, according to them. Joe and I begin to discuss just how good a steak dinner will taste in Inuvik tomorrow night.

I ask in the gift shop about buying CO2 cartridges for my tire repair kit in Fort Nelson, the next town to the north about 80 miles away, and the owner of the motel just laughs. "You won't find 'em, the kids in Fort Nelson don't play with toy guns, they play with rifles!!" he says with a big grin. Although grinning, I'm pretty sure he's not joking.

Joe and I rent a tent-site, talk a bit about theology and other subjects. Then around midnight, I repair some holes worn in my Eclipse tank bag with some needle, thread, and Goop; by the light of the midnight sun shining through my tent. At this point, we're only about 40 miles from the Arctic Circle, and there are still strong shadows at midnight, the sun is in about the same position here as it would be at 8:30 PM in the summertime back home in Ohio.

Shortly after midnight, after successfully patching my tank bag, I drift off to sleep.


Doug Grosjean
Pemberville, Ohio