Doug Grosjean's
Alaska Trip Report

June 1999

Day 14; Friday, June 11th, 1999
Start: Eagle Plains, Yukon Territory
End: Dawson City, Yukon Territory
280 Miles

Joe and I have breakfast together, and talk about what to do next.

Joe figures that he can get a ride out on an empty southbound semi-truck, the GS is already strapped onto a pallet for the trip. Once he gets to Dawson City, maybe he'll be able to buy a pickup truck and take the bike home, or have it shipped home while he flies or takes a bus, or maybe..? He also has some friends in the trucking industry, his notebook computer is intact, a few e-mails and he should be out of this bind, he figures.

He offers me a spot in the (future) pickup truck, but since it seems like he's got everything under control, and since I came up here to ride my motorcycle, not ride in a pickup, I decline, and so we end up going our separate ways. Each bike is self-contained as far as camping gear, tools, etc; just in case of a split between us, so the logistics are pretty easy to deal with.

Joe gives me the flat repair kit from the dead GS, and the Milepost magazine, and I start to pack up my stuff that's scattered about the motel room.

Damn!! First thing in the morning and my bike has another flat, right in the parking lot...... Aaaarrrgh!! Well, looking on the bright side, there's no need to waste precious CO2 cartridges. I remove the rear wheel, it gets easier each time, it really does, and take it over to the garage and borrow their dunk tank again. The guy that does tire patching 40 hours a week comments that it's sure a bummer about Joe's bike, Joe and I are, umm, "well known" by all the employees now. I locate the hole, install another plug, and then I finish loading the bike. I guess this is the best place to have a flat, sitting in a parking lot, with easy access to air, plugs, and a dunk tank.

Having only the 3 CO2 cartridges from Joe's GS, and having suffered 2 flats so far, I decide Inuvik can wait till some other year - I'm heading south.

And when I'm packed and ready to roll, Joe's in the lobby reading the same two week old paper that I'd started on last night. His ribs and his thumb hurt badly now, and so we donít shake hands, we just say goodbye and take care. And then I leave him sitting in the lobby at Eagle Plains, reading the newspaper, waiting for a ride south.

I wrestle with my own emotions now. Iím about 5000 miles from home, my partner is stranded for the time being, I feel guilty that heís hurt and Iím fine... Not logical, but thatís the way I feel. I miss having him around almost as soon as I leave Eagle Plains. Funny thing is that each of us had originally planned a solo trip, but I've come to think a partner, or at least the right partner, is a good thing to have on a trip like this.

I'm also very paranoid now; when the bike wiggles a little in the gravel, I pull over thinking I've got another flat. All's well - but it would help my peace of mind if I had more than just 3 cartridges. This happens more than once on the trip south.

Dempster Highway, Tundra
Dempster Highway
This seems like a much bigger, much wilder place solo. Still, I'm struck by the beauty of the road on the way south. Tundra, huge mountains, snow in the distance, and nice weather. At one point, it seems as if the tundra is in the bottom of a huge bowl, ringed on all sides by snow-covered mountains.

A northbound truck throws a rock up, it takes out my left front turn-signal lens... Sigh. At least with my headlight protected by a plastic shield, a turn-signal lens is the cheapest thing on the front of the bike.

Almost at the southern end of the Dempster, and the hail begins - about 3/8" diameter pellets, coming down like crazy, and some nearby lightning strikes as well. This is something different for this trip, we, oops, I haven't had hail yet. Lasts just a couple miles, no big deal, except that it stops about when I get my rain boots on. Then the sun comes out, the sky clears, and it's as if the hail never happened at all.

I arrive at Dawson City in the late afternoon, grab a bite at a local snack bar, and relax. After 600 miles of dirt road, it's very good to be on pavement again.

I motor / wander around Dawson City just a little bit, Joe and I hadn't much and it's a really, really neat place. There's an old, un-restored paddlewheeler sitting up on the shore along the main drag, and I go and look it over. It appears that it's in the process of being restored, there's scaffolds and such all around it, along with a fence and plastic tarps covering up various parts of the boat. It looks like it will be a very interesting display when done, I'd like to see it. I can't help but wonder if it ran the rapids up on the Yukon ?

There's also the old library, no longer used as a library, which looks like it's made of brownstone.... closer inspection reveals that it's all stamped and painted metal, I've never seen a building quite like this. Interesting!

Then I ride around, split between spending the money for a motel room, or camping. I try the Bonanza motel, the owner sees my BMW and asks if I'm that guy whose buddy crashed up on the Dempster? "How in the world did you know about that? That was 300 miles away..!" I ask. "Oh, news travels fast up here." she replies. "Actually, some of the RV drivers down from Inuvik were telling us all about it yesterday...." Oh. Appears that Joe and I made quite an impression on somebody.

They have e-mail at the Bonanza; so I check my e-mail, send out a post to Joe to let him know I made it to Dawson City, and send word to my wife to let her know that all is well and that I'm now off the Dempster - I'd already told her about the crash via a phone call from Eagle Plains.

Then I ask about the price of a room.... oooh, that's a bit more than I want to spend. They also have camping, so if I don't want a room I can rent a tent-site among all the RV's. That doesn't sound very appealing either. I'll think about the room. I take a seat in the lobby, with a huge grin on my face, and a great feeling inside, daydreaming about the trip so far, just daydreaming.

Then a young RV driver comes in, he's one of those people who just won't shut up, goes on and on and on. Obviously excited, he tells about a flat tire in the wilds on the RV, several miles after he and his wife had seen a bear. So he stations his wife outside next to him with a crowbar or some such to stand watch, while he changes the flat, his wife is there and the picture this paints in my mind is hilarious! He gives me all kinds of advice on bears, and how to camp, how to just get along in the outdoors, though I get the impression he not an outdoors type at all, that he's not really a mechanic type either, and that the flat tire may have been the most exciting thing that ever happened in his entire life. I also have the impression he's not having a good time up here. Attitude, again... I don't say a word about my own adventure or flat(s), and he eventually goes away.

While still sitting and thinking, and after Mr. RV has gone away, an attractive young woman comes in with her family on vacation. She strikes up a conversation with me, the conversation is a good one, and she and her family invite me out for a drink at Diamond Tooth Gertie's. Her nameís Meredith. Hmm - why not?

I tell the motel owner that I really don't want to set up my tent, but I don't want to pay the regular price for a motel room, would she take $XX.xx in American dollars for a room? Yes, it's a deal. Now I don't have to set up the tent; so Meredith and I keep talking.

Meredith is 24 years old, a Greenpeace activist and full-time Greenpeace employee, an idealist, and originally from Toronto. She'd just sailed to Alaska (from Korea, I think) aboard a new Greenpeace ship, and is visiting her family while they vacation in the far north.

We eventually leave her parents playing cards (blackjack, I think, remember gambling is legal in Dawson City) in Diamond Tooth Gertie's, and walk down to "The Midnite Sun" bar for some music and refreshments among a much younger crowd. We talk late into the night about many different subjects, and I ask her why in the world she ever struck up a conversation with me? I'm just a plain kind of guy, I don't stand out in any way. Answer: I stood out in the motel / RV park.... the mud covered BMW, mud covered jumpsuit (the 'Stich) laying on the picnic table next to it, and I'm sitting there in the lobby in perfectly clean clothes, muddy boots, with a big grin on my face. She just figured that there was an interesting story in there somewhere, and that I'd be open-minded / receptive about Greenpeace. I hope that I didn't disappoint !

She asks if Iím going to spend the next day in Dawson City, but silly (married) me is in a hurry to be on the road again, to see things that I havenít seen yet, such as all the terrain between here and my home in Ohio.

So we go our separate ways when the bar closes, and I'm almost to the bike when a local First Nations man approaches and strikes up a conversation. We talk for about a half-hour, about the area, it's beauty, about long days, long nights, cold winters, the current lack of mosquitoes and abundance of good weather, and why I traveled all the way to the Yukon for vacation. Eventually the conversation drags, we part, and I head back to my motel room.

Another 3:00 AM bedtime in the land of the midnight sun, but here in Dawson City, approximately 300 miles south of the Arctic Circle, 3:00 AM actually brings dusk. The motel owner had told me earlier that the stars become visible again on August 10th - funny how she knew the exact date! I imagine all the locals counting down the days until the stars come out again, maybe having it circled in red on their calendars, and then I'm asleep.

Doug Grosjean
Pemberville, Ohio