Rain, Mud and Hail (yes, bloody HAIL) on the Dempster…

Well, in my last post I wrote this bit of Crapola:

I will be back to camping tomorrow.  I need to find somewhere to store the yellow thing before I do the Dempster Highway.  I found it was a bit of a handful riding the ToW Highway yesterday because of the extra weight.  If I can do that, the next stop will be the Dempster.  Still dithering about this one, but don’t want to dither too long.  The weather looks like it might be good for the next few days, so want to make the most of the opportunity.”

Well, I:

  Didn’t find somewhere to store the Yellow Thing;

–  Didn’t camp; and

–  The weather sucked.

I also think I said something on Facebook about updating this in about five days.  So let me tell you what has happened since then.

I was originally going to ride from Dawson City up the 723 km Dempster Highway to Inuvik, in the Northwest Territories.  There is a place called Eagle Plains, which is at the halfway point of the highway, and the only place to get gas.  Before I left Dawson City, however, I had spoken to a variety of people who told me there is nothing to see but tundra after Eagle Plains.  I wasn’t convinced at first, because I am unfortunately a bit rigid when it comes to changing plans, but finally accepted that I might as well just go to Eagle Plains then head back to Dawson, and from there south, because up to Eagle Plains is the best scenery.  Apart from that, I am getting somewhat anxious to see the rest of Canada.  Guess I’ve been up here in the north for too long.

So I decided to hole up at the Klondike River Lodge, at the start of the Dempster, until the weather was right for attempting the ride.  I had a choice of accommodation:  Motel $85, tent site $15, or these little cabins, each containing two bunk beds, for $20.  I chose the bunk beds and stayed a couple of nights until the weather was okay.  The forecast for Friday on the Dempster reckoned sunny with increasing cloud and a 40% chance of rain in the afternoon.  No dramas, I thought, I’ll just get up early and be in Eagle Plains by midday.

Naturally, I slept in.  Woke at 7.30am to cloudy skies.  Left at 9am and noticed some sunny breaks, so was optimistic.  The first part was good and I made some stops to get photos. 

Still good as I travelled further north:

Then increasing cloud…

To see this makes one realise just how big this country is, and the isolation of this part of the world.  They did it tough in those days, and were tough themselves:

Beautiful though:

It was like this the whole way, beautiful scenery around every corner.  The rain started as I reached the Ogilvie Ranges, about 100 kms or so from Eagle Plains.  This was not rain as one would normally imagine, i.e. a few clouds then lots of clouds then rain, rather, there were isolated thunder clouds and the rain could be seen falling from these clouds:

Soon after this, all those isolated rain clouds conspired, and gathered together along the Dempster to rain on me for the next 100 kms until I reached Eagle Plains.  If that wasn’t enough, on two occasions I saw what I first thought were very large drops of rain, but on slowing down and inspecting closer it turned out it was hail.  They were only fingernail size, so didn’t make the road slippery(er).  So it was quite a slow trip from there for the next 100 kms; the road was punctuated by increasingly shorter sections where I could maintain some semblance of speed.  By the time I got close to Eagle Plains I was mainly in second gear, and covered in mud.  It was damnably slippery for most of the way, and I was very glad to see Eagle Plains in the distance. 

It had actually been a good test of my petrol tank:  I’d filled up at the beginning of the highway, and by Eagle Plains, 363 kms later, the computer thing on the bike was freaking out and telling me I had 1 km of gas left.  So I just made it.

This is what it was like when I arrived:

I was exhausted and it was still raining, and cold, so I got a hotel room.  This place is an oasis in the desert, nothing like those “hotels” up the Dalton Highway.  The first thing I did after unloading the bike was have a shower and wash all the mud off myself.  Then it was time for a beer.  I have to admit, it was a trifle disconcerting to be sitting there, trying to drink my beer, whilst this was looking over my shoulder:

This caribou, lurking in the corner amongst the plants, probably wanted a sip as well:

Quite a few other creatures, including an eagle suspended from the ceiling, were showing an interest in my beer.  I took photos of them all, but the internet is very slow up here so the above two will suffice, I think.

At 2am the next morning it was still like this:

I had met up with some fellow motorcyclists the previous night:  Americans Chelle (BMW F650), Ray (BMW F800) and Randy (Triumph Tiger) had ridden up from Bellingham, Washington, for a few weeks in the far north.  They travelled up the Dempster just ahead of me, and had gone the few kms further north to the Arctic Circle line before returning to the hotel.  We exchanged war stories over dinner and a few drinks.  They are on their way to Alaska via the Top of the World Highway.  Very nice people and it was great to sit and chat the evening away.

Next day they heard from someone that the road down south was dry, so they decided to head back to Dawson City then ToW Highway.  I wasn’t convinced:  the road still looked very soggy and the weather forecast called for showers later in the day.  Anyway, I told them they were brave.  We exchanged email addresses got a few pics before they left:

From left: Randy, Chelle, Ray

Chelle and me

 Hope they made it back no worries.  As I said, the road was still very wet – looked like this:

By late afternoon it was clearing up a bit, and now, at 11pm, looks even better.  Still broad daylight outside of course.  The sun sets about 1.30am and rises again around 3.  I will head back to Dawson City tomorrow then to Whitehorse – Watson Lake – Prince George and so down to Jasper/Banff and from there across Canada.  I am conscious of the fact that there remains a lot of Canada to see and I have been up here in the north for long enough.  

I don’t for one minute regret travelling up the Dempster.  It is by far the most picturesque road to date, and the Cassier in BC would be next.  Tomorrow as I ride back I am hoping to see more wildlife.  Yesterday all I saw was an Arctic Ground Squirrel which played emus with me:  Ran across, stopped in front of me, and darted one way then the other in decreasing lengths until I was almost upon him!

More later, ‘bye for now.

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5 Responses to Rain, Mud and Hail (yes, bloody HAIL) on the Dempster…

  1. IT"S ME says:

    Glad to get your blog, interesting as always. I do feel for you though on the wet slippery roads and to add insult to injury… hail ! The colours in your photos are lovely.
    Hope those animals on the wall didn’t drink too much of your beer. Must remember to
    have a ‘roo head on our wall for when you return !

    Love always

    • Janet says:

      Run Skippy, run!

      • Janette says:

        Oh yeah, Skippy had better run like hell. My mother is a notorious killer of snakes. Better known as “She of the Shovel”, my mother once decapitated a snake (of the highly poisonous variety) with one spear-throw of her garden shovel. True. Do not mess with her.

    • Janette says:

      Can’t wait to see the ‘roo head!
      Glad you like the photos. The Dempster is much nicer than the Dalton. I got some more pics today on the way back.

  2. Kimberlee says:

    Very nice to see the Australian flag sticker Mum, so don’t forget where you come from! And it’s also nice to see you made some friends (the human one’s not the animals who wanted your beer). Not so Nigelesque now are you?! Pictures are very pretty as usual so keep them coming! Be safe.


    I love you xxox

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