Dempster Highway

NWP/IDBDR Day #4

Miles Total: 514
Miles Today: 64

Up at 6a again today and had the same old breakfast before packing up to leave. I charged my InReach last night and noticed that the mount was loose when I put it back on the bike. So I opened up my fancy red tool tube, grabbed my tools and fixed it up. Unfortunately, this would not be the only time it was opened today…

There was a bit of mist on the lake this morning…grabbed a quick pic before we took off.

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We continued on dirt for a bit, passing through some active logging areas. There were a couple of spots where machinery had to pull over to let us by. Everyone was very nice about it.

Our first stop of the day was in the town of Northport. They had a very nice park along the Columbia river. They restrooms were well maintained and heated! There was nice grassy picnic area and a boat launch. We actually had cell phone service, so I gave my wife a quick call.

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After I hung up, a train came by…Later on, we caught up to this train again and I got some pretty cool 360 videos going along side.

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After the park, we grabbed some gas and started off toward Boundary Dam. Just after we passed the train, off in the distance, something big moved across the road in front of us. I’m 95% sure it was a bear – I tried to get some 360 video, but when I reviewed it on my phone I couldn’t make it out. Perhaps when I get home on a big monitor I’ll be able to tell. Not 5 minutes after that, there was a big grouse standing on the side of the road.

Eventually, we moved from pavement on to gravel again. The terrain was pretty straightforward and not very difficult at all. I was leading the way and came through a hairpin turn that was a little bit loose. I called back to my Dad on the intercom to see if he made it ok, just as he said he crashed. He wasn’t going very fast and was not hurt at all. I found a good spot to turn around and go help him lift the bike up. I had to take a picture before I helped lift…

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Well it turns out this was a blessing in disguise. After getting the bike up and resting for a bit, we tried to continue on our way. Immediately my dad started freaking out – his handlebars wouldn’t turn in one direction.  The issue – a couple of fasteners on his steering stabilizer had vibrated loose (it was a miracle he didn’t lose the fasteners). The crash had finally pushed it to the point of failure.

If you look at the picture below, the red piece moves with the handlebars, the black rods behind had shifted up to prevent things from rotating. If you look at the close one, you can actually see that the top is scuffed up. If this had happened at the wrong time, really bad things would result.

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Now the problem became tightening those fasteners. Normally they are tightened before the stabilizer is installed on the bike. There was no clearance to get a tool in on either side. After quite a bit of finagling, he got one side tightened up – the other side was just impossible, and was basically not threaded at all. There was so little clearance, the the fastener couldn’t even come out. So, we added a zip tie for insurance, and started toward the Boundary Dam campground. We figured at that point, I could run for tools to do a better fix, or call for extraction if needed.

Here is a pic of him on the side of the trail fighting with the fastener.

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We went very slow through the rest of the dirt section, which gave us an opportunity to chat about our options. We didn’t have the tools to do a proper fix (or did we…) for the stabilizer. The obvious solution – you can actually remove the red piece in the picture above, which essentially returns things to the stock configuration of the bike (my Dad added the stabilizer after his crash on the Dempster a few years ago).

We arrived at the campground and nailed down a spot in case we needed to spend the night. Then it was time to start taking apart the bike. Below, you can see the handlebars off and the stabilizer out.

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With the handlebars off, he tried to get access to the fastener that was still loose. After a long battle, he gave up and put everything back together. To fix the problem, you need to remove the large nut in the steering column – go back and look at the close-up picture of the dampener. The issue was that we didn’t have a tool big enough to take it off. Then it hit me – that nut looks like the same size as the axle nut on my bike, and I have a wrench to take the tires off with me. Sure enough, we gave it a try and it worked.

He really, really, really, really wants that stabilizer installed on the bike. He has had issues with head shake on the freeway when trucks pass by, and the dampener solves the problem. We decided to head into Sandpoint tomorrow and get a hotel room. We’ll take Sunday as a “rest” day, go to a store and get some loctite, and reinstall the stabilizer. It should also give us the opportunity to watch the Seahawks game.

It is about 100 miles to Sandpoint from our current location (at least following the path we are taking, we will complete the Northwest Passage). At this point it is getting to be later in the day, so we decide to camp here for the night.

I haven’t had a shower in 4 days, and my current clothes needed to be washed. So I decided it was a good time to jump in the lake and go swimming. On the way down, I noticed this sign.

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I’m not sure if I should be happy that there hasn’t been a cougar sighting in a couple of weeks, or worried because they have a semi-permanent sign to update the sightings.

Here I am in the lake.

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Here is our campsite.

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That’s about it for today!

Alaska Ride – June 9th – Day #15

It rained quite a bit last night, so we had to let our things dry out a bit before we start our trek back to more civilized, paved roads. Walked back up to the cooking shelter to grab some breakfast, and ended up with some good views on the way back to the campsite (lower right of the picture).

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We were all packed up and on the road by 10:30a or so…when we got to the road, it was a bit muddy. Now the mud on this section of the road is nothing like the grease-slick mud that we encountered near Eagle Plains, but we were a bit gun-shy, and pulled into the visitor center just down the road a bit to play it safe and let the road dry out.

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The visitor center is a nice place that talks about the park, but it seems pretty useless when it comes to giving out information on the current state of the road. The weather forecast was for clearing in the afternoon, and then changing back to rain for the next couple of days. So, we had a small “dry” window open to us. After waiting for 45 minutes, we start to head out to the parking lot, still unsure of which direction we wanted to go – back to the campground or 70km out to the pavement. As we were walking out to our bikes, we spoke with some people who had just come up the road and said it was fine. So, we went for it! Turns out the worst part of the road (and it wasn’t that bad), was right outside the visitor center. Within a mile, the road was totally dry (and gravel).

Once we made it back to the start of the Dempster, we pulled over so I could air up my tires. I had them aired down for better traction…I wanted them back up to normal again for better mileage and so the tires would last longer on the pavement.

We made our way to Dawson City and grabbed some lunch. Halibut and chips!IMG_0428

After lunch and fuel (there is premium at the shell station in Dawson City), it was time to give the bikes a bath to get the calcium chloride muck off. They really weren’t that dirty compared to some bikes I’ve seen come off the Dempster (or Dalton). The rain last night did take some of the muck off for us.  IMG_0438

Happy KTM!

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After the wash, we went just a bit down the road to the Klondike river campground. We have a nice spot in the woods and really can’t see anyone around us. 

We walked down to the river to try some fishing since went through the trouble of buying fishing licenses. We had access to a section of the river that was not ideal for fishing. Wide and shallow with fast moving water. But it was still fun to cast a line for a bit.IMG_0442

I’ve made the call that we are not doing any more unpaved roads this trip. That means no Top of the World Highway or Denali Highway – I’ll have to save them for a future trip. So, to get to Fairbanks, we are going to need to start to backtrack tomorrow and head toward the Alaska Highway.

Alaska Ride – June 8th – Day #14

Two weeks on the road! Today we are heading back down the Dempster and continuing our journey toward Alaska. We got out of bed a 7a and went on over to the hotel restaurant for a quick breakfast. Then it was time to pack our bikes and begin our journey.

Right before we left, I grabbed a shot of the two BMWs that are heading back down on a truck tonight. They didn’t have the greatest tires on for the conditions.IMG_0411

We took it slow to get some confidence back after the crash the other day. My dad was pretty tentative yesterday on the whole trip to the Arctic Circle and back. We stopped at the first two rest areas, got off the bikes, and assessed our situation. The road was in good shape, although we could see some showers forming to the south (our direction of travel).

We stopped for lunch at Engineer Creek again. The black muck that was there last time had dried up, although i don’t know that I would want to stay there except in an emergency.

The road is pretty dusty to this point, and there seems to be more traffic in both directions. I was letting my dad set the pace – I stayed quite a ways back to stay out of the dust. Eventually, the rains did come. Just enough to keep the dust down on the road, but not make the road too slick.

The scenery heading southbound into the Tombstone area was much more interesting than on the way up. The mountains were in front of you the whole time. We didn’t stop to take any more pictures though.

We stopped at the Tombstone campground for a quick rest and to put some fuel in the bikes. It was such a nice place we decided to spend the night here. We have a very nice spot that has plenty of room for both our tents and tarps.

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It is right on a creek.

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And has great mountain views!

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We got rained on a bit as we set up our tarps, but nothing too serious. Once everything was squared away, we went up to the cooking shelter to make dinner – they have a shelter set up away from the campsites so you don’t attract bears to your tent 🙂

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They also had a food locker right next to the shelter, so we left our food and stoves. We’ll just walk up in the morning and make our breakfast.

Alaska Ride – June 6th – Day #12

It rained a little last night and my tent sweat profusely, so the underside of the rainfly was pretty wet. So even though we woke up early this morning, I kept stalling on packing the bike to give things a little time to dry off. Eventually the sun came over the top of the hill and took care of business fairly quickly.

We missed the gas station while we were heading out of town, so we had to loop back and find it. All of our fuel calculations and extra fuel we carried were based on leaving Dawson City. Well, there is a card lock station (unmanned gas station) at the start of the Dempster. We filled our tanks and extra cans with premium in Dawson City and topped off our tanks with regular (only choice) at the card lock. The switch to turn off the pump had a really strong spring in it, I started to flip it back, and it snapped quickly, pinching the end of my finger. Ouch!IMG_0381

right next to the station is the sign that marks the beginning of the Dempster. We walked over and took some quick pictures.

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The road quickly turns to gravel. Our tires are gripping well and we settled into a cruising speed of around 70kph. Up to this point, the day was pretty nice – the sky was gradually getting cloudier as we sped north, but the road was dry. A sprinkle of rain started just as we pulled into the visitor center at Tombstone.

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Information on the state of the highway was pretty sparse. The rangers told us that the road was good in the park, but didn’t give us any information about the road beyond. We played tourist for a bit, and then hit the road. The rain stopped while we were bumming around inside.

The Tombstone section of the highway had lots of mountains with snow. Very rugged looking terrain. It was very cool.

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We started to descend from the mountains and I saw a moose hiding in the bushes! Hooray our first moose sighting! We did a quick u-turn to get some pictures. As we sat there, the moose moved out of the bushed to the little pond, and out came a couple of calves as well!

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After we were done taking pictures, I dropped the bike AGAIN. Low speed like always, trying to do a u-turn. I think I’m going to get the bike lowered when I get home. Also, I wish I would have bought the larger pannier set – I would be able to get by without the drybag on top, and the CG of the bike would be lower.

We stopped at Engineer Creek for lunch. The surface in the campground was this nasty sticky black mud that clogged the tread or our tires. I’m surprised we didn’t drop a bike maneuvering around.

About 100k from Eagle Plains, it started to rain. The rain turned the road into a mucky, slippery mess. I felt my front tire skate around a couple of times – it was very scary. I did not air my tires down at all, I’ll probably try that when we continue.

15k from Eagle Plains, I hear “whoa, whoa, whoa!” and “I’m going down!” a bunch of times over the headset. I can see my dad oscillating back and forth in front of me. Then the bike just spun around and there was a cloud of mud and dust. The old man crashed while going down the road.

The first problem was quickly finding a place to park my bike that was not the middle of the road. There is quite a crown and I didn’t want to drop my bike as well. At this point I still did not know the severity of any injuries that may have occurred. Fortunately this was a long straight section of road so approaching traffic had no problem seeing us.

As I’m getting off my bike, my dad is talking over the intercom, letting me know that he is not hurt. The problem now – he is pinned under the bike. The sidestand has his boot locked into the ground. I can’t lift the bike up because his body is where I need to be to lift it. I finally lifted the rear tire high enough that he could wriggle his foot from underneath the bike. Once he was out, we unloaded a few things and easily lifted it.

In this picture, you can see where he spun the bike on the road.

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Removing things from the bike before we lift it. The pannier in the air is not supposed to point that direction. He also managed to get both sides of the bike to hit the ground in the same crash…

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After some chill time, and making sure the bike was at least somewhat operable, we made our way to Eagle Plains at a very slow pace. We’ve got a hotel room for the night, and there is a shop onsite to work on straightening out the pannier. We’ll likely stay and extra night so we can go over the bike and make sure there really isn’t any other damage and it is ok to continue.

Alaska Ride – June 5th – Day #11

Today was our first rest day. We did not ride the bikes at all today, just did some chores and walked around Dawson City. The first task of the day was to do laundry.

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I needed to get the laundry done so I could have clean clothes to put on after I took a shower. Of course the clothes I was wearing didn’t get washed, so I brought them in the shower with me and washed them by hand. Put another $1 in the drier and all my clothes were clean! I also managed to get some shampoo and ditch that other stuff that I was using.

We spent some time walking around the waterfront. You have to take a ferry to get across the river and continue on to Alaska, we watched it go back and forth for a bit.

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We checked back in at the info centers to get the latest updates on the Dempster. Everything sounds good. There is a card lock gas station at the start of the Dempster (there used to be a resort there that burned down). The lady at the info center called the owner and verified that our non-chipped credit cards will work. We did all of our fuel range planning from Dawson City, so being able to top off our tanks after 25 miles will add a bit more buffer to our calculations.

The weather is improving over the next week, so we are good to start for tomorrow. Although it is raining outside right now. We’ll make the final call in the morning based on the weather.

We purchased our fishing licenses, so now we can legally fish at all the streams we ride by and never stop at. Maybe we’ll have a bit more incentive to stop now, although I’m not sure how excited I am about getting fish smell on me while I’m tent camping in Grizzly country.

Stopped at the hardware store to pick up a screw to replace the one I busted yesterday. Fixed that up, and then opened my top box to find out that it leaked as well. Now my passport is all wet. I shouldn’t have to use it though, my passport card should be good enough. I need to figure out why the panniers are leaking – i may have them too full so I’m not getting a good seal around the top. I’m a bit disappointed since these cost double compared to the panniers I sold with my KLR.

For dinner we hit the downtown hotel. They had an awesome guy on the piano for entertainment while we ate. At 9p, they started serving up the sour toe cocktail. We watched for a bit, but I weenied out. Maybe on our way back through. I did get a picture of the official human toe though…

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This will probably be the last entry for a few days. I don’t think I’ll have an internet connection until we get back to Dawson City in four or five days. It’s going to be a little scary, but a lot of fun!