The river, which swells over its bank every few years, is parallel to the main street. These streets are ornamented with authentic architectural timepieces - buildings with the style and age of a genuine historic mining town. The roads are dirt and the sidewalks are wooden boardwalks. This place is no copy. We got up the next day on the late side and grabbed breakfast at the place, Klondike Kate's. Our next stop was the hardware store to find replacements for Joe's missing tail pipe bolt. We parked in front and Joe spent some time rechecking the bolts on his KLR. This time he found that the main rear suspension bolt was gone. The hardware store did not have the metric bolt Joe needed so they directed us to the real hardware store down the street, Yukon Mining Supply. This was my kind of place. As I looked over one of the over merchandised shelves, I found the hydraulic oil I needed for my front forks but had forgotten to look for. I took the present I had just bought for myself and went outside to fill my fork tubes. I then wrapped the fork boot at the breather holes with a sock held by a tie wrap and there it was -"Yukon Fork Repair 101", second on the road shop session complete. We were on our way on to the Dempster Highway at about noontime.
The weather was now noticeably hot and dry. Smoke still filled the sky and it was to stay this way for the next 3 days. We were met at the highway's entrance by another ranger. This time there would be no escort, just a warning that firefighters were working in the area and we should not get in their way. We agreed to the terms and were now off to the North Country. This trip up the Dempster was the most fascinating of rides I have ever taken in all my forty years of driving on two wheels. The scenery was both surreal and magnificent. A land left virtually untouched, outside of a roadbed that appears to have barely been scraped into its surface. To stop our motorcycles and listen was to hear nothing but silence. Geology was revealed at its most basic level and at an imposing scale. We humans feel small in its presence.
I remember rivers stained deep red with iron ore, another green from copper, crushed moraines of gravel stretching for miles and rolling tundra landscapes with tetons of mountain blocks placed around as if chess pieces on a board. Also as dramatic and continuous was the fireweed lining the roadway for countless miles.
We were told when we filled up for gas that we would avoid blowouts if we lowered our tire pressure, drove under 50 and stayed on the beaten path. We did as told and it proved to be a winning formula. As had been our pattern so far, I remained in the lead. Jeff being the less experienced rider held up the middle and Joe brought up the back for safety. We stayed in this formation all afternoon, with the only change being made by Joe as he fell way far back to keep away from the dust bowl.The dry weather had made the dust a real problem and Joe and Jeff both began to look like Pig Pen from a Snoopy comic. The dust was only made worse by the never-ending smoke. At times the smoke did thin out a bit but never enough to see the mountainous back drop highlighted in glamorous photojournalistic shots of the region. The sun was still only a red ball in the sky. Because we were traveling together, the loneliness of this place only showed itself a few times, first when we ascended Ogilvie Mountain. This particular place has an unusually steep incline as compared to other parts of the highway. In addition the roadway turns mostly into red sand (in the dry weather) making it a peg-standing ride up. From a ½ mile back we could see an RV parked alongside the road. As we approached closer we now saw that the travelers were broken down by the presence of engine parts dismantled around their vehicle. Drawing near I called out to ask if they needed help, a little worried that my forward momentum would be broken if I slowed my speed too much. But they waved us on and said help was on its way. Well, on our way back, they still remained in the same spot with what now looked like the majority of their engine lying next to them. Help had arrived but all the work had to be done where the RV had stopped. So if you break down in an RV on the Dempster, you are in it for the long haul. The second time was not long after this. We found a fellow motorcyclist on the side of the road; his rear tire on his KLR was torn as if he had been riding on it flat for miles. We stopped to help. This guy could have been Mad Max - in fact the wild look in his eyes was like that of Max's dog. As we stood there and talked while swatting away mosquitoes, I got the sense that he was a little dazed and confused, tipped off by dehydration. He somehow had help coming for him. As it turned out we were only about 10 miles from the highway's midpoint and gas/motel stop, Eagle Plains. Still, I was trying to think about how we would help. Perhaps we would have to give him one of our tires. This was no place to just leave someone by the roadside.
We pulled into Eagle Plains to fill our tanks, have a drink and grab something to eat. This evening we had our sights set on Inuvik, which meant another 230 miles to go. Our next stop would be the Arctic Circle marker up the road some 45 miles north. At this point the ride seemed to have lost its steam. Jeff, who was doing fine all day seemed to have lost his confidence and started slowing down. Most of the day we were traveling at about 50 mph. Now we were only going 35 mph. When I noticed that this was becoming the average rather then just a short anomaly, I realized that hitting Inuvik that night was not going to happen. As we drove on I kept looking down at my GPS, reconfirming that fact.
When we arrived at the Arctic Circle a festive mood was in the air. Seven or eight RVs were parked in the lot. People were standing around talking and one couple was popping open a bottle of champagne. When we went to park our bikes and photograph ourselves in front of the marker I noticed Jeff was tired. This would account for the slowing down on his speed for the past 40 miles. We took some shots and I walked over to Joe to start a discussion about that night's plans. I was thinking about the break down in Hyder and how I had resigned myself to a come-what-may attitude. After all, we were not in a race. I was also thinking that I had a responsibility to make sure Jeff did not ride off the road and learn to hate the thought of ever getting back on two wheels again. I told Joe that if we went north tonight we were not going to make the second river ferry crossing. We were traveling too slow to make the cut, and that would leave us slapping mosquitos all night with no rest - only to get up there and have to turn around and head back within an hour of making our high point. I said, " to me, the end of the road was a cool destination but more than that, it was the good night's sleep that was to come with it." By now Jeff and a few of the people standing around had begun to listen in on our conversation. I could tell Joe was not pleased with the words coming out of my mouth. He knew that in fact he and I could make it to the ferry on time and he was willing to go for it.
He did not say much. Jeff came over and I mentioned that we weren't keeping time and would not make the river crossing in time to get to Inuvik tonight. My feeling was let's just go back to Eagle Plains and get a good dinner and then a full night sleep. Why kill ourselves over a destination? Before we took off on the ride, Jeff had expressed that if at some point he was holding us up, he'd be glad to sit out a leg and wait for Joe and I to return. That was now reiterated, but still I felt that the prize was way less than the effort. By heading south now we could jump back to our original schedule, which would make lining up sleeping accommodations a lot easier. Besides, I still was not so confident with my R100GSPD. Even though the front fork fix seemed to be taking, I was not assured that it would keep up. The conversation went on like this for a few minutes and as it did the celebratory mood around us started to die out. People quietly went back to their campers, away from those weird bikers. I don't think our voices ever got loud, but I was sure they could see the tension building. I found myself in the undesirable position of advocating a decision that neither of my partners wanted.
We did end up heading back to the Eagle Plains Hotel and I guess Joe was the one most bent out of shape by my call. We had been traveling far more miles per day than we had originally planned. Too much of this ride had been stressful so far and I still feel that forging ahead to Inuvik would have taken away from a better time spent somewhere else. It was time to slow down the pace of our trip and to start enjoying ourselves. The light was still in the night sky by the time we tried to sleep. We closed off the window blinds from the glow outdoors. Our plan was to head down to Dawson City and get our rear tires changed the next day. About 30 minutes into trying to fall asleep, all three of us were still wide awake. Between the natural outdoor illumination and the past day's events, one comment after another was delivered in a series of would of, should of and could of about our plans, past and future. Joe, who had had it with the smoke and dust made a proposal. Why not go east to Yellowknife? Well, talk about putting a log on the fire. My gears started to turn and I guess Jeff's and Joes's did also. Now fully awake we engaged in a discussion on a complete change of plans. The night's conversation did finally come to an end with an agreement to pick it up at breakfast.