Monday, June 10, 2013

Yukon (part 1)

Yukon Territory, better known as The Yukon, originated from the Locheux native word "Yuk-un-ah," meaning "Great River," referring to the Yukon River that flows across the territory into Alaska. It's another place I wanted to see and experience. It all started a year or two ago when I read a book by Dorian Amos, called 'The Good Life'. It tells how they gave up their comfortable life in Cornwall England and went to the remote wilderness of the Yukon. They bought a piece of land in Dawson City and started building their new home. Arriving, of course, just before winter and in a tent… It's one of those books that I just kept reading. The way in which they described the extreme climatic conditions, the crossing of frozen rivers, hunting for their own food and how they build their own home is an inspiration. It wanted to see the Yukon, see the mighty Yukon River and 'feel' it for myself.

The Yukon is a great place. Yes it's remote and yes it's maybe not the most accessible, but it gives you that great feeling. The feeling of being in the right place and feeling at home. The camping, provided by The Yukon Government is great too. Beautiful spots, free firewood and all for just $12,- per spot. We followed the Alaskan Highway, which was originally build by the US Army as a supply route during World War 2. Today there are a lot of roadworks, muddy slushy roadworks that have the bikes fishtailing like a drunken sailor. In just 100 metres they're hardly recognisable anymore, covered in mud and the roadworks are several kilometres long, each!

During a photo-stop we're being overtaken by a fat-bellied 60 plus on a Honda Goldwing which had been converted into a trike… The radio is belting out 'music' so loud that it can be heard for miles. He should be riding with an L-plate to warn the world he's a looser. He's being followed by another motorbike, pulling a trailer that seems to be drunk. It wanders all over the place.

We meet them a bit further on at massive roadworks. The lollipop girls are great. They must be riding bikes themselves as they pull us out from behind the queue and move us to the front, so that we won't get choked behind the big trucks. The first bike in line is a Triumph Tiger 800. 'Aye! I'm a very important person, tell 'em to hurry up' he says to the lollypop lady with a big smile, 'that's why you are are at the front' she says 'that's not good enough' he says, upon which she says 'do you want to tell them yourself?' and hands him the radio. He doesn't waste any time, presses the button and says 'Hurry up you slack arses'! I would have loved to see him riding through the gravel and dust of the roadworks to see how his Tiger handled it; but unfortunately the bike pulling the trailer is in front of us… and he's terrified about gravel. We see the Tiger disappearing in the distance as we're not allowed to overtake.

The distances between fuel stops are big; sometimes over 200 km. Filling up I notice a familiar accent; the girl behind the register is from Australia but lives in The Yukon. Australia is plus 45°C in January, The Yukon -45°C in January about the most extreme change I can think of. Outside we meet Mike Granger on a Buell Ulysses. He's just been to Alaska and now on his way back home to Montana. We talk for 10 minutes about Alaska and Australia and get an invitation to drop in when we're in Montana… A little bit further we find 3 generations from the Ukraine in a truck that reads 'not for hire', they are moving to Alaska and the truck is the removal 'van'.

Wolf Creek, a campsite just outside of Whitehorse, deserves a special mention. It's another great place to camp ground provided by the Yukon Government. We enjoyed our beautiful camping spot next to the river so much that we stayed a couple of days. Whitehorse, the capital of The Yukon is only 20 km up the road. We're enjoying a lazy day while Mike grills a couple of hamburgers on a wood fire. The river is our 'natural fridge' and keeps the drinks cool. We enjoy the campfire until late in the evening and end up with ash-grey hair…

Whitehorse boasts 24.000 people. Only 24.000 people in the capitol. People come from hundreds of miles away to get their supplies. Therefore supermarkets sell everything in bulk. Butter in buckets, massive hams instead of per 100 gram, peanut butter per kilo and more flour bags than bread. Not always handy when you're on a motorcycle :-)
From Whitehorse we have a beautiful ride. The scenery is great, it's dry and even warm… Black clouds are forming all around us however, but we stay dry. The campground we wanted to take is closed for tents for the season due to bears. We're not even in Alaska yet!
Burwash Landing has a Lodge, operated by a Chinese. We expected huge prices but it's only $10,- for the spot. If you want a shower however then it'll be another $5,- per person. The lobby has a stuffed Grizzly bear, these things are huge! The outside of the Lodge looked somewhat familiar and later in the evening I see why, this is where Boorman and McGregor stayed on their Long Way Round trip.
Later that evening we see a cyclist arrive. He pitches his tent and then starts to set up an electric fence around it… on batteries. According to him, it works to keep the bears away…?

Riding up to the Alaskan border turned out to be the hardest bit yet. The road was unbelievably bad. Potholes like we hadn't seen before. It started with 12 km of muddy slushy gravel. Of course it rained and as we're higher up in the mountains it's cold. Bitterly cold. It's summer but we're riding with winter gloves plus overgloves and it's still freezing cold. After the roadworks the surface deteriorates even further. We stop for a Grizzly bear with her cub by the side of the road. She looks at us but doesn't feel threatened. It's another of those magic moments. Moments that make everything worth while.
A bit further is someone who probably feels rather different. His 5th wheeler has broken an axle on the unbelievably bad road we're on. Not only has the axle broken, it's also damaged the rear of the trailer. He will be stuck here for days, miles away from anywhere.
We try to get something warm to eat at Beaver Creek but they're sold out. We fill the tanks for the last time in Canada for the moment and ride on to the Alaskan border, where we were met by the most irritating borderguard yet. Thinking we were doing the right thing we rode up as a family, he exploded and send Mike and Jeanette back. When I enter with all 3 passports in my hand, he explodes again 'It's illegal in the USA to carry someone else's passport' he bellows at me. When a couple of minutes later a tour operator enters with a pile of German passports in his hands he says nothing and stamps them all… Welcome to Alaska. At least it was dry at the border...