Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dawson City to Dawson Creek

We were camping along the banks of the Yukon River, and about to enter another one of my bucket list places: Dawson City. Having read Dorian Amos' book 'The Good Life'  which describes, very wittingly, his life change from South West England to North East Canada, I just had to see it. Dorian portrays this romantic picture of how special life in the Yukon and especially Dawson City is. He clearly fell in love with the place, despite the extreme climate and despite the hardship they encountered. After reading both his books, Dawson City was in my mind, a beautiful and awe inspiring place. Now that we were literally on the edge of it, awaiting the ferry to cross the mighty Yukon river, how could it possibly live up to my expectations?

I needn't have worried, it exceeded my expectations! Seeing the ferry being dragged away by the strong current of the relentless Yukon River, struggling at a 45° angle fighting the current to make it to the other side, made me realise how strong this river is. How much it influenced everything that made Dawson City to what it is today. The people that live there love their town and all it represents to them. Many years ago the government wanted to make their life easier and wanted to replace the ferry with a bridge, but the people from Dawson City didn't even want to hear about it. The ferry was to stay. That Dawson city is unreachable from the west for two months each year, due to freeze up or respectively breakup of the ice, didn't faze them. They wanted Dawson to stay as it is. 

It kind of paints a picture of Dawson City and it's inhabitants. Founded in 1898 this old 'western style' town has seemingly never changed, because it just doesn't want to. The streets are still mostly dirt, it's buildings mostly original and made of wood. It started as a mining town in the heart of the Klondike, and 115 years later still is a mining town. Dawson City has currently about 1500 inhabitants. Until 2007 there had been 13,389,996 ounces of gold reported, mined from the Yukon and mostly in the Dawson area. In today’s dollars – just over 13.5 billion worth. 

In the summer Dawson City becomes a tourist town too. Tourists that enjoy the arts and crafts, the various events and relaxed style of a yet bustling town that enjoys 24 hours of daylight during the summer months. Others come for the wilderness surrounding it or maybe to do some prospecting themselves.

We stayed for a couple of days, camping along the Yukon River and thus crossed the ferry every day to Dawson City itself. The river was for me just as important as Dawson itself. Camping along the banks I could see why Dorian described it as the mighty Yukon river. Dorian Amos is still living there too I was told, and busy building a new house for himself and his family. Walking around town, looking at the old buildings, I almost felt the gold rush coming over me. It is a strange place, like entering a time warp. We are in 2013, so there are cars of course, but it just has that 'out of this world' feel about it. We left the bikes at the campground, walked to the ferry and into town, just soaking up the atmosphere and the images unfolding before our eyes.

Images made by people that are somehow much more real. No designer accessories worn by superficial people here, no SUV either. Just pure functional vehicles operated by pure people. The streets become a mud pool when it rains, but Dawson City doesn't want it any other way.
In the evening, in the mountains somewhere, an Indian sang his songs. He could be heard from miles away, as the Yukon River carried his songs along. Magic moments.

We thought about going further north to Inuvik but heavy rain in the north had washed the road out. With more rain expected, on by now fully saturated grounds, we decided it was perhaps better to go south. Dawson City thus became a turning point in our trip, from now on we were heading south towards Argentina. From Vancouver we had basically gone north towards the Brooks Range and Atigun's Pass, then east towards Dawson and now south again. Somehow I didn't really want to go south. I wanted to stay in the big open empty lands, the magic skies, the rugged mountains… but the thought of -45°C and metres of snow changed that :-) Riding towards Whitehorse we saw wild flowing rivers, bears, moose, elk and landscapes that were seemingly somehow forgotten. Like no-one had ever been there. Someone had described the road as boring, but there is a lot to see. While we were taking photographs along a beautiful lake, a motorcycle flew past… he missed the lake completely. What a waste, it's beautiful! You just have to look! 

Camping in the Yukon is easy. The Yukon government operates beautiful sites everywhere for just $12,- a night. You probably can free camp anywhere too, but why would you when just 12 dollars gets you a beautiful spot by the river, drinking water, a picnic bench, a covered eating area, free fire wood and a toilet? We loved camping in the Yukon!

Just outside Whitehorse we camped at Wolf Creek again. Terry Madden, who we had met on the way up, saw us riding past and came for a visit. 'Just let me know if there is anything I can help you with' he said before he left. 'Well, I'd like to reinforce a couple of luggage racks that didn't survive the Denali and Dalton Highway all that well' I replied. 'No problem, I'm at work tomorrow so if you drop in then we'll get it fixed!' He organised a couple of brackets from a Bobcat snowplough, which I modified somewhat in shape with an oxy. These brackets are now known as the 'Mad Terry' brackets and will never leave the bike! We stayed a couple of days at Wolf Creek again and then took the long Alaska Highway back to the junction with the Cassiar Highway again. 

On the way up this road, there were a lot of roadworks. Most of them were finished by now. We saw thousands of big motorhomes going up north. Probably some kind of a rally going on. I'm glad we were not in Alaska now, it must have been shockers
Teslin offers an RV park with a shower and even some grass to pitch our tents on… wow! The shower is free, no coin operated business here. No cleaners either, or so it seems judging by the state the showers are in. Time too shower on flip-flops again… Still the stop was good as just next to the RV park is a local museum that has marvellous displays of local animals in their habitat. Very well done! The big northern mosquitos have made way for the second generation. We were warned about them by a ranger; they are called no-see-ums, but they do bite…!
Past the Cassiar turn off was new territory for us. It wasn't long before we saw bisons. One at first, then another and an hour or so further south we had a big herd on either side of the road. 'Do not approach wildlife' it says on the signs. But what do you do if the wildlife comes to you? Well, we took photo's! Photos of a bison close up and one close to the motorbikes.

Watson lake has a strange sign collection. It's called the signpost forest... In 1942 private Carl K Lindley was so homesick he put up a sign of his hometown depicting the distance. Others followed his example and now there are more than 72.000 signs from all over the world! Weird, to put it mildly, but fun to look at!

The road to the Liard Hotsprings was described as boring, we met 35 bisons, 2 bears and a couple of moose… 
The Liard Hot Springs were a disappointment. The campground was full with more RVs going north. We wanted to see the springs and thus went to the campground opposite, which was a mistake. It's operated by money, money, money obsessed people and the native indians who were staying there partied all night… thumb, thumb, thumb music seems to be the young Indian culture in 2013. How different to the night before, where we heard nothing at all apart from wolves howling through the night. The reason we stayed in the first place was of course to see the springs the next morning. They were a disappointment too. The sulphur smell was so strong that the advice was to limit your stay in the pool to 20 minutes… after 15 I had enough and so did Mike. We both had developed a headache by then. The party Indians were in the springs too, completely drunk.

A much better place to stay would be at Toad River, we had lunch there and seriously though about staying. A very nice campground, a good restaurant and people with a sense of humour too. The restaurant is called 'The Roadkill Cafe', for those of us who are still in doubt about what they serve, they put a slogan under the name 'you kill it, we grill it'! The only reason we didn't stay was that it was only 11.00 am. The Roadkill burger was great! The true connoisseur would probably be able to tell you what brand of tyre gave this roadkill it's special flavour… :-) The scenery south from Toad River is beautiful. Winding roads along mountain lakes and mountain goats above us climbing the most impossible rock faces with apparent ease. It was to be the first glimpse of the stunning landscapes that were about to unfold before us over the next couple of days.
Charlie Lake offered us a camp spot. Looking at Charlie Lake I remembered the TV show Long Way Round, where Charlie and Ewan looked over the same lake!

The next morning, rain belted down upon us. We were soaked in 10 minutes in the heaviest downpour we had seen yet. Although it was 10.00 am, the sky was pitch black and visibility zero. I couldn't even see Jeanette's rear light! We stopped by the side of the road, purely for safety. Jeanette noticed that it seemed better in the distance, on the other side of the mountain. Doesn't it always, I thought, but when you're there it's the same as here. Still she was convinced it was better. When the visibility had improved somewhat we decided to continue. As usual, she was right…. but still arriving soaking wet at Dawson Creek for the photo under the 'Start of the Alaska Highway' sign.

A short stint further took us across the border with Alberta, where we found a camping municipal in Hythe. The toilet building was in an old railway carriage. The campground was soaked here as well, so we looked for a high and dry spot to pitch the tents and fired up the wood heater in the covered picnic area to dry our clothes.