Saturday, October 19, 2013

Never Ending Forest

4 days and 4 nights on the ferry and now I'm stalled in city traffic between Bellingham and Seattle. Northern BC and the Yukon has spoiled me with open roads and no traffic. I can't handle the traffic jams and after a couple of hours running around sorting out a few bit's and pieces, phones, banking etc it drives me nuts and heading out to the Cascade mountains can't come soon enough.

I make the small town of Winthrop just on dark, it took longer than anticipated. I forgot that the distance signs were in miles not kilometers now that I was back in the US! The GPS proves to be a great tool yet again as I ride straight to the North Cascade Hostel, The owners Paul and Audrey are just about to head off to do a season work in Antarctica, they spend a lot of time in New Zealand and just happen to know a few people from Golden Bay, small world.

I 'm hoping to ride down the Cascade Mountains on what is known as the Back Country Discovery Route. It's a combination of forestry roads and tracks that stretch from the Canadian border all the way down to Oregon. Armed with a new knobbly rear tyre, GPS tracks, paper maps and a bunch of food I head off not really sure what lay ahead, the route is generally pretty easy even on big bikes but the recent snow could make for some challenging conditions.

So for the next 3 days I ride high up on ridge tops at 6000 feet, dropping down to towns on the way. The riding is great, there's snow, and although it's slick it's patchy and I'm able to traverse most of the route, except for the last day. I'm only a quarter of the way through the day and I'm in some snow. It's fun riding and I'm making OK progress. But I'm feeling a little edgy, It's hard to say what elevations and snow lay ahead, on my own I decide to turn around and head down to the main road. It's a decision that bugs me as I retrace the route out... I'd probably ridden the worst of it.....maybe not....I feel a little beaten but try to tell myself to just enjoy the awesome riding that I've already done.

Interesting name for a town!
high pass on Highway 20, the sun was setting and temps dropping, needless to say I took the corners carefully!
With the Backcountry Discovery route on GPS simply follow the highlighted track through the mountains, lots of fun.
The snow wasn't deep but it was icy and slick
Traversing ridge tops at 6000 feet
For me the Mad river was appropriately named, suffering from my second migraine in two days you could say I was feeling a little pissed off as I crossed the Mad river
The only bikers that I met on the WBDR, a couple of DR's
With over 100km still to go and deeper snow ahead this day I turn around.
After completing the WBDR I shot into Portland to meet up with Vido again. The plan was to ride through Oregon together. The first day back together turns into an eventful day, lots of forestry roads and then just before dark a road is out due to a new bridge being constructed, we bash around in the scrub for a while looking for a bypass but as darkness falls we decide to back track out onto the main highway into Bend. It was a long day, once in town it's straight to a pub for a beer and a meal, Vido uses his usual line when ordering " what's your biggest meal". Just as we tuck into our sleeping bags at a city park a nice police lady turns up and orders us on, we head for a city campground, it's full, we ride down the road and just sleep in a pull out just out of view of the traffic. For some stupid reason I put my water bladder in the same dry bag as my sleeping bag and of coarse it's leaked and my down sleeping bag is soaked, I don't bother taking my riding gear off. In the morning our bags are white with frost.
Bend has some great trail riding up in the high desert, with our bags off the bikes me and Vido spend two days racing around on the big Dual sports. We find a great breakfast spot that we return to for several days and we somehow become celebrities, not sure if it was because of our motorbiking adventures or our ability to eat lots of food. From Bend it was over to Eugene on yet more miles and miles of forestry roads, some snow and locked gates on the way for good measure. In Eugene I went and visited the Procycle shop who specialize in products for my bike the Suzuki DR650. It was great, got to talk about a whole bunch of stuff about the bike and improvements I'm thinking of doing.
The ride from Eugene takes us south and through more massive forestry areas. It's late in the day and we find a old fire lookout up high on a ridge top. It's such a awesome spot we decide to camp for the night. The forestry here in Oregon truly is huge, it's been fantastic to be able to ride through it all, unlike New Zealand where most of it is locked up.

Ride with GPS putting us in places that we shouldn't be ...again.

Autumn is a beautiful time in Oregon

There WAS a bridge across this creek. It looked impassable but after some bush bashing and careful line selection we were across

Home of DR aftermarket parts, and anyone who owns a DR knows that you need a lot of aftermarket parts!

Not a bad place to spend a night under the full moon

At first glance the road closed looked bad, but Shawn (left) was a night watchman for a logging operation and was a bloody good sort. We camped on site, cooked up a great feed, had some beers, rode a bunch of single track, and basically had a great time.



Saturday, October 5, 2013

Route of the Stampede

24th September, I wake up and look out the window of the Downtown Hotel in the historic gold mining town of Dawson City. From the second story I can see down on the street below that my bike is covered in a dusting of snow, it's just 4 degrees Celsius.

The previous afternoon I left my cousin's mining camp which is 3 hrs on a rough dirt road. The recent rain and snow flurries had the road in bad shape. Sections had rutted up and I was sliding around in the slop. Although it had been snowing there wasn't much settled on the road itself, however I did have a few close calls in the muddy ruts and it was good to make Dawson without having a face plant in the mud.

Today was all highway riding, no mud to worry about, maybe some snow though and 'just' 500km in near freezing temperatures! Before setting out the usual task of packing the bike is added to by the task of having to put on about a million layers of clothing. By the time I walk out of the hotel entrance I'm uncomfortably sweaty. I have to remind myself that my bags are not empty because I'm forgetting some stuff but It's because I'm wearing as much as possible.

After a while on the bike I'm feeling comfortable and making good ground, there's lots of snow around but the road is clear and dry, the vastness and beauty of the Yukon is a golden yellow as winter approaches. My mind is drifting back on the last month or so of adventures trying to pass time on the long straight boring road sections. Something distracts me though, the section of my brain that has become so acutely tuned to my bike just setts of an alarm! did my bike just miss fire slightly? .....Yep, half a minute or so later and it's coughing and spluttering down the road as if it's running out of fuel, but it can't be, i just filled up the massive safari tank back in Dawson.
I'm at the Northern most point of my bike travels and my mind immediately flashes way back to the southern most part of my travels in Argentina. Back then I remember as I descended down into the southern most city in the world of Ushiaia during some very cold rain the DR miss fired a bit and then just starting running well again. Back then I wasn't sure but I put it down to carburetor icing. Could my carburetor be icing up?

I slow down, thinking that a change in throttle opening may help and also thinking that the heat from the engine may be more effective at heating the carb. No improvement, I change down a couple more gears and still no improvement, and then nothing, .... the bike is completely lifeless as I come to a halt. Oh shit, within seconds I've gone from happily nipping down the highway to nothing. It's dead quiet as I sit on the bike in the middle of the road, in the middle of a snow flurry, 100km from Dawson and there's bugger all traffic about, just hungry bears.

I glance around at the surroundings, oh shit, it's not a nice time and place to be stuck, this is not good. In disbelief I just sit on the bike and do nothing, of all the places I've been my bike decides to give me trouble here, in the middle of fucking no where and it's fucking snowing!!! I'm hoping that with the bike stationary the radiant heat from motor will melt the ice in the carb and after a minute or two I will just ride out of this snow flurry.

I hit the starter and the bike starts straight up, blip the throttle a couple of times and it runs clean, I run up through the gears and up the road with out problems, whippie. I'm moving again, but for how long, how long will it take for the carb to ice again? I still have over 400km to go, shit this could be a long day. I decide to keep it below 100km to help but after a while without incident and the endless straight sections of road I find myself back up at 120km and thankfully the only problems for the rest of the day are cold toes, the doubled up socks and bread bag liners are struggling to keep the cold at bay down in my extremities.

Turns out carburetor icing can occur in temperatures above freezing and has a lot to do with the humidity of the air. When the Dr iced up I had just ridden into a particularly heavy snow flurry with large flakes indicating high humidity. Carburetors work on a venturi to draw fuel into the air and that means low pressure which has a cooling effect and hence creating temperatures within the carburetor where the moisture in the air will condense out and freeze.
With the bike running well once again I think back on the last weeks, In Whitehorse I replaced the cush drive rubbers in the rear wheel which were well and truly flogged, checked valve clearances and did an oil and filter change. I caught up with friends from my log building days, Ray and his family, Ryan and Molly and their boy Luke, Darren, Dean just happened to drop by and also had a BBQ with old flatmates, Whisky Joe, Moosepacker Luke, and Chiefsurefoot Dave. Had a few good laughs with the boys talking about the good old days a few years back.
I also spent some time hanging out with a new friend Kate, among many things Kate works for a mountain biking company in town so set me up with a bike and showed me a few new trails. When it was time to leave I took the long way to Dawson City via the South Canol highway through Ross River. The first section was about 200km on narrow dirt road and didn't see any other traffic the whole way. Would have been a great ride, unfortunately I suffered a migraine half way through. Not wanting to stop I carried on riding through the headaches, almost filling my helmet with spew a couple of times, I finally made Ross River exhausted and slept for 2 hours on a grassy park in the middle of town.
Surprisingly after the sleep I felt way better got back on the road again, clocking up over 800km for the day which would have to be the most k's I've covered in a day to date, migraine and all. The next morning at Pelly Crossing I wake up to a flat tyre, not normally a big problem but I can't break the bead and even begin to get the Hiedenau K60 off the rim. I'm frustrated, and feeling beaten but luckily there's a gas station with some tyre repair goo, it's a slow leak and I resort to just squirting some in and it does the trick.
I arrived in Dawson City late in the afternoon after doing a side trip up to the historic town of Keno. I still have a couple of hours ride to find my way into Simon's camp way out in the Klondike goldfields. Armed with written directions and a few tracks plotted on the GPS I negotiate my way through a network of rough mining roads and at times feel a little off track and wonder if I'm going to make it but after 130km of rough roads I ride into camp. At times the road traverses on high ridges offering great views of the ranges.
1898 or there abouts gold was discovered right here in the Klondike. It sparked the biggest gold rush ever and developed much of the Yukon's history. So for a few weeks I spend some time checking out the modern legacy of that rush 100 years ago. Back then it was all hand work, melting away frozen mud and overburden with hot water to tunnel down deep to the pay dirt sitting just above the bedrock. Gold in the Klondike fields is placer, or alluvial. Must have been incredibly hard working conditions.
Next on the scene was the massive steam powered wooden floating dredges that churned up the valley floors leaving huge tailing piles whose patterns lay evident today all through out the area. The wooden carcasses of a few dredges are still dotted about the place too, along with all sorts of mining shit really. There's mining relics everywhere, some old and a valuable reminder of the past, Lot's just rusting rubbish though.
Now days it's bulldozers and excavators feeding sluicing plants, getting into tight places that the massive old dredges couldn't and also valley floors that are now economic with modern equipment. It's an enjoying time catching up with Simon and Lil, I spend most of my time helping out with maintenance and fabricating up bit's and pieces. However, I did have some fun attempting to push some muck about with the D9 dozer.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Klondike gold rush would have to be the journey that the stampeder's under took just to arrive. Most took a steamboat up from Seattle to Skagway and then were faced with the formidable task of climbing the Chilcoot Pass. The Canadian officials at the summit border wouldn't let them in without sufficient supplies to help ensure they survived the harsh winter conditions. This amounted to over a ton of bits and pieces and many trips up the steep pass.
Once over the pass a boat had to be hand sawn and constructed at Bennett lake for the long float down the Yukon River to Dawson City. Some boats became casualties of the rapids. As I leave the Yukon my own journey continues from Whitehorse over the coastal mountains and down to Skagway to the ferry and then south to Bellingham near Seattle, pretty much retracing the stampeder's route backwards from the goldfields.

Although I've been on the road from Whitehorse over the coastal mountains to Skagway Alaska a few times it was still an incredible ride. The fresh snow on the mountain tops combined with golden leaves was beautiful. I could only imagine how the stampeder's would have felt as they started their own adventure into this incredible landscape. The lady at the border crossing took her job very seriously, just by the way she spoke she seemed grumpy but I guess she is paid to do a job and not be friendly. I hadn't stopped the bike at precisely the right spot, I had to move it forward slightly and then when I dismounted to retrieve my passport from my rear bag I had to remount the bike while the questions came. Just like the stampeder's 100 years ago I had to show that I could support myself, not with a ton of supplies but financially with questions about occupation and length of stay.
I ride off with the conclusion that she's so grumpy because she's seen too many people like me traveling around having the time of their life while she's stuck at work. I board the ferry with a little relief, at this time of year a snow fall on the pass could have quiet easily stopped me, and I still get nervous at border crossings, and I didn't have a booking for the ferry either, so it was good to have all that out of the way. The wildness of the Yukon and Alaska is something that I enjoy so I'm also sad to be leaving it behind again.

Catching up with Ryan and Darren back at the log yard in Whitehorse
The D10 is about to get some new shielding on the massive blade

Helping cousin Simon fit a new roller on the D9

feeding the pay dirt into the screen, just add water, lots of it and you get gold, sometimes

The D9 on the move

The weld connecting the swing bearing to the under carriage failed and the excavator was pretty much broken in two. Once the Hydraulic lines were disconnected the undercarriage was dragged out with the D9 and the welding preparation began

Day of departure from Blackhills

....and it was getting pretty bloody chilly in the Yukon now!!

light dusting of snow in Dawson City

Whitehorse to Skagway Highway

Getting hit by a train would be bad enough, but the White Pass snow clearer would be make a real mess! Skagway, Alaska

The Malaspina, Alaska Marine Highway ferry about to be loaded in Skagway

5 star accommodation's up on solarium deck, the backpackers hangout. I didn't bother with a tent, just used the pool chair beds under the solarium roof. I did this 9 years ago last time I was in Alaska and was pleased to see that the ferry still caters to those on tighter budgets.

Just one of the many beautiful views off the ferry deck