Day 9 / Friday, June 20, 2008
In the morning, as I was packing up, an elderly woman from a nearby RV camper came over and offered me coffee and just asked that I returned the cup when I was done. How nice. She didn't want to stay and talk, but just wanted to be motherly and make sure this poor soul on a bike got some fresh coffee in the morning. I'm not even trying to look cheap and poor on this Alaska trip, but everyone's graciousness towards bikers is just great. It's got to make them feel a little happy inside too about helping somebody else. I know everyone's got altruistic feelings inside but it’s just that they choose wisely when they're going to show them.
When I returned the cup to the husband, we got talking and he said they're French Canadian from Montreal and had along with them a relative from France who was just amazed at the large area of wilderness - being able to go thousands of miles and not come across any major cities. Of course in Europe these days, with it being so developed, long stretches of wilderness are rare, except if you head into Norway or similar I guess.
After morning coffee, a rider on a BMW R1200GS pulled up and introduced himself as Chris from San Jose. He asked if I was headed north or south. It's just that simple. He stayed at the same campsite, and said his plans were to head north to Prudhoe Bay. Fantastic. Chris said he also came up the Cassiar yesterday and heard me pull in last night (the sound of a thumper - nick name for a single-cylinder bike, is unmistakable) and figured he was probably a few hours ahead of me. We decided to ride together at least till the Yukon capital of Whitehorse and see how it goes.
In riding with someone else, the trick to being harmonious is finding someone with the same pace as you. Pace refers to the speed you like to ride at (through twisties and the highway), how you like to take rest stops and your attitude towards the day's ride. Now, most touring riders have a similar pace, but not everyone gels. Chris and I gelled right away in all aspects.
The Alaska Highway was a nice ride, but Chris shared similar views to me that the Cassiar was more interesting to ride. Of course this part of the highway was in relatively flat ground, so the road could be wide and easy riding.
This is Chris from San Jose on a BMW R1200GSA who's also heading up to Alaska and stayed at the same campground and since we were going the same direction, we decided to ride together for a bit.
Chris on the Alaska Highway. We were told by many people that the Cassiar is the more scenic of the two highways to get up here and we felt it true as well.
Now I know they say the Bimmer is the Cadillac of adventure touring bikes, but I didn't know you could cruise in such comfort, haha. He has a manual cruise control (throttle lock) and the bike being so stable allowed him to cruise like this.
We had lunch in Whitehorse and stumbled upon the most famous restaurant in town, the Klondike Salmon & Rib BBQ. It's a very old establishment, dating back to 1900 and featured lots of local game meat. I had the Caribou burger and couldn't really tell any difference in the meat, but I think a Caribou steak would've really highlighted the difference. Regardless, it was very tasty and a great meal with appropriate decor.
Chris was only planning on riding to Whitehorse today, but I convinced him to come along a bit further up to Dawson City for the annual Dust2Dawson bike rally, which is a gathering of bikers to celebrate the longest day in the year, the Summer Solstice. Since I was also planning on heading to Prudhoe Bay after that and since we both enjoyed riding with each other, we figured why not; the company would be a nice change.
Chris said the trip and the bike were a 40th birthday present to himself. He took three weeks off from work and his only plan was to ride to Prudhoe Bay and back within that time. The amazing thing was that he just recently got his street motorcycle license a few weeks before the trip. He's ridden a lot of dirt bikes his whole life, which don't require a license; just the skills. And this was also his first big motorcycle trip. I'd say he was doing very well with what he packed and how he was riding. Of course, he had the mother of all adventure bikes, the BMW GS Adventure, which was designed from the get-go to do this kind of riding, but it sure does costs a pretty penny.
The northern part of the Klondike Highway connects Whitehorse to Dawson City. It's about 320 miles and there's gas stations about every 100 miles or so. The road was completely paved in the 80s, but as usual, there might still be some sections undergoing repair. There's very little traffic heading up this way and the road winds through some pleasing landscape. We flirted with some rain clouds and with the sun shining through them, it added a mystic aura to the ride.
Having lunch in Whitehorse at the Klondike Salmon & Rib, a very old establishment. We got a sense of the town from our street-view tables. The weather was just great. This trip and the bike were a milestone birthday present to Chris and this is actually his first street bike after having ridden dirt his whole life. He just got his street motorcycle license a few weeks back.
The road right out of Whitehorse heading to Dawson City is a long straight section for about 10 kms and they had these odometer calibration signs every kilometer, so that you could check to see how accurate your vehicle's odometer was. Too bad, cause ours were in miles.
Chris was only going to make it to Whitehorse today, but as he was heading up to Prudhoe Bay, just like me, and since we already established a good rapport, I asked him to come along to Dawson City to check out the ADVrider Dust2Dawson bike rally that was happening there. And the views were nice along the way to Dawson, just like this.
Riding some twisties.
The road was generally very remote, which I liked. Some rain threatened all day, and only poured down for a little bit. Note the isolated shower up ahead.
Filling up at Carmacks, about a third of the way to Dawson City. And across the Yukon, businesses that are Motorcycle Friendly have these signs posted. They give a discount to bikers.
Curious pooches at another gas stop. I love dogs.
The sun's rays breaking through rainy clouds always seem to add a divine feeling to the scenery. There were sections of gravel on this highway and the rain helped to keep the dust down.
We pulled into Dawson around 9 pm into the Gold Rush campground right in the center of town, and with my rear tire being worn down, I set about mounting my new rear tire that I was carrying with me since home. I figured this would be the best place to mount my tire because if needed, I could ask for assistance from the numerous other riders that would be here and besides, having a new tire for the Dalton Highway seemed like a good thing. I had never changed a tire by myself but had a few friends explain the procedure to me and I had paid attention when they did it. I had planned on doing a few practice tire changes at home, but of course, I ran out of time before the trip.
I was doing good with the tire change and they say removing the old tire from the rim is the toughest part, but I couldn't figure out how to mount the new tire on the rim. A passing rider, Tom from Anchorage, whom I later found out is a well-known wrench in the Anchorage motorcycle community, helped me get the new tire started and then I was good to finish it off myself. I pulled up to the main street in Dawson around 11:45 pm. I heard I missed all the fun games in the street, but I still got to mingle with riders from all over the place, which was the main point for me. I also got a sweet sticker for having my bike on the main street at midnight, where a group shot of the bikes was taken. It was very cool to see so many like-minded riders on all the different bikes that were there. Most of the riders were from Alaska and the others who had come from far and away had tied this stop into their Alaska trip, just like I did.
Around 1 am, after everyone started dispersing, some of the riders there took off for the lookout point above the town called Midnight Dome to catch the setting sun. The sunset with the way the clouds were was just amazing. Everyone's cameras were clicking away before the moment was lost. To see a sunset like that at 1 am in the morning was quite surreal and then to also think that people around the world were gathering at midnight tonight to celebrate this long time tradition of the midnight sun made me feel like I was participating in something bigger. The sun was setting around now and would rise again in about 2 hours or so, but since the sun was never that far below the horizon, it stayed quite bright the whole night.
Our campsite at Dawson City. This was the least beautiful camping site of the whole trip, but we were here for a rally and the town was packed, so we got one of the last available sites.
Mounting the new rear tire that I was carrying with me as my current tire was worn down. This was the first time I was doing a tire change on my own, out in the wild.
They say getting the rim off the old tire is the toughest part and I was through. But I struggled with mounting the new tire and a passing rider, Tom from Anchorage helped me out.
The new tire mounted on the left and my old bald tire on the right (same brand - Kenda K761).
This is Tom, who helped me out with the tire. He's an old pro from Anchorage and very well-known among the local riders. I made it out to the rally, which is held on the summer solstice to celebrate the midnight sun. If your bike is out here at midnight, you get a little commemorative sticker.
This is Mark, whom I'm meeting for the first time after exchanging emails for a few months and even knowing him before that through one of my rider friends in Chicago, Anna. I would be staying with Mark in Anchorage, after my Prudhoe Bay run.
The Kawasaki KLR650 and the Suzuki DR650, two bikes in different flavors. The KLR belongs to the guy standing there and he just did the Dalton Highway recently - in the rain. That's his Dad's GS on the right.
Downtown Dawson City on the summer solstice. It's a few minutes past midnight. Riders came in from all over, with quite a few local Alaskan riders showing up. This has turned into an annual rally and is growing by the year.
A nicer shot from Chris.
Clouds capturing some strange sunlight (the sun was setting behind me), which some mistook as a daytime aurora. The ladder in the middle of the street was used to take a group shot of all the bikes.
From downtown a few of us went to the lookout point of Midnight Dome to get a great view of the setting sun. It's about 1 am in the morning and the sun rises again in about two hours.
This view alone is worth coming up here during the Summer Solstice. That's the Yukon River flowing westward into Alaska.
Route map of the final leg of the journey: a loop around Alaska from Dawson City through Fairbanks up to Prudhoe Bay, down to Anchorage and Valdez, ending near Tok; 2,360 miles.
Next: Day 10, Riding the Top of the World Highway into Fairbanks
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