The Dempster Highway, the real back country road!
"It would have been easy to get mad, but we wanted to visit “THEIR” community and see how “THEY” lived …and this was it; loud and voracious!
This was part of our journey and this was part of their lives."
The Dempster Highway is a 750km gravel and dirt road that starts 40kms out of Dawson City and ends at Tuktoyaktuk and the Arctic ocean …one road in and the same road out.
1500kms of road that turns to mud when it rains, has 10cm deep gravel sections for 30 to 40 kms at a time, pot holes, corrugation, deep soft edges that you don't want to go near …and the dreaded graders!
Its also one of the most stunningly beautiful roads we have ever travelled.
We set off on the 29th Aug and it was cold at 4 degrees C and hovered between 2 and 8 for the rest of the day.
As we left the motel, through the mist of the morning we saw a lone black bear trotting up the highway and then disappearing into the bushes. It was just a bit surreal.
The first section of the Dempster highway passes through the Tomestone Park …which is jaw droppingly spectacular …think the Scottish Highlands on steroids!
The autumn colours were incredible (sorry we are trying to not use so many enthusiastic describing words but it is REALLY difficult …this road is EPIC).
At 4pm we reached our destination for the night, Eagle Plains, a small settlement on the side of a mountain with a permanent population of 9. There was a Gas station, a tyre repair shop (this road EATS tyres), a motel and café, and a camp site. This place is remote, as in 380kms one way and 411kms the other way to another town/settlement! So when Nick started to complain about the prices of the food Bec had to remind him of this!
We were camping and set up our tent in what was basically a car park. We met lots of interesting people, a Swiss guy who was cycling to the Arctic Ocean by himself, a guy who had retired and was exploring Canada and USA for a few years in his camper, and a couple from Toronto called Tom and Ruth who we would end up tag teaming up the Dempster with, and a couple called Doug and Fran who we would catch up with again 9 days and 1500kms later just by chance (who said Canada was a big country!).
It was an incredibly cold night and to keep warm we had to lie our motorcycle clothing over our sleeping bags.
What was strange was that from about 8pm a lone husky type dog started patrolling the edge of the settlement that looked out over the valley and barking and howling …like throwing back its head and howling. We didn’t find it scary in anyway, if anything it was reassuring, as though this dog was warning any wolves or bears that were coming that way to back off!
The following day we headed on further to Inuvik. We had to cross 2 ferrys and some pretty nasty sections of road where the gravel was incredibly deep and dusty so the bikes continually “squirrelled” about under us.
We were really enjoying riding this road though as it was so much more of a challenge than the Dalton Highway due to road conditions and more bends.
Inuvik is an interesting town in the North Western Territory. Lots of wooden houses of different colours. We brought a few more supplies and then found our campsite for the night.
The weather had warmed up considerably and was around 16 degrees and sunshine by the afternoon. Being closer to the Arctic was very apparent as we watched the sun set in an arc instead of going straight down …it was then still light at 11.30pm.
At around 2 am Bec really needed to pee BUT it was really cold outside and a walk to the toilet block BEARS!!!). In the end she ventured outside into the cold. As she stood up she saw something in the sky and literally had to rub her eyes in disbelief as there in all their glory were the northern lights. She woke up Nick and for the next hour or so they watched a great display of dancing greens tinged with pink. What a bonus …we were not expecting that!
The following day (31/8/22) we headed off for Tuktoyaktuk and the Arctic Ocean.
The town was a quintessential arctic town with house on stilts and of all shapes, sizes, and colours. The people were busy tending fishing lines from the harbour and there felt like there was a genuine community there.
We decided to camp there for the night over looking the artic ocean as the sea was calm and the weather was a balmy 16 degrees …who would have thought that this far north!! We went for a dip in the ocean and even did the “fully immersed” version.
We then sat around our campsite and in the tent soaking up the last of that summer sunshine …which actually stayed light until 12:30 am! Bec even managed to get the best hand of her life in Uno ...WITHOUT cheating!
In fact the whole of town was making the most of that last summer weather and partied and fished and rip roared up and down the road until almost 3am! There was one party going on over the bay where they played Creedance Clearwater and Kenny Rogers on a loop for 6 hours!!! We now know every single word to those songs.
It would have been easy to get mad but we wanted to visit “THEIR” community and see how “THEY” lived …and this was it; loud and voracious! This was part of our journey and this was part of their lives.
On the 1st Sept after, being woken early by the fishermen in town (seriously I don’t think anyone sleeps in Tuk!) it gave us a head start on our journey back south again. The sun was warm on our backs and the low lying nature of the polar sunshine meant it lit up the ruts in the gravel making it easier to pick our lines.
It had only been 3 days since we had passed through but the scenery in the ….range/pass was even more stunning.
The roads were fun too… weaving around on the gravel and really having to “ride” the bikes.
We spent the night at Eagle Plains again but this time treated ourselves to a motel room and a real bed! It was just what we needed after little sleep the night before and a long day riding gravel.
On our last day, when we rode back to Dawson City, the run of good weather finally broke and we had some rain and muddy roads. Again it just made the riding more interesting, and the views through the Tombstone park were just as beautiful in the rain and gloom.
We so, SO enjoyed this road and would recommend it to anyone.
Now to wash those bikes ...again!