To La Fin Du Monde!
The road goes on after the Arctic Circle.
It stretches into infinity.
Let it be. Leave it alone.There’s nothing there, you know. You’ve
seen enough of nothingness, the thrill is gone, and to go on would mean nothing
to you anyway and it would shake your bike to bits.
You’ve made it.
And everything else is a vacation.
Just outside of Dawson City, under the light of the waning
midnight sun, I spooned on another rear tire and called it a day.
When the road to the Arctic isn’t paved in gold, it’s paved
in mud. And gravel. In fact, it isn’t even paved at all. This is top secret
intel between me and you.
The Dempster Highway starts about 25 miles east of Dawson
City in Canada’s Yukon and stretches all the way north past the Arctic Circle
and onwards up to God and Santa. It is the longest uninterrupted stretch of
road in North America between gas stations. It’s all dirt and gravel.
Conditions vary and it is impossible to get any sort of reliable, useful
information regarding the condition of this road. Everyone has their own
comfort level on unpaved roads, be they on bikes or in cars. Do it. Don’t do
it. Your tires will be shredded. You will never come back. You will die. You’ll
be fine. Magnificent horror stories abound and swirl about the Dempster and add
to its lore.
Indeed, it’s been an awful season to ride the North.
Punishing rains soak all and turn dusty road beds to slimy marbly muck.
Ill-prepared tourists in lumbering RVs disobey the local sages and try to force
their way onto and up these true route isolées in a last ditch attempt to
squeeze yet another great view or moose sighting out of their action packed
Northern Vacation adventure. An older gent on a brand new BMW motorbike takes
refuge in a shithouse for 5 hours, his doughy puffy frame buckling under the
weight of impending doom. A European couple in a rental sedan grind their way
to Eagle Plains with 4 shredded tires riding on battered rims. An inexperienced
female rider fractures her hip when she is thrown from her rental bike and then
airlifted to safety.
For 140 miles I rode the snake to the lake, the ancient
lake, under sodden skies and over muddy holes. A relentless wall of wetness was
lifted then; and I basked in sun, and bathed in dust. The dust works its way
into everything, everything(!), and attempts to clog air filters and grind away
precious chain and sprockets. It gets into your pack and you will be brushing
your teeth with it for many moons yet to come. It sticks to your wet bike and
adobes itself. It loves you and will follow you for some time.
The views along the Dempster are transcendent and one will
often catch himself staring off into the eyes of God. Far into the distance,
over rolling green valleys steaming with rain, mountains erupt from the earth. Rock is folded, pushed, and twisted up and up and the unimaginable forces of
creation are visible to the naked eye.
After the rain stops the ride to the top is dusty, hot and
fast. Don’t forget to stop at Eagle Plains Lodge for gasoline and a chat with
Igor, the friendly mechanic who makes a living swapping tires and swapping
tales with adventurous souls. He might even have a free tire for you, but only
if you’re lucky!
And the Circle of Lore is yet another 25 miles or so past Eagle Plains. Ah, so close!
You’ve come a long way now and you are far from home, young
spirit bear! Treat yourself to something nice why don’t you? A burger and fries
at Eagle Plains Lodge will fit the bill. At the end of the world, a burger and
fries costs the same as at a Long Island diner. They have wi-fi even, and give
you no guff about using a credit card.
Ah, the edge of the
But ride on young buck and get off that dirt! You must! Steel
yourself for that wet wall that greets you once more, 140 miles out from the
safety of the pavement and the Klondike Highway. Ride the Dempster at midnight
and more and into the dark and the wet. And all the while that chain stretches,
skipping over sprockets and grinding down precious metal teeth. Make it back to
camp, pup up that tent and collapse into a heap, exhausted and elated. 510
miles of dirt.
I didn’t even have to cower in a shithouse for 5 hours!
Asides: New breeds of asshole emerge from the mists and reveal themselves to me as if out of a crystal ball! In the middle of the Yukon, the middle of nowhere, I was stuck in a twenty person line waiting to pay for $7 worth of gas. Extra-large cinnamon buns were sending people into an absolute frenzy! Starving, no doubt, from their punishing journey aboard a Holland America tour bus. A man in his forties vacationing with his parents was cooing into mother’s ear, describing the smells of those delectable pastries, as I was jostled about and hemmed in, jammed into this tiny shop, now becoming an immense pressure cooker. I was cut in line and nudged by a woman licking her chops, shouting at her husband. But nothing caught my attention more than a man videotaping a stationary cinnamon bun, his lips parted and mouth hanging open in concentration. More people squeezed in, shoehorned by the enterprising Yukon shopkeeps and tour personnel. It grew hot and foggy with breath. Beads of sweat rolled. But the man with the videocamera remained cool as a cucumber, unfazed,
unmoving, standing like a marble statue with his camera capturing the
magnificence of the cinnamon bun with steady hand as I was pushed slowly,
impossibly towards him. With great nerve, I fought against the urge to throw
his camera to the ground and smash it to a million bits! A moment of ecstasy
that would be beyond decadence! What happens if you get arrested in the Yukon? Where is the closest jail? I eventually paid for my gas and left. The North is awash with people like this. Old codgers with money to waste and time to kill before the only certainty of life that is death. Clueless. The man taping the cinnamon will likely pass in coming years, feeding the worms. And what will happen to that marvelous, marvelous footage? Will a doting grandson post it to youtube? Shit like this makes you hate white people.