Kelly's 2011 Alaska Journey

Day 6 - Thursday, 5/26

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Picking up from yesterday's thought about calling for road conditions, I found that the advertised phone number went to someone's desk, who no doubt would arrive after I'd already hit the road. No help there.

In the hotel lobby at breakfast, I picked the brains of the locals. One said of the road to Ft. Liard in the Northwest Territories (NWT) "It will be FINE, don't give it another thought!" The other said "Well, we've had a lot of rain, and it could easily be pretty messy." (as the gas guy had said yesterday) He went on to say that there's a buffalo that had been outcast by its herd, and liked to sprawl across the road and sleep. "The old guy is pretty cranky- If you quietly go around him it's fine, but he's been known to rearrange the bodywork and radiators of cars who honk their horns at him. He'd make short work of your bike. Oh, and there'll be LOTS of bears out too."
Great, just great.

As if that weren't enough to set me on edge, there was the subject of gas. I figured that the distance was such that if I committed to making it to the NWT, there had better be fuel there or I couldn't get back. My big concern was that I'd get as far as the dirt section, get mired down and not make it to fuel, and be completely hosed.

Wood &
steel bridge
Now, many of you have told me you think I'm nuts for doing this trip, let alone by myself. If you've ever wondered just how far I'd go, this is pretty much it. I agonized over whether I should try it or not. It really didn't sound like a good bet. Two of the three people giving me information had basically said not to try it. Only one of the three felt it'd be easy.

Slender
birches
I really hadn't decided whether or not I'd go for it until I reached the intersection leading up to the NWT. Without realizing whether the bike steered itself or I'd done it, it veered off in the direction of the Great White North. It didn't take long for me to realize just why I'd thrown caution to the wind and set off the way I did:

  • Did I come to this place unprepared for adverse conditions?
  • Did I want to miss the prize of riding in a new territory after coming all this way when it was so close?
  • Was I going to turn tail and run away just because of a little mud and animals?

ABSOLUTELY NOT!

Come on, you all know who I am. Was there ever really a decison? Of course not. I've handled worse conditions in Death Valley. Besides, wasn't it me who was lamenting only yesterday about not doing enough exploring on this trip?

As the little KLR carried me up the Liard Highway, my mind was running at full tilt weighing the likelihood of making it through all the potential problems. Honestly, it wouldn't have surprised me in the least to see Sasquach amble out of the forest.

Cranky
bison
Northwest
Territories!
I did meet Mr. Grumpy Bison. He was off the road, but right next to it in the ditch, munching on some grass. He hardly paid attention as I whizzed past. A little further up there was a bear, but only one. Not the "lots" that I'd been lead to believe.

As it turned out, the dirt road was in spectacularly good shape. Clean, dry, graded, with a light layer of gravel. 50 kph was an easy speed to ride.
Scary Bridge
Other than a strange rickety bridge, the last 42 km over dirt to Ft. Liard was a snap. If the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay is as nice, I'll be one happy guy (and more than a little surprised).

Here's a random thought- As I passed the bear, the next song on the stereo was "Bear Necessities" from Disney. As soon as I hit the dirt road, the next song was Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride." Sometimes it seems the universe has a sense of humor.

Buffalo
herd
Approaching
herd
Closer...
After a few dozen miles had passed, I came upon a herd of Bison- Probably the one who'd cast out the aforementioned crankypants.
A show of hands: How many of you can say you've ever stampeded a small herd of wild buffalo? Well, I can now!

Closer...
Get ready...
Get set...
Stampede!
As they caught the melodic strains of chirping from my little Kawasaki, they charged away from it. So they thought. They ran in the direction of my riding, so I followed along with them a little way. They were in the ditch below the roadway, so I felt pretty safe. You'll notice in the photos my giving them a wide berth by staying to the far left of the road.

Wahoo!
Buzzed locals
The hamlet of Ft. Liard wasn't quite as charming as I'd been led to believe, but hey- It was in the NWT, it had fuel and food, and the locals with whom I chatted were really nice. There were three buzzed and garrulous folks who were fascinated by my trip and the bike.

Long wooden
bridge
Riding over
grate bridge
After a liesurely lunch chatting with another local, and filling the tank of my trusty steed, it was time to head to Liard River, British Columbia. Now, fuel was still an issue- My GPS seemed to think I could make it to the next gas stop on the way, but it was going to be close. Very close. I could have gone back to Ft. Nelson to fill up, but that'd have added another 30 miles or so. Considering that my speed was low on the dirt sections, and I'd had a little tailwind, it seemed plausible that there wouldn't be much of a problem. Besides, I've setup the GPS to give alerts before I'm really low on fuel- I'll be able to go more than it thinks I will.
Bighorn
(Dall) Sheep
Rough road
in pretty canyon
Just to be sure, I kept the speed down to 55-65 mph / 88-104 kph. There were a couple of gas stops along the way, only one of which was open. As it happened, the proprietor apologized that he was out of gas. We chatted long enough for me to have a quick soda, talking about winter life here. He regaled me with tales of pulling people out of snowbanks with his tractor, how some would steal the tow chains,
Two wild
buffalo
and how the local tow companies now charged people's credit cards before they'd even head through the snow to buried vehicles. Soon the soda was gone, and westward again I went. I made it to the next gas stop 211 mi / 340 km away from Ft. Liard- And I did it without having to use the reserve portion of the tank. My conservation tricks got me over 48 mpg.

The weather today was really good- For the most part it was clear as a bell, both cool and warm when needed. Towards the end of the ride it had gotten a little cloudy in the mountains, but the scenery was spectacular wherever I went. And what a wildlife adventure!

Marmot
(I think)
Today I saw Bison (individually and in a herd), 5 bears, 1 moose, a young caribou, a marmot (which almost got crushed in the road),
Caribou
two bighorn sheep, and a couple herds of mountain goats. If pear trees grew around here, no doubt there'd have been a partridge in it. But the scenery wasn't limited to just wildlife.

Spectacular
The mountain vistas were amazing, as were lakes (some of which were still frozen in parts). The Muncho Lake Provincial Park is spectacular. I've been many places all over the world, and I don't think it's any exaggeration to say that this area is among the most beautiful places I've ever seen. Muncho lake is turquoise in color, the snow-capped mountains and pine and birch trees are gorgeous. Even the roads were a blast to ride! Nice twisty curves, a welcome change to a lot of the straight highway. The northern Canadian Rockies are truly spectacular.

Today was a GREAT day. Not that any so far have been bad, but this was exceptional. A long-ish ride, but well worth every kilometer.
Arrival at
Liard River
Suspension
bridge
My endpoint today is a lodge near the Liard River Hot Springs. I contemplated going for a soak, as my legs are stiff from 9+ hours in the saddle. Of course, the mosquitoes are ferocious here. As I finish up the writeup and sifting through over 13,000 photographs, I see it's 11:15 pm. No time for a soak. It feels odd that it's still light enough to see outside without a flashlight. The daylight continues to expand- Here in Liard River, the sunrise is 4:28 am and the sunset is 10:12 pm. A couple of times today I've looked for my shadow to get a feel for the time and direction, but it really doesn't tell me much being this far north. Yes, I know the GPS will tell me the information, but habits are habits!

It's interesting being this far north- All the hotels at which I've stayed in the past few days have rows of electrical outlets in the parking lots. They're so that cars can plug in their engine block heaters in the winter so the engines don't freeze solid.

I've hit a couple personal milestones today: I've now been at a latitude more north than I'd ever been, including Sweden. Of course, I've flown over the polar caps on my way to other continents, but that doesn't count. Also, I've now ridden in the Great White North, a Canadian Northern Territory. Woo Hoo! Tomorrow I'll hit another Territory, The Yukon.

Total riding distance today: 435 mi / 700 km   Running Total: 2475 mi / 3983 km

Stay tuned...

-K

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