Road to Whitehorse
Over the past week or so, I have ridden a little over 1,400 miles from Jasper National Park to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory. The route took me to stops near Valley View and in Fort Nelson and Watson Lake. I passed through vast, seemingly endless, forests and mountains to reach the Yukon River and the territorial capital of Whitehorse.
My first stop on this journey was at the home of Marcella and Ben, who welcomed me as their Couchsurfing guest. Located in the countryside approximately 20 miles from the town of Valley View, their home is in this beautiful wooded setting with their horses roaming the property. Because Canada Day (July 1st) was approaching, all of their six children and many grandchildren were planning to join them for the holidays.
The next day was a long ride of 430 miles to Fort Nelson. Fort Nelson, which is located on the Alaska Highway, was one of the major sites used by the construction crews when the highway was built in the early 1940’s. Most of the day’s ride was through a mix of farmland and forest. On the way I happened to stop at a Tim Hortons (a Canadian chain that appears to be a cross between a Starbucks and a McDonalds). As soon as I got my coffee, three Canadians asked me to join them. They wanted to know what a crazy American motorcyclist was doing riding so far from home. When I told them about my goal to reach the Arctic Circle on the Dempster Highway, they provided me with all kinds of suggestions for things to see and do up North. One suggestion was a section of the original Alaskan Highway with one of the wooden bridges on it.
As soon as I left Fort Nelson for Watson Lake I could tell that the landscape had changed considerably. It became mountainous with massive stretches of forest. I had incorrectly assumed that this part of Canada would be flat and marshy. It wasn’t anything like that. It more resembled the Rocky Mountains without the people. In the 300 miles to my destination there were only a couple of motels and cafes. I stopped at one for lunch and met a couple Canadian bikers out for a ride. Again, they shared with me some of the interesting things to see and do in this part of Canada.
When I was within about 80 miles of Watson Lake, I ran into several herds of bison grazing alongside of the road. I also counted seven bears foraging for berries. Fortunately, none of these critters decided to make a made dash across the road in front of me.
At Watson Lake I reserved a room at the Air Force Lodge. The lodge was a former barracks used by the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II. The Lodge was run by Michael, a transplant from Germany. True to the military persona the barracks had common showers and bathrooms, and the place was spotlessly clean and ready for inspection.
The final 300 miles to Whitehorse were much the same as I had experienced the previous day. The Alaskan Highway passed through vast stretches of forest with lakes, rivers, and mountains. It was another beautiful ride.
Finally, I arrived in Whitehorse where I reserved a site at a campground on the Wolf River that was about eight miles from town. As soon as I got my tent up, a couple of Canadians stopped by to introduce themselves and see what I was doing in the Yukon. As luck would have it, these two guys had just come back from Inuvik having traveled the Dempster Highway. They had loads of great information about road conditions and places to camp along the way. We talked for an hour about the Dempster and other things of mutual interest. They also told me about another route up north through central Canada that sounded very interesting. I will be adding that route to the list of my future travel destinations.
It was forecast to rain the next day, so I decided to stay a second night at the campgrounds and tour Whitehorse. Mostly, I went to the museums in the town to learn about the history of the area. As expected the displays at the museums focused on the building of the Alaskan Highway, the gold rush, and the indigenous peoples who lived in the region.
Next up will be Dawson City, Diamond Tooth Gertie’s, and the Dempster Highway.