The Sun Never Sets Above the Arctic Circle
Riding west out of Whitehorse I turned north on the Yukon Route 2 heading for Dawson, Eagle Plain, and eventually the Arctic Circle. In total, I will travel almost 600 miles to reach my destination.
The first part of my trip took me on a well maintained paved road to Dawson City. I included a couple photos to give you a feel for what it was like. As previously mentioned, northern Canada is covered in vast forests and sparsely populated. The area between Whitehorse and Dawson are even less populated than the other areas I recently traveled with just a couple settlements on the route.
My original plan was to spend one night at a campsite just outside of Dawson and the next day head up the Dempster Highway to the Arctic Circle. However, once I got to Dawson I discovered the town had a rich history that was documented in the many museums and historical sites around town. Instead of one night, I spent three nights in the area touring the town and experiencing its history.
Here is just a brief overview. Artifacts confirm that humans have lived in this part of Canada for 10,000 years. Their offspring are the indigenous peoples who have continuously inhabited the Yukon to this day. Europeans arrived in mass in the late 1800’s when placer gold was discovered up Bonanza Creek. When news of the discovery hit the newspapers in Canada, the USA and around the world, the gold rush was on. Soon the population of Dawson swelled to 30,000 residents. Although most miners eventually left the Yukon poorer than when they arrived, some struck it rich. Over time, the small mining operations were replaced by large corporate mining operations which brought in huge dredging machines to find the placer gold. Eventually the gold ran out, and Dawson settled into being a much smaller tourist town frequented by tens of thousands of tourists each summer.
Before leaving Dawson for the Arctic Circle I learned that there was a massive fire along the Dempster Highway. The fire was so intense Canadian fire service personnel closed the Highway south of Eagle Plains. So, as I began my ride up the Dempster I was not sure how far I would be able to go. When I got within 80 miles of Eagle Plains, I was flagged down by a fire management crew member. He told me to wait for a few minutes while he drove up the road to see if it was passable. A few minutes later he returned and waved me on. He told me the fire was next to the road, and I should not stop as it could explode into a crown fire at any time. He was right, there was an intense burn just a couple hundred feet from the road. I didn’t feel as though I was in any real danger, but I am also certain that if the fire was in the USA, I would not have been allowed. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any good pictures, but the images of the fire are etched in my mind.
Later that evening, I talked with the captain of the crews managing the fire. He told me that the fire was naturally caused, 145 kilometers in diameter, and will be left to burn itself out. The goal of his crews as to ensure no buildings were lost and no lives were put at risk. He also said the fires will most likely burn for several more weeks and only be extinguished when the area gets significant rain.
Because the day was long and tiring, I decided to get a room at the Eagle Plains Motel and ride to the Arctic Circle the next morning.
As I had hoped, the smoke that blanketed the area the night before had lifted by the morning. As a result, the ride to the Arctic Circle was excellent with expansive views in all directions. At the sign post marking the Arctic Circle there was a couple from Germany who ask me to take their picture; I asked them to do the same for me. They told me that they had shipped their van from Europe to eastern Canada and had spent the past couple of months touring the country. At the end of summer they will store their vehicle in Vancouver, returning the following summer to tour the western United States.
Since the Dempster beyond the Arctic Circle sign post looked to be in good condition, I decide to ride a bit further to see what was out there. As I was riding along, I got to thinking that I should try make it all of the way to Inuvik. About as soon as those thoughts came into my head the road turned to crap. The surface was covered in lots of loose gravel that made riding difficult. A little further down the road I turned back to Eagle Plains.
Lastly, a couple of human interest stories. I met Linda and Davette (hope I am spelling her name correctly) at the Eagle Plains Motel. They had been there for a couple of days waiting to get a replacement tire for the one that was destroyed by the sharp rocks on the Dempster. Their replacement tire was on a truck traveling down the highway from Inuvik. Unfortunately, persistent high winds had prevented a ferry from running that crosses the Mackenzie River. Thus, their tire was stuck 150 miles north of Eagle Plains. Their story is a good example of what can go wrong in the remote sections of Northern Canada. It was great fun talking with them about the differences between Canada and the US.
Behind the bar serving drinks at the Eagle Plains Motel was Frances, a woman with a very interesting background. She grew up in Sachs Harbor, which is on an island in the Arctic Ocean. Use Google Maps to see just how far north it is. She told me about her father hunted polar bears and ran trap lines, and would sometimes be gone on his dog sled for 30 days at a time. Frances comes from an indigenous family that has lived in the polar regions for thousands of years.
Although my ride up the Dempster was tiring and stressful, the views and people I met were worth it.