August 3rd 2016
Into The Yukon.
I’m sat at a tiny wooden park bench, in a howling wind all of 30 yards from the Alaskan Highway typing into my laptop, which is now covered in a thick layer of dust. Lisa’s behind me trying to cook.
We left Waters Edge Campground (GPS: N58 31.103 W130 02.185) this morning at 8:49am and rode the easy 6 miles back to the small town of Dease lake to fill up with fuel and stuff a breakfast sandwich at the small café around the back of the station. You can find the gas station at GPS: N58 26.270 W129 59.357.
Two large fresh coffee’s later and we were ready to face the day. We’d laughed with Rene, Sandra and Jordan over breakfast. It really is a small world. I’d overheard their conversation about someone called ‘John’, it turns our they were talking about John, our friend who now runs Ayres Adventures, what a small world. Lisa made sure Sandra recorded an appropriately inappropriate video message for John and then realised that his new wife, whom we’ve never met may also see it…awkward!
Coffee, food and filling up had easily taken an hour, longer than we’d wanted but hey…
Outside 4 shiny but over-loaded KLR’s rolled up, their riders heading inside for gas and coffee. We couldn’t help but stare at the amount of gear they’d managed to strap down. “There’s barely room for the riders to sit” Lisa remarked off handily. I reminded us both that at some point or another we’d gone through this process of carrying too much. She thought about that for a few second and then agreed.
Back on the 37 and heading north, we quickly found our rhythm from yesterday and were soon cruising at an easy 65mph. The well-maintained asphalt was smooth and the temptation to go faster was always there. The large yellow warning signs of caribou, elk, and bear, made sure we resisted that urge. Hitting a 300 kg (660 lbs) elk up here is no laughing matter and the locals are all too keen to share their stories of close encounters or worse.
The 37 isn’t a road, it’s a roller coaster, that skims the surface of the remote Cassia Mountain range of Northern BC.
This whole region is geographical eye-candy. Dense forest, expansive lakes, and glacier-capped peaks around every corner. Trying to keep our eyes on the road was today’s big challenge.
With light traffic we made good time and past Mcdame lake pulled over to the right and parked up at Jade City. Turns out that 90% of the world jade comes from this region, who knew? The small sign outside the outpost shop read, “by entering this building you are accepting that you may be video’d for an upcoming television production called ‘Jade Fever’ to be shown on the Discovery Channel.”
“We’re not camera shy” I’d joked with Lisa as we headed inside and to the back of the store, where we’d been told we could grab a free coffee.
I’m embarrassed to say that I’d initially stopped just to grab some coffee and stretch my legs, my slightly cynical mind telling me that this was little more than a tourist trap. I could not have been more wrong!
Jade City is an institution, where four generation of the Bunce family, mine, extract and carve the jade for export all over the world. Lisa was in her element and after peering into every cabinet in the store we finally chose a few small items to buy for family gifts. I chose a simple jade bracelet for myself, it’s been a while since I bought something just because I liked it as opposed to needed it.
Back on the 37 or the Stewart-Cassiar Highway as it’s better known we followed the Dease River until Wheeler lake where our route took a distinct northern twist
144 miles after leaving Dease lake this morning and the large sign to our left read “Welcome to the YUKON”. Of course, Lisa and I pulled over for a few moments to absorb the moment and contemplate how long we’d been working and planning on getting here. You’ll be hard pushed to utter the worlds Yukon and not feel a sense of wilderness and freedom.
Two miles later and we took a hard right turn at the T-junction and swapped the 37 for the Alaskan Highway or the Alcon Highway as it’s known up here.
At historic mile marker 635 we slid off the highway and onto a short gravel section and parked up in front of Watson Lakes most famous attraction, the Signpost Forest. Since 1942 visitors from around the world have been bringing their local signpost and installing them as a permanent feature amidst this man-made forest.
For as long as We’ve been reading about Alaska a few locations have always interested me and the sign post forest has always been one of them. Today there are over 77,000 signs in the forest. It wonderful, whimsical and now traditional. Of course, we grabbed as many photos as we could until being pulled away by the need to grab groceries for tonight’s meal. Yep, the one that Lisa’s cooking behind me.
With food and wine bought we headed west. The government campground was deserted and felt cold and the small privately run campground to the west of the Liard River was decidedly uninviting. I’d popped into the small bar and asked about camping. The curse French-accented reply I received, translated to ‘fuck off’. He continued to add that it was $10 per person and there are no facilities…of any kind. “So, do you want to stay” the owner had asked optimistically to round off our conversation.
Back outside with Lisa we made a new plan and our home for the night is the Nugget City RV park, who, do have a small plot put aside for tenting. (Camping can be found at GPS: N60 01.648 W129 04.904)
It cost us $31 for the night. Expensive but look where we are? The site does have great facilities with a laundry room, kitchen area and super hot and very clean shower units.
We’ve just had a visitor. The rumbling hum of an Honda Africa Twin had me looking up from my screen as the rider pulled up close by and gestured a hello.
The next hour of chat was fascinating and exhausting in equal measure as Marko is deaf. With a route map that looks as crazy as our own, we shared stories and laughs about Africa, Australia, South America and more. Originally, from Austria and leaving two young children at home Marko has now ridden 280,000kms (173,000 miles) His journey is broken down into years with a different colour on his map indicating a different year and often a different bike. In India he wrote off his Yamaha 660 in a collision with a cow. Honda are currently lending him the Original Africa Twin he’s just ridden in on.
I’d asked if he wanted to camp. Holding up a key to one of the cabins he’d just smiled and explained that most of his accommodation, fuel and expenses are covered by the generous people he meets as he travels.
If anyone doubts the world is a hospitable and generous place they should chat with Marko for 5 minutes and he’ll show you to the contrary.
Right, Lisa finished food, my hands are freezing and I need two weeks of sleep. Talk to you tomorrow.
Yukon here we come!