Neil and Steve were planning a trip down to Skagway but change their plan in light of the weather. The weather map suggests that my Canol Road journey might not be in the cards due to inclement weather as well. Their plan is to head to Whitehorse for a tire change and maintenance and likely out through Alberta after that.
I check my rear tire and am shocked at how quickly the pavement has taken a toll on the TKC knobs. I decide to pull the rear tire off and put the Anakee back on. The front tire does not seem as susceptible to wear so I’ll leave it on for now. Across the street from our hotel I find a closed Shell gas station where I start changing my tire. Neil and Steve pop over to check their bikes under shelter (chain maintenance, make sure the gear is all okay) and then head for Whitehorse in the rain. I doubt that I’ll be doing the Canol Road.
Finally on the road after my tire change and breakfast, the highway ride to Whitehorse seems to take a long time (although its only about an hour). The weather seems to be improving as I ride which is heartening but I am very aware that I’m just outriding the clouds – I’m heading east and the weather comes from the west up here. If I stop for a longer period of time, I am sure the weather will catch me and I will be getting wet again.
It is pretty much a non-stop blast from Haines Junction to Johnson’s Crossing (about 320 km) and by the time I get there in the early afternoon, I’m ready for gas and a snack. This is also a decision point for me. Johnson’s Crossing, a campground with fuel and a restaurant/bakery, also marks the junction of the South Canol road with the Alaska Highway. I had stopped here on the way up (just over a week ago – seems much longer) and the fuel pumps were flying Shell colours. Today, no fuel is available because the colours are being changed and the new supplier will fill the tanks in a couple of days. The restaurant offers fantastic fresh baked goods (including melt in your mouth giant cinnamon buns), great coffee and the latest news on the condition of the South Canol road (depending on who you talk to).
I had two reports. The restaurant owner was quite non-committal in his response. I could tell he didn’t want to encourage a person who might get in over his head but didn’t want to discourage a competent rider from a great experience. He talked about a lot of washboard and it being a rough slow road…but I’d have to see for myself. Another gentleman (likely doesn’t get these questions nearly as often) advised the road was “the physical sh*ts” in a truck but a quite manageable on a bike. Nobody would tell me what it was like if it rained but I didn’t have anyone warn me away from it if it did get wet (unlike the Dempster).
I needed gas to do this road and that meant another 50 km down the road to Teslin. If I was going to do the South Canol, it was a ride to Teslin to top off my tanks and a return to Johnson’s Crossing….about an hour round trip. That gave me more time to decide. The weather had improved (yes I know, I was just ahead of it, I knew what was coming) and so I left for Teslin, strongly leaning towards a trip up the South Canol. My thought is that I could do the South Canol today, end up in Ross River tonight and decide tomorrow whether or not to do the North Canol. Worst case scenario, I’d only have bad rain from Ross River down to Watson Lake and then I’d be on pavement again and that would be quite manageable.
In Teslin, I filled my tank and for the first time, filled the 10 litre jerry cans that I had strapped to my home-made peg packers on each side of my bike. The full jerry cans added approximately forty pounds of additional weight on my little 650 – good thing I was on a diet early this year, it all nets out! I figure the range out of my tank is about 375km and with the additional 20 litres I should be good for another 400 km at least. The South Canol Road is about 220 km long, the North Canol extends about 232 Km to the NWT border and a bit beyond that. The gas I am now carrying will take me up close to the end of the North Canol Road and back to Ross River before I need to buy more fuel. I’ll likely fill in Ross River before trying the North Canol just in case there is no fuel available on my return. In a sense I’m carrying too much fuel but in another sense, I shouldn’t get stuck without it. I think I’ve covered everything off.
The decision is made in the sunshine (with looming clouds). I’ll do the South Canol and make a decision on the North Canol at Ross River. I hop on my bike and head back up toward Johnson’s Crossing.