The sun is shining but the thickening broken cloud cover and sporadic showers warn that the weather front is pursuing me. It is just after 4 PM as I roll back on the throttle and downshift signalling to no one behind me that I will be turning right off the highway and onto a gravel dirt road labelled as Highway 6 but commonly called the South Canol Road. A short distance off the tarmac is a wide staging area with historic panels providing information and signs warning about travel on the road ahead.
I snap a few shots with my increasingly finicky camera. I’ve noticed over the course of this trip it has had an increasing tendency to produce pictures out of focus. Between focus problems and rain, my camera is spending more time in my pocket and less time capturing images. A few drops of rain on the lens force the camera back in my pocket and I start up the Canol Road with cautious anticipation.
The road has almost a sandy texture. It has had water but doesn’t seem slippery and it definitely is not a gravelly surface at the start. The rain has not collected in the chuckholes and washboard so obviously the drainage is good. Chuckholes and washboard…this road is definitely rough. My riding is mostly in second and third gear and I quickly realize that if the road does not improve, I will be camping somewhere along the road tonight, not in Ross River as initially anticipated.
As the road winds through the mountains and valleys away from the Alaska Highway, I notice more and more fresh bear scat beside and on the road. I am quite happy to be motoring along here instead of pedalling a bicycle or pulling a rickshaw as I have seen other people doing on some of the more well travelled routes.
It takes about two hours for me to cover the nearly 80 km from the Alaska Highway to the first campground on Quiet Lake. The narrow, rough, winding and hilly road is not a fast road but has beautiful scenery. Quiet Lake is the largest of three lakes that form the headwaters to the Big Salmon River system in the Yukon.
I recall reading somewhere that former Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, Erik Nielsen and his brother, comedian Leslie Nielsen found great refuge and retreat at a family cabin located somewhere on this lake. I don’t have the inclination to try and figure out where the cabin is located but there do not appear to be many on this lake that are easily accessible.
I ride around the south campground and find no other campers but a bit of bear scat. I decide there must be a campground further up where there may be less evidence of bears.
The next campground is about 20 km up the road and as I ride through it I decide that it is too early to stop riding (at least there are three or four campers here). I carry on up the road to see if there are better spots and note that there seems to be an increasing amount of bear scat. I travel another 15 or 20 km before deciding that the North Quiet Lake Campground might be my best bet for accommodation. I had found a couple of turnouts that might work but decide that it might be good to have a few people around given the evidence of bear presence.
My tent is set up by 9:30 and a gent from the neighbouring camper wanders over for a chat. He is here on a fishing trip and generously offers me fresh fish for supper. As I’ve been snacking on the road, I’m not that hungry and regretfully decline. He is quite curious about my bike and my trip and we have a great chat covering a variety of topics. He is a fount of information on bear interactions, shares some great stories and my paranoia actually decreases a bit. I’ve heard it said that the best way to deal with fear is to find someone who has done what you are afraid of doing. Talk to them and find out how they managed it then go and try it yourself. A great way to conquer fear. Listening to this local resident (Faro) discuss his encounters with bears calms me substantially. He also advises me of a good place to camp on the North Canol if I do decide to get up there.
He questions me on my gas capacity and scoffs at my fear of “no gas in Ross River.” They always have gas there, he advises. Well I have it now and believe its always better not to take chances in this country. The Boy Scout motto, “always be prepared ” comes to mind.
I settle in for the night feeling quite fortunate to be here in the secluded north. It is indeed a quiet lake.