The morning sun was perfect and the temperature had just a hint of humidity. I had stayed at the Robert Service campground just inside city limits and was able to get a bunch of work done on blogs, photo sorting and catching up on email. I had figured out that the power adapter hooked up to my motorcycle battery would power both my computer and smartphone configured as a hotspot. Perfect…until the battery in my bike ran out of juice! Okay, so the morning was not quite perfect. I was able to use the park office power to finish my work and then pack up to go. At least I wasn’t waiting for a tire shipment from the US like a couple of other riders at the campground (2 days they had been waiting and the tires were held up in customs). My battery was not totally dead, it did start my bike and I let it run for a few minutes to recharge it the shut the engine down while I packed. As usual, it was ending up as a midmorning start due to the blogging and electronics…I never realized how much time that could take on a trip like this.
Bike is packed and ready to go, helmet on, camera on, glasses on, key on, start button…….rhurh…..nothing! My neighbours offer a boost. We had talked earlier this morning. They are a wonderful British couple taking six months off work and life to travel from through North America and down to the southern tip of South America on their 1150GS. I wheel my bike over to theirs and we hooked up the wires to recharge my battery a bit while they leave their bike running. While we wait, I chat with them about their trip and we ensnare another gentleman (who has since found jumper cables) into our conversation. After 10 minutes, my bike almost fires but just doesn’t quite have enough and their bike is starting to overheat from just sitting and idling.
As I move my bike to the gentleman’s car for a boost, he starts telling me about his life. Actually, before he talked about his life he told of his impending death. The doctors have prepared him to be “gone by the fall.” He tells me about growing up on a homestead in the Alberta Rockies and how his mother left the family when he was very young. He had a hard life but has no regrets – wouldn’t change a thing if he had to do it all over again. His wife had brought him north to see the gold fields before he died and he had gone to a place where they let him pan all the gold he wanted. They even let him take a shovel full of paydirt to clean out at home! I am amazed by his optimism and cheerfulness in the face of his imminent demise.
To get to my battery I remove my tank bag and the cowling underneath (which is done in record time). The bike fires immediately and idles while I repack; and then, I’m on the road.
I meander a bit around town before stopping at a gas station, the bike needs decent time to charge the battery so I ensure about half an hour of riding before reaching the last gas station heading out of town. As I step to the pump, I feel the leg zipper fail on my riding pants and they fall open exposing my leg which will cause problems if I happen to fall while riding. Out comes the duct tape and I wrap my leg at 4 spots to keep the riding pants closed.
Rolling out of Whitehorse (finally) on another mid morning start a Lake Laberge sign flashes past. I brake hard and exit onto a gravel road for a three mile detour down to the lakeshore to see where Sam McGee met his final end in Robert Service’s poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”. Laberge is a beautiful vast bit of water with a few cabins along the shore within my view. It is not highly populated like so many in the south and I see a government campground here that would have been a spectacular place to spend a night.
Starting the day with a dead battery, talking to a dying man and having my first roadside detour of the day to explore the site of a fictional cremation sets the stage for a day to think about death as I ride down the road. It may not seem like an uplifting topic to focus on but when I think about old homesteader’s outlook and remember the line in the Service poem about Sam McGee’s “cheery face in the flames” I wonder how people do manage their thoughts and attitudes as they face their final days. Like depression, this is another “verboten” topic. People don’t talk about death. They don’t talk about how they are feeling when they know they are dying and those of us around them don’t ask. If we can understand their thoughts and feelings it may help us to make that transition as well. My impression is that the padres, ministers and priests talk to dying people and offer encouragement, I wonder how much listening they do and how much probing they do to find out how the dying person is feeling. Do they feel depressed? I regret not having asked the homesteader a few more questions about his attitude and mood. He was very open about discussing his outlook and did not seem to show the angst and anxiety I expected.
Back on the highway it is a long run up to Dawson. The pavement is good, the road meanders around mountains, over hills and through gentle valleys. The path of the highway is along the eastern slope of the Dawson range of mountains roughly following the path of the Yukon River. Gas stops are between 100 km and 160 km apart, separated by the spectacular scenery showcasing northern wilderness. If your machine fails out here, it is a long walk to civilization unless another vehicle happens to pass by.
Rounding a gentle curve in the road, I am surprised by a flag lady in the middle of nowhere commanding me to stop and wait for some road construction. I shut my bike off and we have a pleasant conversation about this being her summer job and plans to return to University down south in the fall. In the five minutes I wait for the all clear sign, two vehicles line up behind me. This provides a good indication of traffic frequency along this route.
About ten minutes north of my first gas stop at Carmacks there is a pullout for the overlook of the Five Finger rapids section of the Yukon River. This was another tricky section for the early gold rushers. Floating down the Yukon on your homemade barge (assuming you made it through Miles Canyon) with the two thousand pounds of food and supplies you hauled up over the Chilkoot trail, you drift around a corner to find you are faced with the choice of floating through one of four channels separated by pillars of rock. Those that had been through this before knew that the broadest channel which seemed like the easiest one to float through was actually the most dangerous. An underwater ledge cause the water to drop two feet which capsized or broke apart many of these handmade barges. Only one narrow channel was deep enough to be safe.
Once again I am struck by another example in life where sharing your experiences openly with others can help them through a rough spot. Had the knowledgeable locals and experienced Yukoners kept their experiences to themselves, many more “greenhorn flotillas” would have been destroyed on their journey down the Yukon. How much better could we do with our mental health journeys if we would more openly share our experiences with others? I am sure the first person to lose his “outfit” through the Five Finger Rapids was not ostracized when he shared his experience with the next person to try. Why and how has society decided to allow this stigma to be attached to mental health?
Back on the road, I head north to Pelly Crossing where I top off the tank for the next leg of the journey and realize I can make it from here to the Dempster Corner without another fuel stop. I roll past the next town (Stewart Crossing) about a half an hour later and cross the steel bridge over the Stewart River, I come to a definite fork in the road. To the right, I will end up in the mining towns of Mayo, Keno and Elsa; the left takes me up to the Dempster Highway and Dawson City. The road from this point is noticeably narrower and the surface quality seems degraded. I believe there are more commercial vehicles and traffic associated with the Keno and Mayo mines than with the communities I am headed toward but it just could be that the road I am now on is older and has not been recently resurfaced.
Arriving at Dawson, I find most of the camping spots in town are booked in anticipation of the Dust to Dawson motorcycle rally starting the next day. As I have planned to run the Dempster tomorrow, I have tires to change and the zipper on my riding pants to fix so I book a spot just outside of town to settle for the night.