An overlander's account of South and Central America by motorbike - the trusty Suzuki DR650. Within are great travel tips and hints (2011).

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Path to Alaska

After spending 9 glorious months in the white winter wonderland of Grande Prairie, Alberta (Canada), working as an oil/gas pipefitter apprentice, I'm finally back on the road again with my darling DR650, Nessie.  She originally broke down with a spanked engine (main crank bearing blew out into engine), falling 200km short of my winter stop.  Over the chilly winter I spent hours outside in the snow working on the bike, using another cheap ’08 DR as a spares bike.  Lots of new modifications were done and still ongoing, as always.  In the last year of riding I put 55,000 km on the new bike.  I rode around Grande Prairie during the winter to get to training, shops etc and put on another 6000 on the replacement engine.

I’ll return to my way of breaking down the trip into days, mostly for bikers, and will always write ‘biker’s note’ where there is valuable information for travelling motorbikers.  Now the wheels are is my crank bearing ;)

The start of the Alaska highway in Dawson Creek, BC.
5 August 2012 (160 km) – One Island Lake, Welsh's Cabin (Camp)
After delaying my departure for consecutive months, and then a few extra days at the end (Vegas, roommates birthday, mate returning to town) I finally escaped the frosty grasps of Grande Prairie on Sunday afternoon.  My roommates big cute mutt decided to chew my universal charger as a going away present on the last day, and my resulting rewire fried my free phone...which I was pretty happy about!  Phone’s are a drag on the road!  I had a beer and hotdog with a good mate before leaving and headed off to another training partner’s family cabin at One Island Lake in British Columbia (BC).  It was a nice easy first day and I was lucky to meet his family and mates at the cabin, as well as partake in the digestion of an UNREAL deep fried turkey!

Colton's old fella with the primely cooked Turkey!
6 August 2012 (177 km) – Beatton Provincial Park, Fort Saint John (Camp - $16)
After hanging around the cabin sorting some minor bike adjustments out and helping (more watching) the Welsh’s add to their cabin, the urge came to hit the road for good.  I made it to FSJ and met a couple of bikers who were coming south now, but their third partner had an accident and was flown out.  Beatton PP was a nice out of the way place to camp, although Charlie Lake smells a little!

7 August 2012 (161 km) – Halfway-Graham Recreation Area (Camp - free)
Always keeping an out for free campgrounds I decided to head for the H-G Rec Area.  I had a late start adjusting the bike a little more.  On the way out of town, I was recommended very wisely by the Welsh’s to stop at the Shepherd’s Inn for some food.  It was certainly no disappointment, and the chilli I had with great thick bread was superb, and just as I had been told!  I headed off the highway not further on, taking a backroads route I chose to get some scenery and nice camping in, not to mention avoiding smelling like gasoline at the end of the day from motorists exhausts!  The campground at Halfway-Graham was fantastic!  Set on the convergence of a river, the free camping sites had a fireplace and table as well as a toilet nearby and a great horizontal-shower (river)!

Love the hay bails in the farms up here!
Halfway-Graham Rec Area, just below my campsite.  And my horizontal shower...
8 August 2012 (486 km) – Tetsa River Outfitters (Camp)
Today was without a doubt, an almighty, break and test day!  I didn’t know it yet but what was ahead was going to suck my butt-cheeks to the seat!  I headed off in the morning and made my way further west before turning North on Deadhorse road to get to Pink Mountain.  The road was a fair gravel path, but the further I got the smaller and more pleasant it became...

...until I found myself at a campsite at a dead end on the road with 3 blokes having breakfast.  I thought I was on the wrong road but it turns out I wasn’t.  I was warned there was a washed out bridge but I’d be able to cross it, and these fellas had camp just before it and were fishing in the area with quads.  They even had a bear come into camp the night before and was trying to open their BBQ, when they popped their heads outta the tent and scared the berries outta the bear!  All he left behind was a big dirt paw mark on the BBQ cover...and his berries!

The blokes told me quads could cross the bridge where  it was washed out as there were some small pine trees bridging it, but I couldn’t as my one, narrow wheel track would slip between the trees and I and the bike would fall a good 6m to the river below.  I had to try it though, as I didn’t have enough fuel to back track the other way!  I gave it a go.  The bridge was an obstacle!  I had to realign the pine trees.  I rested the front tire on a pair of trees (no bigger than 10 cm diameter!)  I stood to the side of the bike.   Heart pounding like hooves at a race track.  I gunned it.  The bike wobbled in the middle as the trees sagged under the weight.  The tire nearly slipped through, so I pinned it for the end.  It didn’t matter if I crashed on the other side, so long as the bike made it!  And then...DIRT!  YEEHAH!  She was all good.  I parked it all up and took a calming breath!  My video of it all failed!  The fellas came over and wished me I headed down what was now no longer a road, but a quadding trail. 

The bridge washout and makeshift pine bridge.
It was slow going as all the culverts had been removed leaving a deep muddy crevace and my 50/50 tires slipped up in the quad ruts.  I wasn’t sure I was on the right trail but I was headed north, which was good.  Further down the treacherous trail I found another bridge on a 30 degree angle that’d been washed out.  This one was a little easier with some bridging planks.  The culverts returned and eventually it turned back into a road.  Oil facilities were in the area, which was good.  They need servicing.  Finally, the road was gravel again and I could pick up a steady pace.  I thought it was all over.

The bridge on the angle after crossing it.
And some more quad trails ahead.
Finally, I was back on gravel...but not for long!
  Then I met the mother of all bridge washouts.  There was a high cement bridge, 10 m high above the river, and a good 10 m long washout.  I had to find somewhere to cross the river this time.  Some campers nearby told me that quadders were crossing further down so I navigated the forest and slipped down to the river bank.  After walking it a couple times a found a path.  The first section went nicely and I made it to the first island.  The second section was shorter but deeper.  I’d ditched my electrical gear.  The DR swam through the river with ease, only to get belly bogged on a log on the other side!  Finally I made it back to the highway and met a biker who was heading down and bought me lunch!  Cheers!  Adventure motorbikers were now everywhere on the road, seeing 20 or so a day!  I met a guy who’d ran out of fuel 40km out of town, so gave him some juice from my tank and we crawled into town together.  The crazy bugger gave me 10 bucks for two litres of gas!  Him, his son and I met later at Tetsa River Outfitters and camped the night (not sure how much it was as they paid).  I had another refreshing horizontal shower, sending my body numb and electrifying my head!

The washout mother...
Part 1 of the crossing
And part 2 and where I ended up belly bogged on a log!
More soon...