Canada – The Yukon A Second Time Around
Back at the fantastic Braeburn Lodge on route South, again, towards Whitehorse. Though with enjoyable cycling in between the last two weeks had turned out to be a continuum of frustration as I’d tried to put the necessary arrangements and logistics into place to make a little side trip back North and over into the Northwest Territories. Though the Canol-Inuvik plan had to be postponed and the intervening 600mi since I was last in Whitehorse could be considered a little pointless, Canada, and the Yukon, has been an incredible place to spend a few extra days.
Since reaching Alaska some weeks ago now the realisation of how much water there is here slowly hit, and as every day drifted by the continued desire to have a boat to hand became unbearable! From the chance meeting in Deadhorse with a group of paddlers up to explore a nearby but extremely remote river system, the countless canoes randomly advertised for sale, to camping with Lars (Life Is Good Follow Us – though in no way paternal if I ever have a family I’ll be taking guidance from this man!) and his family on the Yukon River. Then a little dotted line on a map caught my eye – The Canol Trail.
The Canol Heritage Trail, an infamous route across the mountains following what remains of the service road built during the Second World War for the Canadian Oil pipeline. Running from the drilling sites in Norman Wells to the wartime refinery near Whitehorse built by US engineers to supply forces stationed in Alaska. Sadly with the never lengthy summer season at this latitude and summer rapidly tailing out into autumn, beset with delays on starting the route and with the plan to then float further north back to Inuvik on the Arctic Ocean, the margin of days planned in for safety was all but gone necessitating good luck with the weather and fortune in the trail conditions.
Ignoring the frustrations of the Canadian postal system the last couple of weeks has been a lot of fun. Since departing Whitehorse to head East to the start of the Canol Road at what is known as Johnson’s Crossing the riding, the scenery and the weather has been exceptional. An 80mi afternoon positioned me at the start of the Canol South, ready to set out north, with the naive expectation that all the necessary equipment was in, or well on its way to, Ross River – 250km to the north and the last I’d be seeing of civilisation until Norman Wells had plans fallen into place.
Canol South is a stunning road, a maintained summer dirt road through the Pelly Mountains with the Big Salmon range to the West and the St. Cyr hills to the East. Climbing up to the first pass was challenging; having learnt the hard/expensive way not to rely on the abundance of supplies in the small towns and communities I was laden with two weeks worth of supplies. A good ration for 2 weeks I can tell you with certainty takes up at least 30L – such was the size of the container I’d stored it all in – and I hate to think how much it weighed but it wasn’t light! Though weighed down for the hills and pondering in descent over every bump whether my bike was strong enough for this load nothing could totally distract from the beauty of this place. Up and down as the road climbed through the hills before reaching the stunning Quiet Lake, the pebble beach of which made for an incredible water, dinner and swim stop.
The second day on the South Canol was every bit as good as the first, ending the previous day with a 5mi descent to the first of six bridges where the road crosses the Rose River had me thinking I could be in for a day of climbing again but the terrain was altogether more sedate. Gradually following the Rose upstream to its source before crossing the watershed into the Lapie basin and descending towards Ross River.
What followed three incredible days riding was the frustration of waiting, seemingly endlessly, for equipment to arrive. Some of which just didn’t. And some of which ended up in completely the wrong place. But with the help of the local B&B owner I managed to track most things down,trouble is time was ticking by on what was already a later start than hoped. In the intervening few days I started to get my sea legs back and managed to hitch a ride with Bryan, a whitewater paddler, back towards Whitehorse for an overnighter to collect some better tyres and bike spares which after fitting and setting out to pedal back at midday became one of the most gruelling days yet, though unladen, 145mi back to Ross in an afternoon and evening, fuelled only by a milkshake and two cookies having forgotten to pop to the shop on route!
Dispite postponing the plan to cross into the Northwest Territories, the upshot being, though encumbered with a little more food and other equipment than needed for pedalling back South, I now had a boat to hand – my beautiful Alpacka Mule! Taking up less than half a pannier and capable of floating the bike and gear, the journey down through the Americas has taken a twist. Bike carries boat, boat carries bike; all that remains now was to find some water that flows in the right direction!
So, two weeks worth of food needed eating, and fast. This was weighing me down and the container, a canoe barrel with harness for the outback portion of the trip, was enough weight in itself! An indulgent and generous few days have helped lighten the load and a day off in Carmacks made way for some river time in the Alpacka. A short evening float trip with the bike after the rain had passed and an early morning trip down the Yukon River through the feared Five Finger Rapids – more like a bit of chop on the Solent than a raging ferocious river channel!
Now back at Braeburn Lodge, and no less a headwind than the last time around, the epic portion sizes and unlimited coffee are slowly building the energy for the final push of this superfluous side trip, though conveniently only this one short section that I’m actually having to riding twice. Next stop Carcross, the World renowned mountain bike venue – I’m struggling to decide whether to leave the rack and mudguards on for this; it’s quite entertaining riding alongside people on fully spec’d tricked out full-bounce mountain bikes!
And in other news today I got my first good sighting of a bear, skipping across the road a couple of hundred metres ahead of me.