The icy wilderness of Alaska is the perfect place to lose yourself. But Warren doesn’t want to lose himself. He wants to lose someone else.The book, Trudge On, Soul, is the result of three long years of late nights, critique groups, and editing. If you haven't read the blog, I'd suggest you stop reading and at least click here to read the preview chapters of the book. The blog and pictures have spoilers and the book is a much better read. Think of the website as a documentary, and the book as an engaging movie. Triumph Motorcycles did an article on my Adventure here. A Photo Album of the trip is available here. Click here if you want to jump to the start of the blog with an index of each day.
The Adventure Continues...
We woke up in Dawson City (which is good, since that is where we went to sleep). Crawling out of bed we had no idea that by the end of the day we would have:
- A gross picture of Mike’s eyeball
- A Rider down…yes, a bike gets dropped
- A flat tire
- A poem entitled, “The Cremation of Mike Finley”
- No Wildlife (day 4 of being skunked)
I first took down laundry that was strewn across the room and, thankfully, no longer dripping on the floor. Then we carried gear out to the bikes in a drizzle that died out once we were loaded up. I don’t know why it waits until we finish loading or unloading, but regardless, I was glad it stopped. I remember the day with clear skies but when I watched the GoPro video, I see it came down lightly on and off all day long. I guess compared to yesterday, light rain feels like sunshine.
We drove through the muddy, unpaved roads of Dawson (as the locals call it) and I tried to imagine that it was the early 1900’s, the heyday of the goldrush. Although riding a motorcycle was a bit of a kink in the whole daydream, the town did a pretty good job to help convince me that I was living in the past. Several years back on a whim, a few of the townspeople dressed up in old clothing to greet some tourists. More tourists showed up to see the show and they realized they had stumbled on to something. Now the whole town is built around the theme; dirt roads, boomtown era buildings, and a saloon on every corner.
During our walkabout, we noticed a suspicious looking truck. I’m guessing a dead caribou closed up in the back was the source of blood dripping off the back and pooling onto the street, but who knows, maybe it was a claim jumper whose skull was split by the rusty pickaxe of an angry prospector. We didn’t stick around to find out.
I was still looking for souvenirs to buy for Sandi and the kids. I found Sandi a necklace but couldn’t find anything else for them. Looking back, I wish I had also bought the little vials of gold most of the places sold. At the time they looked cheap, corny, and lame but in retrospect, they would have been a unique thing to bring home.
The bear and the moose? I looked around. I saw a giant stuffed bear and stuffed moose and looked at Mike. He was getting out his camera. I shook my head “No, way. I’m not getting a picture by freakin stuffed animals.”
“Come on, it’s important to her,” he said and put the camera to his face, obviously having a lot of fun with the situation. “Ready, one, two…”
I glared at him. “Fine, I’ll stand here but I’m not smiling.”
The local museum was cool. They had exhibits from back in the day; a cutout of a small cabin, a general store, tools and possessions used by early natives, etc. It helped my soggy mind get a better handle on what it was like to be an old-time- goldrusher. I felt a connection to the mannequin dude sitting on the bed of his tiny cabin. He has worked hard to get to this point.
He had to travel by boat to Skagway. 100,000 prospectors made it this far.
He had to climb the mountain pass with a year’s worth of supplies (required by the Canadian government for all prospectors) and travel the rugged terrain to Dawson City. Carrying hundreds of pounds of supplies by hand (for most of them) required multiple trips. Imagine going up and down the mountain time after time for another load, repeating until you had all your gear at the top. And then doing it for another 400 miles to Dawson. Less than half, only 40,000, actually made it to Dawson.
But his problems weren’t over yet, arriving in Dawson was the beginning of a whole new set of trials. Now he had to fight for a claim, wait in line to get papers, and hope for a chance to start mining. Keep in mind, we are in the Yukon. It’s a cold, rainy, rugged land. Long before Gore-Tex and headlamps.
If he was lucky enough to start mining, now his real work began. Panning for gold and digging in the frozen ground to search for an elusive golden nugget. 4,000 of those who set out to strike it rich succeeded. Hopefully the remaining 96,000 were able to find meaning in the journey rather than focusing on the lack of gold. I doubt it.
But mannequin guy was obviously doing well. He had a cabin, a nice warm stove (how did he haul that up there?) and a decent collection of tools about his yard. But I looked closer. Something had finally pushed him over the edge. He has been reading something disturbing and is now staring blankly ahead, despair and exhaustion nipping at his soul.
What could have possibly finally broke this man who toiled and moiled so hard? If you look closely, you can see what has destroyed this giant of a man. Sprawled across his lap are pages and pages of confusing paperwork. He has been trying to figure out last months cell phone bill.
The prime jewels of the museum, however, are their steam engines. I had read about them online and was excited to see them. But when we got there I found out they only open up the engine building (next door) a couple times a day and we’d miss it, a big disappointment. Turns out I wasn’t the only one upset. I overheard an older gentlemen pleading with a young lady to let him in. I thought his pleas were rather pathetic until I realized she was starting to cave. And when he actually succeeded, I ran and got Mike and we rushed next door to join them.
They were impressive. Massive steam engines from a century ago! I saw a steam engine running in South Africa once. A car full of coal followed the engine which chugged and blew heavy smoke out of its stack. How can you not be impressed with these early monsters that crawled across the untamed world? But what dropped my jaw the most was their ancient steampunk tractor! I can’t imagine there are many of those left. People come from all over the world to see this collection and I’m really thankful we were able to slip in. And just in time. Right when we were finishing up another less friendly gal came over and chastised the friendly one for letting us. I felt bad for our good samaritan but she didn’t seem to care. It was her last day. The tourist season was over, things were shutting down, and she was going home in the morning.
We decided to clean off our bikes before we left town. An inch of mud had caked on my engine and making it run hot. So before we left town, we drove around asking for a car wash and were directed to an RV Campground to hose off our bikes. The power spray sign said “1 Loonie” and I had to ask around to find out what that was. Turns out it’s a Canadian dollar and, fortunately, Mike had two left over from last night.
We also took a side trip up the mountain and saw an expansive view of the Klondike and Yukon rivers. I took one last moment to imagine the land as rugged wilderness. I could almost see the campfires in the valley warming the 40,000 prospectors who made it this far. It’s crazy that so few of them actually succeeded. I remembered the scrawled words I saw on a journal preserved in the museum, “I got here late and everyone is a king but me. I’m taking the first boat out of here.” It was time for us to do the same thing. Now we were officially heading home.
For the first hour of the ride, my eyes combed the sides of the road for a moose. I wanted to see one so bad! The second hour I became bored with scenery that didn’t change (the same trees were on the left and right the whole trip, I think the scenery was just cut and pasted). The third hour my eyes wanted to close and my head occasionally nodded from side to side. Talking to Mike didn’t help, he was just as bored and tired. And then I saw it. Up ahead, lumbering across the road. A giant moose! I yelled, adrenaline suddenly pumping through my body!
“There is a huge moose up there!”
I gunned my motorcycle, determined not to miss it, and shot forward. Finally! A moose! And a big one at that.
Well, I explained at the start of the post that today was another “no wildlife” day. And I didn’t lie. As we got closer I suddenly felt really stupid. I was trying to think of a way to save face when Mike spoke up.”
“That Honda?” (Awkward silence.) “That Honda is our moose?”
Yes, it was a Honda. It had pulled off a side road and crept across the road before turning towards us. A “Honda Moose,” their new full sized sedan. But on the good side, we were both now wide awake. And stayed that way for at least 30 minutes. Sadly, the closest we came to wildlife today was when we had to push through mosquito clouds, as evident on my windscreen and headlights.
Another highlight of the day was a dog that came running to greet us as we crossed a bridge. He was barking and I swear had a huge smile on his face, ecstatic to see us. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a happy dog. Either that or I was so bored and excited to see something besides road that I imagined him too.
You know it was a rough day when I have to fill it with stories of honda’s and smiling dogs. But in the afternoon the scenery started to get better and Mike worked hard to entertain us.
He launched his afternoon antics with a horrid scream of pain.
I jumped up and looked in my rear view mirror expecting to see a hell-demon on his back ripping out and eating his entrails.
“I got something in my eye and it is stinging me!”
The confusion lasted for several seconds, the pain for several minutes, but Mike didn’t stop. He said to press on, and we did. When we stopped for gas, I was rather proud of the dead mosquitos on my sunglasses (from riding with my visor up) and went to show Mike.
“DUDE! You have a bug plastered to your eyeball!” I said. A dead bug was sprawled across his watery, red eyeball. Suddenly the dead mosquitoes on my glasses weren’t so impressive and I didn’t even bother showing him. We extracted the bug and went into the store to reward ourselves.
I found my favorite drink, one I rarely find anywhere, and was taking a selfie when I heard a massive crash behind me. I spun around and saw Mike rolling across the ground, Gertrude was laying flat behind him. He popped up fast and ran to her. I wasn’t sure what had happened. I asked, but neither wasn’t sure either. Somehow while loading up he’d lost her and everything went down. We chalked it up to a long tiring day and he took the obligatory picture of conquering his bike for ADVRider.com.
We made one stop along the way, Lake Lebarge. Years ago I memorized a poem to tell around the campfires during my Boy Scout days. I could only remember the first few lines and had been quoting them to Mike all day long in anticipation.
The Cremation of Same McGee by Robert William Service (click for the full poem)
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
The poem is about an early prospector who is always cold. My old boss at Microsoft (without knowing my affinity for the poem) one day told me that I reminded him of this poem. I wore my coat constantly at work (still do), and used to keep a space heater in my office to keep it toasty. I suppose that’s what happens when you grow up in the desert and move to the Northwest. I’ve never climatized.
We wanted to camp on the marge of Lake Lebarge, although I think Mike was a little relieved when it was full and we couldn’t. Towards the end of the day, I had begun altering the poem and when I quoted it to Mike would end with “..the night on the marge of Lake Lebarge I cremated Mike FinLee.” I suppose on a day when you get a bug plastered on your eye and drop your bike, anything was possible and he didn’t want to take a chance.
But the Mike show was far from over. He had skipped a gas stop despite my subtle hints that we had no idea where the next stop was. And as we neared Whitehorse, his bike had been on empty for quite a while. We joked back and forth and I turned on the GoPro, saying I wanted to save the moment he ran out of gas so I could gloat for years to come. It made the last 15 miles rather entertaining, but in the end, he won. We found a gas station before Gertrude sputtered out.
For his next act, he spiced up our evening with a startling discovery. “I have a flat tire!”
It didn’t look flat, but was soft. We checked it and it had zero pressure. Sure enough, his tire was flat. It was already getting dark, we didn’t know where to camp, and now we had to change a flat tire. We figured it had been flat for a long time, probably why he’d dropped his bike earlier. During the stretches when he said his biked was handling strange, he’d turn back and forth, trying to gauge the problem. Other times we reached 80 mph around the curves. All on a flat tire! Thank goodness those Anakee 3’s hold on tight. It could have easily ended ugly.
He dug in and pulled out the culprit, a tiny piece of shale. I’m glad it was his bike and not mine. He has tubeless tires so can patch it from the outside (which took about 20 minutes). Mine would have required taking the tire off, breaking the bead, setting it again…and could have taken hours. We were back on the road in no time, but now riding in near darkness.
We found an RV Campground just before they closed and secured a spot just as it started to rain pretty hard (but before we had set up camp). I don’t enjoy setting up camp in the rain, have I mentioned that yet? With only the light of our headlamps, we scrambled and managed to get most of our gear stashed inside tents before it got drenched.
Before bed, Mike came back onstage for an encore but broke character for his final performance. He whipped up an excellent dinner of mashed potatoes and salmon for the win. I think we had instant mashed potatoes every other night, and I never got tired of it. We feasted. Then he did the dishes. What a pal!
I wrote the following final entry in my journal for the day:
We rode 330 long miles today. It was tricky getting in my tent, taking off wet/muddy gear, and trying not to make a mess. But I am good now. Rain falling on my nylon roof and dripping down around me. I’m dry, it isn’t cold (I’m sitting on my bag in my shorts), and my belly is full. A guy we passed said the weather is great to the south. I sure hope so. I need some good weather.
Spoiler: Tomorrow it pours all day long, our wildlife-less streak extends to 5 days, and I have a minor mental breakdown.
Thanks for reading about my travels. To read more of my adventures, click here to visit my travel page.