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Vancouver to 'the Dempster’

Dealing with our shipping agent in Vancouver was the polar opposite of our experience in Vladivostok. Yuri (our Russian agent) was unexpectedly efficient, and the costs to us were exactly as he’d quoted us months before.

Our Canadian agents were however effusive about the cost of landing the bikes in Vancouver, telling us “it’s usually $500-$550 but we have seen as high as $800, and it can take as long as 10 days”. 

Our ship arrived in port on schedule, and 13 days later we received notice the bikes could be uplifted. The fee was nearly $1800 and please bring cash. $1800 was almost the fee Yuri charged us for loading and shipping our bikes across the Pacific Ocean, and our Canadian agent charges $1800 to unload and transport our bikes a few km to their warehouse?

Unfortunately they hold all the cards: no money = no bikes.

We expressed our displeasure in no uncertain terms, as these bastards do a sterling impression of Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. Oh yes, they had lots of excuses, "Customs took longer to inspect than anticipated", "had to hold the bikes an extra weekend", blah blah blah, but in the end, they simply shafted us and we had no option but to bend over and take it up the arse.

We can but spread the word through the motorcycle travel community to avoid Astra International, if at all possible, when shipping or receiving your vehicle in Vancouver.

During the time with Kathy in the rental car we had passed through the small town of Fruitvale BC, and noticed a small Honda motorcycle dealership, Barrett Honda.

With nothing much to fill our day, we called in and were met by Gordon Barrett, the proprietor. It turns out that Gordon’s father took the first Honda motorcycle dealership in Canada back in the 1960's.

I organised for Gordon to get new tyres and the filters I needed for a much due service on the bike. With the bikes finally in our hands, Ingo had his bike serviced at a BMW shop in Vancouver, and I headed across BC to Fruitvale, and Barrett Honda.

Despite being short on workshop staff, and having to reschedule my service several times due to the fiasco at the port, Gordon slotted me in as soon as I arrived and later that day I had crisp new rubber and a freshly serviced bike.

During our layover waiting for the bikes I had expressed to Ingo that I’d like to ride the Dempster Highway north, to the arctic village of Tuktoyaktuk, the northern-most road in Canada. I guess it’s Canada’s equivalent of Europe’s NordKapp, and I’d ridden there last year.

I have a fascination for visiting such remote places, but while NordKapp was indeed remote, it was little more than a tourist circus. I hoped Tuktoyaktuk would not disappoint.

So while Ingo headed to northern BC and Alaska, I opted for Alberta, the Yukon, and ultimately the Northwest Territories.

When mentioning my plans to Gordon, he’d responded that I was leaving things a little late in the season and that winter arrived early in the Arctic. His opinion was mirrored by a truck driver who delivered fuel up the Dempster Highway to Inuvik, the last town before the final section of road to Tuk. "Pushing the envelope at this time of year" is how he described it.

Ingo had received a FB post from a biking acquaintance who had just returned from the area, showing a fresh 2 foot fall of snow, saying "if you haven’t already made it to Tuk, you’re too late, winter has arrived".

I’d read the the dumping of snow was early and unseasonable, and long term weather forecasts seemed to indicate the same, so with much trepidation I headed north, bypassing the metropolises of Calgary and Edmonton and riding through the smaller oil and timber towns of northern Alberta.

Having spent most of my working life in the forest industry, I’m a big fan of the machinery used in these industries, and up here I was in heaven.

Further north and I’m beginning to see wildlife. Both bears and bison graze the roadside.

I’m also beginning to notice a change in the colour of the trees as autumn fast approaches, and a distinct lowering of the temperatures.

As evening approaches I enter the Yukon Territories and the town of Watson Lake, and enjoy a stroll through the Sign Forest.

It’s a long way between fuel pumps up here, and the vast distances mean an increase in prices. At one remote fuel pump I get a laugh from this sign. If only they knew the price of gas at home!

The further north I go, the more stunning the scenery. The road narrows and often reverts to gravel. Summer is the only time road repairs can be undertaken. Tourists in rental cars are often unprepared for the rigours of driving in the north.

The following day I reach Dawson City, the legendary town made famous by the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s. The town is still the home of many mining companies, but nowadays tourism is the main source of income. The town still sports dirt streets and wooden boardwalks, complemented by some very old buildings, and their modern equivalents sporting traditional facades. 

Dawson City is the launch point for journeys into Alaska via the "Top of the World Highway", and the beginning of the Dempster Highway, 900km of gravel road to Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk at the Arctic Ocean.

It’s been a journey of 3,000 km to get here, and I’m staggered at the vastness and the beauty I’ve encountered so far. 

Tomorrow the adventure begins.