The return from Tuktoyaktuk was reasonably uneventful.
I hate traveling the same road twice and had braced myself mentally for the return journey to Dawson City. Even so, knowing what’s around every corner always has my head in a different space. The ride becomes a chore. Something to be endured.
Returning to Inuvik and then riding the arctic plains posed no problems, and the ferry crossings provided time for some interaction with the crew.
As I began to climb back into the mountains the rain set in. The road turned to slush and my progress diminished accordingly as I often struggled for traction and control of the bike.
I reverted to a tactic I’ve used in Australia when in similar but almost the opposite conditions. Ride 50 km, stop and rest, take a drink. Check the bike, then proceed.
This really works for me. I no longer think in terms of ‘bugger, still 370 km of this shit to go’, but simply count down the kms into 50 km blocks.
When checking the bike on one of my breaks, I noticed one of the fork seals on my front suspension was leaking oil, and that oil was dripping down onto the front brake assembly.
The roading material is so abrasive and when splashing through all the mud, it builds up on the front forks. The motion of the suspension plunging up and down forces the fork seals down and over this abrasive material, cutting the rubber seals and releasing the damping oil.
There’s nothing to be done about this problem until I can get to a repair shop and that’s thousands of km away, and the brakes appear to be working well, so on I go, and it’s not long before the seal on the other side is leaking also. At least now I have a matching pair.
I break my ride once again at Eagle Plains Lodge and during a lull in the rain that evening, the moon seems huge as if somehow, up here in northern Yukon, just a few km away from the Arctic Circle, I’m closer than I am when looking from New Zealand.
Many of the gravel roads in Canada are treated with calcium chloride, to reduce the dust. I don’t know how it works, but it does. It’s easy to tell which roads are treated, not only are they marked on most maps, but they also have a brown tinge to them. The Dempster is one of those roads.
Calcium chloride is incredibly corrosive, and I’d been warned that wear items, like chains, sprockets and brake pads would take a beating.
My Honda is equipped with shaft drive instead of chains and sprockets, but I’d packed spare brake pads. The front brake pads were very low after my journey to Tuk, due to the abrasive mud.
I now had a dilemma. If I carried on, I would risk wearing the pads out completely and also ruining the front disks when the metal in the pad base cuts into the disk. Or, I could change the pads, and have them ruined by the oil that’s dripping from the leaking fork seals.
I chose another option, slow down and stop using the front brakes unless I really needed them, until I can get the seals repaired and the new pads fitted.
It's not quite that simple, because like many Hondas my bike runs a ‘linked braking system’, but by slowing down and avoiding using the brakes wherever possible, I made it into Dawson City in the afternoon of the following day.
First stop was the car wash, where I cleaned off the worst of the crud and the corrosive calcium chloride. Then into town to find a hotel.
My riding friend Ingo had opted not to ride to Tuktoyaktuk, but instead to spend more time on the Pacific Coast, camping and hiking, as always with his camera. He takes photography seriously and you can check out his superb work here.
Ingo and I have a very different traveling style. Ingo is very organised and I admire him for his accomplishments. He prefers to travel less, day to day, and spend time with his camera, while hiking local trails.
I, on the other hand, am the polar opposite. I do not like to plan ahead from day to day and could never be described as organised. The only talent I bring to our riding partnership is an uncanny ability, wherever we stop, to seek out and consume vast quantities of IPA beer, much to Ingo’s disgust. Originating from northern Germany, Ingo much prefers a Lager or Pilsner...
Ingo had talked about riding up to Whitehorse and reviewing his options there. Now as I’m unpacking my bag in the Dawson hotel, Ingo messages me. “I’m in Dawson City until the morning, then heading for Alaska, where are you?”
Ha! He’d taken me by surprise, and I was very pleased to hear from him. My reply of course was that I would meet him downstairs in the bar!
We greeted each other with a hug and it was great to see him again. Several rounds of IPA and Lager, and a nice meal together, sharing our recent experiences, and again we went our separate ways. Me south, for repairs and another pair of tyres. Ingo north, across the Klondike river by ferry to ride the ‘Top of the World Highway’ into Alaska. No doubt our paths will cross again soon.
I email Gordon Barrett, the Honda dealer down in Fruitvale BC, and he suggests ordering some superior SKF seals for my bike, and suggests I be at his shop in few days' time and he’ll fit me into his busy schedule.
That suits me, and I enjoy a relaxed ride back south and into warmer temperatures.
Shortly after I arrive at Gordon’s shop the delivery guy turns up with my seals as promised, and my bike once again goes up on the ramp. A few hours later, I’m done. New seals, new brake pads and new tyres.
Riding to Tuk was an adventure I’ll never forget, but once again it’s time to head east.