August 4, 2008 – Day 9: Fort Nelson, BC to Watson Lake, YT – 319.04 Miles
- Stone Mountain, between Fort Nelson & Watson Lake
The morning air was brisk, I dressed warm. Long johns, long sleeve t-shirt, sweatshirt, leathers and ¾ face helmet. Yes the helmet had been on since I had crossed into Canada and my head had finally quit peeling, life was good.
The road between Fort Nelson and Watson Lake is teeming with wild life. I wasn’t more than 3-4 km outside of Fort Nelson when I saw a small black bear foraging berries for breakfast. The little bugger ran off before I could get stopped and grab a shot of him. As I continued down the road listening to some good tunes from my IPod I found myself mesmerized by the beauty of the world around me. I was really getting into the ride, hitting the corners high, coming through low, really starting to have fun, when I came around a turn and there in the middle of the road were two small moose. Small being a relative term, they would have really messed up my day had I not had time to come to a screeching halt. Would you believe it, the throaty sound of a Harley, the screeching sound of rubber sliding across asphalt, the sound of a horn filling the air, horn being a relative term, it hasn’t been working to well since those storms on the way up to Grande Prairie, and those moose never even looked up from their morning meal of road kill.
- Little Black Bear between Fort Nelson & Watson Lake
I sat there on my bike, in the middle of the road, just waiting for them to move, and they stood there eating with nothing else on their minds. I finally decided that neither of us was going to give into the other, so I approached slowly while moving into the oncoming traffic lane, oncoming being a relative term, I hadn’t seen a car, oncoming or otherwise since I left Fort Nelson, and I passed them with care. Once again on my way, I couldn’t get over the nonchalant attitudes of the moose. As I came around the next bend in the road I found myself coming to another screeching halt, this time for a couple of caribou crossing the road. It soon became evident that this would be the norm for the day. I couldn’t go more than 5-10km without seeing some critter doing something.
- Allen & Jimeen, Tetsa River Fuel Stop
As I approached my first fuel stop during today’s journey, I looked at the gauge and it read a little over ¾ full, time to stop. I’d learned my lesson the day before; I was not going to run out of fuel again. As I pulled into the pumps I saw Allen and Jimeen there filling up as well. They looked up, saw me and started laughing, we both knew we could find fuel further down the road but neither of us was willing to take the chance. As we sat there talking and laughing a young man ,sporting some pretty serious road rash, that I’d guess to be in his mid twenties, came over to us and ask where we were riding to. When we told him we were headed to Alaska, he felt it necessary to tell his story.
- The Road North to Watson Lake
It turns out his name is Jim and he was coming from Anchorage, AK. He was in the army and he and his family were moving to North Carolina. He had been riding his Harley-Davidson Soft Tail and his wife and child were following behind him in the car pulling a trailer with their belongings. He said the roads between Tok Alaska and Whitehorse, YT were extremely hazardous. He said crews were working on the roads and they were practically impassable. He kept talking about mud and dirt roads with rocks the size of softballs all over the place. He said he was traveling about 25mph when one of those softball size rocks got lodged between the front tire and fender on his bike. He found himself flying over the handlebars of his bike and laying in the middle of the road covered in blood and mud. He said it was very dangerous and after he was able to get up and calm down, he put the bike on the trailer, got in the car and drove to a medical clinic in Whitehorse to get patched up. As he was telling his story I walked over to the trailer and looked at his bike, the fender was really torn up as was the rest of the bike. It was obvious he wasn’t exaggerating and his story made me think about my own experiences and what else I might encounter on the rest of my journey. I said goodbye to Allen and Jimeen and gave my best to the young man and his wife and started out once again on the road to Watson Lake.
- Toad River
I had seen my first “Break in Pavement” sign the day before on the ride from Dawson Creek to Fort Nelson. The Canadian government isn’t big on signage and government workers aren’t big on giving warning, I saw the sign and the next thing I remember was sliding through gravel. Fortunately, the gravel patch was only about 40 feet long and I was able to regain control almost as soon as I had lost it.
It wasn’t more than a mile or so after getting back on the road that I saw the sign, “Break in Pavement.” This time I slowed down immediately and was able to keep control of the bike from the beginning. It was a good thing; the break was over a quarter mile long and was all soft gravel. Top speed reached 15mph before the bike started sliding all over the place. As I continued down the road the signs became more and more frequent. It actually got to the point where I was off the pavement more than I was on it. The critters became more plentiful as well. I continued to see more black bears, reindeer, moose, sheep, a lynx, buffalo, and caribou. Between the critters and the breaks in pavement it was all I could do to keep the bike on the road. I pulled into a little place called the Toad River Lodge for fuel and lunch and as I walked in I saw Allen and Jimeen doing the same. They were sitting there eating with three other riders they had just met. They introduced me to the riders, three gentlemen from Kentucky. They had flown into Calgary on Harley-Davidson’s fly and ride program. Once in Calgary they picked up bikes at the local Harley-Davidson dealership, and were headed to Alaska. As I sat there listening to their story, I had the strangest feeling we had met before. It hit as soon as the words came out of my mouth, “You guys passed me by while I was sitting on the side of the road, out of fuel and being scouted for lunch.” The oldest of the three men look at me with a strange expression on his face, “Where was this,” he asked. I related my story to the three of them and it was clear they had no idea I was in trouble. They were looking at the bear and figured I was stopped doing the same. One of the gentlemen offered to buy me a beer for their mistake. I gladly accepted and we all had a good laugh, can’t hold grudges on the road. After lunch, it was back on the road for more, breaks in pavement, critters and turns. I eventually pulled into Watson Lake about 5:00pm.
- Muncho Lake,
Watson Lake is a small town in the Yukon Territories that sits close to the Yukon British Columbia border. It’s best known for its “Sign Post Forest.” It all started back during the construction of the Alcan Highway. One of the workers nailed a sign on one of the trees pointing towards his home town with the mileage on it. One sign led to another and now visitors from all over the world hang signs on poles in the forest. I chose not to hang a sign, I figured the forest had enough of them and the fact that the town now charges a small fee to hang a sign didn’t really appeal to me either, besides I was busy looking for my hotel. I was staying at the rustic Watson Lake hotel, the first and most famous, hotel in Watson Lake. For being so famous it sure was hard to find. I stopped at the visitor center in the sign post forest to get directions to the hotel. The woman at the center explained to me that the hotel was closed for renovation and would not be opening for another year. I was a little shocked, how could someone book me in a hotel that wouldn’t be open for another year. The woman assured me that I probably had a room booked in one of the other three hotels in town. It turns out all of the hotels are owned by the same company and they just put you where ever they have an opening. I was told to go to the Belvedere Hotel and see a woman named Karen. She would be able to tell me where I would be spending the night.
- Sign Post Forest, Watson Lake
Karen looked exactly as I envisioned her when I spoke with her on the phone while booking my reservations. While making the reservations for the trip six months earlier, most of the hotels either gave me a confirmation number or a confirmation e-mail. I remember when making the reservation for Watson Lake I asked the woman I was speaking with if I would be getting any sort of confirmation? She replied, “You want confirmation, I’m your confirmation, my name’s Karen, just ask for me when you get here.”
Karen was quite the character; she was certainly wiser than her years. As she was checking on my room another woman, obviously Karen’s supervisor, was explaining hotel policy to her. Karen remained calm, cool and collected throughout the entire meeting all the while checking on my room and remaining as polite as she possibly could, under the circumstances. As her supervisor walked away, Karen reached below the counter and brought out a TV remote and an ash tray. She said that I had booked a smoking room and then explained to me how to get the TV satellite to work. She then pointed to a long corridor to her right and said I would be staying in the first room on the left. As she handed me a key she apologized for her supervisor’s behavior and wished me a good stay. As I started to walk away I figured I would check to see where I would be staying on my return 11 days later. When I ask Karen she looked at me, a little puzzled I think, and said, “Same place.” Same place I said, “Same room,” she said. I walked towards the corridor thinking, yup, just like I envisioned it to be.