Alright Badger, here we go again.
This time out, our premium-fuel-and-blue-Powerade-fuelled mission is a ride into the Arctic Circle, via the legendary Dempster Highway. From my starting point in Yellowknife, this requires riding west and south into BC, then north and west into the Yukon, then ultimately north and east back into the Northwest Territories. Therefore I present you the trip: NWT2NWT.
On paper, the out-and-back trip looks like 6,900 km in 14 days. To start, I will retrace my footprints of 2013 all the way to Watson Lake, Yukon. Beyond there, I'll meet up with a friend in Whitehorse to have some company exploring into the unfamiliar and even more desolate territory further north.
At today's various stops for construction, gas, and rests, my destination made for an entertaining sort of chit-chat IQ test. People, in general, are always asking, "Where ya headed?" and when I responded today with "Inuvik," it became quickly apparent -- judging by whether the implications of my answer were understood -- who was a tourist and who was of the north. Foreigners had a semi-glazed look and seemed to figure that was just somewheres down the road in the NWT, while northerners were quick to respond with "Long drive," "Good luck!," or (twice, to my dismay) "Got a spare tire?"
Speaking of tires, my heart sank 50 km out of Yellowknife when my instrument cluster lit up with a low rear tire pressure warning. Oddly, the tire pressure monitoring system was still indicating 34-36 psi for the rear (I target 37 for pavement, 35 for gravel, so no concern). I stopped immediately and inspected the tire for a flat or a puncture -- all clear. I grabbed my pressure gauge out of the front of my tank bag; it indicated 35, confirming the electronic sensor. So what's the problem, Badger? Disturbed, I carried on, watching the TPMS readout like a paranoid hawk, fearing that the sensor was somehow prescient of a looming flat, but its reading remained steady at +/-35. 600 km later, the warning still hasn't gone off! A minor annoyance indeed, which I hope I can resolve.
There were many other bikes on the road between YK and Ft Providence. Going the opposite direction, I passed three groups of three bikes, and two groups of two (I suppose I was the one group of one...) which is by far the most two-wheeled traffic I've ever encountered on that highway.
Mentally, the first two hours were quite tough today, leaving my loved ones behind and questioning why, while staring down a full day of unenchanting repeat highway. (Or so the thought pattern can go.) Thereafter, some distractions helped get me over The Day 1 Hump, in the form (a) terror, induced by chipseal construction zones sprinkled with loose gravel and the occasional sand hole, and (b) suspense, in wondering if Badger could make the 328 km leg from Ft Providence to Ft Simpson gas stations. I did my best to maximize fuel efficiency, riding all day in the bottom end (4000-4500 rpm) of either 5th or 6th gear, coasting to stops, and ignoring side turnoffs -- and we made it! The "low fuel" warning came on at 315 km, yet somehow I only took 18.7 L to fill the supposedly 23 L tank, meaning I still had over 4.2 L of gas left, or another 70 km range?! The bottom of this bike's fuel tank still eludes me, and I look forward to the opportunity of finding it on the first leg of the Dempster, which is 370 km and for which I'll have to carry extra fuel.
Tonight, I write this from Fort Simpson, the very site of this blog's first entry almost four years ago.
Day total: 655 km, 8h50m
Trip total: 655 km
Start: Yellowknife, NWT. End: Fort Simpson, NWT.
Soundtrack: Zac Brown Band's "Jekyll + Hyde," MGB's "Audio of Being"