The D2D Ride
June 14 to 16 – 2017
One of the most concrete and unflappable tenets of motorcycle riding, and even more so with motorcycle adventure travel is that it’s the ride, and not the destination, that excites us.
Even the regular weekly cruise to the chip truck in the next county isn’t so much about the fries.
It’s about the ride.
No matter what you ride – metric cruiser, street legal track bike, fully dressed hog, high-strung and sexy off-road thrasher or a Bavarian gravel chewer that is somehow associated with a Tall Pike – each and every time that you press that starter button, or kick her over, your pulse quickens just a little.
Your vision sharpens. You smile involuntarily.
And the adventure begins anew.
And please don’t let the term “adventure bike” fool you. It is a misnomer.
Every bike is an adventure bike.
All you have to do is think back to your childhood, and the freedom and excitement that you found astride your Schwinn, CCM or Huffy.
The rush of adrenaline that accompanied virtually every single ride! The wind in your face, legs pumping faster and faster as you approached speeds that defined danger and looming disaster, ignoring all thoughts of what ‘could’ happen, living only in the excitement of the moment until finally you hit that ramp, jumped that ditch, or pulled off that 30 metre catwalk on the rear tire for the first time.
Awesome, wasn’t it?
Now, try to argue that putting an engine in the frame – no matter the engine, no matter the frame – doesn’t bring that feeling right back.
. . .
Those of us who ride for the love of riding also know that the adventure somehow lives within the space of our motorcycle’s wheelbase.
On my V-Strom, that measures 61.2 inches.
A little over 5 feet.
Those 5 feet have taken me over 67,000 kilometres.
All within Canada.
Ten’s of thousands of kilometres right in my own, eastern Ontario back yard: Calabogie, The Highlands, The Ottawa Valley, Gatineau and western Quebec.
The Trans-Taiga in 2016.
And now, in 2017, an incredible journey into Canada’s west and northwest.
To the Yukon Territory.
And the D2D.
My friend Roger first introduced me to the idea of the Dust 2 Dawson ride during the final hours of our 2016 Ecuador Adventure.
Hailing from Alaska, Roger had joined me in Ecuador, along with 4 other riders for the 6-Day Self Guided Tour, and we hit it off really well. Sitting around a garden table during our last morning in Ecuador, Roger brought up the D2D and suggested that I would really enjoy it.
Roger was right. Very, very right.
The premise of the D2D, if you have not already been drawn to investigate, is that riders from all over the world find their way to one of the most remote regions of our shared little blue planet.
There are several pieces to this puzzle:
- In part, the riders are all paying tribute to Jim Coleman as laid out in this adventure rider post highlighting the origins of the ride.
- In part, the ride addresses our almost unquenchable need to ride long distances to remote areas where truly, almost anything can happen.
- In part, the riders who attend are of the type who would really rather push the limits than live safe and guarded lives.
- In part, each of us gets a little bit of a charge from the unknown, the challenge and the prize won by simply completing the ride: the high-five, the sense of accomplishment, the thrill of knowing we belong to a pretty select group.
- And truthfully – in part because all of us, yourself included, would really prefer to hang out with people who share our passions – and riding to D2D pretty much guarantees that.
I needed only to read the Adventure Rider thread posted above to know that I would be attending the 25th Anniversary of the Dust 2 Dawson ride, and I started my planning in November of 2016.
And now, here I am, writing about the adventure some 8 months later. And planning my return in 2018.
Okay – lets get on with it.
Tom and I arose to a truly beautiful morning and, knowing that we had a very short (comparatively) ride ahead of us, we took things nice and slow.
A long, leisurely shower. A second cup of coffee. Chatting on the boardwalk with Leo, Ellis and Rhys. A little more chain maintenance.
We were really in no hurry to leave whatsoever. But part of me honestly felt that, if we didn’t get on our bikes soon, I may never break free of the pull that my soul was feeling.
That this is where I belonged.
We said our goodbyes, and I told Leo that he had not seen the last of me before we headed off down the wide, quiet, dusty main street lined with century-old buildings and wooden boardwalks, turning onto the Silver Trail and heading back towards Stewart Crossing.
Passing the desolate, abandoned town of Elsa, now wholly owned by Alexco Resources and bordered by security fencing to keep the rest of us out, brought a feeling of sadness.
The Elsa School now a storage facility for mining equipment.
Just one more town that lives on only in memories.
A reader, Heidi, commented that she had lived in Elsa for 12 years – she is now one of the keepers of the memories from that abandoned town.
Tom and I pulled into the gas station in Stewart Crossing to fuel up, and while there we met 7 or 8 other riders heading to Dawson City. The usual banter ensued, and I enjoyed a butter tart and another coffee while chatting with riders from Canada and the U.S., examining and commenting on each others bike’s and comparing notes on the trip thus far.
We decided that we would ride this last leg of the journey with the group, all of us leaving in a loosely staggered formation, a couple of the faster riders passing when traffic allowed.
A few kilometres down the highway a road crew was completing repairs to a section of the road where an 18″ deep trench had formed in the asphalt, likely a result of thawing frost and erosion.
A rider had lost his life there a few days earlier.
As we came upon the site each of us was, I am certain, speaking a silent prayer while at the same time acknowledging the brevity and fragility of our existence, feeling our individual connection to riding motorcycles – and to our lives – solidifying just a little further.
The ride was fairly short, lasting only a few hours.
A couple of brown bear – possibly Kodiak’s – ambling along in the wildflowers off to our right caused a brief traffic jam as we all checked up to give them room, and a procession of slower moving Harley’s gave us all an opportunity to twist the throttle a little further as we approached the place that brought us all so far.
Dawson City, Yukon.
A place that has been drawing adventure seekers and fortune hunters for over 100 years.
Where in the summer months the sun does not set for much more than a few minutes, if at all.
A place that lives darkness for much of the winter.
A place that quickly shows you whether or not you are cut out for the type of life that she has to offer.
Most people are not. They come. They see. They leave.
Some, however, are pulled to remain. As if some otherworldly force has grasped them by the gut and squeezed out a new instinct.
I have tried to describe it in earlier posts, but you really have to experience it. I guess it’s kind of similar to the stories you read about some couples, married for over 50 years who just knew right away that he or she was the one!
Or home buyers, going to open house after open house, trying to really like that cute little bungalow, or that charming ranch house, but not really feeling it until they walk into the one that fits.
Dawson City is like that.
It has everything that some of us need. And very little of what we don’t.
There is no Walmart. And there is no Nordstrom. But there are a couple of mercantile, or general stores that, just like they did 100 years ago, make an effort to stock everything that the locals seek. From batteries and blankets to walnuts and wingnuts, the necessities – and a few luxuries – are all available.
But more than anything else, Dawson City has a song. And if your inner vibration matches that of her gravel streets and dust-covered wooden sidewalks – of her flowing Yukon River and her rolling, mine-speckled hills – of the mischievous raven and the curious fox – well, the song is simply too beautiful to ignore.
You just have to take a minute, cock an ear, and listen. You may even find yourself, inexplicably, wiping away a tear.
It felt like coming home.
The echo of my motorcycle boots on the plank boardwalks sounded familiar. Like I had been listening to it for years, and a smile began to form across my lips that has yet to leave.
I walked into the Bunk House Motel, the place where I had made my reservations online some 7 months prior, and was greeted by a man who shared my smile.
I knew right away that no matter where he was from, this was his home.
I gave him my name, and he checked the register then nodded, saying “oh ya, your partner is already in the room. First one on the left at the top of those stairs” he said, pointing to the wooden stairway to the right of the entrance.
In my room?
That could only be theshnizzle!
I clomped my way up the stairs and was greeted by a flash of bright, neon red hair.
“Hey, you made it!”
I couldn’t help myself and burst out laughing, giving Lorie a hug.
We chatted about the last couple of days since we had split up in Whitehorse, Lorie saying that she had had just about enough of camping and waking up to frost – it had been dropping to -1°C recently – and so she bluffed her way into my room, mumbling something that might have sounded remotely like my last name as she checked into ‘our’ room.
(I had offered Lorie the extra bunk in my 2 bunk room way back in Smithers, but the people working at the Bunk House didn’t know that, so we shared a good laugh at her ability to ‘get things done’)
Tom had never planned on riding to Dawson City, nor attending the D2D, so he was currently without a place to stay, however he was fortunate enough to get the last remaining room.
We were here.
It had taken 17 days all told, what with the side-trips and extra-overnights in various places. I think if one was determined to, the trip from Ottawa to Dawson City could be completed in 9 or 10 days. But you would miss a lot doing it that way.
I unpacked all of my gear, stashing my kit under the bunk and making the most of the available space.
Like the city that it resides in, The Bunk House offers all that you’ll need, and very little that you don’t.
There are no televisions. No business station with a desk top and a printer. No microwaves.
But there are really comfortable beds in really comfortable rooms. Hot showers and very clean facilities, and as a nod towards luxury, free coffee and bottled water in the small lobby all day long.
Really, what more do you need?
After getting my stuff all sorted and situated I got a message from Roger on my phone – he was also all settled in and heading out to the Drunken Goat for dinner, inviting me to join him. And that is exactly what I did.
We caught up on life, shared a couple of laughs about the Ecuador Adventure, enjoyed a great meal and that pretty much wrapped up the day for me.
Back at the Bunkhouse I donned my sleeping mask and fell into a deep and restful sleep.
The next day was spent exploring Dawson City. I had breakfast at the Alchemy Cafe, recommended by a couple that I had met at the Takhini Hot Springs in Whitehorse. The recommendation was not wasted – delicious organic smoothies, coffee and muffins in a really comfortable atmosphere, The Alchemy Cafe became my breakfast-spot-of-choice while in Dawson City.
While enjoying my breakfast someone behind my left shoulder said “Hey, Joe?”
Ellis and Rhys – the brothers that I met in Keno City – had also made their way to Dawson, though more by circumstance than intent. It seems that the lads had decided to venture up the Dempster highway in their SUV and subsequently suffered the fate of many adventure travelers – a flat tire caused by the blade-sharp shale that makes up the base of much of the Dempster’s 736 kilometre length.
Though frequently topped with fresh gravel and generally in good repair, the logging and mining trucks, as well as the increasing amount of ‘adventure-traveler’ traffic often reduces the road bed back down to sharp ‘B’ gravel and shale, and flat tires are more common than wildlife along the Dempster.
And there is a lot of wildlife.
Ellis and Rhys joined me for coffee, and we spent the next hour simply chatting, and sharing more of our lives with each other.
They had managed to make it Dawson the day before and, tire freshly repaired, were deciding on where to go next.
The adventure-bug had definitely bitten these two lads.
After breakfast I spent a part of the day exploring Dawson City, walking her dusty streets and venturing into just about every building that would have me. It was truly something to walk on 100 year old plank floors, through doorways into a time long past yet still so familiar. And so close.
Most of the buildings in Dawson retain their original charm, and the hotel restaurants are still mostly reminiscent of their origins with large open seating areas, a long, hardwood bar, and maybe a piano in a corner.
So much more inviting than the lobby or dining room in a modern large chain hotel.
My two adventure-seeking riding buddies from back home, Derek and Jason, arrived at the Bunk House and we shared some stories, commenting on the incredible beauty that was the common theme for all of us during this adventure. They also introduced me to Buck, a rider from California who was making the D2D a part of a larger, grand motorcycle adventure from California to Alaska and then to Ushuaia, Argentina.
A trip that I too hope to be able to complete one day.
It felt pretty good, spending the day off of the bike, so I found myself considering what next to cross off my list of ‘if you’re in Dawson City you have to’ things to do.
Lorie and I had heard that there was a spot, on the other side of the river, where several paddle wheeler’s sat, wrecked and abandoned on shore, slowly being reclaimed by the encroaching forest.
It seems that as overland travel became more popular in the Yukon, these river-traveling paddle-wheeler’s were abandoned and left to rot.
Once the primary means of transportation, their value and importance were quickly overshadowed when roads were built, making river travel seem almost archaic to many.
As I write this today I find myself wishing that I had been able to experience those days-before-the-roads. Floating downstream on some of the most majestic and powerful waterways on our planet, heart full of fear and excitement both, the currents steering us towards new lives, new discoveries and new loves.
What a time it must have been.
Lorie and I took off on foot and spent the better part of the day on this little adventure, walking maybe 5 kilometres in total. Gratitude filled me from the soles of my feet when I realized that it was a blister , and nothing more that hurt at the end of the day.
My leg had healed well, the pain from the fall a few days earlier now, thankfully, a memory.
The pictures below cannot really give you a true sense of what it is like to see this land-based graveyard of nautical vessels. Again, I swear that the stories of the lives led by the many hundreds of passengers who boarded these vessels are still there, trapped within the aging timbers and rusting metal. If only there was a way to hear them.
If only I could listen.
I encourage anyone who makes the trip to Dawson City to absolutely make this little side-excursion a part of their adventure.
After returning to the Bunk House I walked down to the Triple J Hotel and collected my D2D attendee kit, including stickers, a T-shirt, pin and banquet ticket.
Already a pretty eventful day, Tom, Jason, Buck and I decided to cap it off with a trip up to Midnight Dome, an overlook high above Dawson City, situated near the famous Moosehide slide.
The view is incredible, though it was slightly foggy/misty, rain clouds still hanging low in the sky.
It felt like a great way to end my first full day in Dawson City. An ice cream cone on the boardwalk was simply the icing on the cake.
With all of the walking earlier in the day, sleep was not long in coming.
Friday morning started with breakfast at the Alchemy once again, and then I set about getting my laundry done. There’s a nice laundry facility at the Goldrush Campground and the morning was clear and cool, boding well for a really nice afternoon, so I wanted to get the chores out of the way early.
Derek and I then decided to take a ride up the Dempster Highway.
You may recall that I had aspirations of dipping my toes in all three of Canada’s oceans this year – my personal nod towards Canada 150.
That plan included riding the Dempster highway all the way to Inuvik, and then, using all of my charm and cunning I would bargain my way into being allowed to ride the new road all the way to Tuktoyaktuk so that I could stand in the Arctic ocean.
A conversation with one of the foreman on the road crew via telephone quickly saw those dreams whither and put to rest for this year. There was absolutely no way that travelers would be allowed on the new road while it was still under construction and incomplete. The potential liability issues were just too great.
“You’ll be able to ride her in November” I was told.
Ya, uhmmm . . . maybe I’ll wait until next summer. November in Tuktoyaktuk does not sound like motorcycle nirvana!
So, all of that being said, Derek and I decided that we would ride at least a small part of the Dempster highway – just so we could say that we did.
We rode up to Tombstone Territorial Park, only about 60 kilometres up from the Klondike highway.
The road lived up to her legend even over such a short distance. The surface constantly changes from slippery gravel marbles to fast hard pack to squirrely deep gravel to large, sharp rocks with little warning. The amount of dust raised by passing trucks is unbelievable. And if a large truck is in front of you, well, it’s best to just safely pull over and wait.
Unless of course you find that cleaning your air filter is therapeutic for you.
Derek and I were fortunate to have a little light rain start to fall just as we began our return trip. That helped to keep the dust down, and as is almost always the case the ride out was much faster than the ride in.
On our way back to Dawson I led Derek up to Midnight Dome, as he had missed it the evening before. The overcast sky and low hanging clouds made for a few interesting pictures, and I was happy to witness such an incredible view for a second time.
We then rode back to the Bunkhouse to get cleaned up and ready for the banquet and the D2D festivities.
And here is where my writing will shorten. For no matter how I describe it, or what adjectives I use, this is an event, or a gathering that simply has to be experienced to truly be appreciated. And while I guess that holds true for any large gathering of like-minded people, the feeling of brother-and-sisterhood fellowship, of understanding and bonding was more present – more front-and-centre here, way up in the Yukon, than I have ever experienced elsewhere.
Over 300 of us enjoyed a delicious steak-and-baked-potato dinner and we were entertained by the MC, fondly referred to as ‘The Dick’ as the details of the event were laid out for us, as well as the story of the origins of the event as explained by Fighter, and the 25th Anniversary re-dedication ride to Jim’s tree was detailed as well.
I wish I could have attended the re-dedication ride.
We raised over $5000 for the Dawson Shelter Society.
The banquet raised over $8,300 for the Dawson City Fire Fighters.
The bar raised approximately $2000 for the Humane Society.
The biker games, held after the dinner and seen in in photos below, raised another $1000 for the Day Care centre.
The poker run, held earlier in the day sold out all of the lemonade from the Little Girls Lemonade Stand at the last card draw.
The biker games held after the banquet are the highlight of the event for many, and the crowd that turned out clearly portrayed that sentiment.
I did not ride in the biker games this year. I think that I was afraid of hurting my leg again. But I got some decent pictures to describe the scene and it really was a good time as a spectator.
Next year, I think I’ll take part. ‘Cause from what I hear . . .
You only live once.
And that, my friends, was the Dust To Dawson Motorcycle Gathering.
The journey there, and the gathering itself make up two-thirds of the most incredible adventure that I have ever experienced.
The remaining third is the story of the trip home.
Of Devils Canyon and the ride to Barkerville.
Of Williams Lake and the sprinklers at Stampede Camp Ground.
Of the mighty Fraser River swallowing a 150 metre section of highway 20.
Of the BC Rain forest in Bella Coola, and the difficult road to Paradise.
Of finding myself in my own footsteps from 5 years prior.
Of decisions made, and routes chosen.
If you would like to read the rest of the tale, well, I have a treat for you. But like all good things, there will be a bit of a wait involved.
The Dust To Dawson Ride – A Journey Into Life
Look for the book in 2018.
So, I wish to thank you for riding along this far. I hope that I was able to translate some of what the adventure offered me in a manner that allowed you to feel like you shared in at least a part of it.
And I also hope that maybe, just maybe I have inspired one of you to partake in a far-off adventure of your own.
The type of adventure that makes several of your friends and family members question your soundness-of-mind.
For those are the ones that you will remember – and relive – for the rest of your life.