We left Inuvik the next morning with cloudy skies overhead and the threat of rain looming large as forecast. We were now in a race against the weather, but we weren’t too worried because the road back was familiar now… or so we thought.
The road outside Inuvik is paved up until the beginning of the Dempster, but very bumpy and uneven from all the frost heaving underneath it. I turned off the pavement onto the Dempster once again and anticipated hitting nearly warp speed all the way back to the Tsiigehtchic ferry as I had enjoyed two days earlier on the way up.
Think again, Jimbo. You’re riding the Dempster now. A road that is bipolar and ever-changing.
Instead, we encountered a road resurfacing crew dumping piles of fresh gravel on the lovely hard-packed road. I actually was so surprised at the sight of it that I turned to Matt and asked whether this was the right road in disbelief. We laughed and plowed our way through the mess for about ten miles before graciously it turned back into the ideal condition we had been hoping for.
The ferry crossings were uneventful other than the fact we were picked up from a different point on the shore than where we had disembarked on the way up. Kind of unusual, but it worked.
As we crossed the Yukon and NWT border and made our way through the open valley nicknamed Tornado Alley we experienced exactly why it was labeled as such. The wind was blowing steadily around 50 mph and then even gusting from time to time. The dust being picked up and thrown around was limiting visibility at times too, but we pushed on and were right outside Eagle Plains when we came across another motorcycle wreck on the side of the road.
This well equipped BMW 1200GS was totally destroyed! The handlebars were cranked hard over to the right, the front forks bent backward into the frame and most of the dash and fairing was obliterated with a debris field scattered all over.
Even the crash bars were bent wildly on the right side. It bore a Louisiana license plate and even a familiar blue sticker that proclaimed “I rode to Tuk” on it. We had purchased the same stickers in Tuk ourselves the day before.
How incredibly heartbreaking it must have been for this rider to have come so far, even made it to Tuk only to crash on an easy stretch of road just before Eagle Plains. We decided to load the bike in Wade’s trailer and bring it to Eagle Plains since it’s the only place it really could go within 100 miles to be shipped back where it came from.
We made it back to the Eagle Plains Motel just before the heavens opened and doused all the area in heavy rainfall that carried on all night. We surely seemed blessed with the luck of the Irish once again. None of us are Irish though, so it must be some other kind of excellent luck.
Settling in for the night at Eagle Plains were many other riders on their way to Tuk, and one of the two riders who had crashed his bike on the way up was also still there. His bike wasn’t rideable and he was still negotiating his return to civilization with an insurance company but seemed in good spirits about the whole thing.
He was thrilled to hear we had made it to Tuk and talked about hiring DARE next year to finish what he started perhaps. The other rider we had met who had gone down in the snowstorm had mounted his broken pannier back on the bike and headed back to Dawson the day before.
We were told the owner of the BMW we had brought back had been badly injured in the crash and airlifted back to Inuvik for treatment at the hospital there.
Since the Dempster opened all the way to Tuk until now there have been 10 riders injured badly enough to need an airlift out for medical treatment, and there still plenty of riding season left. I sincerely hope anyone reading this and planning a ride to Tuk will seriously prepare for what is a real adventure ride. I think the name “highway” must be fooling many riders into having a cavalier attitude and they’re paying the price in flesh.
Day 5 Going Back To Dawson City
The next morning as we saddled up the Hondas I looked up to see another rider preparing to leave at the same time, and even riding an identical 2017 Africa Twin.
He looked alone, so I invited him to ride with us and he told me the company would be appreciated. He had come all the way from California with some other friends that were more experienced riders than him and he hadn’t been able to comfortably keep up with them.
He also had realized by the halfway point the Dempster was just too wild for his skill level to continue on to Tuk. He had encouraged his friends to carry on without him and that he would find his own way back to Dawson.
The only problem was that now without the support of his friends he felt intimidated by the rain soaked Dempster and the thick fog which had just settled in that morning. I guess my timing was right because inviting him to join us on the last leg of the ride back to Dawson City was just what he needed to get his confidence back.
As I said, this highway seems to humble most everyone who rides it. Even though it had rained hard the night before I found plenty of traction the rest of the way back to town.
Safely Back In Dawson City
After some celebratory photos at the marker sign for the Dempster, our group met for one last dinner together at the Sourdough Saloon and of course, to join the SourToe Cocktail Club.
I couldn’t resist kissing the mummified toe and joining the club myself as a way of fully celebrating my ride to Tuk and back.
I’m member number 78,769 in fact, and I can report that the toe was dry and hard to the touch. I’m reasonably sure it wasn’t fake, but I guess it’s difficult to really know.
Disgusting? For sure. Cool factor? Off the charts.
We finished the night off by taking in the burlesque show at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s before calling it a night. The show featured top-notch singing and dancing with the backdrop of an old-fashioned opera house to hold it all in. A great time was had by all and our group bonded in a special way to be sure.
Unforgettable. That’s the only way to frame this trip.
Pat And Carolyn: Adventure Riding Couple
These two were awesome in my eyes because they rode the whole way two up. They are the epitome of what a riding couple can accomplish together and I can’t help admire their moxie. I think it’s safe to say they were the first couple to ride to Tuk, but I’m not sure. If not the first, then one of the first ten without question.