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Ride To Tuktoyaktuk, Canada: Part Two

Warning sign at the beginning of the Dempster Highway, Yukon. No emergency services.

Day 4: The Road Back To Dawson City

A BMW 1200GS eaten by the Dempster Highway.

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.

A BMW 1200GS eaten by the Dempster Highway.

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.

A BMW 1200GS eaten by the Dempster Highway.

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

Our group after successfully riding to Tuk and back to the start of the Dempster Highway on Africa Twins.

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.

Me joining the Sourtoe Cocktail club by kissing a mummified human toe. In the Sourdough Saloon, Dawson City.

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.

My membership card in the Sourtoe Cocktail club in Dawson City.

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.

Diamond Tooth Gertie's stage show in Dawson City.

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.

The Gertie Girls at Diamond Tooth Gertie's in Dawson City.

Unforgettable. That’s the only way to frame this trip.

Pat And Carolyn: Adventure Riding Couple

Pat and Carolyn riding an Africa Twin on the Dempster Highway two up.

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.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback Matthew! You definitely owe a trip like this to yourself.

      Life changing experiences like these are what make it worth waking up in the morning.

  1. Just back from Tuk two weeks ago – the Inuvik to Tuk road was the single best gravel road I’ve ever been on – perfect condition and fast. The Eagle Plains to McPherson however was one of the hardest bits of riding I’ve ever done both ways – wind, rain, zero degrees, no traction. A tremendous, difficult, challenging, and ultimately immensely rewarding journey .

    1. Unbelievable eh?! It’s the road that’s never the same twice. I’m glad to hear it’s gotten somewhat safer now and that you made it there and back in one piece.

      1. Thanks for taking all the time and effort to create this vlog. I plan on riding this July with my 16 AT if Covid 19 is clear. I really enjoyed reading all your write ups as a fellow Albertan myself!!!

        1. Hi Anthony!

          I’m thrilled to hear you enjoyed this piece. It has great sentimental value to me because that trip changed my perspective on life. It sounds perhaps like an exaggeration, but after I stood in the Arctic Ocean in Tuk and realized what an incredible journey it had been to that point I had an overwhelming sense of contentment come over me that I’ll never forget.
          I hope you get to go, if not this year another sometime. It’s worth the effort, expense and risk. July will be very rainy and there’ll be plenty of bugs after you, but that’s part of the fun… sort of. I’d still recommend going in June instead! hahaha

  2. Wow! I just came across your article. I’m the Louisiana boy that trashed that BMW. I was surprised to see it!

    1. thanks for sharing your experience in such detail! Me and my riding partner are in the planning stages of this trip for the summer of 2020. Your journal is invaluable! Thanks again and I look forward to reading about your next adventure. California to Tuk 2020

      1. Ben are you and your partner ever in for a treat! Do yourself a favour and take your time getting there. Really stop and smell the proverbial roses along the way.
        I can’t believe I’m actually thinking about going back! I promised myself when I made it there without any issues that I wouldn’t push my luck by attempting it a second time, but I admit I’m considering a return.

  3. Nice report Jim, I thoroughly enjoyed the read. Your friend Greg was planning to ride an HD Crossbones on the trip across the Arctic Circle twice, but later you mention he was riding a Triumph Tiger? Did he make his entire trip on the Tiger to both Deadhorse and Tuk?

    1. Hi Troy!

      I guess I may have been a bit unclear in the write up so here’s how it is.

      Greg has ridden his Harley Crossbones all the way to Prudhoe Bay a couple of years ago and later took his Tiger all the way to Inuvik. His plan last year was to ride to Prudhoe Bay first and then to Tuktoyaktuk in the same trip on his Tiger.
      When we parted ways in Whitehorse his Tiger was starting to act up and by the time he got to Fairbanks it was worrying him enough that he turned around and went home instead.
      He’s traded the Tiger in for a new F850GS now and plans to do the ride this June so if you go this year you may bump into him.
      If I can by some miracle get delivery of my KTM 790 adventure R before June I’m toying with the idea of following him to Prudhoe Bay too, but it looks doubtful at this point.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the read. I think it’s my best work to date and have reread it myself once or twice to relive the experience.
      If you get to go yourself you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about when I say it was life changing.

  4. Great to read about your trip (up and down). I’m debating doing a similar trip up north this year and it was good to read about your experiences!

    That rear tire on the Ninja was definitely on it’s last legs coming home 😉

    One tip: If you go back with a bike loaded down with gear, try and get out and offroad with it a bit beforehand. Having ridden dualsports for 10+ years, they behave very differently with a load on!

    1. Hi Bj thank you for reading the whole thing! This series is my favorite piece of work to date and it makes me really feel justified putting the effort into it if it inspires and helps others to follow that same path.
      It’s very much worth the trip. I hope you go.

      Ya totally agree about the tire and the loaded bikes!


      1. Jim I have just read your journal. What a great adventure. Im planning the same trip the summer of 2021. Given the tour company you went with has closed their business are you aware of anyone else that provides bikes from Dawson? My plan would be to ride my BMW k1600B to Dawson from Calgary and then ideally use a tour company for the tuk leg.


        1. Regan thank you for appreciating the work I put into this one. To date, I think it’s still my magnum opus, lol!

          I hope you get to make the trip in full next year. COVID19 made it all but impossible this year unfortunately with northern communities closing up to the outside world which is such a shame. It’s truly the trip of a lifetime. I’m considering another ride up next year myself if borders stay closed as they are now to the south.

          Yes, to answer your question there are other alternatives to take advantage of to ride north. Get a hold of my good friend Lawrence Neyando who lives in Inuvik and runs Arctic Motorcycle Adventures: He can meet you in Dawson City with one of his KLR650s and help as much or little as you like on the trip to Tuk. He’s a great resource even if you go it alone (and can provide rescue if needed). Arctic Moto is also on FaceBook if you are on that platform

          If I decide to head up that way I’ll post something on the site and maybe I’ll see you along the way.

  5. Hi Jim,
    This is the second time I have read this. It’s a great read! I had plans in 2020 to go to Prudhoe Bay but because the boarders were closed that didn’t happen. For 2021 I booked five weeks off, the last week in May and all of June and decided I’d have a better chance on making it to Tuk this time. Spent all of 2020 outfitting my new bike for it and met more people that want to go too. We spent most of the summer tearing up forestry trunk roads in southern Alberta practising for the trip.
    Reading this article really helps with the planning. Thank you!

    1. Hi Wayne!

      Greg has ridden both the Dalton and Dempster on the same trip since I wrote this piece and he agrees with me that the Dempster is more challenging and Tuk more enjoyable as a destination than Prudhoe Bay. I know you’ll find the same thing if you can get up there in 2021. The borders to the NWT remain closed at this point to my knowledge and there’s a 14 day quarantine even for residents that leave the territory. That would be a huge bummer if it doesn’t change now that the vaccine is rolling out.

      I’m considering a return trip in 2021 myself since I didn’t ride Top of the World Highway neither did I get to explore so many side routes due to being on my Ninja for most of the trip. If the US border stays closed (and I expect it will) this will become even more enticing for me. Are you in Calgary, Wayne? I think I found you on FaceBook after a quick search. Keep me in mind for your plans if you want another person to tag along. There are a number of riders that have commented on this piece who are also planning to ride up in 2021, but I imagine the timelines will vary so depending on availability our plans might align.

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