During the entire ride on the Cassiar and also heading west on the Alaska Highway from Lake Watson to Whitehorse, I kept asking all the bikers that I’d come across riding south if there were any bikers heading north. All of them told me there is a Canadian about two days ahead and a “crazy” Bulgarian about a day ahead. I knew that I probably wouldn’t catch up with the Canadian, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to catch up with the Bulgarian.
As I approached the visitor center in Dawson, a bike overly loaded was leaning against the building. I saw it and instantly knew who it belonged to. I went in and walked straight over to the man hunched over his phone checking messages. Are you the Bulgarian bike rider, I asked. He seemed confused but said, “Yes.” The rest, you will see, is history!
Another biker, Rene from Germany, rolled up to the visitor center as well but he was only going to the junction to the Dempster then heading south. We decided to ride together and stay the first night in the abandoned house- protected from the rain- and start the Dempster the following day. And so begins the Adventure…
So, the boys rode with a rack of beer between them and managed to find a fifth of unopened Vodka in the abandoned house. What luck! That, coupled with a couple grams of pot (legal in the Yukon) and a pack of cigarettes “we” were good to go! Of course all of that was polished off before we even began the ride the next day.
During the ride to the junction, it was obvious that I was a much faster rider – not because I’m all that but because Mr. Bulgaria was virtually carrying his house. After a couple of hours of riding together, we decided to split up and then meet back up at the end of the day to camp. And so this was the basically pattern. I did have to wild camp one night on my own. I rode from 10am to 10pm that day. If a griz was going to maul me to death, I wanted to be in REM sleep.
Eagle Plains and beyond…
For virtually my entire ride, everyone told me that I’d better hurry because “Winter is coming!” You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought. It’s only mid-August for Gods sake. Now I know that when people in the know tell you what’s going on, believe them!
I rode into Eagle Plains on the first full day of rain. Luckily, the amazing woman in charge of the Highway on this section of the Dempster allowed us to sleep in the garage under shelter. From there on out, because of the harsh conditions, Peycho and I rode together. We holed up in another abandoned house on a lake for almost a full day waiting for the rain to stop. As it turns out, this “crazy” Bulgarian is indeed different, but in a very eccentric and endearing way. He follows his own rules and lives on the fringe without hurting anyone. I learned more about the history and politics of the Serbian people and their surrounding neighbors than I’d even imagined on this trip. Who knew that I’d be downloading a book about the Ottoman Empire on this trip!
We finally made it to Inuvik. The Mackenzie ferry stopped running because of high winds. Luckily, they made an emergency run about two hours after we got there so we were lucky to jump aboard and make it to the other side to continue the ride to the end.
Dang, because of snow, mud and freezing rain, we couldn’t ride to Tuktoyakuk. So, we did the next best thing and hitched a ride. I also met up with my friend Linda from Seattle who was also in Inuvik and the three of us got a ride together with the same family.
Back to Dawson
All three of us were lucky to hitch a ride back to Dawson the following day…two loaded bikes plus three people PLUS all of their stuff! Unbelievable. It took us a full day to get back to Eagle Plains – the half way point. It was now snowing and the roads were a foot of slippery mud. A semi jackknifed closing the north bound route and there was a critical accident that briefly closed the south bound traffic in the morning. A huge group of travelers were now stuck in Eagle Plains and who knew for how long! Folks cooked together outside, people shared their food with us and invited us for beers, heck- the family even offered Linda and I the extra bed- AND, we shamelessly took it! It was a true moment of community and solidarity that none of us will soon forget!
And, finally, the road was opened south and we all made it back to Dawson city safe and sound.
The Dempster was epic! There are other stories that I would love to share with you over a glass of wine or a cold beer or just a good cup of strong coffee, but until then the journey continues. Each segment is equally magical and challenging and pushes me to a new normal. Stay tuned for the next installment as soon as I get back into WiFi land. I can’t wait to tell you what happens next!
Thanks for participating in my journey from afar. It’s comforting knowing friends and family are out there rooting for me!