Yukon 2 - SnowDragon

September 8 - 12, 2012

SnowDragon Camping

Yukon again, going south this time.

About another hour on the road, and I was more than ready for a campsite. By now I was getting pretty cold, fumbly, and just not having a fun evening. I pulled into camp, found a open site near the camp kitchen, and took stock of my situation.

The rest, well that's a whole nother story. ;)
Stay Tuned!

So I pulled into the Lake Creek Campground, in the Yukon, the evening of September 8, 2012. It was raining, I was cold, kind of miserable, and just wanted to be warm and dry. I remember thinking the camp kitchen looked pretty inviting. They are simple structures, walls up to about 4 feet or so, then open to the roof. And open doorways. But its some shelter from the wind and the rain. There is a camp stove, and right outside was a good supply of mostly dry wood.

I decided to park my bike in a camp site, and then go start a fire in the kitchen stove and warm up. At that point, my plan was to warm up, then go back and set up my camp. After an hour or so, I had warmed up some food, had a warm drink, and decided that I really didn't want to pitch my tent in the rain, so I just grabbed my sleeping bag, air mattress and tent and set up on the floor of the kitchen, facing the stove.

About 5am, I woke up, had to pee. Walked over to the door to look outside, and saw the ground was white.

There was about 2 to 3 inches of SNOW!

Yeah, crap right? I mean, it was pretty, but I'm on a motorcycle, snow is usually not a good thing to ride in.

Well, doing what any sane person would do, I put another log on the fire, and went back to bed!

Later on that morning, I wake up again, thinking about the possibility it was just a dream. Stretching, I look outside, nope, not a dream. Oh well, worth a shot!

So I got up, checked the fire, and walked over to the motorcycle, and got some food. Then I decided to check with my neighbors to see if they'd heard any weather forcasts. Grace and Jolene, mother and daughter, had been camping a few days, and had planned on staying a few more days, but when the snow came, they decided today would be a good time to leave. They figured maybe another day of snow, but then it should clear up, but one never really does know in the north.

They were nice enough to share some tea and breakfast, so when we were done eating I helped them break camp. This is when their time in the Girl Scouts was most evident. THere was 2 tents, and each of them had a tarp over it, in addition to the rain fly. Then there was the picnic table, which also had a tarp over it. Then there was about 100 meters / 300 feet of various ropes, strings, and bungee cords suspending everything together. They figured it would take them most of the day to get everything packed back into the minivan. Apparently the Girl Scouts learn how to rig and tie nots, but are not taught how to undo everything? :)

Did I mention it was still snowing, and wind was blowing, and it was cold. I have 2 pair of work gloves I've been using for riding gloves. Neither of them are waterproof. So it wasn't long before both pair were soaked, and my fingers were cold. The ladies had a pretty handy solution though. They had a few extra pair of knitted gloves, and then they'd pull surgical gloves over the knitted gloves. I was hopeless at getting these on by my self, but with some help from Grace, soon I looked as goofy as they did. I can say, though, that mostly it did work good. My fingers stayed much warmer and dryer. Eventually I started to lose circulation in my fingers, since the gloves didn't fit me so well, but it still lasted almost an hour, so I'd call that success. By then we had almost the whole camp down.

By around noon or so, they were loaded up and on the road. For all my help, they left me with a good pile of wood, kindling, and a couple gallons of drinking water. They gave me Jolene's cell number and told me I had to call when I got out of there, so they didn't worry.

Snow. Yeah, do we stay or do we go?

About this time, I had to answer the question, do I stay or do I leave. If I stay, I'm reasonably safe. I have dry wood for at least a day, and I'd seen piles of cut wood all over the campground, and plenty of fallen trees if it got real serious. I could melt snow for water, or there was the creek right next to me. And I had just stocked up at Costco, so I had chili and tuna that would last me for a week if I didn't get scared and eat it all right away. So staying seemed reasonable.

But what if this snow didn't melt? It was still snowing at noon. In fact, it snowed all day and into the night.

Since I didn't have a reliable weather forcast, it was just a matter of guessing. If it wasn't snowing too hard, maybe I could ride through it, get to lower elevation, and maybe I'd make it. Or I could crash, and hurt myself, and then freeze to death. The fire in the stove in the kitchen was looking pretty good, so I decided to stay.

Growing up in northern areas, I'm pretty used to the "practice snow". You'd always see an early snow, then an Indian Summer. It would snow, you'd see everyone go out and buy snow tires, then it would warm up for another month before the real snow came. So that was what I was hoping for.

Then about an hour or two after the ladies left, I looked up to see another motorcycle slip sliding toward me. Hmmm the look of the guy told me I'd made the right decision about staying! Once he got off the bike, I tried to get him to the fire, but he kept walking in circles, trying to get his feet and legs to work. As I looked at him, I realzed he didn't have any real motorcycle gear, like boots or pants or jacket. As I later learned, he was from Ohio, and was more of a backpacker / hiker, so most of his gear was lightweight. For the most part it did seem to keep him dry, but not a lot of protection from all the slush that was soaking his shoes.

Once he settled down by the fire and started getting some warm liquids in him, he started to look a lot more human. But at first, wow, it was like almost zombie, the spark of light really wasn't in him when he slid into camp. Probably good thing I had the fire already going!

Thinking back, I realize that I never did get his name. All I know is he was from Ohio (I think?) and he planned on going to California. And he had no concept of how cold or how soon the winter could be in the north country.

So, it snowed all that afternoon, evening, and into the night. We set our gear out around the stove to dry and warm. I already had my sleeping bag and air mattress set up along one wall, hoping to stay out of the wind, and he set up pretty close to the stove. We had plenty of wood, and he had his own food and cook ware, so life was good, just wait it out.

After my second night, I woke up to see it had at least stopped snowing, and decided I'd put on my boots and walk out to the road to see what the conditions were. As I walked away from the kitchen, and got into the open, I saw there was blue sky all around us, and the highway was bare and wet.

As they say in the movies, "Today, We Ride!"

Still, by now we had gear spread out all over to dry, so it took sometime to get packed. And then we also had visitors who wanted to see how we were faring. There was the 3 guys from Austria, and later a husband and wife who had gone round the world in their SUV. I asked them a lot of questions, turns out they'd gone across Russia. Very cool!

The other motorcycle guy and I decided we'd head out together, and probably ride together at least the first day. Then he had is route picked out, and I was going a different way, so that would be it. Then just as I was ready to start up, he had commented my chain looks pretty loose. Well, in the past, as I'd load the bike, the chain would get tighter as things settled, so the first time he said it, I didn't worry so much. My bike actually does have a lose chain compared to some other bikes, longer suspension I guess. Anyway, just about ready to roll out, and dang, it does look too loose. Well, ok, that's not good. He's already all geared up to go, so I figure, no sense holding him up, we'll keep an eye out for each other, so I wave him off. Quick unpack to get to the tools I need to adjust the chain, and I realize its really stretched now. Ok, I have a spare chain and set of sprockets, so I'll change it when I get somewhere better.

Repack the bike again, and I'm off. The ground wasn't frozen yet, so even in the snow, I had good traction. I just took it easy, and it was no problem.

My gloves weren't very warm, so I'd taken the pair I didn't like as much, and wrapped duct tape around them. Not very stylish, but it did break the wind a lot, and was a huge improvement. Except I'd gotten one glove too tight, so was getting numb fingers. Quick stop to rewrap, and life was good again.

It was very pretty out that day, but notice the frost on my helmet??

Even though I really did want to get out of the area quickly, I kept seeing nice pictures that needed to be taken. So its probably just as well that the other guy went on ahead.

Would look nice in a calendar, don't you think?

When I got to Destruction Bay for gas, I asked the gas station attendant if he'd seen another motorcycle come through, and he said yeah probably an hour ago, so he was making good time.

I made it to Whitehorse that day with no problems, but the chain was making a lot of noise, so I knew this was the time I was looking for to change it. Only one small problem. I needed a chain breaking tool. The roller chains have pins that hold the links together. Most chains have a Master Link, that has a clip that you remove, then the chain comes apart to be removed. The way the bikes are made, the chain is actually wound through the frame, so you'd have to disassemble the bike to get the chain out, because from factory, my bike at least doesn't have a master link. Go figure right?

So when I got to Whitehorse, I checked to see if they had the chain tool, no, lots of other tools, but not that one.

Ok fine, I rode out of town a few miles to the same campground I stayed at on my way north. The campground was the same, but I'd seen so much in the last 2 weeks, it was hard to comprehend it all. So I just went to sleep!

Next morning I rode back into town, and stopped at the first motorcycle shop I'd seen the night before, the Yamaha shop.

They had the tool I needed to break the chain, for about $30, which seemed reasonable, so I bought it. The guy told me no problem to just set up outside on the concrete, which I thought was nice. Not everyone will let you work on your bike in their lot. That worked out really good, because it turns out I needed to borrow a 27mm socket from them, to remove the front sprocket. Of course the standard disclaimer "The mechanics own their own personal tools, they are not for the shop to loan out..." then he came back with the socket. Thanks!

It was quite amazing how bad the chain was. I mean, sure it was worn, stretched, and in desparate need of replacement. It wasn't until I took it off and laid it on the concrete to look at it, that I noticed about half the rollers were missing! Like, the pins were there, but there are supposed to be rollers too! Wow, no matter it was making so much noise!

While working on the bike, all of which went really easily once I had the right socket, I talked to a few other biker people passing by. There was a husband and wife on a big BMW bike who had something like 40,000 miles on their bike. They had decided it was getting too cold to ride north of there, so they'd rented a car instead, and stored their bike here at the Yamaha dealer. It was funny, because the little car they rented ended up getting better gas mileage then the bike. Hmmmm, and it had heater too! So while we were talking, they had the heater on full blast, to warm up their jackets and other gear, so at least they'd start off warm! Nice people you meet on the road!

Finally I had everything put together and loaded the bike, I went inside, asked for a trash can for the old chain and sprockets, and borrowed the washroom to clean up. Grabbed a cup of coffee and sat outside and checked my email a bit on my phone. Then I hit the road.

It was into the afternoon when I finally got gas and out of Whitehorse, but it was definitely time well spent, and the chain noise was gone! I ended up camping one more night in Yukon, and the next day I crossed into BC. But that will be the next post.

Nothing like a good fire at the end of a day!

See you then!

By Carlin Comm posted on 2012-09-19