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Old 07-18-2012, 11:11 PM   #61
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Hi...Am beginning to read your posts to Greg at dinner and/or bedtime. Best stories ever. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 07-19-2012, 11:25 PM   #62
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Hi Cheryl! I should tell you that all spelling, grammar and syntax errors are mine. I've resisted Court's efforts to proof things.
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Old 07-20-2012, 10:08 AM   #63
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I would hope you aren't subject to editing. You're on vacation for heaven's sakes! Sounds like you're having lots of fun and this is really the trip of a lifetime. Stay safe and continue to have LOTS of fun.
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Old 07-20-2012, 01:16 PM   #64
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Awesome blog, love it.
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Old 07-20-2012, 09:54 PM   #65
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Thanks for taking the time to share with us, can't wait to make the trip someday! Happy trails =)
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Old 07-21-2012, 08:14 AM   #66
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Thanks so much for taking the time to share this with us. It's wonderful
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Old 07-22-2012, 03:12 PM   #67
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Day 25 - July 22. It's been longer than I thought since I've updated--5 days. Five very busy and, as you'll soon see, stressful days.
First, Dawson City. It's a nice place to stop for a few days, and so we camped at the government-operated campground across the river, riding the ferry back and forth to town. We took a guided walking tour with a woman dressed in period clothing and learned about the rockin' days in the early 1900s when Dawson briefly swelled to some 30,000 and then began to decline. We learned about Robert Service's life and times from a historical interpreter who was about Service's age when he began his life of travel and--as Service himself would admit--avoidance of work. We of course found the coffee sources and the bakery.
One thing you must do when in Dawson is drive up the Dome Road to the turnaround at the top. The Dome is a baby mountain that backs the town. The view from the top is spectacular (a word that's going to get a workout here). Not only can you see the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon rivers, you can see up small side valleys and spot the scars of mining claims. You can see next week's weather approaching, you imagine while standing on the observation deck.
After two days and nights there, it was time to move on. I had already determined that we would pull the trailer up the Dempster so there was no trepidation as we headed back the 25 miles to the Dempster Turnoff. We'd been told that the best place to get gas in Dawson was actually about 5 to 8 miles outside of town on the way to the turnoff, at a place that doesn't look like a gas station except for the two pumps in front of what could otherwise be a construction shack. The owner was quite chatty and when he learned we were headed north to Inuvik he told us the best places to get gas long the way (Eagle Plain and Ft. McPherson). He advised that we not try to fill at Klondike River Lodge at the beginning of the Dempster, nor in Inuvik itself, unless we liked spending the children's' inheritance on gasoline. We found his advice to be solid, so if you're taking notes this'll be on the test.
We did stop at the Klondike River Lodge, but only to get our Dempster Highway Passports stamped (another fill-the-book, get entered in a drawing thing). A few feet past the Lodge was the signboard for the Dempster, so a mandatory photo stop followed. Then we were off.
My dilemma now is how to characterize the Dempster so you get the flavor of the thing from the start. I need to be clear: I hate gravel but I loathe and despise the Dempster and the sadistic fiends who designed it. Picture a rutted, one-lane mud road 500 miles long, add steep ups and downs, subtract guardrails and add squadrons of mosquitos. Imagine Seven Mile Hill, a toilsome place to climb in good weather, then insert vicious potholes, cold rain and the resultant gooey mud.
When you hear that the Dempster is just shy of 500 miles long, you'd normally think that would be one longish day's drive. And you'd be right if it were really a road. 500 miles at an average speed of around 30 mph means two days each way. And there were times when 30 was 'way too fast. The last stretch of the first day's drive was taken at between 20 and 25 mph. If you take this road some day, plan to stop and tighten all your bolts and screws every 25 miles or so. Luckily I had checked the wheel bolts before we left Dawson (I carry a torgue wrench for that purpose) so the wheels stayed on.
Seven or eight hours of travel brought us to the halfway point, Eagle Plains. This is a gas station, motel, restaurant and campground at a wide spot in the desolation, population about 8. We grabbed a spot for the night for $21 and were only the second people to set up there. By morning the place was nearly full. There was wifi there but I was too tired to make a log entry so we just had our dinners--tasty and reasonably priced--and went to bed.
A note about our vehicles: after a long slog through the wilderness both were heavily covered in clinging mud. I'm sure there were at least 100 pounds of mud on the trailer's underside and in the truck's wheel wells. Look for a photo of a misshapen lump of mud that is in actuality one of our stabilizing jacks. I have a putty knife in the tool kit, so tried to lighten the load a bit but found the stuff was very hard to scrape off. At least we now have a TV and camper that are fashionably matching--both brown and lumpy.
Now I have to be honest (or Courtenay will slug me) and say that the scenery along the way--for those who don't have to watch the road every second--is spectacular. The valleys are lush at this time of year and the vistas from mountain pullouts are nothing short of majestic. I expected Julie Andrews to dance by singing the opening from Sound of Music at any second. We took so many pictures along the way that our 32 gig camera card is starting to bulge a bit at the seams.
Our second day on the Dempster was dry and after the first 30 miles or so we went from mud to dust. I may actually prefer mud, now that I've seen dust. The road surface wasn't any smoother. Axle-bending potholes are strategically placed so that you can't straddle all of them, so an audio tape of our cab conversations would be just a string of mild to severe obscenities punctuated with cries of pain. The pounding and occasional harmonic vibration loosened several screws inside the camper, broke part of the microwave's mounting frame, and even vibrated a couple of pins out of their hinges on cabinet doors. Luckily we had removed the pan supports on the stove burners, or they would have caromed around inside the unit for hours.
About 30 miles after we left Eagle Plains we crossed the Arctic Circle. We were in the land of the midnight sun now; 56 days from late June to early August with 24 hour daylight. Mandatory photo op!
Back to the road. The dust was fine and plentiful. It had no trouble permeating all areas of the truck bed and even seeped in around the camper door--something we'd never had happen before. As we drove this part of the road we were spared the scary views of unavoidable potholes because the dust kicked up by the two vehicles ahead kindly obscured them.
Once we crossed into Northwest Territory the road immediately improved and for the first time in the trip we exceeded 40 mph. There were still occasional terror-inducing sections of fist-size rocks which were relieved by the occasional stretch of sharp gravel. A fair amount of the caked-on mud we had accumulated the day before was knocked off by the flying gravel hitting the underside. The road got better and better as the day went on.
There are two ferries on this stretch and we hit both at the end of lines of trucks, so we had time to contemplate our fates and to commiserate with other travellers, whom we'd come to know from meeting them at other stops.
After a gas stop at Ft. McPherson the road was good enough that we made the last 80 miles into Inuvik at around 55 mph. When we hit the 8 miles of paved road from the Inuvik airport into town we felt we had crossed a marathon finish line. Of course, it was really only a half-marathon since we still have to drive back. The first place we stopped after the visitors center was the local car wash, where $7 of spraying got the camper clean enough that we could open it without getting dirty ourselves.
Inuvik is a place worthy of a visit, so long as you don't have to drive there. It's a town of 3,500 friendly people, containing the northernmost mosque in this hemisphere, and an igloo-shaped Catholic church. This is about as far north as the treeline goes in this part of the world. We're 68 degrees north latitude and 133 degrees west longitude, 10 degrees further west than Vancouver, BC. As we arrived Friday afternoon the 10-day Great Northern Arts Festival was just about to wind up. The Festival is a place were local and regional artisans, many representing aboriginal groups, display their work, share techniques via workshops, and generally enjoy life.
There's a friendly spirit to the community and a tremendous amount of civic engagement. The population is made up of Inuit, who've been in the area about 800 years; Gwitch'in, a First Nations group who've been here for thousands of years; and Westerners like us.
Courty went to a community Jigging contest Friday night. Jigging is a form of dance much like Scottish dancing, and is like the form of traditional dance one might see carried on in Appalachia, as well. Yesterday we went to the art exhibit and attended a northern fashion show, showcasing both traditional clothing of area peoples and new fashions made from natural leathers and firs.
Courty got chance to visit the community greenhouse--the northernmost in the world I think--and interview the director and a number of people there. She collected enough information to start writing an article about local foods at the top of the world.
It rained all night and is still cold and grey today, so I finally found the time to update this log. We're camped at Happy Valley campground, right in town, which has showers, electric sites, wi-fi and 24-hour security, all for $28 per day. Both Happy Valley and Jak Park, 3 miles outside of town, are government-run. Jak is on a hilltop, so the view from the tower there is magnificent, but Happy Valley has fewer grizzlies and more mosquitos, so I'm personally not sure which is the better place to stay.
Weather has made us cancel our plans to stay through Monday in order to take a combination boat/plane trip to Tuktoyaktuk (when you can say that without slowing down you're an Inuvik native; otherwise you just say Tuk) to see the town of 1800, a whaling camp, and the largest pingo (ice hill) in North America. Tomorrow we'll pack up and start our trip back. So far we've had neither a flat nor a broken windshield. Let's hope that much of our luck holds!
Court asked me to add that normally the road is in better shape but that there has been an abnormal amount of rain this year and the locals say the road is worse than it's been for years. And that she--crazy person that she admits to being--actually enjoyed the trip. I maintain my characteristic sour grumpiness as a matter of pride, no matter how inappropriate it may be in this advendure.
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Old 07-22-2012, 03:15 PM   #68
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Court's addendum: Inuvik is a fascinating place. The community seems to be full of spirit. The arts festival has been going for more than 20 years and the caliber of the artists was museum quality. It was a treat to walk around and talk to the artists as they worked. From there I headed to the community greenhouse. I'm interested in local food and this reclaimed hockey rink turned greenhouse fascinated me from the first time I saw it in info on Inuvik. It's ten years old and the rink was slated for demo when the mayor, a passionate gardener, got a crazy idea and the rest is history. It's an organic operation using raised bed methods since they sit on permafrost. With little arable soil they have literally created their own, using composting and what little base they can find. The 24-hour days make up for the short season and tomatoes grow next to peas, lettuce and kale. There's even sweet corn and sunflowers, a real accomplishment in this arctic climate. Gardeners range from young first-timers to old hands. It's started a gardening movement in town and private greenhouses and container gardens have sprung up. Last night's fashion show was a treat. The high point was the traditional drumming and throat singing. It was unlike anything we'd ever seen or heard. Don't let the Dempster stop you from coming (you can fly here). The scenery is nothing short of spectacular and the people are great!
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Old 07-22-2012, 03:59 PM   #69
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Its an adventure I want to do someday also. But for now I will just follow yours
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Old 07-22-2012, 09:25 PM   #70
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Update, Sunday July 22nd. Hidden brake damage fixed.
On the last leg of our trip here, just after we left the second ferry, the people traveling behind us said that we had some wires hanging down almost to the ground under the trailer's axle. We stopped at a pullout and I crawled under to find that the wires connecting the two sets of brakes together were indeed hanging so low that any good-sized rock or road object could catch them. I had left home with all wires dressed up tight around the axle, but at this time I noticed that one set of wire ties I'd put there to hold the wires in place was missing. I carry a big bunch of wire ties, so it was only a matter of a few moments' work to replace the missing set. I thought that would do it.
Today I decided to get under the trailer and adjust the brakes. It had been several thousand miles since I'd last adjusted them and it seemed to me that there wasn't as much brake effect as I recalled having earlier in the trip. Not a big job to do, so I shoved a flattened cardboard box under the trailer and slid in on it. The first wheel adjustment took maybe a minute and a half and I was repositioning to work on the other one when I saw that the wire ties that had held the brake wires to the axle were ALL missing. Not only that, but one of the wires running from wheel to wheel was severed and tangled around the other. We had had brakes only in the wheel on the driver's side, the one directly connected to the main wiring harness.
I theorize that gravel flung up from the road over the miles eventually punched through all four sets of wire ties, allowing the wires to hang down and catch on something. The underbody propane line was dented in several places from the gravel too, so blaming gravel for cutting the wire ties isn't a stretch of possibilities. We had met a man from Nova Scotia whose refrigerator propane line had been completely flattened by gravel action on the Dempster, so I expected to have to check that once in a while. The surprise to me was that all the ties were lost in one 80 mile stretch of the road.
The repair was multipart. I carry a splice kit so splicing the broken wire wasn't a problem. Then I cut a piece of old garden hose to the length needed to span the axle, slit it lengthwise, and slipped it over the wires. The last step was to tape the hose shut and then tape and wire tie it on top of the axle. I used duct tape to hold the hose to the axle, too, so that if this set of wire ties also gets cut there'll be a backup method of holding the wires out of harm's way.
My recommendation is to somehow shield your brake wires from damage, either by running them through an old hose or a piece of conduit. For now, let's hope this repair lasts.
Additional photos: 2 of the fix; houses in Inuvik built on stilts so air can move under them and permafrost doesn't melt; utilidores that carry gas, sewer, electric and water lines; artist Greg Taylor and Inuvialuit carver from Tuktoyaktuk who carved a little bear we couldn't resist.
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