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Dempster Highway: biking, bonding and sour toes

November 1, 2016

Found in Stories, Travel and places

My dad, Gerald Krabbe, has been a long-distance bike tourer for many years – he rode Vancouver to Halifax in the 2000s; his group of friends does a week-long mountain tour each summer; and he led a Jasper to Banff bike ride for students at his school for many years. My grandfather was a road rider too. It’s in our blood.

This past summer, he had planned a massive month-long ride from Waterton Lakes National Park where Alberta meets Montana, through BC and into the Yukon, finishing at the Arctic Ocean in Inuvik (route map). The trip would total more than 3800km of riding. My mom didn’t want to see him go solo on the last 633km of dirt road between Dawson, YT, and Inuvik, so naturally, I volunteered to join him. I’d ride my motorbike from my home in Squamish to Dawson, where I’d pedal with my father for the last 8 days.

Two weeks prior to meeting him, I wrote down some thoughts:

“[I’ll join my dad at] the part of the trip where he’ll be at his fittest, where he’ll have his patterns of movement dialed and rehearsed into a smoothly oiled drivetrain of efficiency – where he’ll grow more excited every day as the idea and scent of the ocean comes near. Right at the culminating week, a road biking virgin will stumble into his grand tour, ineffectively using mountain bike terminology to try and relate to his experience.”

I was scared of what I should be scared of, but I didn’t take my own self-deprecating humour seriously enough.

Bike on bike setup

My faded red KLR would suffer through relentless days of full throttle road travel. Yes, there are flights to Whitehorse and Dawson, but if this weapon is in your garage, why not make an adventure of it? Half of my ride north was spent retracing the route my dad had pedaled days and days earlier. Along the way I’d describe him to gas station attendants and tourists, and without fail they’d remember and tell me how interesting and amazing his journey sounded. Then they’d look at my bike-on-a-bike and say, “Well, it’s no question where you get your ideas from.”

The Northern Rocky Mountains

Left: Rain and long haul truckers were my main fear along the first 3000km trek from Squamish to Dawson.

Right: There are very few places you’ll find gas, groceries or people in this remarkably varied and stark region. In seeing the Northern Rocky Mountains I immediately regretted my need to pass through them quickly.

Buffalo by the side of the highway

The Alaska Highway is teeming with wildlife. From the perch of my jalopy I saw a grizzly and three cubs, nearly 100 indifferent bison hanging out in the ditch, a porcupine that wanted to pop my tires and a moose with a rack bigger than my arm span.

Liard River Hot Springs

*Left:*Holding your body up on a motorbike can make you feel worse than you may imagine. Luckily, Mother Nature put Liard River Hot Springs on my itinerary as I flirted with the Yukon border.

*Right:*I nearly dropped my camera into the spring after I snapped this and heard some tourists on the far side piping up about a bear lumbering through the woods only 15m from the water’s edge.

Diamond Tooth Gerties in Dawson, Yukon

News of the worst floods in years reached us shortly after I arrived in Dawson and met my dad. With people and cars stranded and a ferry out of commission, we headed to Diamond Tooth Gerties to watch cancan shows shoulder to shoulder with overly excited tourists.

Sourtoe in Dawson, Yukon

Thesourtoe. A questionable right of passage in Dawson: whiskey of your choice, toe in whiskey, whiskey to mouth, toe to lips, shudder, laugh, regret.

The highest point on Dempster Highway

*Left:*Twenty-four hours after being told Dempster Highway could be closed for weeks due to flood damage, we pedaled out with low expectations and high hopes.

*Right:*By 8am on the second morning, we had passed the highest point on the Dempster.

Reuben and Gerald Krabbe watch the northern lights

*Left:*Camp failure. Due to several poorly-tuned features on my bike-trailer combination, a lack of training prior to the trip and two aggravated knees, I had to give up the ride on day three.

*Right:*Failure didn’t mean entire failure – my goal was to join my dad on his massive journey and help get him to the finish line. Though my bike was heading south in the bed of a truck, I would carry on by thumb, hitchhiking as my father rode his bike.

Gerald Krabbe calculates his distance, and heads out on his fully loaded touring bike

*Left:*A math teacher’s cycling tour is prone to be a little more digit intensive than other riders. He dubbed his trip “#49to69at59” for riding the 49th parallel to the 69th parallel at 59 years of age.

*Right:*Just after I met my dad in Dawson, he admitted somewhat sheepishly that he was having a ludicrous amount of fun on the journey – so much fun he almost felt guilty and indulgent. This shot is from the last day after he sees me climb out of a stranger’s car and he coasted down to the final river crossing of the entire journey. I have no doubt the same silly smile was plastered on his face for the entire last day, even if no one was there to see it.

Worn-out bike gloves, and portrait of Reuben and his dad

Over a couple thousand kilometers, some things will wear out, some things will change, and some things will grow.

Reuben Krabbe bike touring on the Dempster Highway

This was MEC Ambassador Reuben Krabbe’s first road ride – his comfort zone is trails on hismountain bike. MEC lent him theMEC Provincial Road 222 Bike* for his Dempster Highway journey with his dad.*

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