up the dempster highway

We tried to leave Dawson City this morning at 8am sharp. Right. It hasn’t happened yet and the harder we try, the less likely we seem destined to succeed.

For one thing, almost everyone went to Diamond Tooth Gerties’ Casino last night to watch the floor show. Some of us went to the 8:30 show, and some of us (Dennis Gentry) went to the 10:30, ‘more risque’ show. The beer was good (this is Canada.) It made our beds all that much more difficult to escape from this morning.

Next, Sue (the documentary filmmaker) was having overheating problems with her diesel westie. She and Bob painstakingly peeled the duct tape off of her cooland resevoir so that new tape could be applied. (I am *not* making this up.) Then Don Kane’s bus was being a tad difficult. (It has been throwing more tantrums than Don’s 3 1/2 year old!)

By the time we finally crossed the Yukon north onto the Dempster, it was 11:00. No one was really surprised, and no one seemed really to mind. Hey, these are VWs. Like all great divas, they are tempermental, and we understand that. It’s part of the culture.

So we headed north, up the Dempster. About 20 kilometers in, a grader had made a windrow down the middle of the road, and we needed to cross into the left-hand lane to get past the grader. Sue, near the rear, made a mistake crossing the windrow and drove off the road. Luckily, the drop from the road was neither far nor dangerous, and she was not hurt. About six vans headed back (to laugh at her, for one thing), and soon she was up on the road again. We rerouped and once again drove northwards.

The Dempster is a spectacular highway, one of the most amazing roads I’ve ever driven. Everything around you tells you that this is the arctic. The mountains consist of either lichen, moss, or bare rock. Forests max out at about 10 feet, and the trees have a diameter of around 2 feet. They look like they don’t want to reach out too far, for fear of frostbite.

When you get out of the van and walk across the tundra, the ground sinks beneath your feet; a spongy bed of moss, fungus, and low berries. You reach down and pick something that looks like a fat orange raspberry. Ignoring your personal well-being, you pop it into your mouth, and it tastes like mango. You eat a few more, just to ensure they’re not poisonous.

We drove the Dempster today through glacial canyons and along ridges. We stopped at Red Creek, brightly colored from iron oxide deposits. We moved steadily northwards.

At one point, a car raced past us, doing about 100 kph. (The limit is 90kph, and we didn’t drive that fast most of the time.) As they moved up through the convoy, they earned the nickname ‘the crazy family.’

About an hour later the word came down over the CB. The crazy family were in a ditch. They had taken a corner too fast, lost control, and rolled the car off the road. Luckily they were all okay. The drop where they rolled was only four feet. Other parts of the road had hundred-foot drops, or icy rivers, either of which could be fatal.

The road went from being very dusty to very muddy. The day had been overcast since morning, and it finally started to rain. By the time we arrived in Eagle Plains, each van was thick with mud.

Eagle Plains is little more than a roadhouse. There is a filling station, garage, hotel, and RV park. They have a bar, where we drank and played foosball. (Jorge and John beat Yvette and myself.) On the walls were photos of dead men and skins of dead animals. A beer cost $3.75.

John and I were joining Tobin and Christa for desert in their camper. They’d made a wonderful hot compote of Rhubarb, which we’d bought outside of Dawson from an organic farm. We’d just finished when a red breadloaf westie pulled in, and parked alongside.

A gentleman got out, and Christa went to say hello. “You must be Christa!” he said, “I’m Doug!” Doug Freeman had caught up with us, having driven three days nonstop from Bamff. He was very hyped up, and couldn’t stop talking about how he’d been racing to catch up with us. He wanted to make it to Inuvik in time to fly to Tuktoyaktuk with us. (We spent an extra day in Dawson City, so he expected us to be in Inuvik tonight. He almost blew past us, heading north.)

Here’s the status of the trip. We currently have 14 busses, as follows:

  1. Tobin and Christa
  2. Ron Lussier and John Schirano
  3. Pete and Sallye Clark
  4. Yvette and Jorge
  5. Jack Stafford
  6. Don, Bess, Vivian, and Alan Kane
  7. Gary, Corin, and Lauren Millang
  8. Pam, Doug, Ross, and Lynn Freeman
  9. Neil and Niniek Wigley
  10. Bob Hoover
  11. Dave Williams and Eddie (who we picked up)
  12. Sue
  13. Eddie and Bob Hintz
  14. Dennis Gentry

Eddie (riding with Dave Williams) is a guy working for the summer in Dawson City. We picked him up when his girlfriend’s camper broke down at our campground. He wanted to go to Inuvik, and Dave graciously offered to take him.

Don Kane is having trouble with his bus, so we may leave his bus here and carry his gear in the other busses. Meanwhile he’ll have the necessary part(s) shipped up from the Volks Cafe in Santa Cruz, who are supporting the trip. (They seem to be nice folks!) Hopefully we can get his bus into shape when we return to Eagle Plains in 3 days.

We’ve been taking lots of pictures, but due to computer problems, they’re delayed getting to the web. (It’s expensive!) I’ll upload them when I return at the very latest. And in the meantime, I’ll be using Don Kane’s wonderful little duo to send stories back home.



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