February 2022: This is another old won, originally a Geezer with A Grudge Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly column from 2013.
All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day
I’ve written about this a couple of times, but on a vacation trip with my wife through Oregon during the winter of 2013 it struck me again how strong the good feelings I have about Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada have been for the last 8 years. Of course, what reminded me of that was the wonderful experience my wife and I had on the Oregon coast. Everywhere we went, everywhere we stopped, everyone we met on that trip was so friendly, so accommodating, so naturally nice that we were talking about moving to Oregon by the time we crossed the boarder into California. That doesn’t happen much, since we’ve been pretty damn happy with Minnesota for the last 19 years.
My benchmark for “nice” is not, however, Minnesota Nice. As friendly as many Minnesotans are, there isn’t a consistent attitude that defines Minnesota residents. Especially on the freeway, Minnesotans are pretty much on par, niceness-wise, with most of the country north of the parallel that more-or-less defines the westward extension of the Mason-Dixon Line. My personal benchmark for nice was established when I rolled into Dawson City, Yukon in 2007 at 2AM in mid-June with a separated shoulder, three broken ribs, and a busted hand. I’d been riding almost non-stop for 22 hours and I was completely out of patience with life, humanity, western civilization, my riding partner, my motorcycle (from which dangled miscellaneous parts from a crash on the Dempster Highway), myself, and Planet Earth.
Three hundred miles earlier, I’d misjudged the power of a 70mph side-wind, deep gravel, and my own riding ability and ended up going backwards at 50mph (for a few fractions of a second) and landing on my butt. After taking inventory and deciding that I had no more business going on to Inuvik than I have putting on a suit and working for Bernie Madoff or Mitt Romney or Bank of America or Doctor Phil, I turned around and headed for a Dawson City hotel and a hot bath. I’d suffered all of those injuries before and I knew exactly how the crash, shock, busted bones, seized body sequence works and I knew where I needed to be when the last part happens.
I rolled into Dawson in a foul mood. The shock was completely worn off and I hurt everywhere. Drunks were decorating the streets of Dawson at 2AM, getting ready for their epic summer solstice party or the Commissioner’s Tea and Klondike Ball or whatever event it is that these party animals use to excuse staying awake for a solid week while the sun is out 24 hours a day. Some guy spotted my GPS as I was dismounting in agony and asked, “What’s your max speed?” I had no idea what he was talking about and didn’t have much patience with what seemed an irrelevant question and replied, “How the hell would I know?” He laughed and wandered off.
Michael, the guy I’d been riding with to this point on the trip, and who had wanted to go on to Inuvik but couldn’t convince himself that I was going to make it back to Dawson on my own, stayed outside to talk to the partiers. I plowed through the crowd to get to the hotel desk. The desk guy tried to tell me a bunch of stuff about the rooms available, but I kept saying “I need a room with a bathtub.” After arguing about some hotel details that I wasn’t interested in, he finally gave in and handed me the key to the only room in the hotel with a bathtub. Turned out the room had a single bed and was right over the bar, where a band would be playing all night. I did not care, but Michael would be a little concerned. When I turned to go back to the bike to get my luggage, I discovered all of my stuff was by my feet at the desk. The drunks had noticed that I’d left my keys in the bike, so they pulled all of my stuff off for me and deposited it where I could find it when I quit being an asshole. The next morning, I’d discover they had put the bike up on the center stand and pushed some of the broken pieces back into place and piled the loose stuff on my seat. From the restaurant window I could see there was a lot of loose/broken stuff. Our hotel served the best, most reasonably priced breakfast I can remember ever enjoying; and I’ve enjoyed a lot of great breakfasts in my six decades.
Comfortably numbed by drugs and good food, I hobbled over to Dawson Home Hardware to shop for Gorilla Glue, duct tape, and JB Weld and from there to the General Store for a man-sized bucket of napoxen sodium, a couple rolls of ACE elastic bandages for my shoulder and ribs, and an assortment of pain-relieving/distracting sore-muscle ointments. When I got back, a couple of guys had rolled my bike away from the Hotel to a parking lot where they said, “It’ll be easier to work on it here.” I started to disassemble the fairing and spread the busted pieces on the ground, more-or-less in the vicinity of how they’d need to be reassembled. Mike gave me a hand, especially where my hand wasn’t working well. Eventually, I was bandaged and drugged and the bike was reassembled with it’s new polyurethane foam crust highlighting the cracks. Duct tape reinforced my busted GIVI cases where missing pieces weren’t available for reassembly.
I was, mostly, ready to go back to the hot bath and warm bed, but Mike talked me into heading for the Top of the World boarder crossing, the most northern international border crossing and one the most remote, least travelled but maintained boarders between the United States and Canada. Since 2014, that bit of adventure has been “fixed” and the US side is paved all the way to Chicken, AK and beyond. In 2007, both the Canadian and US sides of the “highway” were unpaved and the ride up from Canada and down into Alaska was wet, slick, unpredictable, and hazardous enough that we passed a fair number of bikes that had missed the road and ended up in the creeks, ditches, and worse. In fact, there was a wreaked Harley on a trailer at the boarder crossing whose owner had been rescued and flown to Anchorage a few hours before we arrived. I was in no condition to help anyone and stopping was a fairly complicated and painful process, so I didn’t even slow down once after I negotiated the boarder crossing sans-passport: a whole different and strange story.
When the ache of my separated shoulder began ease up a little, my busted ribs and cracked hand poked their warning notices through the fog of pain. When those two reminders backed off a little, or I got used to them, I regretted leaving Dawson City every morning and evening for the next week. Camping was out of the question, thanks to my complete inability to find a comfortable sleeping position on my thin insulated air mattress. So, for the next 3,000 miles I missed my Dawson City oasis. A few months after that great trip ended, I read a little about Dawson City and discovered I’d missed a lot: the Jack London Museum, the Goldbottom Mine tour, the Dawson City Museum, walking trails and tours, the Paddlewheel Graveyard, and at least a week of sightseeing stuff that I’m sorry I was too doped up and dazed to notice. We even missed White Stripes performing in the city’s Winter Solstice party. So, I gotta go back. This time, the Dempster Highway will not be in my travel plans.