We rode motorcycles to the end of the world
Tuktoyaktuk – Hard to spell, wonderful to get to
PART OF YOUR DAY JOB OF BEING AN ADVENTURE MOTORCYCLE TOUR OPERATOR IS TO SCOUT OUT NEW POTENTIAL ROUTES IN FAR-OFF EXOTIC PLACES.
AND SOMETIMES TO TEST NEW MOTORCYCLE SOFT LUGGAGE,
One of these occasions occurred in 2018, when we rode all the way to the little hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk (Tuk) on Canada’s arctic ocean. Also, an excellent trip to test and ride with the prototype motorcycle soft luggage panniers from Turkanagear.
There had been riders taking the gravel Dempster Highway into Inuvik, but taking a motorcycle the last hundred or so kilometres all the way to Tuk could only be done by boat up the Mackenzie River in the summer, or ice road in the winter. That was until the new all-weather road was completed in November of 2017, linking Tuk with Inuvik permanently by (normal) road.
Although Prudhoe Bay in Alaska is technically farther north than Tuk by about 100 km, Prudhoe Bay is a working oil and gas area, and that means visiting the Arctic Ocean involves leaving your motorcycle behind and signing up for a bus tour to take you to the water. So for now Tuk happily holds the claim to be the only place in North America where you can ride your motorcycle into the Arctic Ocean!
In addition to scouting these wonderful roads and remote locations, this trip was also one of the first long-distance rides in that we tested the first prototypes of the current Hippo Hips saddlebags.
We were riding two F800 GS’ and decided that one of us would fit the OEM aluminium panniers, and the other the Hippo Hips. Riding from southern British Columbia to Tuk we broke our trip into three distinct legs: (1) 3,000 mostly paved kilometres from Vancouver to Dawson City, Yukon; (2) 770 km of gravel on the magnificent Dempster Highway running from Dawson City to Inuvik; and (3) 150 km of gravel on the new Inuvik– Tuktoyaktuk Highway.
Our run to Dawson City was completed with mostly good weather and gorgeous mountain scenery that northern British Columbia is renowned for. Our one regret was that our side trip from Dease Lake to Telegraph Creek was cancelled due to rain, and the subsequent learning that the tiny community of Telegraph Creek was badly damaged in the 2018 forest fires.
We arrived in high spirits into Dawson City, ready to launch into Canada’s Far North when we got word that heavy rains had caused erosion and water damage to hillsides and the Dempster Highway was closed. Our adventure from Dawson City to Tuk may have stopped before the real adventure even started! The Dempster Highway took its general direction from an existing dog-sledding route, while the initial source of funding had been driven by oil and gas exploration in the 1950s.
It would take until 1978 to be finished completely, crossing two major mountain ranges and two rivers (including the mighty Mackenzie) to link Dawson City and Inuvik. It would be a bitter pill to swallow if our travels were thwarted by a road closure and we were not able to see any of it and the chance to get a test a new set of iconic saddlebags on an iconic road!. It was, however, oddly comforting to realize that Mother Nature ultimately held the cards for the successful transiting of the highway, and none of the willing travellers’ fancy bikes, 4x4s, buses or camper trucks could trump her.
This fact, in addition to the remoteness, stunning scenery, sheer length and lack of resources on the Dempster cements its status as one of Canada’s greatest wilderness highways.
For now, Tuk happily holds the claim to be the only place in North America where you can ride your motorcycle into the Arctic Ocean!
Loitering in Dawson City, we were advised to keep an eye on 511yukon.ca, the Yukon government’s highways and public works website, to obtain the latest on the road closure. We excessively and compulsively kept refreshing the website all night, but it was not until breakfast the following morning that we received the green light: one lane had been opened!
With full fuel tanks, we headed north. On the Dempster, fuel is only available at Eagle Plains (400 km), Fort McPherson (590 km) and Tsiigehtchic (650 km). Casual map reading suggested splitting the Dempster run into two legs, travelling to the halfway point in Eagle Plains and the next day carrying on to Inuvik.
And perhaps this is the secret of the northern roads: casual, flippant or normal route planning does not fit well with the reality of serious northern weather. With a good-weather window on us for the next few days, we decided to push through to Inuvik in a day, which would still allow us a reasonable forecast for getting up to Tuk the following morning.
As with our team spirit, the prototype Hippo Hips also held up great! The dual-layered system with its removable waterproof/dustproof inner bags was working well, and when our front wheels touched the Arctic ocean, that was the only thing that was wet – the contents on the inside of the Hippo Hips 30L soft luggage panniers were still there and it was dry! Mission accomplished!.
After first bonding with these bags for two weeks or so, we knew we had a winner in the wings! Bar a few adjustments we were happy to proceed with the bags in this format – exciting times that beckoned on the new Turkana journey!
This is an abridged and slightly modified version of the original article that appeared in Canada’s Motorcycle Mojo Magazine in December 2018.
Words and Photos: Piet Human