Glenn’s phone call home leads off to his wife Lee with, “I thought I was going to die this morning.” It’s true. On a good day the road from Dease Lake to Telegraph Creek, BC is an ethereal dirt cavort through scenery composed of precipitous canyons sheered into lava by erosive rivers. Add one night of rain and it goes from being one the world’s greatest driveways to one of the most terrifying.
Dry the pinnacles in running a wedge of rock carved between the merging Tahltan and the Stikine Rivers. There are dramatic edifices of volcanic rock lacerating the sky, strata of basalt eroded in layers creating trail-like ledges, and 1000-ft drops to shredding volcanic scree below. The latter are of foremost importance in our minds, because as it’s not dry and that making the road as dangerous today as was beautiful the day before.
In my rearview mirror I glimpse Glenn on the KTM 990 Adventure slide sickeningly down 20% grade and into a 20kph marked hairpin turn. It’s only a glimpse though, because I’m busy dealing with the BMW R1200GS Adventure tobogganing down the same slope. The only thing keeping the bike upright is adding gas, but really you can only do that for so long.
The BMW nearly slides out 5-6 times, and I wish the folks doing the next tune-up good luck in getting the pucker marks out of the seat. On both the KTM and the BMW Adventure bikes the tires are packing up with mud, transforming the normally grippy knobbies into mud doughnuts. Given the choice between the mud and patches of gravel, I delicately guide the R1200GS Adventure for the known evil of the gravel. At least it offers some traction.
On the steeper up hill climbs, with a canyon drop to the right, the R1200GS is fighting for traction. I glance down at the dash to confirm the traction control, which prevents the rear wheel from spinning isn’t active – it’s not. Driving home the point are the tracks from a 4×4 that swerved and veered its way up the hill.
For an instant I contemplate suggesting we turn back and spend another night in the warm security of the Riversong. Instead we slip, slop and slide onwards.
In the end I let the smaller lighter bikes charge ahead, concluding ego and bravado could see me in the ditch or worse. I continue onwards at an undistinguished 45kph.
Faster, and the R1200GS Adventure begins to slew and weave through mud so deep it squishes up and around my riding boot when I pull over to the side. Slower and there’s not enough momentum keep the bike upright.
The world narrows. Everything is the vectors of force and the coefficients of traction in a 112-kilometer slide to Dease Lake. Back at the junction of Highways 16 and 37 standing in front of a sign pointing us to Alaska, I’d thought the adventure had truly started. That was wrong, the true adventure has started with a bit of rain. It should be a horrible ride, but it isn’t.
As Glenn puts it pulling out back into the mud of the Telegraph Creek road, “Back to the learning.” The road is however a crash course in mud riding, rising to a challenge and the nature of adventure.
A couple months ago we had the honour of hanging out with Simon Pavey, the man who taught Ewan McGreggor and Charlie Boorman the skills they needed to ride around the world. He made a point; adventure riding is aspirational, not inspirational. You may watch and appreciate world champions racing in the MotoGP, but unless you’re the uppermost echelon of riders you will never be on the grid. It doesn’t matter how fast you are on the street, it’s just not in the cards.
Adventure is different, watch someone ride around the world, listen to a tale of a ride north and you can do it. You just have to be bloody minded enough to persevere. It takes a bike, a bit of skill and determination… and a willingness to toss your ego into the panniers and crawl along through the mud, if that’s what it takes.
In the end you come through a stronger rider and perhaps a stronger person. Not all obstacles are so easily overcome. From Dease Lake, we head north on highway 37 aiming for Watson Lake, but it’s not to be today.
A fatal single vehicle accident has closed the road, bringing our tally of closed roads blocking the trip to four. The delay isn’t the accident itself, but the wait for an accident investigator to come in from Terrace a 580km drive from the south. Meanwhile, Dease Lake travelers are accumulating, the hotels are full and estimates for the roads reopening are pushed from 6-10 hours to “some time in the morning”. Today’s best use of the satellite phone; calling ahead from the road closure to get a room booked before all of the turned back cars over-run the small town.
Photos by Glenn Simmons and Kevin Miklossy