North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 13)

August 16, 2019

Day 13  7/10/19

The theme for today would end up being gravel. Lots of loose gravel. As anyone who has traveled the roads in Canada can tell you, summer is the time for roadwork. The extreme cold and snow take their toll on roads, and it’s a constant struggle to maintain them. Much of the Alaska Highway consists of chipseal pavement, which can be somewhat rough even when it’s in good shape. During periods of roadwork, you’re likely to encounter roads with loose and unpredictably deep gravel before it gets sealed, and that can prove very tricky on a motorcycle. It’s also hazardous to vehicles’ windshields.

I didn’t see any Tim Hortons locations between Fort Nelson and where I’d want to stop for lunch, so I picked up a sandwich before leaving town.

The ride towards and through Stone Mountain Provincial Park really delivered on the scenery, and unfortunately, loose gravel and roadwork as well.

I stopped in Toad River for a quick break and picked the worst possible time to ride through this parking lot: right after a fresh load of gravel had been deposited and before it was evened out. I managed to keep the bike upright, in spite of a few tense moments.

I also saw a pair of well-equipped adventure riders whom I’d cross paths with a few times on the road today.

Back on the road towards Muncho Lake, I noticed what appeared to be low-hanging smoke up ahead. I wasn’t aware of any wildfires nearby, and it turned out to be massive amounts of dust in the air from vehicles driving through all the loose gravel.

I stopped for gas in Muncho Lake and found a nice bench to sit on and eat my lunch. While I was there, a relic from the past caught my attention.

Several miles north of Muncho Lake, there was a major construction zone, with alternating one-way traffic. Unfortunately, I was about a minute late for the northbound group of vehicles and would have to wait about 15 minutes to get through. While I was there, I chatted with another adventure rider, who was on his way home to Anchorage.

After getting through the work zone, I rode for about 100 miles and felt like I could use some time off the bike. I saw a sign for a rest area and dirt road that led down to the Liard River. It was a scenic spot with rapids and large piles of timber and definitely worth exploring more if I’d had the time.

I was on my final push to Watson Lake and crossed into the Yukon, albeit rather briefly, before crossing back into British Columbia. Another 28 miles, and I was back in the Yukon, leaving British Columbia behind for good. The 60th Parallel sign was a nice reminder of how far I’d traveled since the 45th Parallel in Wisconsin.

And some more large wildlife.

Watson Lake is a fairly small town, but it has achieved outsized fame due to the Sign Post Forest, which owes its origin to the Alaska Highway construction. An information sign there tells the story: “Carl Lindley started the Sign Post Forest in 1942 when he was a homesick soldier from Danville, Illinois. While working on the construction of the Alaska Highway, he added his hometown sign to an army mileage post. A tradition of adding signs gained momentum and the single signpost grew to a forest. People from all over the world continue to add signs connecting their faraway homes to the town of Watson Lake.” I read that there are now over 80,000 signs, and I believe it.

I explored the Sign Post Forest for a little while, then topped off my gas and headed to my overnight lodging. It wasn’t much to look at from the outside, but the rooms have been renovated, and I even got VIP parking. 

After unloading the bike and getting out of my gear, I ate a ClifBar and walked to the Watson Lake Recreation Centre for a workout. 

Daily portrait challenge: “Don’t even think about it until I say go, Mr. BMW Fancy Pants.”

I had been monitoring the wildfire situation in Alaska and the Yukon, and I expected to encounter some smoky conditions in and around Whitehorse tomorrow. I can deal with smoke; active fire zones are another story. Let’s hope the forecast for rain in that area is accurate, and the road stays open.

Total mileage: 321.3

Lodging: A Nice Motel, Watson Lake, Yukon