Floating to Alaska Day 1

For the next couple of hours that followed my departure from Dawson City, I couldn’t get far from the bank. The current was so strong that it would keep pushing me ashore.

I paddled and paddled without much effect on the rafts line in the river. The only thing that had moderate success was to use one of the ores, gondola style, pushing off the riverbed or bank when it got shallow or close enough.

Regardless we were moving very quickly but it was hard work. On occasions the raft would hit hard against a cliff edge or a pile of driftwood. Hard enough to knock me off my feet and rattle everything. I was concerned for the bindings and made sure everything was tied down and secure.

When i hit a rocky beach at about 5 or 6pm i decided to try and fix the rowing system. I collected some driftwood and built mounts for the ores.

It seemed to work, and when the current i was in got pushed inwards from a protruding rock from the bank, i managed to get enough propulsion by rowing out and got into the fast moving water.

But there was a CRACK! and one of my ores broke.

The job was done though, i was moving quickly away from the dangers of the bank. I threw half the ore into the water and ate and began to enjoy the rafting.

As the afternoon moved into evening i plotted my progress on a map. I was pretty happy with myself and shouted into the canyon up each side of the river to hear my echo.

At about 10pm i thought it would be a good time to stop. I aimed from some islands i could see on the map but with only a paddle to maneuver. I couldn’t get close enough to the targets, I would drift by quickly, usually with 100 meters of fast flowing water between us.

For the next few hours i exhausted myself, paddling hard, trying to hit a bank. I became increasingly frustrated and concerned as my lack of control of the vessel became apparent. I thought i might have to sleep on the raft overnight and at 3am, I was cold and defeated and decided to make a bed beside the bike.

I didn’t stay more than five minutes in the sleeping bag, i couldn’t… I would spot a potential replacement log for my broken ore floating by or I envisaged the bank getting closer at the next bend.

At about 4.30 am the river became a big sweeping right curve. The raft, the bike and myself fortunately had drifted within 20 meters (70ft) of the bank. Desperate and not envisaging another opportunity, I quickly took off my clothes and put on the life jacket. I had some cable that wouldn’t quite make the distance but i tied it off and made a loop to put over my shoulder.

I jumped in feet first and the temperature of the water hit me. It was freezing!! Regardless i swam quickly towards the bank. I got within a few strokes and the cable pulled tight. When it did i was instantly towed with the raft. My feet couldn’t touch the bottom and i couldn’t influence the rafts direction. Eventually after splashing and heaving for a while near the bank, i was forced to concede and pull myself back on to the raft.

I was very cold and shaking like a leaf when i pulled myself back up onto the raft. I dried myself as best as i could and put my clothes back on. I was uncoordinated, clumsy and my balance wasnt completly there but i worked through it all methodically and was soon sitting with my sleeping bag over my shoulders, quite unhappy with the result.

I couldn’t have been sitting for more than five minutes when i thought the raft was a little more closer to the bank than before. Further up the river i could see that a pile of driftwood had caught on the bank and jutted out towards the expected line of the raft. Without hesitation, i stripped off grabbed the rope and jumped in again.

I got very close to the bank before the rope was tight, i could see as i was pulled through the water that the raft was going to miss the driftwood pile but i headed straight for it. I was dragged up onto the pile of logs and held onto anything i could.

A lot of logs broke away and joined the current but i anchored myself enough to allow the raft to swing like a pendulum in the current and enter the protected water behind the behind the pile of wood i was clinging to.

Relief doesn’t come close to describe how I felt then. I clambered onto the bank and secured the raft before trying to dry and put some clothes back on. I was finding thisngs even more difficult than before, obviously entering some stage of hypothermia. I had intended to set the tent up on the bank but only managed to throw the fly over the bike and crawl into my sleeping bag on deck. I slept quite soon after, exhausted and still a little cold.

When i woke the sun was high and hot. I was so hungry and sapped of all my energy, it seemed even an effort to get the food out. I ate while being thankful for being on dry land then went to fill my water bottles from a stream i could hear not far away. I also found a replacement log to repair my ore and used my remaining cable ties and duct tape to fashion this little number.

With about 2/3 of the journey complete, i pushed off again with the next stop to be Eagle, USA!

The Crossing…. Yukon River

The following morning i went back to town on a search for two crazy Germans. Niall had told me that they had floated into town a week earlier on a raft! They had come from Whitehorse within Canada and had finished their river journey in Dawson City. The immediate thought was that they might have a raft for sale or at least some more knowledge on the task at hand.

I woke Adrian from his beauty sleep in one of the old buildings in town.

We were later joined by Felix who was still making good use of their raft as a bedroom. It was built with wooden pallets and styrofoam and had successfully housed them for 17 days on their journey.

After a chat over the Soccer World Cup finals we concluded that Felix would need the raft as accommodation for the next week or two so I would need to build my own.

We decided that the best move from here was to explore the town dump, the boys knew where it was so we headed out of town to see what it offered.

Ill be honest, previous experience instructing raft building at summer camps in England and seeing a magnitude of 44 gallon drums and straight trees on the road to Dawson City. I had a concrete plan of what i wanted, and how to build a vessel capable of floating the 180km or 110 miles to Eagle in Alaska. I thought…

The dump was a dream come true, piles of paradise. There was a book section, clothes and other miscellaneous piles. Adrian found a sweet pair of ice skates for his girlfriend and I found an opportunity to continue my quest…

The cable pile should do the job for ropes and bindings…

I chose the best from the best, it was all free! Then began to ask the dump regulars if they would help me in transportation for a fee.

When i was beginning to give up hope. Yan, an true Dawson City character, was my savior. He agreed to take my collected materials across in the ferry to the waters edge on the opposite bank of the river.

We took his goods to his place first and i asked if i could borrow an axe for the following days. He agreed, and an hour later, i was into the construction phase, chopping up drift wood delivered by the river to my chosen spot on the Yukon banks.

By nightfall i was happy with my progress and cooked early and went to bed.

By morning i had a good idea of how i would get the bike on the raft but had decided that the cables wont good enough to keep the barrels in place. I went back to town to return the axe, buy some supplies, wake the Germans and find some straps to secure the barrels.

Yan took the axe back but also gave me a life jacket and paddle he had collected on previous dump excursions. He also gave me some straps on loan that i promised to post back when i was done with them.

Adrian and Felix came to help with the launch, we dragged the raft into the river and tied it off. Then i lashed some logs to the side of the bike and used a plank for a ramp from the bank to the raft.

The loading was fortunately eventless, and what a sight it looked!!

It was about 2pm in the afternoon when the guys pushed me out, i quickly realised that my rowing system didn’t work and it was now in the rivers hands.

Banff to Dawson City

When i left Bryan in Banff, i felt revived and refreshed. He had given me a jumper to keep me warm and a couple of emergency distress flares to be used in a video further up the road. I was concerned that i wasn´t making the right move going to Dawson City and leaving the prospects of getting some form of paperwork behind…. but all reports said that if any place on earth will provide, Dawson City in the Yukon, would…

The ride was about 2800km or 1700miles through some of the most amazing scenery one can ever encounter..

Lake Louise early on the first morning was a great start…

Then it just continued to roll by..

I camped roadside on the first night, amongst the trees. The bike got stuck in the soft ground and i fantasized about the day i will change my tyre out to the aggressive Dunlop 606 i had strapped to the back of the bike.

I spat my toothpaste out 10 meters from my tent then spent half the night wondering if bears like toothpaste.

In the morning i timed a fuel stop particularly well. It was at a gas works, and after the manager commented on the ruggedness of my bike but then its ability to get to Deadhorse in Alaska, he said i could help myself to the breakfast buffet that had been left over by the companies workers.

The suspension sagged when i joined the road again after devouring an unhealthy amount of bacon and sausages with scrambled egg sandwiches between french toast…. A great and happy start to the day!!

Alaska highway!!!!

This is where beavers live..

When doing 1000km per day you begin to loose track of how many lakes and rivers you cross or skirt around … but one thing I didnt loose track of is how many of these fellas you see… two… within 20km of each other.

I was the stupid tourist snapping photos and filming from beside the road. When he raised his head and sniffed at me, i wonder if he was thinking about the cans of tuna tucked away in the panniers or the pork flesh that was in abundance on my bones.

Later when i was looking for the sign at the turnoff to the “Top of the world” highway the task suddenly became far more difficult.

Good thing i carried extra fuel..

Another little lake side campsite..

The following day the bike decided to falter, miss firing then dying completely.. After i went through the spark plug and its system, i gave the CDI computer a wack and it sparked again… When i think back, there is a small chance it was bad fuel and i wasnt grounding the spark plug properly… but the tank and everything was off roadside regardless .

At about 4pm on day three i reached Dawson City. I had conceived an idea in my mind of what i was going to do next. I went to the Winchester Hotel “The Pitt” for a refreshment and began a little background research.

Dawson City… What a place!

That night when i crossed on the free ferry to the other bank of the Yukon river i met Niall on his 2009 KLR, he knew the area and river and supported the plan i had in mind. He showed me to a great free spot to camp and told me where to go looking for more resources in the morning.