Prudhoe Bay

Day 12-14 - September 1-3

Klondike Highway to Campbell Highway to Watson Lake to Fort Nelson

I spent Tuesday night at the Klondike River Inn, a terrific place with a fast Internet connection, good food, and a high pressure washer to clean the mud from the Dempster Highway off my motorcycle and clothes.  It also had a nice mix of talkative locals and tourists.

Everyone has a story and for some reason I need to hear them (perhaps it’s the frustrated journalist in me). This time, it is good excuse for postponing going out in the wet and cold.  This is Anita, an Inuit (native Canadian) working for the highway department. 

Anita is clearly a smart, successful person and an example of an Inuit who successfully made the transition into the mainstream Canadian economy.  We talked at length about how a nation can assimilate its native populations into the mainstream, and how the majority of Inuit communities are government-subsidized and are grappling with the serious problems of domestic violence, alcoholism, and, to a lesser degree, drug abuse (not much different than in Native American populations in the United States).  In cities like Fort McPherson, where I spent Monday night, I could see only two private businesses.  One was a native arts retailer and the other a canvas shop.  The rest of the businesses were government or tribal enterprises or organizations.

In most of the US, the deeply ingrained cultural ideals of achieving perpetual growth and creating a better and more meaningful life than your parents are dominant.  A common complaint about baby-boomers is that they are too consumption-oriented, always lusting for the next raise and spending considerably beyond their means (no doubt stimulated by loose credit and poorly conceived banking practices). 

The Inuit population here has a dramatically different ingrained culture that will be difficult to change or to integrate into the mainstream. Their ideal revolves around living off the land, killing the animals they need, but not making a growth business out of it. Their culture strives to sustain the standard of living and culture of their parents, not to go beyond it. At the same time, they are bombarded with television and Western culture, a culture that is growing ever more complicated.  At the same time, the government and their tribal elders are trying to get them to go back to their original heritage (dance and Inuit language) and engage in tribal business practices, which are communal in nature; individual enterprise is only partially rewarded.

My instinct is that if you want a group to revert to their original heritage, you need to eliminate references to the prevalent dominant culture such as television, newspapers, etc.  This of course is impossible.  Between the ages of 18-25 it is natural for a person to push hard for a life plan.  It should be a life plan that absorbs a considerable amount of energy and provides a sense of accomplishment.  A strong vocational program with on the job training is badly needed.

Another character was Norman who runs the hotel and restaurant.  He is Canadian, spends the summers in Canada and at the end of the tourist season, returns to Fujian Province in China to teach English and be with his girlfriend.   When the time comes, he’s interested in retiring to China.

I headed out at 10:30 a.m. with the intent of traveling south on the Klondike Highway to the Campbell Highway at Carmacks, fuel up at Ross River (a small Inuit town) and then on to Watson Lake.  The Klondike Highway is paved and in excellent condition.  The trees are getting bigger as I head south:

…and the rivers, although majestic, are neither huge nor flanked by enormous glacial moraines as we saw in the Arctic:

The road is a tourist attraction and there are cute little rest spots along the way:

There are a lot of big sky tableaus on this route. Frankly, the scenic vistas, although less unique than the Arctic, are more interesting, with bigger trees, more hills, and mountains. 

In this area, the caribou herd numbers around 3,000, whereas at the Arctic, the Porcupine Caribou herd (the biggest) numbers approximately 150,000.

The first part of the Campbell Highway is glorious, paved, and in perfect shape; it then deteriorates rapidly.  The deep gravel, as pictured here, is unpredictable and difficult at higher speeds, particularly with a top-heavy motorcycle.

Most of the road is hard-packed and not unreasonable if taken slowly.

I find a young raptor along the road – I think it is a peregrine falcon. 

I’ll be camping out tonight and this road kill could be an interesting dinner if I get into camp in time. Other bird sightings include lots of large ravens and one eagle – I believe it was a golden eagle.

I arrive in Ross River where I need to get fuel in order to make it to Watson Lake (there are no other gas stations in the 320 miles).  As it turns out, none of the gas stations are open and it’s only about 6:00 p.m.  I camp close to town so I can get an early start in the morning.  This is a nice area, but it is too close to someone’s house:

I pick this spot next to a good fishing spot by the river and find it in messy shape (fishermen don’t make good camp-keepers):

It was very cold at night and I climbed into my sleeping bag with long johns and a sweater.  The only good part of the evening was as I glimpsed out of my tent, I saw what I believe to have been the Aurora Borealis.  The next morning my stove would not work, so I heated coffee on the campfire:

While warming my socks over the fire, I burned the toes of each of them.  I ended up going into Ross River to get gas and, while having coffee, became enthralled by the book Alcan & Canol, a pictorial history of the Alcan Highway, which illustrates the construction during WWII.  It showed another one of George Marshall’s achievements: a “pioneer” road built from the mainland to Alaska, built by the army.  They were concerned about the Japanese activity in the Aleutians and feared for Alaska.  What most impressed me was the ability of our nation at that point to accomplish things so quickly while a war mobilization was underway overseas. 

General Marshall was one of the most famous leaders of the 1900’s.  He had the skills to define the most prudent policy, develop a plan to sell it to the public, and then implement it. Marshall was able to guide public opinion much more effectively than the leaders of today.  Back then there were perhaps only 500 US newspapers, a grouping of AM radio stations, but no television and no FM radio.  One could argue that it was easier for a leader to get his message out in this compact media, because the message was less likely to get lost in the static of today’s multiplicity of news outlets (network news, cable news, the blogosphere, etc.).   But I would argue that it is just as easy to get a policy message out today (call it propaganda if you want to); it just requires an adjustment in strategy.  It seems that today’s leaders are more interested in conducting polls to assess what the public wants than in doing the careful work that George Marshall was so good at in developing a complex policy which will solve the problem.  He could easily communicate his solution so that the press and citizens could understand it.  He then had the ability to hire the generals, economists, statisticians, etc. to execute the plan.  General Marshall wasn’t a politician but he was a professional manager who had worked his way up through the government bureaucracy.  I wish we had leaders like General Marshall to help us with the serious problems facing us today:

  1. How to retain and grow our countries’ manufacturing base.  Many companies in the US compete effectively with China and the US is three times larger in manufacturing than China.  But we need to have some methodology of being able to capitalize labor-saving machinery to increase efficiency and offset the significantly lower Asian and third world country labor rates.  The trick is through advanced processing techniques to improve efficiency so that the overall labor cost is less than 10%.  There are countless examples of Cleveland companies that have accomplished this.
  2. Becoming more efficient in primary school education (grades 1-12).  Our finest schools are doing an excellent job but a large percentage of our schools cannot compete for the students’ attention with television and Internet.  As a nation we need to enlist the entertainment industry to make academic subject matter come alive for our distracted youths by harnessing its talents.  Such as hiring a director like Stephen Spielberg to develop a program learning video to teach the subject of physics.  Program learning has been around for years; it’s linked to a personal computer, allows students to progress at their own speed, and asks a series of questions at the end.  If the questions are answered incorrectly, another series of questions are posed to help the student better understand.  Another advantage is that the system can easily compile statistics on how much each student has learned.
  3. At the bottom of the socio-economic spectrum, education needs to be focused more upon an individual’s interests and capabilities.  Large numbers of inner city children are disillusioned with the education process and don’t see value with the subject matter in school.  Many students would be better able to become involved with vocational programs that are combined with internships.
  4. The sale of illegal drugs in North America and Western Europe is funding activities which disrupt governments in foreign countries; we see this in Afghanistan, Mexico, Ecuador and Bolivia – it nearly destroyed Colombia.  It is going to be critical to reduce the profit opportunity in dealing illegal drugs.  This should probably involve legalizing drugs through some regulated means that makes drugs available to addicts at a competitive market price (no room for the middle man and the pusher) and at the same time discourages additional drug use.  Prohibition in the 20’s created an entire underworld and when prohibition ended and alcohol was again legalized, there was additional use and that has been a problem for the US.  But there are other ways of dealing with recreational drugs.  One would be that addicts would have to declare themselves as addicts – this stigma would act as a restraint.
  5. Dealing with the environmental problems of today in a logical prioritized fashion.  Many of the environmental causes have been hijacked by special interest groups.  You see examples of people building LEEDS structures (a measure of environmental efficiency) when they could have rehabbed an old building.  Or those that are interested in inefficient ways of creating renewable power when the emphasis should be on conserving the use of power.  We should focus our FDA on reducing the use of antibiotics and hormones in meat production and reducing the use of potentially toxic chemicals in other parts of the food chain.  We should focus the NIH on determining the cause of the alarming increase of certain birth defects and investigating whether there are environmental causations.

Nowadays, the budding General Marshalls are heading to Wall Street and other service type industries where big bucks are to be made.  Perhaps it’s time for some sort of compulsory public service after high school or college to expose a broader group of people to options in government service.  Another option may be to start a service academy for government service like we have for the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Enough about General Marshall -

Thursday, after filling up with fuel and reading about the Alcan Highway, I headed south on the Campbell Highway to Watson Lake.  This was the hardest riding I have done – it was probably very picturesque, but I couldn’t take the time to look up from the road.  It had been raining for two days and the road was like ice.  Part of the road was gravelly, but even worse was the soft mud where the bike would sink in.  There was no traction, corners had to be taken very carefully, and braking was difficult.

When it wasn’t slippery, the surface was loose gravel, which is also no picnic.

I passed construction equipment along the way:

Inevitably, I came over a slight hill going too fast and ran into this:

I got caught in one of the tire troughs and ended up like this:

I had some help lifting the bike out of the mud – one of the men was from Tortola and grew up near Nanny Cay where we keep our boat.

The road continued to be a muddy mess for the remaining ride to Watson Lake, and I arrived completely exhausted.  But the Campbell Highway was fantastic, and I would recommend it to anyone.  Along the way there were small but elegant campgrounds. If it hadn’t been raining for two days, the dirt riding would have been a blast.

Friday morning it was time to change my tires – get rid of the knobby tires for mud and dirt and replace them with the road tires I have been carrying with me since the end of the Dempster Highway.  There was no one in Watson Lake willing to perform this task; instead Bee Jay’s service said they would help me break the bead (the adhesion of the tire to the rim) and allow me to use the yard.  This is the first time I’ve had to make a tire change nearly entirely on my own.  I didn’t have a jack or a center stand to stabilize the bike.  I strapped the bike between two trees:

 I jacked it up with a jack from Bee Jay’s tire service…

…and put wood underneath it so that I could get both tires off the ground.

I removed the wheels and had the tire shop break the bead and spent the next two hours wrestling the old tires off and the new tires on.  The most difficult part was refilling the tires; I needed to develop enough pressure fast enough so that the beads would begin to seat.  The yellow device in the tire man’s left hand is what he inserted into the tire to get it to push out. 

The other technique is to put lighter fluid or a small amount of gasoline inside the tire and light it so that the tire rapidly expands outward and sets the bead. 

I would strongly suggest to anyone taking the Campbell Highway and not going through Whitehorse to make your tire change at Bee Jay’s.

South to Fort Nelson was entirely in the rain:

Sometimes the driving rain:

From Watson Lake I passed into British Columbia:

There were signs warning of buffalo, but I was amazed to find one right at the side of the road.  He showed very little interest in me even though I was only 15 feet from him.

Later there were more:

And then more:

I later saw a moose but was unable to photograph it.  I also saw dall sheep in a parking lot!  This is all park country (Route 97, the Alcan Highway).  The rain continued the entire day, but the scenery I could make out through the fog was as good as any I have seen on this trip. 

I arrived in Fort Nelson, a town experiencing the Canadian oil and gas boom, before sunset.  I washed my clothes and monopolized the motel’s dryers.

Tomorrow I will head south again to the end of the Alaska Highway.

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  • Gary - September 7, 2010, 9:30 am

    Talking about Gen. Marshall really got you going. What followed was a stream of consciousness about how best to influence manufacturing and education. Pretty good stuff! Looking forward to Santa Barbara and more detail on your "epistle".

    Travel safe,

  • Walter Maurer - September 7, 2010, 11:07 am
    Looks like you are headed for Dawson Creek and mile zero of the Alcan Highway. Hope you take the "short cut" to Jasper, riding a little East and then South of Dawson Creek, towards Jasper and the Ice Fields Parkway. And then on to Banff. Then , when you ride South from Banff towards Glacier National Park, the riding is very picturesque. Looks like the rain has been somewhat of a problem. I was blessed with one afternoon of rain in 3 weeks during June/July, 2010. Ride safe, good friend.
  • MR
    Roger Hansen - September 7, 2010, 11:47 am
    Dan, It looks like my kind of riding, mud,mud,and more mud. I see that the lighter bike was a good choice. Did you only go down once? I really liked the remarks about Gen. Marshall. Ride safe!!!!
  • Ruminations
    Stu - September 8, 2010, 6:14 am
    Dan - Wonderful photos and commentary. What is it about being alone in the wilderness, cooking your socks over an open flame, and observing life and cultures different from your own, that inspires reflection and generates new ideas? I've been fishing in Alaska three times now, mostly down near the Copper River and in the Wrangell mountains. Each time my journal fills with similar ruminations on life there, life back here, similarities and differences, the best and worst of both, etc. Loved the comments about Gen. Marshall, and your ideas on how to address the issues facing us. Agree with the point about more professional management - how many of our elected officials have ever held a "real" job anyway?

    Stay safe, and see you soon. Stu
  • Met inFSJ
    Jody - September 8, 2010, 8:52 pm
    Hi Dan!
    It was great to meet you Saturday at J.D Fitzgeralds in Fort St. John! We had such an interesting conversation about all the places you have been and seen!!
    I will follow your blog from now on and watch your incredible journeys! Do keep in touch if you come back to the northern country!!
    Jody Thomas
    (the one with twins!)
  • Steve Wiesenberger - September 9, 2010, 2:45 pm
    Dan- Wonderful experiences, profound thoughts.
    I was chilled after reading, and took a warm shower.
    Vicariously is definitely the way to experience this.
    Travel safely, my friend. You're the best.
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