April 6th 2015
The early morning grey sky had turned bright blue making for a brilliant contrast with the sparkling white snow which covered the Dempster. The first few hours had seemed almost surreal, not a sound, nothing moving, not even a raven or ptarmigan, the roadway was barely discernible but for the odd high point where the snow had been swept clear by last night’s winds. Thinking back exactly one year previose I recalled rolling into Gladstone Manitoba on a similar sunny-bluebird day and meeting up later with my brother Tom in Portage la Prairie just one short day away from completing Highway 16 end to end!.
The Kona Wo 1 in Manitoba April 6, 2014
As I reached one of those bare high points I stopped to plug in some tunes and apply sun screen. The sun was well off the horizon it was a beauty day; as I soaked it all in I noticed movement way up ahead. It was a dark figure moving slowly in my direction, my guess was a caribou, too early for bears; so I readied my go-pro camera and set off hoping to get a photo of my first large animal on the Dempster thus far. As I rolled down the hill closer I was shocked to find that the figure was not a Caribou, not a wild animal at all; in fact what I was looking at was another person, another person and another bike. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; out in the absolute middle of nowhere on a road that was virtually impassable was another cyclist! A bundled up girl pushing a heavily loaded bicycle up the hill towards me.
Initially I didn’t know what to say to her, finally blurted out “what the hell are you doing biking way out here”? She said “same to you” with a smile and introduced herself as the Mirjam the “Cycling Dutch Girl”, (goggle her she has been cycling the globe for the past 15ish years) We had nice but quick visit, shared some snacks, and some tips on the road ahead, I told her about the Yellow Peterbuilt and where to find the key, how to start the heater etc, she told me about Alfie and Paul who operate the James Creek Highway maintenance shop and suggested they might put me up, as they had her. Then we were off on our separate directions, and separate adventures.
What are the odds of Belgian guy meeting a Dutch girl on North Americas most northern all weather road in the winter?
(Mirjam Wouters: The Cycling Dutch Girl, A truly amazing/inspirational person – check out her Blog here: https://cyclingdutchgirl.com/2015/04/24/the-dempster-delights/
It was time to get back to work and buckle down as the next miles where virtually all uphill through the Richardson Mountains on to the border of the Yukon and North West Territories. My days-end destination was James Creek Highway Maintenance Camp about 35 k away and another 60 km short of Fort McPherson.
Hopefully I could sweet talk Alfie of Paul into letting me stay in the old trailer Mirjam had the previous night, my sleeping bag and tent were both soaking wet again; it would be nice to be able to dry them out. After the long push up the picturesque but lonely Wright Pass (named after Dempster surveyor Allen Wright) I was greeted by a postcard shot of the valley beyond and rolled into the Northwest Territories and onto the gravel of the graded road.
After an exhilarating downhill rush I was climbing and winding again but before long I saw the closed gate at James Creek with a long line of cars stacked up behind it.
Stranded travelers at James Creek NWT ! The same guy I met stranded at Eagle Plains a few days prior!