We got up around 9am and packed up our stuff. There was a fresh layer of snow on the bikes and out of the window was a view of the lake, completely frozen.
We went back in to the lodge and had a huge breakfast; eggs, bacon, sausage, hashbrowns, toast. You name it, it was on the plate. I decided that I needed all the calories I could get to ensure my toes stayed toasty; any excuse for a good feed. And as promised by the owner the night before, it was on the house. We got chatting to the cook and her male friend that had come in to see her, and got talking about the wildlife. He told us a lady got killed by a bear the other week, near to where we’d camped at Johnson’s Crossing. This came as a surprise to us, coming in to winter we thought we could stop worrying about bears, but quite the contrary. Turns out that most have hibernated but the ones that are left are the hungry and desperate ones. Brilliant. They haven’t got enough bodymass on them to hibernate, so they’re desperate for anything they can get. We also discovered that Black Bears hibernate but Grizzly’s just semi-hibernate, getting up about 2-3 times in a winter. This is due to them losing so much of their body mass that they need to top it up. They generally won’t hunt though, as they need to conserve their energy. They’ll poke their noses out of their den, which are seven times more sensitive than a blood hounds, and wait until they can smell a kill, usually made by a cougar (a mountain lion, not a woman over 40). They will then saunter over and have their feed; nothing messes with a bear. We then got talking about the guy who was walking across Canada, who had passed through Rancheria a few weeks ago. The guy then started saying how dangerous it was, that it would be too cold and that he was going to die. Ed then happily pointed out that it’s far less dangerous than when people hike to the north and south pole, where there are no roads or people, solo and unsupported. That shut him up.
We finished up then hit the road, where I was immediately thankful that the horrible cold wind had gone. It was overcast but visibility was good, and thanks to a nice flat road and a thin layer of snow on the shoulder we made really good ground at first. We kept a fairly fast and consistent speed for the first 30 km’s or so, really eating up the miles, until the road became noticeably slippier and rutted.
We reduced our speed and had to apply a bit more concentration to stay on the bikes, and quite a few times we had a wobble but managed to keep it under control. I also discovered that you had to be really easy on the throttle; due to a camber, too much throttle would see the back end slide out and you’d have to ease off gently to regain control. I was doing really well for a while, not even putting my feet down whenever a wobble occurred, until I really lost it.
I’m not completely sure what happened but after a thorough crash scene investigation we came to this conclusion: I got stuck in an icy rut. I got a wobble on. Going a little too fast I rolled off the throttle too quickly making the bike wobble violently. The back end slid out to the left, then the right, then the left again, where it continued on its course spinning me 180 degrees before falling over. Still on the bike I continued down the road backwards where it came to a sudden stop down a snow covered verge. I was then catapulted off it and finally deposited in the snow. Ta-dah!
During the entire process I was actually laughing, perhaps nervous laughter but laughter all the same. I actually discovered that laughing while crashing is good, as it means you’re completely relaxed when you land. Every sudden move saw me going ‘Aaah, aaah!’ And when I finally stopped all I could do was giggle. Having landed in a big heap of snow there were no scrapes or bruises, no broken bones or sprains, no problems at all. I was just covered in snow and buzzing with adrenaline. What fun crashing a 90 is. I was sad Ed wasn’t in front of me as it would have made for some entertaining viewing.
We picked the bike up and removed all the snow and road that I’d collected on my way, which was a surprisingly large amount. I then jumped on and went to kick start it when I noticed that my foot peg was now in a different place. Luckily we had the axe that Cory had given us, so we hit it back in to reasonably the right place and continued on our way.
The crash hadn’t knocked my confidence too much but the annoying camber started to, which resulted in me riding slower. Too much throttle resulted in an unintentional powerslide which could end in two ways: Either you pull it off, recover it, and look really cool; or you lose it, land on your arse, and look like an idiot. I tend to opt for the latter as looking like an idiot is much easier than looking cool. And not only did you have to be aware of the back sliding out, the fecking front was at it too. A number of times I felt the front slide out, and I can’t tell you how I recovered it as it was only luck that kept me upright, no skill was involved. The middle of the road was flat but we couldn’t ride there due to other traffic; despite there not being lots of it, what did pass was travelling much faster than us. I decided that it would be more dangerous trying to get out of the way and over the ice and ruts than it would be to just ride on the edge. Slowly and surely we kept plodding on. Ed was leading when he spotted something on the side of the road and came to a gradual controlled stop. I however hadn’t noticed in time, and instead of coming to a gradual stop ahead of him I touched the rear brake and came to a sliding stop next to him: On my side. A car was coming so I dragged the bike out of the road like a child dragging their teddy bear and Ed helped me pick it up. We went back to investigate what he’d seen and discovered it was a dead bear. We’re not sure how it reached its fate but all the meat and bones had gone and it was just a skin and a head. Random.
We carried on and the road improved a little but it was still icy. It alternated between ice and snow with the odd clear patch here and there, and got dramatically better as we approached Watson Lake. By that time our feet were freezing; looked like our mammoth breakfast had worn off! We rolled into town and headed straight for a cafe, eager to warm our toes. I had a nice hot chocolate (after complaining that it was luke warm) which really hit the spot and warmed me up enough to go and find somewhere to stay. Cory had mentioned about an employee of the company he worked for, owning a motel in town, so we decided to go and check it out. We knocked on the door and a lady called Odile came and answered it, and after explaining the situation she went off and got the owner, Peter. Peter then proceeded to be awesome by letting us stay for free; we just happened to find the biggest and perhaps only bike fanatic in Watson Lake! He didn’t actually know we knew Cory, but he liked the bikes so much and what we were doing that he wanted to help us out: amazing.
Odile was busy cooking something in the kitchen when we got there and Peter turned round and said ‘That’s a big meal you’re making, maybe they could help us eat it?’ He then gave us a key and said they’d give us a call when dinner was ready. Once again: amazing. The room was perfect; a little kitchenette, a table, two double beds, and a bathroom. And as an added bonus it was warm! We then joined Peter for dinner, and had a lovely evening chatting about travel, life and bikes; of which the latter Peter had rather a few!
In return for him being so kind we decided to fix his fence for him, something he’d been meaning to do for the past ten years but hadn’t got round to it. He’d mixed dry wood with green wood and the green wood had subsequently shrunk, leaving planks hanging off and nails sticking out. We got up early the next morning and set to work. I must say my hammering skills improved a hell of a lot over the two days it took us to do it. I went from a 1 out of 10 success rate (1 being the amount of times I hit the nail out of 10) to an 8 out of 10 success rate, which I was really rather pleased about. It looked so much better once we’d finished, and I was pleased we’d been able to do something to help.
The rest of the days were spent blog writing and video editing, with some evenings spent chatting with Peter while drinking Yukon brewed beer and looking at all his motorbikes.
He’d also taken to converting mountain bikes to motorbikes, by bolting two stroke engines to them. He loved them! Ed had a go but I don’t think he was convinced.
Odile was also wonderful, and kindly gave us a bag of supplies to keep us going, despite me saying that we didn’t need them she insisted. She was just happy to help.
Late one afternoon we stumbled upon the local pawn shop, where we met the lovely and entertaining Denis. He had everything under the sun in the shop, including a rather nice coat that took Ed’s fancy. And it just so happened that we got there as the beers came out, so we sat and chatted with Denis and his friend Barry, who I think both thought we were rather mad. I was desperate for some winter boots and Denis had plenty, it was just sods law that none of them fitted me. Barry then said ‘Come with me’ and got in to his truck. Ignoring everything I was told about getting in to strangers cars, I jumped in and Barry drove us back to his house. There I met his lovely wife Susan and their cute little puppy, and they proceeded to dig out all his pairs of old winter boots that he didn’t really use any more. And there, among them, was a pair that fit. Perfect!
It was so sweet and thoughtful of Barry, and not only did he give me a pair of boots, he invited Ed and I over for dinner the next day, where he cooked a delicious stew with homemade bread; he sure knows how to cook! And before we went to Barry’s we helped a guy called Dan put up some dry wall, we’d also met him at the pawn shop and he needed some help; something we’re always happy to offer.
When we tell people that we stayed in Watson Lake just under two weeks, they can’t believe it. The usual response is ‘Why would you want to stay in Watson Lake that long?!’ Well the reason is because we had to wait for a box of Ed’s winter gear to arrive from England; sleeping bag, Exped, coat and boots. However we’re pleased we stayed as long as we did, we met some really great people and had a really good time. If we’d just ridden through and only stopped for fuel, we probably wouldn’t have met any of them. We wouldn’t have any of the stories or experiences, and I’d probably still have cold toes. That’s why for us it’s so important to travel slow, stop in towns, and meet the locals. Travelling for me isn’t about getting from A to B; it’s about all the stuff in between: It’s about the people.
Ed was still dreaming about the coat in the pawn shop, and with his one delivered from England we decided to go and compare them.
After much deliberating he decided it was amazingly warm but a bit too big to store on the bike; we’re limited on space, which is annoying sometimes but also good as it stops us buying stuff. It didn’t however stop me buying a shit-tastic 80’s jumper that I found in the thrift store; a jumper that we soon discovered was possessed by the song ‘Last Christmas’ by Wham. As soon as I put it on the song popped in to my head, and wouldn’t go away until I took it off.
Despite not ever buying anything in the pawn shop we still kept Denis entertained and helped him drink his beer, something he didn’t actually need help with but we enjoyed hanging out with him. I did actually try to buy a minion toy from him but he just gave it to me in the end.
We were also in Watson Lake for Halloween, so headed down to the lake where we watched a fairly good fireworks display with a rather anti-climatic end. No-one could actually tell if it’d stopped or not. It did look awesome over the frozen lake though, and they had a bonfire on the go too. We wondered why they had fireworks so close to Bonfire night, then realised that they don’t celebrate it here; it’s an English thing!
And not only that but we also visited the famous ‘Watson Lake Signpost Forest’, which was originally started in 1942 by a soldier named Carl Lindley. It now has over 72,000 signs there, which is pretty impressive! Here’s an excerpt from the official Watson Lake website, which explains how it all started…
In 1942, while building the Alaska Hwy, it was common practice for the US Army of Engineers to put up a directional post at their camps. It gave directions and mileage to surrounding communities and various parts of the world. You will notice that the directional sign for Watson Lake points North with a distance of eight miles. In 1942 there was no town site here as there is today, but a Military Air Base and airport on Watson Lake.
While working on the Alcan Highway near Lower Post, BC, Private Carl K. Lindley from Company D, 341st Army of Engineers was injured and taken to the Army Aid Station in Watson Lake to recuperate. During that time Carl’s commanding officer got him to repair and repaint the directional post. While Carl was carrying out this task he decided to add his home town sign of DANVILLE, ILLINOIS. Carl was known as the homesick, lonesome soldier and he was aware of the tradition that he started and what is now known as the World Famous Signpost Forest.
Unfortunately we no longer have the original sign or the post. In September 4 to 14, 1992 while celebrating the 50th anniversary of the building of the Alaska Highway, Carl and his wife Elinor returned to the Yukon and Watson Lake after a 50 year absence as guests of the Town of Watson Lake. While they were here, a replica of the directional post was erected and Carl replaced his missing sign of Danville, Illinois. On February 20, 2002 Carl Lindley passed away in Danville, Illinois were he had lived all his life.
Today the replica Danville, Illinois sign is posted in the Visitor Center along with pictures of Carl taken in 1942 and 1992. This is the only directional post and signpost that survived over the years and people today carry on this tradition of posting their hometown signs.
Back to me now! It was really cool and fun to look at all the signs, most of which were obviously stolen. I don’t necessarily agree with stealing but I must admit I was rather impressed that they’d managed to ‘acquire’ and transport some of the big ones; they were huge! Lots of towns around the world must be missing their signs thanks to this place.
We knew it was eventually time to leave when we went to the supermarket and someone we’d never met before said, ‘You’re still here then?’ Turned out everyone in town knew about us. We’d received the parcel and got all our stuff done so decided it was time to hit the road, tomorrow. This of course turned in to the next day, as usual. It was Friday when we went to leave, and we got up at 8.30am to finish packing up all our stuff.
Peter and Odile then came to see us off around 12pm, and we joked that it was to make sure that we actually left! We’re not very good at leaving you see. We waved goodbye, rode round the corner, and within the space of a minute I’d fallen off; not a good start. The roads were so hard to ride on and super icy, I was sliding all over the place. I didn’t know if it was because I had too much weight in the top box, if it was just harder conditions, or if it’s where I hadn’t ridden for a while, but whatever it was my confidence had gone. We went to the store to get some emergency meals and on to a cafe for some hot food, and as we rode round town I found I couldn’t bring myself to get above 20mph, it was painful. It especially didn’t help having all the cars and trucks flying past me; I was frightened I was going to come off and cause an accident or even worse end up under someone’s wheels. As we were riding around I suddenly remembered that I needed to do my valve clearances; something I’d been meaning to do the whole time we’d been in Watson Lake but of course hadn’t got round to. Unfortunately no-one would let us use their workshop and we were forced to do them outside, just as it started to snow. It was then that Ed noticed the snowflakes, stereotypical and perfect; we’d never seen any like that before, not in real life anyway.
Ed then talked me through how to do the valve clearances as I was eager to learn, but it was so fiddly that I got annoyed with it and Ed had to finish it off; I tend to do that with fiddly stuff, get annoyed, it’s something I’m working on. Just as we were finishing up a truck driver started talking to us, asking what way we were going. He said he’d probably beat us to Fort Nelson, he’d probably drive past us, even though he’s going in the opposite direction to Whitehorse first; he was probably right. He then said that if we got stuck he could give us a lift as he was going back to Dawson Creek empty. He said look out for his truck and wave him down, his name was Norm and he’d be happy to help. It was really kind of him and didn’t sound like a bad idea; we’d save it as an emergency plan.
By the time we’d finished my bike it was around 4.30pm, and was already starting to get dark. I thought about it and decided it was best to stay another night; we wouldn’t achieve anything leaving so late with such little light. We then decided to go and see Denis at the pawn shop, it was too early to camp, we had some hours to kill, and we enjoyed hanging out with him. He was surprised to see us, thinking that we’d already left. ‘Well we tried to leave’, I said. ‘We just failed’. We sat and had a beer with him and he got me to a model a coat he needed to sell; it had (nipple) tassels, I couldn’t stop playing with them…
Dan then turned up and sat down for a chat, before asking where we were staying. After telling him that we were planning on camping he suggested we stay in the trailer that he was working on, which Denis happened to own. He also needed to move some stuff out the next day and we offered to help in return. Denis agreed and Dan went off to unlock it for us, and Barry then arrived for a beer and a chat; it appeared the pawn shop and the cafe in the supermarket were the social hubs of Watson Lake.
Eventually it was time to leave and we headed off to the trailer, our new home for the night. Dan left as soon as we arrived, and as we went to open the door we discovered that it was locked. Bugger. Ed quickly rode off to try and catch him up; there was no point me trying I’d be flat on my face in five seconds. Unfortunately he couldn’t find him but we luckily discovered that the door on the other side had been left unlocked, phew! We settled in and chilled out for a while before going to bed around 10pm. I was then woken in the middle of the night by a loud bang which I soon discovered was my Exped prolapsing. It caused a section to pop up and resulted in me lying on what felt like a triangle; not exactly the most comfortable shape to sleep on. Needless to say I didn’t sleep too well after that.