The Yukon

Text: Torsten Ernst • Photography: Torsten Ernst

Dual sport riding is about sacrifice. It's about sacrificing comfort, taking on a little weight, giving up some road manners and, in the name of adventure, embracing the fear of the unknown. Within sacrifice lies balance, and in the case of dual sporting it's providing the ability to happily explore the back roads and still use the common thoroughfares to find them.

It's Saturday morning and I'm heading out of Skagway, Alaska, in a race against time. After unloading my 400cc Kawasaki dual sport from a Juneau ferry I have to find food and get moving in order to cover almost 1,000 kilometers of unknown territory before being at work early on Monday morning. The clock is ticking. Skagway disappears and the view in my mirrors changes quickly as I leave coastal Alaska behind. I am out to explore the southern half of the Canol Pipeline Road, which cuts a swath through the interior of the Yukon Territory intersecting Ross River, then circle across to Carmacks (the "Hub of the Yukon"), on to Whitehorse, and finally back to Skagway. I knew that some of this route was paved and some was not, but I didn't know the ratios, meaning that my time estimates were little more than guesses.

My fascination with making this trip began several years ago in Fairbanks, where I had worked on collecting data on the Canol Pipeline, constructed during World War II. In accordance with the Canadian Oil (Canol) Agreement between the U.S. and Canada, the pipeline was designed to bring petroleum from the oil fields of the Northwest Territories to a refinery in Whitehorse, thereby providing fuel for the construction of the ALCAN Highway and other military efforts in Alaska. The bombing of Pearl Harbor and a small Japanese invasion in the Aleutian Islands prompted more military focus on Alaska, spurring the development. Soon after completion, the war ended and the pipeline's inefficiency sealed its fate. Only in operation one year, the pipeline was shut down, but a beautiful dirt road through a remote portion of the Yukon and Northwest Territories was left behind.

A year or so later I moved to Juneau and found that besides the constant rain, it has one serious weakness - an absence of dirt roads. What southeast Alaska lacks in roads, however, it makes up for with an excellent ferry system that opens many doors, one of which leads to the Canadian Yukon. And while using them to help find places to ride, I encountered the pipeline again and was thrilled to learn the road that followed its length is still in use today, and best of all, it isn't paved.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the September/October 2009 back issue.