Yukon: Tuk or Bust

Text: Larry Simpson • Photography: Larry Simpson

Over the years I have motorcycled through many of the world’s most exotic places, but in recent years I have been dithering about options for the next great ride. Can you hear a bit of desperation there? Finally, I was presented with a new road I could not refuse, Canada’s conjoined Dempster and ITH (Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk) highways. This road, following the route of earlier Royal Canadian Mounted Police dogsled patrols, offers some 560 miles of gravel layered over rock and fickle permafrost from Dawson City, Yukon, to a dead end at frigid saltwater at the Arctic Ocean in the Northwest Territories. A road through the Great White North where I might be shivering instead of sweating? Awesome! Tourism ads call the Dempster/Tuk highway “Canada’s Northernmost Public Road.”

My itch for northern roads had started 10 years earlier when a buddy and I rode Kawasaki KLRs through the Yukon over the Top of the World Highway from Dawson City to Tok, AK, and beyond. The Dempster to Inuvik was completed by then, so we took a teaser ride about 30 miles in so we could have a preliminary look at the road itself and the surrounding Tombstone Mountain Range in all their glory. We were impressed, and when it was confirmed this road would eventually be extended all the way to the Arctic coast at Tuktoyaktuk, a small village in the Northwest Territories known locally as Tuk, I was smitten. Just biding my time … when word came that the final ITH slice from Inuvik to Tuk had been completed, the ride was on.

NORTHWARD BOUND

My BMW F 700 GS got a full service and more aggressive rubber at Argyll Motorsports in Edmonton, Alberta. Then I turned my front wheel toward Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway. In Fort Nelson, I started running into other adventure bikers, a funneling reminiscent of many other “roads less traveled” far from home. I looked over the various mounts, bikes with attitude, most of them with appended camping gear and backup gas containers. I mingled, breathing in the camaraderie. Some of these riders had ridden far and wide and were lusting for more. And now we were headed north to the latest Holy Grail. 

Roads that win their way into adventure bikers’ conscious typically share a number of attributes: They’re remote, challenging/dangerous, exotic, unique, scenic, and often terminate somewhere of significance. “New” is a plus. This new extended public highway linking the Klondike Highway to the Arctic Ocean brushed on most of these: pingos, earth-covered hills of ice; the midnight sun lighting up the Tombstone and Ogilvie mountains; indigenous cultures; and wilderness geography transforming from northern coniferous to taiga to tundra. Spectral panoramas will pull your eyes up from that mesmerizing road surface, and you will be ultimately rewarded with a glimpse of a polar sea most folks will never see. And yes, the road is new, very new.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the March/April 2020 back issue.