SUCCESS IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT
The people at Eagle Plains Lodge took great care of us; opening the kitchen when we arrived after it had been closed and making us all dinner. They could only offer us one item and it was the most expensive thing on the menu (prime rib) but we LOVED it and devoured it and gladly paid for it. Breakfast was delicious and we all met up and discussed the goal for the day…..the Arctic Circle.
Originally we had decided to do the Arctic, 20 miles north of Eagles Plain and then head up to the Northwest Territory and dip our tires over the border there, an additional 40 miles up, but we scrapped that idea due to the experience of the night before. We heard that the road up to the Northwest T was like that last 70 miles we encountered the night before; wet, slippery and overall not good. Cathy, our ambulance driver, was also the Forman for the road maintenance crew up there, the first permanent woman Forman in all of the Yukon Territories. She went out early in the morning to scout the road conditions for us and promptly came back with her findings which helped us make our decision. But the 20 to the Arctic? No one was going to talk us out of that!
I had to assess my injuries from the night before and make my decision as to whether I was going to go or not. Hell Yeah! I’m going! I decided this is what Advil and Ben & Jerry’s was invented for! So I downed my Advil, got my gear on, and dreamed of possible Ben&Jerry’s waiting for my successful return. We all saddled up, revved our engines and we were OFF!
And it was a beautiful ride. When the 15, of us arrived at the Arctic sign the celebration commenced. Let me share with you some of the emotions that we all shared there. First, we celebrated for our Kathy, now in the Anchorage hospital with 3 cracks in her pelvic bone. She got so close in miles before she fell, only 70 miles short. And when you traveled the roads we traveled up to then, 70 is just around the corner. So we celebrated for her and cheered her success.
Then… we celebrated remembering the reason we rode. Breast cancer.
2 years prior was another ride organized by the same duo, Gin & Sue, and for the same reason. Cancer. It was the first dirt bike ride they organized after 13 years of organizing motorcycle fundraisers. I was the first to sign up but was unable to follow through due to an unscheduled dismount I had had 2 months prior that landed me in the hospital. That was The Dirty Dozen riders of Colorado. Cindy Fata was on that ride. And months after that success which raised close to $50K, both Cindy and Gin were diagnosed with breast cancer. And I’m happy to say they are both now survivors. In so many ways.
Cindy faced her chemo and radiation with the mantra, “I WILL ride to the Arctic Circle. I WILL ride to the Arctic Circle.” She successfully finished her treatments in May, just 2 months before we all started our Adventure for the Cure. Gin’s diagnosis and mastectomies were in Nov 2009, just months after the Colorado ride. 21 months later she is still cancer free.
And we celebrated them. Strongly.
That’s why we did this. And we stayed up in the Arctic for about 3 hours, celebrating Gin and Cindy, celebrating the people in our individual lives who we loved through cancer, fought with through cancer, lost to cancer. We celebrated them too.
Cindy’s love, John, also a Dirt Brigade rider, celebrated his love’s success and we celebrated his support of her. I celebrated my mother’s life and my cousins’ battles with the disease and for my friends and untold others. Each of us had a story we celebrated. Cheering celebrations. Quiet celebrations. Celebrations where one of us would walk away from the group and go into themselves, communicating with the past and with those we lost.
(Sue just read this part and broke down crying, remembering her pain as her love of 35 years, Gin, was diagnosed, dealt with, and ultimately was able to carry the banner of Cured. And remembering the bittersweet moments at the Arctic in celebration.)
And we celebrated together. As the Dirt Brigade Riders for a Cure. We ate lunch up at the circle, talking and celebrating life. One of us looked up and there it was again….the start of a beautiful rainbow. We ate as we watched it grow, arcing across the sky. We ate as we watched it become more vivid with each passing second, each minute. It spread a canopy of purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, red, as if to protect us. So bright. Colors so strong.
And under this canopy we released the ashes of our friend, Woody. A friend to all of us, even those of us who never met her. Woody was a strong motorcyclist who rode with Gin and Sue for over a decade, raising many a thousand of dollars. Woody was diagnosed in June of 2006. In her devastating battle towards health she pledged to join the Dirty Dozen riders in Colorado. She didn’t make it. We lost her June 13th, 2009. 2 months before the ride.
Gin, Sue and Cindy each took some of the ashes and sent them up to the rainbow while the rest of us watched and wept.
And then, again, we became adventurers. We each collected a rock from the hillside at the Arctic and collectively built our own Inukshuk. That’s ok, we didn’t know what it was either. Here’s the explanation.
Sue, Pink and I were trucking the 9 motorcycles lent to us by Yamaha and Kawasaki up to Anchorage in Pink‘s RV. We stopped at a gift shop in Teslin, Yukon where 5 years prior I had stopped. The cashier told me she liked the color of my do rag (the headpiece that bikers wear to protect our hair. Yeah, I know. It doesn’t work.) It was Fuchsia with flames. I wasn’t ready to part with it but I took her address and promised to send her one. Well, I’m a bad girl. I never did. So we stopped at this gift shop and went in. I asked the cashier if there was anyone still working there who was there 5 years ago. She said she was. I said that I had come by 5 years ago and the cashier then had……She interrupted me saying, “Liked the color of your bandana.” yikes! She remembered! I ran out to the RV and grabbed a bandana giving it to her. She was so touched that I remembered (and I was so embarrassed that she remembered). We told her what we were heading towards now; our ride for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. She was so touched by this, and by her bandana that she gifted us with a small statue of an Inukshuk. After she explained its meaning, we vowed to have it as a part of our morning ceremonies before each day’s ride. The Inukshuk is a statue of stones that the Innuit built to lead the way for others to follow and to wish for them a safe journey. Many travelers have taken up the tradition now as a way of feeling connected to the land and to announce to the world, “We were here.”
So now, our celebration warming us, we again became adventurers. We each collected a rock from the hillside at the Arctic Circle and collectively built our own Inukshuk.
Our time at the Arctic was coming to a close. I think it invigorated us. Buzzing conversations began about attempting the 40 miles up to the Northwest Territory. Some wanted to go, others wanted to go back to the lodge. Those who wanted to go grouped to the left. Those who wanted to go back to the lodge grouped to the right.
And there I was, stuck in the middle again.
I so wanted to go. I wanted to color in another territory in my map of states, provinces and territories that I have ridden through (49 states, 5 Canadian provinces and territories). But I had just crashed the day before and still wasn’t sure how I was.
Lowering my head, I moved to the right. It was a good choice. I was alright, but I did have to switch to a new bike (which had already been given the moniker, “squirrelly bike”) and I wasn’t really comfortable with this new mount. Also, I still hurt and needed to take it easy.
Well, as easy as I could knowing what was coming.
And this is the end of part 3. Part 4 next time I get internet service
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AND ON THE 5TH DAY THEY RESTED
Dawson in the Yukon and a day of rest after the eastbound ride over Top Of The World. In the morning we walked into the Midnight Sun Hotel and restaurant. The waitress asked, “How many?“ “16,“ I said. Her jaw dropped, one eyebrow raised. Then she just threw her hands up in the air and said, resigned, “Just sit anywhere.“ She was wonderful.
After breakfast some of the Dirt Brigade riders motored around the scenic road surrounding Dawson others went panning for gold while a few of us walked around town, soaking up the local color (which was grey, as in cloudy). Yep, I walked the town. After TopOfTheWorld I wanted a day with both feet planted firmly on the ground. The Midnight Sun restaurant which is also the local Chinese restaurant offered us a great discount on dinner and in the evening we all met up there and had a FEAST! My GOD I never saw so much food come out from a kitchen in my life! And yes, I tasted all of it. It was delicious. Dirt Brigaders were photographing the food left and right. I swear we have more collective photos of all the food we ate during this ride than we do of scenery.
Dinner over and a quick stop at the Downtown Hotel and Bar where we watched our Laurie and Brendan enjoy a SourToe cocktail (a shot of your choice with a petrified human toe dropped in it). After dinner the agenda consisted of finishing laundry, showers, sleep and we prepared ourselves for……
THE DEMPSTER HIGHWAY
25 miles out from Dawson and then you turn left to start the Dempster Highway trek. You mark the beginning of this journey by taking photos with the Welcome To The Dempster Highway sign. Then you mount your bikes and start the engine and notice the next sign:
“There are no emergency medical services on this road.” It also informs you that the first fuel stop is 370 kilometers ahead at Eagle Plains.” (roughly 225 miles)
As the smallest of our bikes could only go about 80 miles without a stop, this could be a problem. And guess who was riding this peanut tank? Yours truly. These bikes are not built that close to the ground so this was the only bike that my feet could get CLOSE to the ground on. Our follow truck, named Jethro, was equipped with a 60 gallon gas tank for ‘on the road’ fill ups. Jethro was donated to us to use by Motoquest Motorcycle tours of Alaska. They also donated the diesel to run Jethro which was a major financial donation for them to do! This enabled us to focus more on raising money for the Susan g. Komen foundation. Driving Jethro was the most wonderful young man most of us have ever met. Brendan. This 23 year old was so knowledgeable about dualsport riding, about motorcycle mechanics, about the area (even though he was raised in Colorado) and about people. He cared for us, laughed with us, watched over us. He also brought down our average age since all of us ranged from age 45 to 64.
Get ready. The story gets interesting now.
First it was quite fun. We said goodbye to pavement at the start of the Dempster. We shall see it no more as we travel this road. Gravel, ruts and frost heaves abound numerously, but we were all maneuvering around them skillfully. An amazing feat when you remember that most of us were practically virgins to this dirt bike sport. We slalomed through a town called Tombstone. Not a name I wanted to encounter on this remote and infamous road. We were joined by another biker named Jordan who was camping near us in Dawson. We didn’t want him to attempt this road alone so we had him pack in with us in the back, just in front of our truck, Jethro. He had been riding since the east coast, but many of us questioned his bike choice for the Dempster. It was a huge BMW R1200GS. Quite heavy and not set up with 50/50 tires (50% dirt / 50% road) like our mounts.
The night before, many of us made conversation with the RVers who were camping near us. On these roads its customary for people to share stories of the road conditions and difficulties that they had come across. We heard stories of a couple on a Harley riding up the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay just a day or two before. They crashed and the man died, his wife on the back seat injured. They were medevaced out. We also heard of two bikers, a husband and wife, on our Dempster who the day before crashed, he injuring his ankle. A passing motorist (and believe me, there are not many of them) stopped to help them and suggested they drive up to Eagle Plains with him and retrieve their bikes tomorrow as there was a bear with 2 cubs circling them all. About 100 miles in we passed them, loading their bikes onto a pickup truck.
Things were going great and I wasn’t too concerned with these stories. My experience with these AlCan related stories is that most of them are true, but they’re not meant to scare you. Like New Yorkers who are often accused of complaining, these stories are meant to boast. Look at what I accomplished! Look at what I survived!
And surviving we were! And flourishing!
UNTIL THE RAIN HIT
The gravel became slick and slippery. The ruts were now filled with a mushy chocolate pudding mixture of dirt and gravel, making it hard to see how deep they were. The suspension on these bikes are made for these ruts and I was doing great.
Until I wasn’t.
I have never heard of a TankSlapper before in all my 26 years of street riding. It’s basically when the motorcycle shakes its head violently left to right almost hitting the ground with each direction change. Sort of like a front wheel fishtail shake with the handlebars oscillating from full lock right to full lock left. It happens generally when your front tire hits a slight bump and knocks it out of alignment.
I hit a rut. It turnout out to be deeper than I thought and my front tire quickly sank. I throttled up to push myself out of the rut and my front tire hit the lip of it, sort of like a slight precipice. And that’s all it took. I felt the wobble and told myself to relax, not grip the handlebars -not fight it, but in a snap the wobble became violent. I tried to stay holding on as the bike violently and quickly steered itself from left to right to left to right and then…
Crash hard to the right and I was down, sliding in the mud. I prayed that I would stop before the road ends and drops off to…well….somewhere lower than the road. I prayed that the bike would come to a stop before it slid into me, pushing me over. I prayed as I slid. I stopped sliding. And laid there. My eyes were closed and I started an inventory of my body as the others came running up to me. Toes, moving. Check. Ankles moving. Check. But painful. Legs have sensation. Check. But ouch. Fingers, arms, everything seems to be moving. Good.
“Trapper! Trapper! You okay?” (Yes, that’s my biker name. Trapper.) How scared they must have been to see me laying there with my eyes closed. I eventually spoke and they started to help me up but I wasn’t ready yet and denied the help. One of our riders, Rita, ran up and quickly; took charge of the situation as she has been trained in accident scene management. With her help and guidance I eventually rose to my feet and we looked at the bike. The front cowl and speedometer was gone. The right bark buster was a few feet away. It was decided that I should join Brendan in Jethro for the last 70 miles of our trek, as we weren’t sure of the condition of the bike. Or me. Rider John suggested also that I just enjoy the last 70 miles in the dryness of the truck, but I found out later why he felt that way. He wanted us to get going fast as he and Sue saw that bear with her cubs a few feet away. I’m glad they didn’t tell me. As they helped me out of my gear and into the truck I became aware of more aches and pains and was secretly glad of the respite.
Brendan and I were driving along and were a bit behind the bikers as the truck can’t maneuver this road as well as a bike. 20 miles after my accident scene we saw our bikes on the right side of the road and our bikers on the left side of the road. And Kathy laying on the ground. We were in shock as Kathy, at age 60, was one of our stronger riders. A tank slapper had gotten her too. Rita was called into action again. Kathy was fully conscious but not getting up though. Rita thought maybe a broken pelvis was sustained, and that worried us as that could cause Kathy to bleed out internally into that region. We grabbed our satellite phone but it was not getting through due to the extreme cloud cover. We activated our Spot Finder which is supposed to send a message out in case of emergency but got back, “message failed.” Again, no service. We were worried. Sue Slate hailed down a passing car driven by a First Nation family who lived in the area. They had a radio phone and they called ahead to Eagle Plains for an ambulance. At this point also, our BMW friend Jordan decided he had had enough and turned his wheels around to camp at the side of the road for the night. He knew it was too dangerous for him to continue. We believe he headed back down the road as we didn’t see him after that.
THE DREADED DOUBLE DROP
Sue Slate and her partner Gin Shear are the organizers of this event and have organized many such rides, albeit maybe not this challenging, since 1993 raising a collective 2.4 million dollars for breast cancer research. They decided that Gin, Rita and another staff member, Shirley, should stay with Kathy and wait for the ambulance while the others get up to Eagle Plains. On the way up we passed the ambulance and hailed it down as Rider Mike promptly and accidentally dropped his bike in front of it onto the bike’s right side. There’s a technique in picking up a bike that enables anyone of any size to pick up any bike and Mike quickly got to it. Put your back low against the bike’s seat, grab the handlebar with your left hand and pull it to the right, grab whatever you can on the back of the bike with your right hand and start stepping backwards, pushing the bike up as you go. Then just let it fall on its kickstand. Perfect Mike! Go! Go! Keep going! Great! Now let it fall on its kickstand! Yep. That’s it. Yep. Uhhhh, you forgot to lower the kickstand before you started. While he was lifting it again, Sue (known as Mama Sue) was ordering the ambulance driver to inform the trio left behind that by NO means should they ride up! They were to wait for Jethro to come back and get them and their bikes. The driver, Cathy, now officially scared of Mama Sue, did as told. The ambulance got there, decided that a helicopter should be called and Kathy was medivaced out by air to Dawson where she was stabilized, then sent onto Anchorage hospital.
Meanwhile, the rest of the troops slipped, slid, and white knuckled their way up to Eagle Plains. The collective sigh of relief by all riders as we pulled into the parking lot was surely audible to Australia!
And the trio left behind? Bless them, as they were out there in the cold and rain for over 5 hours. But they did see the most amazing rainbow grow in the sky as the helicopter took off. The first of many amazing rainbows we experienced.
Tenting at Eagle Plains was on the agenda, but agendas were made to be broken. We all spent the money and got ourselves rooms for the night, four to a room as their were only four rooms available.
Tomorrow…..the Arctic Circle
And this is end of part 2. Part 3 next time I get internet service
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