Day seven on the Dempster I was slowly climbing the last slope to Seven Mile Hill, just above the Olgilvie River. I heard a grunt-like pant and heavy foot falls, looked over my right shoulder, direct into the face of a grizzly. I had one brief moment of "what a magnificent animal" big brown eyes level with mine. It was enough to calm a panic action, to stop the bike and reach for the bear spray. We were long past the "make noise to warn him" and the "stand up tall to make yourself look bigger", we had skipped a few vital stages of bear encounter rules. The teeth biting into my handle bar bag clinched the rapid bear spray action (even had the calm to check the bear spray was pointed in the right direction). So from 30 cm away a burst of spray stopped the next chomp. He retreated rapidly to the side of the road, but disturbingly only 20 metres or so. I cautiously started back up the hill, head swivelling backwards.
It took a kilometre or two before the nerves cut in. I checked my airtight snack bag, someone had left 2cm of the seal unzipped. What an incredible nose to detect the few microns of snack food drifting out of another closed bag.
News travels fast up here, clearly this wasn't a run of the mill encounter, Lolita from the Yukon Parks office tracked me down as I rode into Dawson for a hour or so detailed debrief.
That was the unwelcome excitement of the last 10 days across the Dempster highway. The remainder from day one was an incredible ride through vast space, mountains in all directions, the huge glistening watery network of the McKenzie delta below. Green glaciers in their last stages of melt, crystal clear glacial streams and wild life everywhere, not always so intentionally visible.
With neither ferry for the McKenzie or Peel River crossings open for my arrival, l was carrying food for a long camp out waiting for a local with a boat to get me across the kilometre wide swirling torrents of icy water. It took just half a days wait at each, and a highlight of spending time with local Qwich'in people.
Ernest a Qwich'in elder filled three wonderful hours on the banks of the Peel River. We inspected his fresh stock of drying Whitefish and he told me his story of cancer recovery. With chronic bowel and stomach cancer, doctors had removed much of both. The operation also paralysed him from the waist down. Given two days to live he asked a best friend to take him home "to set a net in his river". With a grandson lifting his legs into the boat he did just that. He had a vision with his dead father on one side and more live and experience on the other. Fighting pains memory loss and forcing himself in to action, he got his legs functioning. Last winter he and his wife loaded up the Ski-Doo to travel 200km to the caribou hunting grounds, alone.
At his last assessment with his Doctor there was absolutely no sign of cancer. I left him about to repair his chainsaw to cut firewood from the huge pile of tree trunks the melting ice of the Peel had dumped in his front yard. He told me the risks of grizzly's in my path across the Dempster "I am comfortable with bears" he said. I like to think he lent me a small part of that comfort.
Ernest on the banks of his "TV" passing life on the Peel River