It’s been a bit of an odd winter here in Whitehorse. I don’t think we saw below -10C temperatures at all in November or December (or if we did, there were few days that cold) and then for two weeks at the end of January I don’t think it was ever warmer than -25C. Then we had a massive thaw in mid-February which melted a huge amount of the limited snow that has fallen this year. I know, I know……… Canadians. We like to bitch about the weather.
All of this is to say that the conditions this past weekend, for riding the Dawson Overland Trail, were perfect.
Riding the Dawson Trail from Takhini to Braeburn in one go has been on my training plan since January. It’s a 100km ride and the only other time I’ve tackled it was with three friends in 2012 and we stayed overnight in a cabin halfway along the route. So I was nervous about being able to ride that far without having a way out. We started early, just after 8am from the southern end of the trail. I brought along a fabulous riding partner and general badass, Sierra. She had already ridden the trail a few times and more than once in a day but never on the south to north route.
We had made plans with friends who were biking the trail from the north end to meet and swap car keys for the ride home. By the time we got to Dog Grave Lake (Dooley’s Lookout) we figured we might actually cross paths with them close to the Klondike Snowmobile Association’s cabin, which is the halfway point. The day was going better than I could have planned and when we arrived at the KSA cabin to find Josh, Paul and Jonah having lunch, I knew the rest of the ride was going to be okay. It has taken them 3 hours to travel 50km and it had taken us 4. At this point I was pretty sure I was going to survive. Nerves diminished considerably as I snacked on cheese and smoked salmon for lunch.
We didn’t stay for too long. After quickly noting our trip in the KSA cabin logbook, Sierra and I hopped back on our bikes and continued north. The trail remained in excellent condition even as the temperature rose and we both had to take off our hats to avoid over-heating. The Overland Trail – at least these 100km of it – is not the most exciting winter snow bike route out there. It’s fairly flat and while it is pretty in spots, it doesn’t have some of the achingly beautiful views found elsewhere in the Yukon. The history of the trail is what makes it cool.
This was once the only way to get to Dawson from Whitehorse if you weren’t using the Yukon River as your road. The White Pass & Yukon Route built the trail in 1902 and it was used by them to haul mail and passengers. Along the way roadhouses sprung up as stopping places for weary travellers. Takhini, Little River, Nordenskiold – all roadhouses between Whitehorse and Braeburn where passengers could get food, sleep and often most importantly in the winter, warm up. By the early 1920s, mining was down in Dawson and the WP&YR stopped offering transportation over the trail. Other contractors offered the service in the years following but, by the late 20s, airplane travel became an option and gradually the Overland Trail just fell out of use. A road from Whitehorse to Mayo was finished by 1950 and three years later the road extended to Dawson. At this point, not only did people stop using the Overland Trail to get to Dawson but the sternwheelers were also soon to follow suit. Paddle steamer operations by the British Yukon Navigation Company ceased completely in 1955.
The history of the trail certainly appeals to me but by the time we were at kilometre 80 or so, I was ready for the ride to be over. The final kilometers are marked by what I would call a nondescript tunnel of evergreen trees and straight lines. But we were still making good time so I was feeling cheerful, even if a little bored.
We arrived at the Braeburn Lodge 8 hours and 5 minutes after leaving the Takhini parking lot. Ride time: 7 hours. Not too shabby. Actually, if I’m being honest, I was shocked. I had expected 10 hours, maybe 12 if things had gone poorly. There is no question that the excellent condition of the trail made a HUGE difference in our ability to cover the distance in so little time (our southbound friends, by the way, made it in 5 hours) but I confess that it has lessened my panic, somewhat, in looking forward to the White Mountains 100.