The pucker factor

We woke up fairly early and got the bikes ready to roll. The plan was to make it 230 miles to Eagle Plains early so we could get rest for the 260 mile ride back to Dawson the next day. We had heard the ferry across the McKenzie River had closed down the night before for high winds, so the first thing I did was check the website for updated conditions. According to Canadian Highway websites all ferries were operating. We blew out of town without coffee.

Image of a long dirt road

The road out of town

It was a cold morning, cold enough to pull out all the heated gear. The wind was pretty bad, and the gravel was the size of marbles. We hit a spot of sloppy mud where the bike zigged and zagged down the road. Michael has started ranking the spots by the “pucker factor.”

Image of a motorcycle boot atop gravel

Gravel like marbles

We get to the McKenzie ferry crossing and all is shut down. Europeans are milling in frustration, some having spent the whole night waiting. We got there at 10 a.m. and it was looking like hours. The sky was looking ugly. We walked down to the ferry and spoke with the driver; he suggested we wait it out in the employee warming hut/house. We thanked him for the hospitality and headed up the hill.

The little house reminded me of a fire station; living quarters were upstairs and a small kitchen and living room downstairs.

Image of several people relaxing around a living room setup inside the ferry station

We hung out for hours in the ferry station house

We met the ferry captain, a burly guy named Rick, that was sticking to his safety guns, even though the phone was ringing off the hook with people wanting to know when things would start up again. Rick’s standard answer was, “When the wind stops blowing.” Rick has been guiding ferries across Canada for 30 years. The folks at the station made us feel welcome. They were a friendly lot of men that basically live up here in the far north five months a year away from their families. They work in shifts to cover the generous ferry hours and bake bread in the down time.

Image of a stressed out looking man rubbing his head

Rick worrying about the conditions on the river

We chatted about all things Canadian, including the recent train wreck which was taking all the airwaves on the telly. Rick would get up and look at the “windsock” and answer the phone and laugh, even though you could tell he was worried about the conditions. We sat in the station until 6:30pm.

While sitting there waiting out the wind, it starts to snow. The ferry captain says, “Think of it as big, wet, cold rain,” in response to Michael’s, “It isn’t really snowing right? Tell me that I’m not really seeing snow.”

Image of two flags at mass, one a tattered Canadian flag

Ferry terminal “windsock”

Then, just like that, an announcement comes that an attempt is going to be made to cross the river. We are thinking more about being stuck there longer than what the word “attempt” might mean. We jump to our bikes and load them on the ferry. The winds were actually white capping the water. The boat had to be brought in backwards. This meant we had to turn our bikes around on the slippery metal deck covered in mud. That was fun. You know it must be something when the ferry drivers congratulate each other for making it across.

Image of several trucks and cars stopped at the end of a dirt road with the water in the background

Traffic jam at the end of the road. Europeans traveling in rentals.

We rode the distance to the B&B in Fort McPherson. While waiting in the station I called around, it turns out there is only one hotel in Fort McPherson, the Peel River Inn, and it was filled. There is only one B&B and she has only two rooms. We got one of them. We at least knew we had a place to stay for the night. We learned that a second washout has occurred at Sheep River, we have no idea how long we will be here. We also learned the second ferry was not operating, due to high water levels. The other room went to a fellow stranded traveler, Art. He is from Dawson. He is a gold miner that pans for a living these days. We spent the night chatting about the business of dog mushing and gold panning.

Image of a white-haired man cooking Mac and Cheese on a stove

Art, our new displaced traveling friend. He belongs in Dawson

Image of a relieved and tired looking Michael standing in front of the two parked motorcycles with his hands on his head

Michael, thrilled to be on the other side of the river

Image of a smiling Judy standing in front of her parked motorcycle

Me thrilled to be somewhere other than a ferry station

Shopping Inuvik
About Maya

My name is Maya, and I wander.


  1. This trip has turned out to be epic! And it isn't even over yet.

    So many great pictures, challenges and people. And beer! I am glad you have this blog to "take notes" for future retelling of these stories.

    Also, you are running out of space on your packs for bumper stickers! What will you do when that happens?

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