Today’s objective was Hay River, NT to Peace River, Alberta. Checking out distances and weather, I knew that I was likely to hit thunderstorms a couple of hours out of Peace River, but I could always hole up in Manning if that materialized.
I left Hay River in good time and had a very enjoyable ride to Enterprise and the border. Knowing where my phone was this time for pictures, I stopped at Louise Falls on the way out. Different again from the other waterfalls, it is a thundering one! If you walk up the trail a little further, there is a steel spiral staircase and a bunch of wooden stairs leading down to the top of the falls. There are 44 steel stairs and 96 wooden ones, to be precise. So if you want your morning exercise, jog those a couple of times! The trail actually continues on and goes all the way to Alexandra Falls, which is 2 kms by trail and 3 kms by highway. Feeling that I needed to get back on the road, I scooted back up the stairs and took the highway to stop at Alexandra Falls as well.
I did not see ONE bison the whole time I was in the Northwest Territories, despite being warned by everyone I saw about them being all over the roads! Good thing I saw some at Liard River Hot Springs or I would have been very disappointed.
It was a lovely ride out with a nice tail wind and I made it the whole distance from Hay River to High level on one tank of gas. When I filled up, it only took 10.35 litres, which meant I still had 70-75 kms left in the tank! Granted, I also kept my speed down as a test.
Stopped at the A & W in High Level for a quick lunch and a guy there asked where I was off to. Told him I was planning to make Peace River before heading east on the northern road to Amber Valley tomorrow. He said “We’ve got a short cut to Slave Lake” and told me I could go to the Fort Vermillion turnoff, then head south to Red Earth and Slave Lake along Hwy 88. I quizzed him about time and distances and he said “about 4 hours to Slave Lake and there’s gas at Red Earth, which is about 250 kms from High Level”. Since I knew it was 3 hours to Peace River with the last 2 probably being through rain, it sounded perfectly reasonable to spend another hour on the road and get as far as Slave Lake. Moreover, the thunderstorms were supposed to be east of that area. So what the heck - off I go on this alternative route!
Note to self: If you take travel advice from people, confirm it before taking it. It is not 400 kms or 4 hours to Slave Lake – it is 484 kms (5 hours). More importantly, gas at Red Earth is not 250 kms away – it is 310! This is a significant difference when you decide you are going to book it down the highway and then see the sign that informs you there is a lot further to go on that tank than you thought.
Soon after I got on the road, the winds shifted from a tail wind to a head wind. Still not bad – better than a cross wind. No sooner had the thought crossed my mind, it changed again to come strong from the east while we were travelling south. Fury pushed back and we kept on. Shortly after that, the temperature dropped about 10 degrees (I was dressed for the earlier heat) and I could smell the rain coming. Lightning began to the east and seeing the storm ahead, I knew we weren’t getting out of this one! I also knew that the chances of getting into Red Earth on the tank of gas I had were slim, but I might make it on fumes if I brought my speed down to 75-80 km/hr. I did have spare fuel, but by this time the rain was pouring down and I was cold, so the idea of unpacking the bike to get to the fuel pack and filling up in the pouring rain was a last resort. Not only that, but there is NUTHIN’ for great distances along that road, so there was no option to safely pull over to do that job. So we travelled along at 75-80 with the hazard lights on through the rain for about an hour and a half. Suddenly, the rain let up and the sky brightened and there was a pull-out ahead! Being pretty cold by now and wanting to get to Red Earth for gas, I pulled over, unpacked the bike and fed Fury the rest of my spare fuel. The skies continued to lighten and the rain stopped and we made tracks for Red Earth.
Not having any idea what size of community Red Earth was, I pulled into the first gas station I saw, after casting a very dubious eye over the muddy path to the pumps. I thought I could see a relatively firm path through it, but partway in, a soft patch grabbed the tire and I thought for sure we were going to get a bath in the huge puddle beside us. Miraculously, we pulled out of it and stayed upright. Whether that was instinct or luck, I couldn’t tell you, but I found a different path out! Back on the highway out of Red Earth, there were 3 other gas stations with much better accesses. I would have been pretty choked with myself if we had gone down in the mud and I had seen those after.
Chilled, but stubbornly insisting on finishing the last 160 kms, we got back on the highway, took some time to work the mud off the wheels and then booked it to Slave Lake. Arrived tired and cold at 8:30 and went straight into a hot bath!
Looking at the map, I realize that I am within an easy day’s ride of Fort McMurray! I suppose I should message cousin Alexis and let her know that I am a day earlier than the day early I told her I would be yesterday…. 😊 Tomorrow, I will be joined in Athabasca by a CTX700 forum friend that, of course, has the same bike as me. He lives in Fort McMurray so we will have a CTX ride for a couple of hours. I hope he can keep up since I have the faster colour….