Day two of our quad travel and we crossed over the territorial border, from the Yukon into the Northwest Territories. A wildlife check station marked the political divide–a small cabin, a few squat trailers and dozens of fuel drums scattered in the yard.
It rained on and off since our plane landed in Whitehorse. Summer hasn’t been this wet in years, said Charlie McLaren, our ride to the trailhead. We woke up our first morning in the bush to what sounded like rain. The sky was gray when we crawled outside the tent, but it wasn’t wet. Peeling back the tent fly we found the source of all that pitter-patter: thousands and thousands of mosquitoes stabbing at the nylon.
We’d cross four deep creeks on this day–the water high and swollen from so much rain. Every crossing seemed a chess match. We looked for the shallowest water, the hardest packed earth, that one good line that would keep the tires rolling. Still, some felt like a gamble, an uncomfortable gamble a long way from home.
Jim’s First Mistake: Charlie had warned us about winch tension. As did an editor at Field & Stream. As did the guys at the Polaris dealer in Whitehorse. But somewhere in the mud bog that was Itsi Creek Bridge, or winching up on of the flooded creek banks, tension was lost and the winch was wound in. Planning our line across the last and widest creek of the day, the creek where I buried his tires as seen in the video, Jim tried the winch and it wasn’t going anywhere. Stuck. The steel cable looked like a bait caster after a few minutes with a 5-year-old. We pulled. We ran the winch motor. We pulled some more. In the end, we just made it worse.
Mike’s First Mistake: At that last and widest creek, Jim gave his whole quad and trailer a onceover. The ball hitch was loose, so he broke out the tools and tightened it. I gave my rig a kick and called it good. I disconnected the trailer and raced down the trail back to the check station. Without the awkward trailer, the Polaris was like a new machine. It easily hit 40, broke well, and banked like the best of them. Rolling back to the creek bank, I went to reconnect my trailer. The ball hitch was gone.
A busted winch and a lost hitch, morale hit an all-time low. We rode up and down the trail and up and down the old grown over airstrip where I raced the bike. Believe it or not, we found the big nut that holds ball to hitch fairly quickly. The ball itself was gone.
“We’ll figure out something,” Jim said. “We have that chain.”
“I feel like such a dumbass …” I mumbled.
We turned around, two guys on one quad, resigned to starting the trip with a bonehead move.
“Stop! Stop!” Jim screamed. “There it is!”
He jumped off the quad. There it was: a shiny hunk of metal in the sandy, golden grass.
“Yaaaaaaaaaaah!” we both screamed, and yelled, and celebrated like wild men. There was a victory dance. Then a victory hug that, perhaps, was a little over zealous. My shoulder hit Jim’s chin and he took a good bite out of the side of his tongue.
My first mistake burned up a few hours. Jim’s first mistake, the winch, remained unresolved. We repacked our rigs and headed down the trail, past the old WWII pump house and a graveyard of 1940s Ford Trucks. The water was high, and thankfully, again, so was morale.