The George Black is a free ferry leaving from the north side of town at regular intervals. I make a final tour through town with my helmet camera capturing moving images as I ride then arrive, first in line, for the ferry. Moments later a pristine GS1200 pulls up beside me piloted by a rider and his wife wearing matching riding suits and followed shortly by another big GS. Apparently this is a family holiday for them and a nearby SUV has a ladies bike in the trailer. The pristine GS is a garage queen and was trailered up from the Midwest US to be ridden with dad’s bike (the other big GS) from here into Anchorage. The ferry ride is short, the other riders are busy with their own things and I fuss with a few minor housekeeping things on my own bike. As the ferry docks, I launch off the ramp for a holeshot into the first corner of the Top of the World Highway (well not quite as aggressively as it sounds but I did want to get there first).
Top of the World is a mix of gravel (construction zones) and older pavement as I wind my way to the clouds. I’m sure that on a clear day there are some spectacular views but I was correct when I left Dawson – there is limited visibility up here today. Despite the lack of a view, this is a far easier highway to ride than the Dempster and I enjoy a few stolen views when there is an opening in the clouds.
As I approach the American border, the clouds that have been threatening through the morning begin to leak and pulling up to the kiosk with my paperwork in hand, the clouds hit “full deluge.” I have only a few moments of refuge beneath the border canopy before my aerostich gear is fully exposed to the downpour.
The American side of the road is significantly worse than the Canadian side. There is no pavement, limited gravel and the downhill grade only adds to the challenge of this mostly dirt road. I am thankful that my TKC tires have only run up and down the Dempster, they are still reasonably fresh and handle this mud pretty well.
About ten minutes down the road, I realize that the cold rain is not letting up and with time it will chill me. All I’m wearing under my Darien jacket is my Koerta Pressure Suit over an electric vest (that isn’t for some reason) with a light cotton shirt. I plan on a few miles today and a chill this early in the day would not be a good thing so I start to look for a place where I can get off the road and add an insulating jacket. I see some rundown log buildings and what appears to be abandoned gas pumps at a wide spot in the road and pull off just in case some traffic happens by (haven’t seen any for quite a while).
Down goes the side stand, off comes the helmet and I dig into my tank bag for my Darien fleece liner. As I’m struggling to drag the fleece over the pressure suit, a voice startles me from behind asking if I’d like some coffee. I turn to face two young men (likely late teens or early twenties) who are here “taking care of the place” and doing a little prospecting back in the hills. These boys looked like they just stepped out a gold rush photo-documentary: dirt encrusted Carhartts, long sleeved cotton tees, suspenders, unshaven, unwashed rain-soaked hair. This was their summer job; try to rustle up a little business for the dilapidated roadhouse and pull a little gold out of some claim back in the woods. In the past couple of months they’ve pulled about ten ounces of gold out which, even at $1,500 per ounce, can’t be doing much to cover their costs much less build a nest-egg for the future.
I politely decline their offer of coffee. I’m not cold yet and I’ve got my gear back on all the way it needs to be and I have a lot of miles to go today. I have one of those funny “Deliverance” type feelings too and think about all the business that isn’t there….how fresh can that coffee be with no traffic and an empty parking lot? I wave to them as I head off down the road. I last see them trudging through the mud back toward one of the larger buildings. This was one of the few encounters I had with people where I did not talk about my road2blue projection.
Chicken, Alaska is a community of less than 30 for most of the year but in the early 1900’s apparently had a population of about 400. It is located about 160 km west of Dawson and about 120 km north east of Tok, Alaska and is the perfect place to top off a gas tank and take a break on a rainy wet day. Actually, as I pull into Chicken, the rain had stops, the clouds were lighter and the road seemed to be drying out a bit (but the temperature was holding firm at “cool”). I fill the tank and wander into the general store to see what kind of merchandise is available.
Chicken, Alaska. How many tiny communities can gain such fame? This town is a testament to perseverance and innovation. Originally this town was supposed to be called Ptarmigan after the lifesaving abundance of the bird during a particularly lean year of other game and food but the local miners could not agree on the correct spelling so they called it “Chicken.” From such a laughable beginning, this little town has created a presence – the second town in Alaska to have a US Post Office and a notable entry in “The Milepost” – Bible for northern tourists. One aspect of the “Top of the World Highway” that appealed to me was the fact that it would take me through “Chicken.”
I buy some teeshirts for my daughters head out of the store.
I think we can all learn from “Chicken.” We may begin our lives under less than ideal circumstances; as Michael J. Fox has stated, “we all have our bag of hammers.” It might be parkinsons, diabetes, cancer, depression, schizophrenia….or a host of other illnesses; with help, determination, hard work and a willingness to take chances, we can turn adversity into advantage. If we are fortunate enough not to be seriously afflicted, we can see those who are afflicted…and care for them. Care for them by not judging them, by giving them the help they need, by helping them help themselves.
Walking back to my bike, I see the pristine GS pull into the lot. I wander over to the cookshack to see if there is any food that appeals to me but after perusing the menu, decide to pass. I make my way back to the bike, get my gear on and just as I’m about to head out, the other GS that had accompanied the pristine one back in Dawson finally shows up. Still no sign of the SUV with the wives and trailer but at least the guy’s father has finally showed up. Interesting way of “riding together” I think. I sure wouldn’t like it very much if my riding “partner” was that far ahead of me. Oh well, everyone rides their own ride.
The rain returned as I left Chicken and followed me until I approached the Canadian border at Beaver Creek approximately 320 km from Chicken. The road between the Port of Entry into the US and the Canadian border crossing ( a distance of almost 30 km) is under construction for most of the way but once I get back to the Canadian side I stop for supper before carrying on to Haines Junction.
Beaver Creek to Haines Junction is almost 300km. On a sunny clear day, apparently the waters of Kluane Lake are breath taking. Today, the snowcapped peaks are obscured behind lowhanging clouds and the diffused light leaves the lake appearing cold and grey. A cool north wind has me nearly shivering and the buffeting tosses the bike across the width of the lane at times.
Approaching Haines Junction, I catch a couple of fellow travellers. As I pass them, I am pleasantly surprised to see my friends Steve and Neil whom I seem to be running into on a regular basis. Obviously I’m travelling a little quicker than they are so I pass with a friendly beep of the horn and a wave as I pull back into the right lane ahead of them.
In Haines Junction I ride past three motels before I find one with vacancy. Neil and Steve pull in behind me and between the three of us, we get the last two rooms in town. After a long day on the road, there is much to reflect on and I know that the next day I will have to make some decisions regarding how much of an impact the weather will have on the last few days of my journey.