Alaska – Gravel, Grandeur & Goofy Grins (Part 3)
We left the Tangle River Inn and made our way easterly towards Tok. We were in and out of rain showers and frankly our arrival was a bit anti-climatic. Tok is a decent sized town, but is not all that distinctive. Perhaps what made Tok distinctive was the Westmark hotel which contained a slew of busses carrying cruise ship passengers headed for another point of embarkation. All those people jammed together and they really weren’t seeing the real Alaska and its people. What a shame.
We stayed only overnight and headed out first thing in the morning north-easterly towards Eagle, year round population 180. We knew that the trip to Eagle was a dead end cut off by the Yukon river, and that we would have to re-trace our tracks, but we thought that the surrounding roads and terrain looked pretty interesting so the trip was worthwhile. There were mountains and gravel roads to ride and 180 people to me so that seemed like fun!
Shortly after hitting the road the rain began. Nothing ridiculous, but on and off showers as we made our way along the paved portion of our day’s trip. Sooner than we knew it, we were on the gravel and making good time. And then the skies opened up. It was as if one of Alaska’s glaciers had burst and let loose the millions of gallons of ice melt water that had been contained for years. Visibility dropped to near zero and the temperature dropped as quickly as the falling rain. There was little else to do but stop and put on rain gear. While we unpacked our gear from our bikes, a ten wheeled dump truck traveling in the opposite direction stopped and the driver rolled down the window.
He had news. Just ahead, he said, they were repairing the road and laying gravel down. Big gravel, in 1 and 2 inch chunks, about 2 inches deep. Not to worry though, the gravel was only about a 3 mile stretch. “Marvelous, just marvelous”, I thought. Then he said that the gravel wasn’t the real issue. They were laying the gravel because the road had turned to mud and they were dumping the gravel on top to make the road surface hard enough for travel. “Wonderful, just wonderful”, I thought. Not to worry though, the mud was only a mile long though. “Crap”, I thought.
Oh well, we came for some adventure and adventure we were going to get. So on we went, slowly making our way through the pouring rain on asteroid size chunks of gravel and sloppy mud. But when all was said and done, we made it through with flying colors with Kim riding the gauntlet like a knight who’d won many a match with nary a slip. She did indeed pull off a spectacular ride.
For all this testing, we were greeted by the über small town of Chicken (its real name is Chicken Creek). It is said that it Chicken was so named because the settlers found that the surrounding countryside was full of Ptarmigan. However, no-one could spell Ptarmigan, so they decided to name it Chicken.
While passing through Chicken, we stopped at its epicenter, the Chicken Creek Cafe and the Chicken Creek Saloon. In a strip of attached wooden buildings, they served home cooked food and bottled liquor. The food was excellent especially considering there is no running water at all. They hand pump all their water for cooking and cleaning and there are no flush rest rooms. If you need to use the facilities the outhouse is out the front door to your right.
But by the time we finished our meals, we were well rested and the rain has stopped to a drizzle. Ahh… It was time to make our way to Eagle and get a good night’s sleep. When we arrived at Eagle it was getting late and we checked in and headed to the only restaurant in town which was right on the Yukon river. It was a good meal and only made us more sleepy.
The following morning we had some time to meet our innkeeper and talk about life in Eagle and what ever else she could think of. It turns out that she was not a native of Eagle but had been a school teacher in Wisconsin. She had developed a pen pal relationship with a man who told her he lived in a small town in Alaska called Eagle. After about a year, he invited her to come out and visit him, she did and found that his home had no running water and no central heat. But she fell in love with Alaska and ultimately the man and never returned to Wisconsin.
We stayed only one day in Eagle and in the late morning headed towards Canada and the Yukon Territory town of Dawson City. We had an appointment to attend ADV’s Dust to Dawson event. ADVers from all over the world would be in attendance and we were looking forward to meeting other adventure riders from various corners of the planet.
Back we rode over the same gravel road from whence we had come and just before getting to Chicken, we made the turn to make our way to the Canadian border and ultimately onto the Top Of The World Highway. Approaching and crossing the border was pretty anti-climatic. The Canadian border is in the town of Little Gold Creek. Its residents? The border guards that live at the house at the border crossing and no-one else. While there, they asked appropriate questions and sent us on our way.
Then we were off and traveling the Top Of The World Highway. The views were great, but for some reason we were not awed. The road surface changed back and forth from gravel and pavement which made the ride a bit interesting, but for some reason, there were an abundance of motorhomes and vehicles with trailers on the road despite being fairly in a fairly isolated area. It became a bit frustrating as the motorhomes were very slow going up the very big hills we encountered and very fast coming down sometimes traveling uncomfortably close to Kim as she descended the hills.
But after about an hour we started a gradual descent and approached the town of Dawson City. Coming down some of the final hills, we came to a clearing and could catch a glimpse of the city we were about to visit. We could see the town center and it was painted in bright, lively colors that beckoned to us from the valley below. The Yukon river continued its lazy flow in front of us, for now cutting us off from the delightful little town. But we were only a couple of miles and a free ferry ride away from 3 days of fun in Dawson which we’ll tell you about in Part 4.