Alaska – Gravel, Grandeur & Goofy Grins (Part 6)
We enjoyed being in Dawson City so much that time was vanquished much more quickly than the setting of the sun in Dawson’s 21 hours of daylight. Suddenly it was time to leave this wonderful place. With quite a bit of disappointment, we the loaded the bikes and headed for the ferry and back up the mountain to the US border via the Top of the World Highway.
The trip to the border was fairly easy going with great scenery, good gravel and bright sun. We did unfortunately encounter some people in motorhomes who were driving recklessly. Very slow up the steep grades they would not let you pass and when you finally did pass, they would come down the steep grades very fast at the risk of burning out their brakes and tailgate until the next upward grade. Other than the motorhome issue, you couldn’t ask for a much nicer trip to the border. Once there, we were greeted by the residents of the town of Poker Creek Alaska, population 2. The residents? The two border guards that live at the house on the border while the highway is open. They were very friendly and even assisted us with the motorhomes we had encountered on the highway. The let us through very quickly and determined that the motorhomes merited a much more significant inspection. Ahhh… payback. Thank you guys!
Past the border we headed back toward Chicken and made a stop at the Chicken Creek Cafe for lunch again. We met a few travelers while there and discussed off road riding and our journey so far. Many expressed a desire to ride with us or make the journey on two wheels instead of four, so they too could enjoy the adventure as we had been doing. They all said… “Someday.” We were so glad that we had made “someday” arrive for us.
One of the travellers asked us which of the bikes was better and I remarked that they were both good bikes He said he thought the KTM was probably the better bike because it had glasses. I wasn’t sure what he meant until I turned around and looked at the headlights of my KTM and then I saw what he meant. The lens covers on the KTM did indeed look like glasses! (see pictures). Very dirty glasses, but glasses nonetheless.
On the way out of Chicken, we stopped to see Chicken’s own dredge, the Pedro dredge. It was being restored and was smaller in size than dredge #4 in Dawson, but you could get much closer to the Pedro dredge. We walked around and took a few pictures and once again we were reminded of the toiling that took place over a hundred years ago in search of gold.
After the pictures, it was time to get moving again so we could get to our hotel for the night at Tok. As we had related earlier, for us Tok did not represent anything special so it merely became a waypoint and a disembarkation point for our next stop at McCarthy, Alaska. McCarthy had special allure to us for numerous reasons. First, while we were researching this trip, we found the Kennicott Glacier Lodge which is located directly beside the Root Glacier that we intended to walk and which was only a short hike from the old McCarthy Copper Mine which we also intended to tour.
Having found the Kennicott Glacier Lodge with all the surrounding areas of interest, we excitedly called to make reservations. We told them we would be arriving on motorcycles and the assistant suddenly became very concerned. Did we know that they were located at the end of a 60 mile gravel road? Why yes, yes we did, and that was precisely one of the reasons we had decided to come and visit them. With a bit of hesitation, the attendant booked us and were all set to go to McCarthy. We couldn’t wait to get there.
After a few hours sleep in Tok, we tried to get an early start but we ran into two separate mechanical problems. First, one of the pannier bolts had broken on the KTM and the bolt was broken off inside the mount. Damn! There was no way for me to get the broken bolt out of the mount myself. The first thing to do was to totally unpack the bike. Then find a shop where I could get an extractor to remove the bolt. Ultimately I found an ATV shop where I spent several hours disassembling the pannier mounts so we could get at the mount to extract the broken bolt. Once we had extracted the bolt, I reassembled the pannier mounts and headed back to the hotel. By this time it had started raining. Nice. It was a short ride to the hotel where Kim was patiently waiting. We rushed through loading the bikes quickly as time was wasting.
I fired up and jumped on my bike and immediately knew something was wrong. The bike felt all mushy and it felt like I was riding on iron rollers. It was immediately clear what the problem was. I had a rear tire flat. Damn! Again! But the tire still had enough air to get back to the ATV shop without ruining the tire. Once there, we checked the tube and found no punctures. Now what? Believe it or not, it was just that the valve core was loose. Double damn! But it was an easy fix and another short ride later I was back at the hotel and packed for the ride to McCarthy.
As we made our way to McCarthy first on paved roads to the Kennicott mine with its rich history as the biggest copper deposit ever discovered, our anticipation and excitement grew as did the sight of the Wrangell – St. Elias mountain range and the glaciers it held. There were beautiful vistas filled with mountains and trees and nothing else. They continued to grow and grow as we approached, but forward motion did not seem to exist. We knew we were traveling at around 50 mph, but the size of the Great Land and the distance to the mountain ranges nullified any feeling of forward progress. We felt suspended in time and space. Although we were moving, the landscape and the surroundings really didn’t change other than to witness the increasing size of the mountains in front of us gradually got closer. Mountains changed from smallish bumps to taller peaks and finally to towering monoliths directly in front of our eyes.
By 5:30 PM we arrived at the turnoff of the pavement to the beginning of the gravel to get to Kennicott. We’ll take you there in Part 7.