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Tok, Alaska to Dawson City, Alaska

posted Jun 29, 2009, 11:50 AM by Paul Gareau   [ updated Jun 29, 2009, 2:14 PM ]
Hi all. Wow, that was a tough week. I covered a little over 200 miles on the Taylor Highway and the Top of the World Highway. They're both very remote, and the hills are steep, long and frequent. Here's the breakdown.

Click here for my map for the week.

Monday, June 22nd
Tok to BLM pullover

I started out with Emma and Robert, who were planning to choose their route at Tetlin Junction, where the Alaska Highway meets the Taylor Highway. On our way there we met a Belgian rider who had been coming up from Argentina for the past couple years. His name was Derk (sp?) and he was travelling very light. He encouraged me to ride through Central America and Columbia, but I explained that we're limited by time and money, but that we would have otherwise. We rode a little further on where we had to wait for an escort before crossing a bridge that was under construction. Shortly after this was a weigh station. Robert pulled right up onto the scale and was told his total weight was 300 lbs. Emma was next at 260, then me at 300. The weights could be off by 20 lbs in either direction, and I can see 280 being about right for myself, my bike and my gear and food. I'd be feeling every pound of it for the rest of the ride to Dawson.

We found that Tetlin Junction was long since abandoned, but all the buildings were open and we did some exploring. It must have been a pretty thriving place at one time, there was a guest house, a cafe, a garage, cabins and a few other buildings. I've seen other "ghost towns" like this before where there just isn't enough business, or the primary owner dies and everything closes down. While we were there, a German couple rode up and we all talked for a while. They had a lot of gear and had just come down the Taylor highway, so they warned me about what was to come.

Robert and Emma finally decided to stay with their initial plan, which was to keep heading East on the Alaska Highway. We all said goodbye and went our separate ways. 

Right from the start of the Taylor, there was a steep three mile climb. After this, there was another, and another. This would be the norm until I reached Dawson. Luckily, I had planned short days, so I didn't need to rush through it. The other problem I ran into was the scarcity of water throughout the week. I started getting nervous toward the end of the day, but finally I found a very small stream by the side of the road, and filled up three water bottles for later. I had already decided I'd need to have a cold dinner, but this meant I could make some pasta instead, which was definitely uplifting.

I scoped out a few potential camping spots, then decided on a pullover with a BLM sign in front of it.

The scenery on this day was always better behind me where there was often a good view of the mountains we had been seeing in the previous couple days. For most of my time on the Taylor, I was riding through an area that had been burnt by a forest fire in 2004 (I think). Some of the views of burn pine trees were pretty surreal.

42 miles total.

Tuesday, June 23rd
BLM pullover to South Fork Campground

This was a pretty uneventful day. My first priority was to get some more water, so when I found a small stream of water coming down a hill and off a rock on the side of the road, I did what I usually do in this kind of situation - ask myself "What would Bear Grylls do?". Unfortunately the answer involved naked calisthenics for some reason, and all I really wanted was a drink, so I filled my bottles up again and rode off. (If you're scratching your head now, you haven't seen "Man vs. Wild" lately). Anyway, the water was close to the color of apple juice and I planned to filter it a little further up the road.

A little later on, I got to the Mt. Fairplay Wayside pullover, which is a common stop for RVs that are passing through. I talked to Chris and Tiffany (?) for a while. They were both airline pilots and were driving around the area and fishing. The hills were too much for their old Ford Econoline conversion van and the transmission had given up. They had relayed a message for their brother via another motorist, who would make a call from Tok, and they were waiting for him to come pick them up. Unfortunately they had no way to know that he got the message, or when he would be there.

A lot of the other RVers took an interest in my trip and while I was talking to one, I inhaled a bug that left me coughing like an idiot for the next couple of minutes. The guy was nice enough not to walk away, but I'm going to have to remember to breath more carefully with all the bugs around here.

I camped at South Fork Campground, where the host told me a little more about the Pan Am rider named Dirk. Apparently, he had been hinting that ne needed some food, and when the host gave him a can of beans and a loaf of bread, he had eaten it all in one sitting. The host had also heard that he was looking for handouts up in Chicken a day or two earlier.

I made a small fire at night and tried boiling water over it. It didn't do much other than turn my pot black, but the water got hot enough for hot chocolate at least.

Only 22 miles.

Wednesday, June 24th
South Fork Campground to Walker Fork Campground

There was a bridge just past the campground, and as I was riding over it, I looked down to see a full-grown moose crossing right through the middle. I got a few shots, and then got back to the hills.

The Community of Chicken was the big attraction of the day, and is also where the road changed from paved to unpaved. Rumor has it that the early settlers wanted to name their town Ptarmigan, but since no one knew how to spell it, the went with the simpler name "Chicken" instead. Chicken is a pretty small place, with only a couple dozen residents. They have no central power, plumbing or phone service, but of course they offer high speed wireless internet. "Downtown" chicken is basically just four connected buildings - a gift shop, liquor store, a bar and a cafe. They all had very a very "authentic" feel, with low ceilings and slanted floors. Down a side road, there is another gift shop and a place where you can spend $10 per day to pan for your own gold. Gold mining is pretty big around here, and it's not uncommon to see mining equipment and hovercrafts (used to get up the shallow rivers) on the side of the road.

I ordered a hamburger while I was in Chicken, and wondered if I would have been given a Ptarmigan sandwhich if I ordered a "Chicken" sandwhich from the menu. After that I rode on to Walker Fork Campground, where I spent the night. I met a couple from Texas there who were driving through Alaska to finish visiting all 50 states (not consecutively though). They usually set up camp and do their sight seeing on a Harley.

35 miles.

Thursday, June 25th
Walker Fork Campground to Past Yukon Border

More climbing today, as usual. Since the road is unpaved after Chicken, it made the going even slower. I knew I'd be passing through the "town" named Boundary today, and I was looking forward to getting a good lunch in their cafe. I got there to find it deserted, so it was my usual peanut butter sandwich and an orange for lunch. While I was eating, George the caretaker drove up and told me they had all decided to try their luck at a newly discovered gold source, rather than servicing passing motorists. As I was about to leave, two guys drove up on multi sport bikes looking for gas. Since they were closed, George offered some from his own supply for only $7 per gallon. Maybe the gas business could be pretty lucrative after all.

The highlight of the day was crossing into Canada. I was excited about crossing the border for some reason, even though I've done it about half a dozen times by bike before. Customs is at just about the highest point on the highway, and the views were by far the best of the trip. I asked the customs officer about camping spots and water. She said there was not any official camping until Dawson, and gave me a few liters of water.

At the top of the pass, there was a doubletrack road that went off into the mountains. I rode up it for a while, and looked for a place to camp. The scenery was stunning and it would have been a great place to camp, but I couldn't find a spot that was flat and out of the wind, so I backtracked and kept looking. Finally, I saw a flat area off the side of the road that wouldn't be visible to passing cars, and I set up my camp there.

33 miles.

Friday, June 26th
Rain Day

I woke up to a cold and rainy morning, and decided I'd take a day off. My big problem as always was finding water, so I walked around a little until I found a patch of snow. I filled my pot about 8 times, melted it over my stove, then filtered the water. This gave me enough water to cook and eat with for the day, and for all of the next day. At one point I looked out of my tent to see that it was sleeting - I was glad I decided to stay off my bike.

Saturday, June 27th
Past Yukon Border to Castle Rock

When I was in Chicken, I heard about a solo female rider that a couple had met in Dawson. Even though they saw us both on the same day, I knew that at the speed we were going we wouldn't meet up for a day and a half or two days. Before I left camp I saw her rounding the corner, and I ran up the hill in time to see her go flying by down the hill. I called out a few times but she didn't hear me. Darn.

I probably don't need to say it, but there was more climbing today, and even more great scenery. Nothing too exciting happened, and I ended up riding my planned distance instead of doubling up, which I had considered the day before. With the hills, my average speed was about 8 miles per hour, and if I had ridden all the way to Dawson, I would have arrived after 9PM. 

I camped at a deserted rest area at Castle Rock. I guess it wasn't a very appealing place to stop, since all the signs had been taken down, and it didn't look like it had seen many visitors. One RV drove in and camped there for the night. The owners were Don and Marie (I think), who had driven up from Vancouver.

I had trouble falling asleep, so I was up past midnight and got to see the midnight sun for the first time ever. It was about 12:15AM, and the sun was just above the horizon. Pretty cool.

32 miles

Sunday, June 28th
Castle Rock to Dawson

The hills were trailing off a little and I made pretty good time. The best part of the day was a 14km downhill into town. As I descended, I could feel the temperature and humidity rising. During the previous two days I had to wear my jacket while riding, which is always a challenge because I get too hot on the climbs and too cold on the descents. Since it had been in the low 50s, I was looking forward to some warmer weather.

Before getting over to Dawson, I had to take a ferry across the Yukon River. Dawson is a great little town. Since there isn't much around pretty much every traveler stops here, so it's a pretty bustling place. I got lunch at a cafe in town, then just sat around watching all the action. A fiddler and accordion player started playing in a gazebo across the street, and eventually, a percussionist joined in. It was a pretty unique sound and was very enjoyable. I explored town a little and finally got my dinner at the general store in town and headed back over the river to the campground.

So far in town I've met two couples who are touring, and one guy who is touring solo who just came down the Dempster highway. Since that's where Chris and I will be headed first, it was good to talk to someone who had done it already.

33 miles.

Monday, June 29th

Just hanging around today, getting my blog up to date and waiting for Chris. Hopefully he won't have any trouble catching a ride up from Whitehorse. 

The canoe trip I had been interested in takes 3-4 days and costs $120. Since I got to Dawson a day late, and it takes longer than I thought, for now I won't be able to do it. Maybe when Chris and I finish the Dempster we can give it a shot.

Here's the elevation profile from Tok to Dawson. (The second day was harder than it looked here. :) )

Bye for now!