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Published: June 27th 2008
We left Whitehorse on Monday morning in a steady rain, and the temperature was only about +8. The rain would last all the way to Pelly Crossing, about 300 kilometers. At times the clouds were right down to highway level. Needless to say, the visibility was poor and we didn't see too much scenery other than the forests along side of the road. It has been interesting at least to see how the trees are becoming smaller as we travel north. Given the extend of the rain, I managed to stay mostly dry, with the exception of my feet. My new motorcycle boots that I purchased for this trip have proven anything but waterproof. I am going to go in search of solutions to deal with this - perhaps some kind of overshoe or something.
One of the interesting things coming this far north is to see the epic adventurers along the way. Many off-road style motorcycles loaded with gear, people on heavily-loaded bicycles, and many odd vehicles out to test their mettle. During the day we were constantly being passed by classic sports cars - Austin Healy 3000's, a 50's era Jaguar, a couple of early 60's vintage Aston
Martins, a Lotus, an early Rover. They all had decals saying “2008 Panama to Alaska Friendship Tour” with a map showing their route. I discovered one minor discrepancy: they weren't very friendly. I approached a group of drivers tending to their cars in Stewart Crossing and found them most unfriendly and dismissive, not the least bit interested in discussing their cars or adventure. Oh well, I just wrote them off as another bunch of stuffy Brits. To me, traveling is about meeting people along the way. They obviously were just in search of some glory back home, and dealing with us colonials was not a prerequisite.
By the time we had reached Stewart Crossing the weather had turned very nice, sunny and 20 degrees. Our traveling group had increased in size from Whitehorse with 3 or 4 more bikes heading to Dawson, so when our group of about 20 or more people invaded the restaurant, they weren't ready for us. A couple of our group went in to the kitchen and started helping serve up soup and make toast, and got us all fed in short order.
We arrived in Dawson late afternoon. I was amazed at the
signs of gold mining evident on the way into town. Great piles of tailings for many kilometers, obviously left behind by the dredges that devoured the landscape extracting the gold.
I called my friend Helmut the evening of our arrival. Helmut is the town dentist in Dawson, and I got to know him because he built a ¾ scale Fieseler Storch replica aircraft similar to mine. Helmut had a procedure to take care of first thing on Tuesday morning, then he gave me a call and we made plans for the day. I wanted to see his aircraft because it was my first time here. Helmut and Marielle drove me to the airport and we opened his hangar and pulled out his Storch C-FSTO. After Helmut did a few circuits, he invited me to take it for a flight. I was somewhat taken aback by his generosity. I had him give me a briefing on the aircraft and flight procedures at this airport, then climbed in. I taxied to position and started my takeoff roll with full flaps and stick back as he suggested. The plane leapt into the air. I flew one circuit, did a touch-and-go then headed
towards town to take some pictures. Helmut had done a great job of building the plane, it flew so nicely. The Rotax 912 engine was easy-starting and smooth running. I flew down the valley and around the corner to the downtown area. Seeing all of the rows of tailings from the air gave me a great sense of the history of the area. After a circle over the town and pictures taken, I headed back to the airport. After landing and getting the plane put away, we headed back into town and Helmut and Marielle gave me a bit of a tour around town. I picked up some goop to try and water seal my riding boots and then head back to the hotel. We had a nice supper at the Eldorado Hotel, then went to see the stage show at Diamond Tooth Gerties casino. It turned out that the stage show, while energetic, was a pale comparison to the show we saw in Whitehorse. My feeling was immediately that they were just there to attract people into the casino, and they ended each show with an advertisement for the next one “better music, different costumes - stick around (and
gamble) to see the next show” an hour later.
Later that evening we drove up to the “dome” which is a viewpoint on a hill adjacent to the town where you can view the midnight sun. We got up there shortly before midnight and enjoyed the view with the sun low on the horizon. The next morning we were up early to prepare for our departure to Tok Alaska via the “Top of the World Highway”.
Top of the World Highway to Tok Alaska
In the morning after breakfast we lined up for the ferry across the Yukon river. There was a long line-up of RV's awaiting the ferry, but fortunately they could only get on one or two at a time, and there was plenty room for motorcycles. Our group of 12 bikes made it across in two crossings. The first group didn't wait for the second group, we agreed that they would wait for us at the border.
There were some paved sections on the road to Tok, but lots of gravel. I'm guessing about 50% was gravel, with pavement showing up at the strangest places in between long tracks of gravel. They were
working on the road on one section and by sheer bad timing, we wound up riding in mud behind a big tanker truck who was spreading water on the road for some reason.
The scenery was terrific, and we had a perfect day for it, with sun and blue sky. The road climbs up over a few passes; two just under 4000 feet and on about 4300 feet in elevation. There were hills, mountains, and valleys visible in all directions. Just over the crest of the highest pass, we came across the Canada / U.S. border and a customs building shared by both countries. There was an attached building housing a diesel generator, and satellite dishes abounding to connect to the various computer systems that supposedly keep our countries safe. I was asked some pretty routine questions about guns and money before he scanned my passport and wished me a good trip. We stopped for a surprisingly good sandwich in Chicken Alaska before continuing on to Tok.
Tok is a small town that sits at an intersection of the Alaska Highway and the highway that runs down to Valdez and Anchorage. When we arrived at the motel (Main
Fieseler Storch replica like mine
Street Motel) that was booked in January this year, we found that they had canceled the reservation and were fully booked with others. After much indignant arguing, we left and found a motel that was able to take our whole group in what turned out to be a better location. The Main Street Motel was in a poor location on the outskirts of town with no nearby services. I wouldn't recommend it even without the screw-up.
On to Fairbanks
The drive to Fairbanks from Tok was about 300 kilometers, and was mostly just a path through the trees, not much to look at. For brief periods we were tantalized with views of the mountains to the south. We stopped for lunch in Delta Junction and were able to see a magnificent range of snowy peaks to the south. We arrived in Fairbanks around 4 PM.
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