There is a strange feeling in Haines, like you're hanging off of the edge of the world. Because you kinda are
out exposed on the edge, the edge of civilization anyways. There are remote parts of the country in the lower 48, but nothing like up here. The atmosphere carries a seriousness I've not felt elsewhere yet on my travels, and it whispers 'be wary'. The closest to it is riding on the Outer Banks south of Hatteras where you are basically exposed to the Atlantic Ocean on a tiny spit of sand. Death Valley might as well be Manhattan by comparison. Once off the ferry, I rode about 10 miles to get to the actual town of Haines, where I topped off my gas tank and got some cash for the ride through Canada just in case the station that were open didn't take or couldn't take credit. I asked the woman at the gas station how people were saying the roads were today, and a man who had just come in said it was great all the way to Haines Junction, clear the entire way.
That information was already several hours old by the time I recieved it...
Stopped at the border
"What brings you to Canada?" Moving to Alaska. "Awful early to be on that thing isn't it?" Yeah... probably but hopefully it won't be too bad. Seen any other bikes this year? "No, not really. A few locals maybe". Hmm... He took my passport card inside and came back after about 10 minutes. "Ok be careful out there, welcome to Canada."
Maybe 30 minutes from the border it started flurrying. I could feel the mountains soaring up around me, but I couldn't see them... everything was white
. There was easily 5-6 feet of snow on the sides of the road in places, not drifts either. There were more than a few occasions where I couldn't even see from the blowing snow, thank god the road was paved with asphalt so it contrasted with everything else. This was sketch. Beyond sketch. The winds were bad, mostly on my nose blowing down out of the arctic and they seemed to be bringing not just cold but snow as well, fortunately the dry fluffy kind that doesn't stick anywhere because its too cold to stick. About 14 miles outside of Haines Junction... I sputtered out of gas. One bottle in... and 12.5 miles later I was out again. Second bottle in... pulled in to the only gas pump that took a credit card to conserve my cash. Also got a burger at the only restaurant in town, which was actually somewhat decent. I could not imagine living in a town and isolated as this, let alone growing up here knowing the same 150 people cradle to grave... maybe I was just in a bad mood because of fatigue or the weather or the stars but damn I could not get out of Haines Junction fast enough. The weather was definitely turning sour and I wanted to make it at least as far as Destruction Bay before I stopped to try to minimize tomorrows ride in what was likely to be less than ideal conditions... I still had delusional hopes about making it to Fairbanks tomorrow.
Destruction Bay is only 60 miles from Haines Junction or so, and another 430ish to Fairbanks so in theory it should be ok. I couldn't remember how far the next town, Beaver Creek, was. Shortly out of Haines Junction, it started sleeting then snowing. Snowing
snowing. I promised myself that if it turned bad within 20 miles of leaving HJ, I would turn back, if not push on. About 5 miles from Destruction Bay it started snowing in earnest and I felt the temperature drop. It was TIME to get off the goddamn highway before I hurt myself or worse. Fortunately the gas station in DB is also a motel, the Talbot Arms, and they had room available.
How much is a room? "$88" How far is Beaver Creek from here? "About 180km" Hmm.. snowing, suns going down, 3+ hours to ride... I'm covered in ice and rhime, the bike is covered in ice and slush, its stupid to keep going.
I didn't realize until I stopped how bone tired and cold I was. To make matters worse the bike was running like absolute shit, cutting out randomly in top gear until I let off the throttle and hit it again, and I could tell from riding that the chain tension was waaaaay too loose. Great... just what I want to do in sub freezing weather, adjust my goddamn chain slack. I said screw it, I won't be able to ride first thing in the morning anyway so I put it off till tomorrow, got dinner and a beer, and watched some TV before falling asleep worrying about the road ahead.
Tuesday April 3
Its amazing how much food and sunshine can improve ones mood. It was still cold, several degrees below freezing, but the roads were clear enough at Destruction Bay to keep moving (against the advice of oh... everyone at the hotel and restaurant that morning). Once again, if I get up to halfway to the next town and it turns to shit, i'll turn back. Otherwise, I have to keep moving. My money was running out only slightly faster than my patience for this ride and I was ready to be done and sitting somewhere for more than a few days.
The Yukon is so breathtakingly and harshly wild beautiful its almost beyond description. I was ecstatic to be there, and infinitely happy that I had not slogged through the previous 1500 miles of the Canadian interior to get there. Especially since 70 miles outside of Beaver Creek, the AlCan turned to this:
Seventy (70) goddamn miles of hardpack snow with the odd stripe of clear pavement, often on the wrong side of the highway, save for a few 1-2km clear sections. It took me FIVE (5) hours to get from DB to Beaver Creek. 120 miles, 5 hours
. I dumped it three times, fortunately at extremely slow speeds because I was on a motard with street tires. Screw Canada and their inability to keep their ONE SINGLE ROAD in the Yukon open and clear of snow. And its not like they weren't plowing, its just that the plows that were out were merely skimming the surface of the snow picking off maybe the top 1/4" of snow. Maybe they get paid by the hour or something. For the privilege I paid $1.50 more per gallon for gas, 2x as much for food, and wasted most of a day flailing around on roads I had no business being on yet. I have never been so happy to see the United States, with its functioning snow removal equipment, cheap fuel, less expensive food, and actual highway maintenance. Even better, I got confirmation (for better or worse) from the border guard at the US customs house that I was the first motorcycle to come up from the lower 48 for the year.
The roads in the US were comparatively perfect and I was able to motor as far as Tok before night caught me. And there... the Canada Strikes Back! Remember how I paid for gas using my credit card? I had two nice giant $100 holds on my debit card from those gas stations. As I was already on fumes financially at that point, it made getting things like dinner and a room at Fast Eddie's fun. Canada sucks
. Fortunately I had some food left in my bags from the ferry for dinner. An my family doesn't suck so a couple quick phone calls I was financially solvent again and able to pay for my room in the morning and get breakfast and get gas since those holds would stay on for about 5 days.
Wednesday April 4
Leaving Tok... on the home stretch... it was maybe 5 degrees when I left and I was wearing damn near every piece of clothing available to me and I was just managing to stay tolerably warm. Lunch and gas in Delta Junction, and I pulled in to Fairbanks around 2pm. Figuring I might as well make an entrance, I just went straight to the hotel where I'll be working all summer and introduced myself. "Hi, my name is David Dawson, I just rode my motorcycle up here from Maryland and I'm looking for [my new boss]. Is he around? I'd like to say hello."
That's it folks, we made it! The hotel put me up for the night. I met my roommate and we moved most of my ride gear and the crap I shipped up to myself to my new apartment, started work about a week later. The weather went from cold and snowy to 50's and sunny the day after I arrived. Spring has come to Fairbanks. Now, just a scant three weeks later, nearly all of the snow is gone, the roads are clear, the bikes are out, and the sun doesn't set until around 1030pm, and its still light at the edge of the sky through most of the night. I've gotten the briefest glimpse of the northern lights twice and seen probably 3 dozen caribou total. The hotel has a 'beware of moose' sign on the entrance. Local and micro brews are cheaper than Budweiser.
There's a pizza place, a thai restaurant, a falafel stand, an ice cream stand, and a dive bar with a hot dog cart within walking distance of my apartment. So far this has been the best crazy stupidly retarded idea I've yet had. Oh, and I'm making at least twice as much money with half the rent and other bills I had in Maryland.
The end is just the beginning however... Dust to Dawson is fast approaching in June. The haul road starts just outside of town. Denali is less than 2 hours away. I'm mobile, hostile, and agile, and by the end of summer I will probably be not just out of debt but have some money saved away for the winter if I don't drink it all. The plan? I don't have a plan. I'm just living for me, living for tomorrow, living for life.