I had gone to bed the night before under clear skies - blissed out with not a care in the world.
I awoke at 5am the next morning to... thunderstorms. Great!
As my groggy morning mind sorted the sensory information coming in, my first thought was gratitude for my picnic pavilion tent shelter - at least I was dry, personally. I took mental inventory. I had moved all my gear under the structure ... except... the bear bag I had hoisted, full of what little food I had left and other stinky stuff. I decided the damage was done, by that point - no sense getting wet trying to retrieve it at 5am. Beyond the immediate, I was also starting to get my head around the ramification of this weather. I really didn't have a day's worth of food left - a couple of oatmeal packets and a scoop of peanut butter maybe. If and when the rains did let up, the roads were going to be shot, but I was going to have to brave them.
Luckily, around noon, the sky did clear up - enough for me to pack up camp and get on the road, anyways. I retrieved my soggy bear bag and boiled some drinking water.
The roads were bad, and the rains continued on and off, but I made it through. I had completed the Dempster Highway ... well, half of it, anyways.
Cold and wet, I collected myself at the Mile Zero restaurant and service station. They had a coin-op power wash station, so I treated the V-Strom to a bath. Everything was caked with mud.
I also aired my tires back up to highway pressures. At the tire shop, I noticed loads of small birds diving all around me. Swallows? Finches?. They had made homes in the siding of the garage. 'Killer' appeared to be the mascot.
I hit the road back towards Dawson, and saw an adult female moose with two calves, grazing in a pond.
After a quick stop in Dawson for souvenirs and groceries, I took a hairy ferry ride across the Yukon River. The water was high and strong, of course. To travel what would be a short, straight line across the river, as the crow flies, was quite an endeavor by boat. We took off from the dock and immediately turned the nose of the boat upstream. By the time we were halfway across the river, the engines were roaring at full power to try to keep up with the current. We ended up doing this funny 'S' path in the water. Docking on the other side was a surgical maneuver - motoring past the landing and then swinging the boat perpendicular to the shore at the last moment. I was glad to be off of that ride.
Once you cross the Yukon River, you're on the Top of the World Highway - a part of the trip I had been really looking forward to. It's a winding, mostly dirt road that goes along an incredible ridge and across the northern-most land border crossing between the US and Canada. The views were spectacular.
The road on the Canada side was pretty beat - mostly dirt with spots of rough pavement, patches of gravel, and potholes that could swallow a front wheel. I just wanted to be flowing and taking in the scenery, but the road demanded my attention. Here's the scene as you approach the border crossing.
Poker Creek, Alaska: population ... 2. Presumably that's one US border guard and one Canadian border guard. I had images going through my head of those two guys barbecuing and drinking beers together - hilarious to me, for some reason. What do you have to do wrong at your previous customs post to land yourself the Top of the World border crossing gig?
The Alaska side of the Top of the World Hwy. was awesome - well-groomed, consistent dirt. It was fun riding and breathtakingly beautiful - definitely a highlight of my trip.
My stop for the night would be Chicken, Alaska
. The place has a hilarious history. Because of their prevalence in the area, it was suggested that the community be named ptarmigan. Unfortunately, no one who lived there could spell the name of that bird [silent 'P' and all], so they went with Chicken. It's the only city in the world named Chicken, and the year-round population hovers around 15. There's still lots of gold mining in the area, so in the summer, the place is full of prospectors.
I had heard from a friend that one of the few buildings in town was a rowdy saloon full of said gold miners, and that was something I wanted to experience. I rolled into town around 6pm, gassed up, and made my way across the river to the 'town center'.
I parked the bike in front of the saloon, and a porch full of local color was laughing and jeering and trying to talk to me before I could get my helmet off. I joined right in with the merry-making and asked where I could pitch my tent for the night. Almost in unison, several people shouted '...right there!' and pointed towards the parking area twenty-odd feet away. Stumbling distance indeed... seemed good enough to me. As I started in on my first beer, an Australian rider pulled up on a Triumph Bonneville [new]. I filled him in on the camping arrangements, he produced a bottle of single malt scotch, and we became fast friends. This is Dennis - folks call him 'Dog'.
The only restaurant was closed by that time, so we decided to do a camp dinner together. In my nervousness about almost running out of food on the Dempster, I had overdone it a bit in Dawson. I had four huge, perishable [red wine chorizo] sausages, cheese, fruit, fresh bread, etc. - all of which would be less awesome by morning. Dog provided scotch and Folgers coffee. After dinner, we resumed carrying on with the locals. Everyone had little vials of gold flakes in their pockets. It was used as direct currency, in some situations - we heard stories of gold traded for ATV's and trucks. There were also a lot of firearms - huge, honkin' pistols swinging off of everyone's belts - reportedly for grizzly protection. The bar actually had [and enforced] a policy of turning in your firearms to the bartender when you arrived. At one point, I asked about law enforcement and got a big laugh. 'No cops through here so far this year.' This picture about sums it up - people were coming and going all night on ATV's, often with open beers in hand. In the background, you'll notice that there's a person riding on the trunk of that car, and they're coming back from the airstrip - the local smoke spot.
Yes, also in the background is a huge bush that [vaguely] looked like a chicken - so someone made a cut-out chicken face and mounted it on a big pole.
Here's the outhouses for 'downtown' - appropriately labeled 'Chicken Poop'. This town has a sense of humor.
It's a funny thing, seeing people bar-closing-time-drunk in near daylight. Darkness is a kindness I've taken for granted all these years. Inside the saloon, the decore is fittingly hilarious. The ceiling is plastered with panties ... but not the hot little thong, spring break, sorority variety. Oh no. These are well-worn, battle-scarred numbers with a little too much 'history'. The walls are covered with hats and license plates and business cards and such - the usual. In the back of the room, there is a pool table, which I was eager to show my chops on. Thing is, it was turned sideways in a very narrow room - so to make a shot from anywhere but the corners, you had to unscrew a cue stick into its halves and shoot with an awkwardly short stick. Add to that, the floor was so out of level that every shot hooked and returned to one corner drastically. Talk about a home court advantage. Here's Dog short-sticking it.
After countless beers, and just as the conversations were turning to politics, I stumbled the 20-some feet over to my tent and crashed like a ton of bricks. Chicken had been everything I had hoped, and more - what an epic day!
Day 20: Tombstone, YT to Chicken, Alaska [189 total miles / ~100 on dirt]