Alaska Ride – Three Noob Adventure Riders go Far-Far Away to the Dempster

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by rickj, Jul 25, 2015.

  1. rickj

    rickj Been here awhile Supporter

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    Great! I'm glad it's helping with your plans. We certainly got a lot of help during our planning phase, so I feel obligated to try to give back to the forum. All the better if it helps future riders to Alaska. I'm also saving all of this on a Word file, which is a secondary reason. In 10 years it will be fun to look back on this trip!
    #61
  2. beemerphile

    beemerphile Unreconstructed Southerner Supporter

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    Before you do that and assume you have the problem covered, take those spoons and try to put a tube in at home. It ain't a gimme to unmount and remount a tubeless tire on the ground with spoons. I ended up fixing a shale cut by stuffing every gummy worm in my kit into the hole. I made it off the Dempster with 6 psi in the rear tire. You might well do better than I did, but I was unable to use the tube I carried. Just saying Verify!
    #62
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  3. rickj

    rickj Been here awhile Supporter

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    Day 12 – Dawson City, YT to Eagle Plains on Dempster Highway

    Today was to be an exciting, yet challenging day, for us. Our goal was simple – ride 254 miles to Eagle Plains, which is about 21 miles from the Arctic Circle along the Dempster Highway. Mile 0 of the Dempster Highway is 25 miles from Dawson City, so our ride on the Dempster itself was to be 229 miles.

    The Dempster is a gravel road that follows an old dog sled route and extends 457 miles as far as the town of Inuvik in Canada’s Northwest Territories. We would follow the Klondike River Valley, cross the Ogilvie Mountain Range, and then descend into Eagle Plains where there is a truck stop with a motel, campground, restaurant and bar. I had read many stories of adventures along this gravel road and the understanding that I came to was that the Dempster can be challenging at any time, but treacherous when it’s wet.

    The weather forecast was for considerable rain, but locals had reminded us that weather in that area can change at any time.

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    After grabbing an early hearty breakfast at the Triple J’s restaurant, we went back to our room to finish loading the bikes. A very nice lady named Dawn at the Northwest Territories Visitor Information Centre in town had volunteered to hold some of our stuff if we didn’t want to cart it all the way up and back, which was very helpful. We had planned on camping if the weather cooperated, but would stay in the hotel otherwise.

    The Triple J Hotel, host of the famous Dust to Dawson motorcycle event, is a very motorcycle-friendly hotel and even provides an area for washing bikes. We had availed ourselves to this service during our down day, but our bikes wouldn’t stay clean for long! Walking back to our cabin, we noticed a very clever raven that had learned that he could find all kinds of yummy bugs on the front of the bikes and was enjoying his breakfast!

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    We rode the 25 miles on Klondike Highway to the turnoff on to the Dempster where we had hoped to top off our gas, but the pumps were down. Even so, we had plenty of fuel to get us as far as Eagle Plains, as Bob and Don both carried a 1.75 gallon Rotopax tank on their bikes, and my GSA carries a whopping 8.7 gallons!

    It started raining a few miles in to the ride and the clouds were low and threatening. The rain was fairly light at this point so the road wasn’t overly slippery. The scenery though was awe inspiring!

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    The road initially meanders along the Klondike River Valley through very scenic, rolling countryside. However, it was difficult to take in all the splendor around us as the rain was increasing in intensity and we were laser-focused on the road ahead. Remember that we’re noobs off the tarmac! This was the most challenging off-road riding we had done so far – but it would get far worse.

    As we approached the Ogilvie Mountain range, huge granite-like mountain structures were rising mightily out of the landscape. I had never seen such a dramatic landscape! In my mind I kept hearing the UFOs 5-tone musical phrase from the classic movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as one of the mountain tops resembled the Devil’s Tower from that movie.

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    Our first motorcycle related incident was Bob’s rear fender, which was falling off, so we stopped to remove it and strap it to the top of this bag. Don had mentioned that he had taken his off in preparation for this ride, as it is a well known issue with the GS bikes when taken off-road in aggressive conditions. Mine would also get removed on the return trip.

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    I don’t think our bikes are clean anymore!

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    While we were removing Bob’s fender a trucker stopped to ask if we were OK, so we told him about a truck a few miles back that was broken down with a flat front tire. We didn’t see the driver, so we assumed that he had radioed ahead and was catching up on some sleep.

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    Our next motorcycle mishap was also with Bob’s bike which had somehow picked up about a 3.5”piece of metal in his rear tire and was completely flat. It’s common to get flat tires from the sharp shale used on this road, but Bob’s flat was unique! In fact, I think that the piece we removed from the tire was part of an old gold miner’s scale. I think Bob had actually inadvertently “found” an artifact!

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    We rain had been pretty constant with occasional bursts in intensity, but had stopped briefly when we came to the Ogilvie Ridge Lookout, about 60 miles away from our destination. A great opportunity to take in the expansive views of the rivers and canyons below.

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    It may have been wishful optimism or the fact that we were fed up with riding on the rain, as we actually removed our rain gear before leaving Ogilvie Ridge. The sky was generally still full of thunder clouds, but we thought we had seen the sky opening up ahead and perhaps even a hint of blue sky. Was our luck turning?

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    Recall how the locals had told us that the weather is ever-changing in this area? We didn’t ride half a mile from Ogilvie Ridge when we suddenly found ourselves engulfed in a serious downpour! We stopped again and put our rain gear back on. Perhaps this thunder cloud would pass and we’d have better conditions ahead. Wishful thinking.

    The Mighty Dempster Shows its Nasty Side
    A few miles down the road the weather Gods decided that they were going to really test our abilities as well as our resolve. The skies were turning dark as thunder clouds were forming all around us. No longer simple rainy conditions, or an individual storm cloud briefly dumping its contents, the conditions were turning dangerous. In retrospect, we should have parked the bikes and sought shelter under one of our tarps until the worst of the storm passed. However, I think we were caught off-guard and found ourselves just reactively dealing with the intense storm.

    First came the lightning bolts, then hail, followed by wind so powerful that we were all having trouble keeping our bikes on the road. We continued forward at a sluggish pace. The rain then increased in intensity and far surpassed the road’s ability to absorb it or drain it effectively. We don’t see rain like this in Southern California, and it reminded me intense storms that Don and I had experienced in Colorado.

    The road was becoming a sticky, oily, and sloppy mess and maintaining traction was very challenging. So heavy was the rainfall that on sections of the road that were banked to one side for drainage, an oily reddish mud was cascading across the road. I lost control the front of the bike several times, but somehow managed to keep the bike upright and recover. The storm continued like this for what seemed like an eternity as we trudged along toward Eagle Plains.

    The storm eventually gave up trying to defeat us and started tapering off to “normal” rainfall and light winds as we approached Eagle Plains. Perhaps there were other riders back in the Ogilvie Mountain range that it would focus its attention on.

    We had passed our biggest test as noob adventure riders.

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    Exhausted and wet, we decided to get a room in the hotel rather than try camping. There’s no way that we wanted to try tent camping in storms this bad anyway. Our room was very reasonable considering that we were 21 miles from the Arctic Circle. After settling in, we wandered over to the bar for a much deserved beer, or three.

    The bar wasn’t open yet so we sat down in the restaurant, which features the most unique chandelier I had ever seen, historical pictures, and several taxidermied animals on its walls.

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    A Rider Stranded on the Dempster with a Flat
    Later in the evening an adventure rider returning from Inuvik on his way to Dawson came in to the hotel seeking help for a rider that was broken down with a serious flat on the side of the road about 20 miles past the hotel toward Dawson. He wasn’t able to help him, but had ridden back to the hotel to try to find someone that could help out him before continuing on the road toward Dawson. He also mentioned that the rider was “older”, to use his words.

    We were not going to leave a fellow rider stranded, and we had a very high quality tubeless repair kit from Safety Seal that we felt might be able to repair his tire. We asked around if there was someone with a truck that could help, and a nice gentleman who was having dinner volunteered to give me a ride back to the broken down rider on his way to Dawson. We discovered that his truck also had a flat, so we repaired it while he finished up his dinner!

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    I hitched a ride to the broken down rider, who had been on the side of the road for 6.5 hours by that time. His name is Carl and he is known as “oldgranolahead” on this site. Others had stopped and tried to plug his tire, but it wouldn’t hold. Fortunately, I was able to get his rear tire to hold air with a Safety Seal plug in spite of a significant hole with a rip on one side. The Dempster is rough on tires!

    The next challenge was how to get me back to the hotel as I was now stranded! I had hoped to hitch a ride with a trucker headed toward the hotel, but it was past midnight at that point. Fortunately, the gentleman, a minister who had been up to Inuvik to preach a sermon, decided to drive me back. It’s inspiring to see how people, riders and non-riders alike, will rally around a fellow human in need.

    Tomorrow, we plan to do complete the short ride up to the Arctic Circle for a photo-op. We had already decided that we didn’t have much interest in riding further to the Northwest Territories, and that this would be as far north as we would ride.

    We felt that it was a respectable milestone for all three of us “older” noob adventurers.
    #63
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  4. rickj

    rickj Been here awhile Supporter

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    Day 13 – Eagle Plains, YT to the Arctic Circle Marker and Back

    The rains had ceased this morning, but the weather still looked imposing. We had learned that, even though it might be dry at this moment, the weather could change in an instant or a mile down the road. After breakfast and while exploring the area around the Eagle Plains Hotel countryside we discussed whether we’d do the 21-mile jaunt up to the Arctic Circle marker. Without much deliberation we decided that even if we hit severe weather again we could certainly manage the short distance, or we might even wait it out. We had come this far, so why not cruise up the road to the Arctic Circle marker for the obligatory photo op? Yesterday’s rough ride had not beaten us and our spirits were high.

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    The Eagle Plains area is an area of hills nestled between the Ogilvie and the Richardson mountain ranges with awe-inspiring views.

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    The ride to the Arctic Circle marker was uneventful and we encountered no serious weather, but the scenery was magnificent. Don had ridden ahead and was waiting for us along the route at the bridge crossing over the Eagle River, and was shooting video, so expect to see that when he releases his video.

    To drive this route virtually, click on Google Maps. Grab and drag the little yellow icon (“Google Dude”) to locations along the road for the street view.

    We were elated to have reached our northernmost destination and to take a few photos marking the milestone. Somehow, we forgot to bring a bottle of champagne though to celebrate the milestone! I had ridden to the Arctic Circle marker on the Dalton highway north of Fairbanks in 1996 on my Yamaha FJ1200, but I felt that this experience riding with my close friends was far more memorable.

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    Views from the Arctic Circle rest area.

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    In spite of an abundance of thunder clouds looming in the skies above us, the weather had thus far been cooperative and our time at the Arctic Circle marker was dry. We were hoping that our luck would continue to hold out as we got back on the road to head back to the Eagle Plains Hotel.

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    A few miles down the road our luck changed. Unlike the day before though, we opted to instead try to wait out the storm which was dominating the Eagle Plains area. We parked in a safe place off the side of the road where we could witness the huge dark clouds deluge the entire area and drench it. Our strategy worked, and less than an hour later the clouds had finished releasing their heavy showers.

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    Remarkably, the Dempster is able to absorb or disperse a fair amount of rain before becoming completely saturated. The road would be muddy on the remaining ride back but the mud wasn’t excessively deep, so we were back at the hotel in short order enjoying happy hour.

    Unless tomorrow’s weather was really bad, we planned on riding back to Dawson City. With the amount of rain that these storms had brought to the entire region in recent days though, we were unsure of what the road conditions would be like.
    #64
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  5. Saralou

    Saralou Worldwide Rider

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    Hi currently in Trollhattan Sweden. We started our trip from Vancouver too. Have the pork chops at Klondike Kate's in Dawson City we still think about it after 3 years. There is a great motorcycle camp ground in Tok the Eagle Claw. The ride into Valdez is great and take a trip on the Lulubelle. Cheers. Sara
    #65
  6. rickj

    rickj Been here awhile Supporter

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    Day 14 – Eagle Plains, YT back to Dawson City, YT

    After our very challenging ride out to Eagle Plains in stormy conditions two days earlier, we were hoping that the weather would cooperate and that our ride back to Dawson City would be less demanding. Carl, the gentleman that we had helped with his flat tire two nights earlier, decided that he would ride back in the relative safety of a larger group.

    Hoping to miss the thunderstorms that seemed to develop in the warmer afternoons, we planned to leave the hotel at 4:00 AM. After all, it’s not dark at 4:00 AM in early July this far north! We were up early and ready to leave, but the fog was so thick that there wasn’t enough visibility to ride safely! A bad omen for us, and a bit discouraging. After waiting about an hour for the fog to lift, we were finally able to get on the road. It was raining lightly and the road was muddy, but still very manageable.

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    We had reserved a cabin again at the Triple J hotel and hoped to get back early enough to pick up some of our gear that we had left at the Northwest Territories Visitor Information Centre before it closed. In case we got back to Dawson late, Dawn had given us her cell phone number and said that she would happily meet us after-hours to get us back our gear. This type of exceptional customer service is rare in my experiences in California, but was pretty typical of the fine folks in BC and the Yukon Territory.

    Our main concern was heavy rain and thick mud, but the first part of the ride was actually gorgeous. Light drizzle and low fog plagued the ride for the first couple of hours until it finally lifted entirely, but it presented us with some amazing views.

    No Thunderstorms This Time… but Deep Mud!
    While we were not encountering heavy rainstorms as we did on the way out to Eagle Plains, the Ogilvie Mountain range had obviously been getting continuous rains for the last few days. As we climbed up the mountain toward the summit the mud was getting increasingly thick and sloppy. Our pace slowed down to a near crawl as we tried desperately to keep the bikes under control in this very deep mud. This is one condition where our heavy adventure bikes seemed totally unsuitable for.

    Approaching the Ogilvie Ridge Lookout we tried to turn into the rest area, but this simple task proved to be extremely hard. Stopping the bike and putting your feet down proved to be harder than keeping the bike pointed forward and nudging forward at a snail’s pace! We hoped the road conditions would improve as we descended out of the mountain range toward the river valley ahead. In fact, the mud did begin to thin out as we moved down from the higher elevations which had obviously been deluged with rain for days.

    With the improving road conditions, our pace hastened. “Normal” muddy conditions that we felt were somewhat challenging on our ride to Eagle Plains were now a welcome sight, and we were comfortable riding along a much faster pace than previously. I think these noob adventure riders were beginning to learn how to handle these big bikes!

    We arrived at the Ogilvie River crossing and took our first break. We were making good time and the weather seemed to be getting better. Our mood was now turning optimistic that we’d enjoy a great ride back.

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    The Ogilvie River Bridge is the longest bridge with a metal grate bottom that we encountered on the Dempster. The metal grate bottom appeared more daunting than it actually was, as we had learned to loosen up the grip and allow the front end to dance around without slowing down too much.

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    The rain had subsided, and the road conditions were comfortable enough to ride along at speeds as high as 60 mph all the way back to the Mile 0 marker of the Dempster at the junction with the Klondike Highway.

    We stopped at the Dempster Highway marker for some pictures and a nice couple volunteered to take a picture of us.

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    And the obligatory picture of my new-to-me Beemer, which I was starting to grow fond of.

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    Back on the Klondike Highway, we were soon on the outskirts of Dawson where we had learned about a convenience store that had sprayer to clean our bikes. In addition to spraying the calcium chloride mud off our bikes, we actually sprayed ourselves down as well!

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    You can see in this picture that I had also removed my rear fender / mud guard, as it had loosed up and would have fallen off.

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    Tomorrow morning we’ll be crossing the Yukon River on the on the George Black Ferry and riding the Top-of-the-World Highway to Alaska. Riding this road was another one of the highlights of our trip and we were excited to hear that the weather forecast called for dry conditions.

    When we’re approaching the town of chicken, Alaska perhaps we’ll see some of those ptarmigans that the town of Chicken was actually named after!

    More on that on the next post…

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    #66
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  7. aftCG

    aftCG Long timer

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    Ironic that you have to remove the mud guard to ride in mud.

    Great report. In for the rest
    #67
  8. mikegc

    mikegc Long timer Super Supporter

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    :DIt's really just a splash guard. All it does is help the person riding behind you. I usually take 'em off and make my own little guard off the license plate bracket.

    Mike
    #68
  9. rickj

    rickj Been here awhile Supporter

    Joined:
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    Day 15 – Dawson City, YT to Christochina, AK

    We were ecstatic to see that the weather conditions had improved and that we were expecting no rain! We didn’t have a definite destination for today, but we were heading in the general direction of Valdez, Alaska as we had to catch a ferry in a couple of days that would take us across Prince William Sound to Whittier on the Kenai Peninsula. Our route was going to take us across the much acclaimed Top-of-the-World Highway over to Tok, Alaska where we’d continue on the Tok Cutoff Highway (A1) toward Valdez. We’d end up staying at the Red Eagle Lodge in Christochina, Alaska – an amazing and fortunate find!

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    As we loaded our bikes and checked air pressures, Bob noticed that his rear tire was low. Looking for the leak, he discovered that the rubber valve stem on his wheel was cracked and leaking air! This was a flat we could not fix with our Safety Seal kit, and we needed to get a new valve stem. Pronto.

    The folks at the hotel reception desk gave us the phone number of a gentleman they referred to as “Dick Dawson” whom they said could help us out. Bob called Dick who showed up at the hotel in short order as we were finishing breakfast. A fellow rider, Dick often comes to the rescue of stranded riders or those just needing some help. But why had the locals bestowed this man with the nickname “Dick Dawson”? Turns out this was Dick Van Nostrand, the previous owner of Dawson’s Downtown Hotel and key organizer of the Dust to Dawson (D2D) motorcycle event, which has been drawing increasing numbers of riders to Dawson each summer around the time of the summer solstice. Click HERE for the video in which Dick talks about the event.

    Dick was able to help Bob by taking off the tire and taking it to the shop at his house where he removed the bad valve stem and then took it over to the Napa store where they installed a new one. Dick refuses to accept any money for his assistance, but will accept a bottle of fine wine, so Bob went to the local liquor store and bought him two bottles of wine.

    Dick had plans to ride across the Top-of-the-World Highway to Chicken, Alaska later that day to participate in the 4th of July celebrations. Since we were also planning to visit Chicken on our way toward Valdez we’d see him again later in the day.

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    Our time in Dawson City had been very enjoyable, but we were excited to ride across the Top-of-the-World Highway to Alaska. We were soon on the George Black ferry crossing the Yukon River.

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    Riding the Top-of-the-World Highway it’s obvious that this highway is appropriately named, as you feel like you on the top of the world as you ride across the hills with expansive views of wilderness on each side as far as the eye can see. After the challenging conditions of the Dempster Highway, riding the TOTW was refreshing as the condition of the road was superb!

    We did notice a number of large gold mining operations along the river in the valleys off the highway, reminiscent of the reality TV show Gold Rush, which is filmed in this area.

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    We were soon crossing into Alaska at the Poker Creek border crossing, which is the northernmost international border crossing in North America, as well as the one at the highest elevations.

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    Somewhere along our route Bob had purchased a selfie stick, so we managed to get an interesting shot of the three of us.

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    We also spent some time at this great spot on the top of the world to take in the vastness and beauty that surrounded us.

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    I had fond memories of my stop at the little town of Chicken, Alaska from my previous trip. However, I was astounded how much the community had grown! In addition to the original old town with its quaint old western style buildings, there were now two additional major operations catering to tourists with an RV park, a 9-hole golf course, a gold dredge, cabins, and more.

    According to the website the original town was to become incorporated in 1902 and the name “Ptarmigan” was suggested, as these chicken-like birds that were abundant in this area were a food source for the miners. However, the peculiar spelling of the word made it hard so they decided on “Chicken” as the name.

    The Pedro Gold Dredge was moved from the Pedro Creek where it operated from 1938 to 1958. It was moved to Chicken Creek in 1959 where it was in seasonally operated until 1967 and during which time it mined over 55,000 ounces of gold! It was moved to the Chicken Gold Camp & Outpost in 1998, which offers tours on this old relic.

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    The front of the dredge features a bucketline conveyor belt system that gouged out several cubic yards of gravel with each pass for processing inside the dredge, after which the tailings were dumped out the back on the long stacker conveyor.

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    The original bucket line with the 3-cubic yard buckets now rest on the ground near the dredge.

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    Before getting back on the road we opted to spend some time at the original town, and enjoyed lunch in the café. Our friend Dick, who had earlier helped us with Bob’s bike, had also arrived for the July 4th celebrations and was enjoying a glass of wine, so we were able to again thank him for his help.

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    The remaining ride on the TOTW highway to the town of Tok was amazing. While riding a relative narrow section of the road that had been cut in to the side of the mountain we stopped to enjoy the expansive views of valley below. The purple fireweed that you see in the picture below is very prolific in this area during summer and offers a beautiful contrast to the lush green landscape.

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    We eventually arrived at the Alaska Highway (A2), which we rode north a short distance as far as the town of Tok. Turning on to the Tok Cutoff Highway (A1) we headed southwest along the scenic Wrangell –St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

    We didn’t know where we would stay for the night, but knew that there were several campgrounds in Glennallen, which is about 120 from Valdez where we had a ferry reservation the next day. It was getting late so, when we saw a sign for the Red Eagle Lodge in a small community of Christochina, we pulled in to see if we could camp there. I walked in and was warmly greeted by Richard and Judy Dennis, the owners of the lodge. They did have campsites available, but suggested that we take one of their six rustic cabins. Their prices were so attractive that we immediately decided in favor of the cabin rather than setting up camp.

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    Richard is a recreational pilot who flies a Cessna 182, and this property actually has a state funded grass runway right next to it!

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    The lodge itself is located on the original site of the historic Christochina Roadhouse that was established in 1922.

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    Our cabin called “Hunter’s Hut” was actually a bunkhouse cabin with four twin beds, each with its own screened window and reading lantern.

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    We would enjoy breakfast the next morning with our hosts and some other folks that were staying at the lodge. Richard and Judy were obviously very happy to have settled in Christochina and to have preserved the history of this historic property. More than just proprietors, this very happy couple truly enjoys sharing their little piece of heaven with their guests.

    Richard took time to walk around the property with us and mesmerized us with captivating stories at many points along our walk. Every item on the property had a story and Richard, with his inviting personality and boisterous laugh, was the perfect story teller.

    Perhaps we’ll schedule a full day to spend with these great folks on our next trip, but we had an appointment with a ferry tomorrow and wanted to spend some time exploring Valdez, so we bid them farewell.

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    #69
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  10. Tor

    Tor Making Life A Ride

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    Great stuff!!
    #70
  11. NSFW

    NSFW basecamp4adv Super Supporter

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    wow, how come i didn't get an invite. this is the adventure been waiting for.

    at least i got a rr to read...cheers.
    #71
  12. Pay Dirt

    Pay Dirt panning the web

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    Well done and a big thanks for the effort in creating this RR.. We are just in the early stages of planning a very similar route for next year...The juices are flowing!

    PD
    #72
  13. rickj

    rickj Been here awhile Supporter

    Joined:
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    Day 16 – Christochina, AK to Valdez, AK

    This ride has been absolutely incredible so far, and it seems that each day brings a new “highlight” of our trip. Today’s ride had two planned highlights – a ride across Thompson Pass and our stay in the scenic port city of Valdez. However, we didn’t have many miles to cover today so we strayed off our route and discovered the old mining town of Chitina, which turned out to be a phenomenal find.

    Thompson Pass is a gap in the Chugach Mountains northeast of Valdez that receives more snow than any place in Alaska with more than 550” per year. Valdez is the port city known for its great commercial and sport fishing, and is also the port where the oil from the Trans-Atlantic pipeline is loaded onto ships.

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    After having a great breakfast with our hosts and a few other guests at the Red Eagle Lodge, we bid them farewell and headed out on the Tok Cutoff Highway (A1) toward Gakona where the this short highway ends. From there we’d continue on the Richardson Highway (A4) to Valdez.

    I recalled that during our planning phase we had discussed that that we would be missing the views of Denali Park’s Mt. McKinley if we took the Richardson Highway instead of the Parks Highway (A3) that runs between Fairbanks and Anchorage. My recollection was that the Parks Highway wasn’t that impressive with the exception of views of Mt. McKinley.

    It turns out that our route along the Richardson, which skirted the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, was a great choice! As we headed southwest, we enjoyed stunning views of several prominent snow-capped volcanoes in the distance.

    A few miles past Copper Center we stopped at a rest along Willow Lake to take in the scenery, which provided two areas with interpretive signs and binoculars where you can view the volcanoes in the distance. Our choice of highway didn’t provide a view of Mt. McKinley (20,320 ft). However, we had views of 4 peaks; Mt. Drum (12,010 ft), Mt. Sanford (16,237 ft), Mt. Wrangell (14,163 ft), and Mt. Blackburn (16,390 ft). Simply amazing!

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    Toward the end of our planning I had read ride reports recommending a visit to the remote town of McCarthy and the Kennecott Mines, which are about 100 miles off the highway with about 65 miles being a dirt road. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to go that distance and back since we had ferry reservations in Valdez the next day and we also wanted to spend some time checking out Valdez that afternoon. However, since it was still fairly early we decided to turn off the highway and go as far as Chitina, a round-trip ride of about 70 miles. A great decision.

    Chitina is a somewhat resurrected ghost town which sprang to life in 1908 as a transportation hub for the Kennecott Mine and the railroad that serviced it. In these early days of Alaska’s history, Chitina had also been a main freight road for goods and materials via the original Richardson Trail in, now the Richardson Highway. Its population numbered in the thousands at a time when Anchorage was a tent city. However, when the mine closed in 1938 the town quickly became a ghost town.

    We enjoyed lunch at Gilpatrick’s Restaurant in Hotel Chitina, a historic building that was built in 1914 and recently restored.

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    The restaurant features original furniture and a lot of antiquities from the area, as well as intriguing pictures along its walls.

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    After lunch we walked around the town a bit to explore some of its buildings. As of the 2010 census the population of Chitina was 126 hearty souls, and I’m sure that most appreciate the tourists that visit and bring in some dollars. However, when we crossed a dry creek on our walk and accidentally strayed on to someone’s private property we were rudely told to get off this private property! It reminded me of the reality TV show, Edge of Alaska, which takes place in nearby McCarthy and in which many residents are grappling with the balance for their need for tourist’s money and some residents’ desire for complete isolation from society.

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    In a field directly across from the Chitina Hotel there are a number of old cars and trucks that are being overtaken by the elements and nature. I was fascinated by one of these vehicles that had spoke wheels made of wood! What a elegant and beautiful car this must have been driving around such a rough town.

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    This town even has a small picturesque lake aptly named Town Lake.

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    While we regretted not being able to go as far as the Kennecott Mines and the town of McCarthy, we were happy that we had made the short ride to visit Chitina. Valdez was beckoning us, but we had to first cross Thompson Pass which we had read was a beautiful area. I had even heard it described as the Swiss Alps of Alaska, which I think is a bit of a stretch, but it was nonetheless a beautiful area. Forty miles outside of Valdez we stopped at a pull-out to take a few pictures.

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    Note the color of the melt water from the Worthington Glacier, which gets its color from the so-called rock flour sediment that is a result of rocks grinding together underneath the glacier.

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    Not too far beyond Thompson Pass the Worthington Glacier came in to view. There is a pull-out and some trails that go to the glacier, but most of this glacier is not really visible from the road. A view from the sky would reveal that the glacier is actually an impressive one.

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    Ironically, we came across a guy on the side of the road on a small airstrip that was offering rides over the glacier. We stopped and Don enjoyed about 20 minute flight that he will not soon forget.

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    Descending from Thompson Pass, the scenic port city of Valdez soon came in to view. We had reservations at a local hotel within walking distance of the harbor which is lined with interesting eateries and bars. In spite of a great day or riding, we had arrived early enough to take some time to walk around and enjoy the sites of the town and the harbor area. We stopped by some tourist shops and purchased a few things to take back home as gifts.

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    Our brief stay in Valdez was great, but tomorrow brings yet another highlight of our trip – a 5:45 hour ride on a ferry across Prince William Sound to the town of Whittier on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula! Our trip is nearing its end, but there’s still much to enjoy!
    #73
    RevyRider and black 8 like this.
  14. mikegc

    mikegc Long timer Super Supporter

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2008
    Oddometer:
    5,532
    Location:
    High Point, NC
    Wow, this is a great ride report! I've this sucker bookmarked and intend to use your great maps and planning for my own trip next summer. By the way, did you guys make hotel reservation months in advance or take "pot luck.?"

    Mike
    #74
  15. rickj

    rickj Been here awhile Supporter

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2007
    Oddometer:
    374
    Location:
    33.496960,-117.195289
    Hi Mike,

    I'm glad you're enjoying the report! I placed a summary of the overall route at the front of the report and then daily maps of our routes specifically so that it would be easy to follow. It was a great route, but there are others to consider as well.

    I'm obviously a big proponent of pre-planning, but I also recognize that it can be fun to sometimes make plans along the way. Accordingly, we had reservations at motels or campgrounds on certain days and we also had a number of "flex days". Our flex days were often several contiguous days where the route and the lodging were unplanned and we'd manage them on-the-fly. I think that this overall scheme worked well, but we did have to accommodate some significant changes along the way due to weather. Even so, it wasn't that big of a deal.

    Our trip was the best trip of my life and I've been riding for over 44 years. I hope you have a great ride next summer. Don't hesitate to ask if you have specific questions as you get into serious planning mode.

    Rick
    #75
  16. mikegc

    mikegc Long timer Super Supporter

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2008
    Oddometer:
    5,532
    Location:
    High Point, NC
    Thank you, Rick. Yes, I'm a planner, also. I saw your overall route maps and will print them for future reference. I had already mapped out ⅔ of the trip on Base Camp and it pretty much follows the route you guys took. I appreciate your willingness to assist and I'll certainly take advantage of your kind offer.

    Mike
    #76
  17. maldos

    maldos Adventurer

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2007
    Oddometer:
    27
    Location:
    Monarch Beach, CA
    Fantastic report Rick, I'm reliving it!
    #77
  18. OnTheWay

    OnTheWay Rock Liu Supporter

    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2014
    Oddometer:
    1,366
    Location:
    Shenzhen, China
    Great RR.Enjoying following along with your report.
    Good thing is I get to start from the beginning!:-)
    #78
  19. Kodanja

    Kodanja Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2005
    Oddometer:
    739
    Location:
    Boise, Idaho
    Captivating report! I've been planning my 2016 trip much along your route, but had not included the Dempster to the Arctic Circle ...until now. I'm sure your report has provided a wealth of information for adventurers planning a trip to Alaska. I appreciate the maps at the beginning of each day too. Good for you helping that other rider! Looking forward to the rest of the trip!
    #79
  20. rickj

    rickj Been here awhile Supporter

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2007
    Oddometer:
    374
    Location:
    33.496960,-117.195289
    Glad you're enjoying the report. The ride up the Dempster to Eagle Plains and the arctic circle is definitely worth including in your trip. I think riding the Dalton above Fairbanks is more popular with riders, but feel that the Dempster is a nicer ride. It was really unfortunate that we had such bad weather during our ride up there, but it was still a great experience. In better weather it would be a phenomenal ride.

    I'm real pleased with the route we worked out. The only significant change that I would make would be to include enough time to ride out to McCarthy and the Kennecott Mines.

    Good luck with your trip planning!

    Rick
    #80