North... To Alaska

September 2 - 8, 2012 - Alaska

Ok, let me first say that I'm writing this a couple WEEKS after it happened. Wow, that seems like a lifetime ago.

Just a bit of back tracking, I don't think I really covered this on the earlier Dempster Highway post. The last day on the highway, I had stayed at Engineer Creek campsite. To get a good start on the last day, I ended up driving till around midnight. Its probably not a good plan to drive that late on a road like that, especially that night in question, as I had most of the things I don't like, rain, wind, and fog, on gravel, with the high likelyhood of animals on the road. But I made it through ok.

That meant that I could get some great pictures of what I think is the best part of the Dempster Highway, the end closest to Dawson City. Its of course subjective, but were I to take other people, to see the scenery, I think the first day looks the most interesting. Just saying!

So, from Engineer Creek, I got through the last end of the Dempster Highway, and was into Dawson City with plenty of daylight left. This left me with an interesting problem. Where to go next? Should I camp in or near Dawson City, or would I be ok heading over the Top of the World Highway? And was I really in good enough shape to take on more gravel road or should I stop and rest up a bit?

According to the fuel receipt, I got gas at 5:22pm. The internet tells me sunset that day was at 9:27pm, and the US Border closed at 9pm (I think?) Alaska time, which is actually 8pm Yukon time. Its about 100 km or 60 miles from Dawson City to the border crossing. "Should" be no problem. Except the scenery is stunning, so I took pictures. And of course the video camera battery was dead, so that meant I had to stop to take more pictures! And its gravel, winding road with switch backs and did I mention amazing scenery?

So, when its all said and done, I had made the border with about 5 minutes to spare! I thought I had lots of time, but noticed as I hit the border the GPS automatically updates its time, for the time change. Whew! The thought of camping there was not fun, it is pretty high, and windy, and was getting cold! But I still had good day light, so after declaring no weapons and getting my passport stamped, I was off!

First impression, yikes, the US side of that road is not nearly as nice as the Canadian side! At least that's the case on the day I drove it. I've heard that can change, but I seriously doubt the US side gets much better!

Next impression, wow, look at all the hunters! Here is little old me, driving a very military looking motorcycle, with all the ammo cans and stealth pilot looking helmet, and I don't have any guns. I think all of Alaska was out that day, at the border, waiting for me to cross! A friendly little nod and a waive, and I weave my way slowly through all those hungry and cold looking hunters.

Finally at lower elevation, I set up camp at the first State campsite I found.

And just to recap, I finished the Dempster, did the Dawson City ferry, and drove the Top of the World the same day. So There!

The next morning, (which was COLD, go figure, its Alaska!) I took a quick look at Chicken, Alaska, which is an old mining town. True to its name, there are some Chicken statues, which were pretty funny. They had tours, old buildings, and the souvenier shops. I didn't take the time, just some quick pictures, and I was off.

The first gas stop was Tok, Alaska, where I was happy to find gas at reasonable prices, somewhere around what Edmonton prices were when I left, adjusted for the gallon vs liter etc.

After Tok, I rode all the way up to North Pole, Alaska, where there is a 50 foot Santa Clause, all the reindeer, and the whole place looks, well, like what you'd expect a town called North Pole to look like I guess! It was later in the evening, I'd rode hard all day, so the only real stop I made was at the Wendy's, the first "franchise" burger place I'd seen since the A&W at Fort Nelson, BC. By now I'd not had a shower in weeks, so was pretty smelly. I'd have rathered to go through the drive through, but haven't yet mastered how to hold a drink, burger, and fries while balancing the bike, and the delicate art of parking, so I just walked in and hoped no one lost their appetite!

Sadly they were quite slow filling the order, but once that was cleared up (and they did give me a free Frosty for the extra effort) I went back out side to sit on the curb and enjoy my food. Of course once out side, the bike attracts all kinds of gawkers and genuinely interested peeps.

Since I had no real plans by this point, when I got to Fairbanks, I drove around a few minutes, and then left. By that time it was just starting to get dark. I have no honest impression of Fairbanks, I think it had been raining that day, because I didn't get any pictures.

After Fairbanks, now that I look at my GPS map software, I made a mistake. Had I taken the time to plan my Alaska route, I would have gone west on Highway 3 and seen the Denali Park area. I did see signs for it, but didn't really grasp where it was in relation to where I was, and my next stop of Anchorage.

So instead, I backtracked toward Delta Junction. I had seen a few RV lots that advertised showers, wifi and laundry, which all sounded very good to me. The problem was I couldn't remember which one was where, and if they were around Delta Junction, or all the way back at Tok. And from what I did know of the geography of the area, there was a road from Delta Junction to Anchorage.

As it was getting pretty late, and dark, and I'd drove a pretty good day, I hit a camp ground roughly between Fairbanks and Delta Junction.

The next morning I woke up and hit the road pretty decent time, probably around 10am or so (anything before Noon is early it seems!), and got to the Smith's Green Acres RV Park at Delta Junction by around Noon.

When I rolled onto the property, I was met by Joe, the manager of the camp. Great guy, very friendly and informative. At first I was hoping to do laundry and grab a shower, and be back on the road, but the facilities were only for guests, which was totally fair. Apparently he has had people in the past cause problems. So no hard feelings there. At this point, I had not had a "down day" yet, and even though it seemed too early to stop, I just felt like I needed a break, so decided to stay.

The rates for tent camping were very reasonable, don't quote me on it but off the top of my head, about $20. That gave me access to the showers (not coin operated, so you could relax a bit even!), the coin op laundry was reasonably priced, there was laundry soap available in the office / store, and the wifi internet worked well.

As it turned out, even though I really wanted to start with a shower, I didn't have any clean clothes left, and my towel was dirty from the Dempster highway too, so I had to do laundry first! But while laundry was going, I did have time to get my laptop and catch up on email.

I did post some blogs while there, so I know most of that was already written. Brief recap though:

My Castle from the Storm!

After I did laundry, and had the tent set up, and was just getting settled down, Joe finds me and says that Anchorage had gale force winds, which were likely coming our way. Since we did have some winds and black clouds already, I figured he probably had a clue on what to expect! Being the good host that he is, he had me break my camp down, I parked the motorcycle right behind the laundry room so it was sheltered, and then I slept that night in the laundry room. Talk about luxury! I mean, sure I was on the floor, but after living in a tent, a floor, with walls, roof, and electricity is pretty posh, let me tell you! So I of course took total advantage of the situation, had everything plugged in to recharge, and got lots of internet time in.

Moose eating the trees next to where my tent was - At Smiths Green Acres RV Park - Thanks to Joe for finding me to take the picture!

By the next morning it had settled down, so I was just on the verge of going to find Joe to say I was hitting the road, when the wind kicked up again. My bike does NOT like the wind, especially with all the big packs on it, so instead, when I found Joe, I said I'd like to stay another night, and he rang me up again. Rule number 1 in survival, if you're in a good place, you stay there!

This is next to where my tent was. Would have missed, but I can't imagine I would have slept well after that!

As for where I had my tent set up the first day, there was a pretty good size tree that blew over! I had my tent tied to 2 trees when it was set up, and the very next tree, about 5 feet away, snapped right in half. It did fall away from where my tent was, but that's closer than I'd like to be!

So after 2 nights in the laundry room, the winds settled right down, and I was on the road, toward Anchorage.

Highway 4 runs south from Delta Junction to where it meets up with Highway 1 to Anchorage. That stretch of road was twisty, going over some pretty high pass conditions, and it was misserable cold. There were a few parts of the trip that would have been spectacular had they been on sunny warm days. But with the end of the warm season fast approaching, I didn't have the luxery to sit still and wait for a nicer day.

That night I camped across the valley from a huge glacier. Just knowing it was there seemed to make me feel cold, and I couldn't even see it till the next morning! That's the picture at the top of this post, be sure to click on it to see full size.

After chilling by the glacier, it was a fairly quick ride into Anchorage. Anchorage and Fairbanks were kind of a surprise to me, in that they both had full scale freeways going into them. I think at one point, Anchorage was 6 or 8 lanes total. Just seemed odd, in that the Alaska Highway is only 2 lanes! Like Fairbanks, I didn't really have an agenda, so I just drove straight through, until I got to the water, and stopped to take a few quick pictures. I didn't really find a great spot for pictures, so nothing really exciting there. Once I was stopped though, I used my phone to figure out where the Costco was, because I was about out of Chili and Tuna and AA batteries.

While at Costco I also had a very tasty hotdog, if you've been to Costco you know what I mean!

The funny thing was when I got back out to the bike, I realized I'd forgotten to plan where I'd put the extra cans! The food bag always ends up being the catch-all, so as I eat food other stuff gets put in there. So there I was with 8 cans of chili, and 12 cans of tuna, and no real clue where they were going to go. I mean, once I stopped for the night and unpacked the bike, I'd figure it out, but I really didn't want to unload the bike just to put the cans away, right? The good thing about Costco is everything is bulk packed, so it turned out to be pretty easy to just bungee strap the 8 pack to one side, and the 12 pack to the other side. And life was good again!

I made a stop at Glennallen for gas, then camped just a few miles out of town at the next State campground. Pulled in after dark, or near dark if I remember right. It was kind of cold, I didn't see any wood available, so I just ate a can of cold chili and I think some trail mix, set up tent, and was out like a light.

The next day, I made it to Tok again for fuel. I've gotten pretty good at parking the bike, a big part of which is just getting an eye for the angle of the ground, and making sure I lean the bike just right. Well, I must have been in a hurry, because when I walked inside to pay for the gas, I noticed a few people all looking over at where my bike was laying on its side. Sometimes bikes get tired, and they just want to take a nap I guess!

Well, it was the darnest thing, the bike tipped to the right! The kick stand is on the left, the stick is on the left, the gas island slopped to the left, and the bike went to the right. Go figure! Fortunately, with all the gawkers, I was able to recruit a couple guys to help, and we had it up pretty easily. I guess if I'm going to have a problem, becoming a spectacle is a good thing! So I gave out a couple of stickers to my rescuers, and life was good.

After getting the bike up on its wheels again, I coasted it away from the pump, and did a quick survey for any new problems. Aside from readjusting some straps and straightening the mirror, no problems noted. So now that things were settled, I went back inside and got a cup of coffee, and enjoyed my break for a while!

From Tok, it was a pretty uneventful trip to the Alaska / Yukon border. One thing of note here, the Canadian crossing is not right at the border, but maybe 20 km or so past the border. Best guess, from looking at the map, is that the road goes pretty close to the border maybe 10 km past the line, so they thought it made sense to put the post further down the road? Who knows. The US crossing point is at the actual border though. I mention this, because there are times where you may need to talk to one side while crossing the opposite side, and this would be a bit more unusual.

Anyway, I hit the Canadian crossing, and the guy was all business, asked me to remove my helmet, asked how many days I'd been in Alaska, and honestly at this point, I have no idea how long I'd been there, kind of lost count! But I guess I looked sufficiently like my picture, and it was cold and rainy, so he let me go.

About another hour on the road, and I was more than ready for a campsite. By now I was getting pretty cold, fumbly, and just not having a fun evening. I pulled into camp, found a open site near the camp kitchen, and took stock of my situation.

The rest, well that's a whole nother story. ;)
Stay Tuned!

By Carlin Comm posted on 2012-09-18