There’s a lot to learn for wasting time
My friend Günter from Germany is riding from Anchorage to San Francisco starting by heading north to Fairbanks, then over the Top of the World Highway to Dawson, Canada and on down south. Originally he wanted to ride across North America west to east but several told him that was rather boring and better going north to south. I met Günter when he joined the Andes Trail with bike dreams in 2014 for the last month into Ushuaia. He now has another trip and I seem to live vicariously, so am helping him out. He arrived Anchorage and departed a few days later after recovering from the jet lag. He rode to Fairbanks, then was headed east. Here is my version, he tells his story in his blog, but it is in German. http://guderley.com
Great fun. Talked with Günter last Saturday the 18 May, and he was a bit concerned about conditions on top of the world highway, as yet very early. I said I would check and call him back. Called the Dawson (Yukon Territory, Canada) visitor information whom I had talked to about a week ago. The incredibly pleasant ladies there said they would check and call me back. 15 minutes later I get the call and report in: border crossing will open Monday, the gravel road is wet but good, and no established campground between Chicken and Dawson (about 200 kilometers). I called Günter and reported the results and offered if need be, I could drive up and offer help as need. Ok!
Monday we talked again and he said it would be nice for me to come up, if for nothing else than just to see each other again. I said I would meet him tomorrow in Tok, Tuesday afternoon. It would be I thought 6-7 hours drive to Tok, Alaska where we would meet and I would leave about 8 or 9 in the morning. I quickly threw some things in the car and had a delightful evening with Jeanne. Oh boy a road trip. It would be nice to go to the interior where supposedly weather is warm and sunny, unlike the coast.
Tuesday, I left about 9:10 after filling Volvo with petroleum and stopping at a bakery for treats for Günter. I arrived in Tok at about a quarter before 3 having basically set the speed control at the speed limit of either 55or 65 mph. A wonderful drive although rain at Eureka summit crossing into the Copper River Valley, Mentasta Pass, crossing into the Tanana Valley which drains into the Yukon River, and the rain started again when I arrived in Tok. I am tired of clouds and rain. I am ready for some sunshine. It was been a wet chilly past month in Anchorage. Along the way were 4 big caribou, one grizzly bear, two big moose, plus maybe fifty swans.
Günter was waiting in Fast Eddy’s restaurant (the only place to eat in town) and we had some beer and a snack. I needed some blood movement so went for a walk in the rain returning to our motel room soaked despite the rain jacket. Dinner and to bed
Wednesday, Morning found Günter departing about 8:30 and I about 10. I caught him about noon in s heavy snow storm 50 kilometers up the road. Temp about freezing but miserable biking conditions, he then joined me in the car to Chicken. Amazing as they asked if we had reservations and had no rooms to rent. 15 seconds later we have two of the more expensive motel rooms I have stayed at, but actually really nice, $89 each, no potable water, restrooms across the path to main building, heat is minimal and unfinished. But we knew ahead of time that Chicken, Alaska was a remote site, thus I brought 5 gallons of water and we could get all the bottle water we want (but store only open 8-4)
As I remember it the day ended up rather inebriated. A wondrous evening, Günter and I went for a walk discovering all three cafes in Chicken were not yet serving food as too early in the season, so no food delivery until next week. But we have lots of cheese, bread, beer, and whiskey, thus no problem. The sun came out and we moved chairs to west side of building into the sunshine. Stacy from Austin Texas walks by our porch brings her bourbon which turned out to be rum, but all good, and we proceed from there. A fellow who grew up in Tok got a job here in Chicken for the summer joined us while he cooked his dinner in the back of his pickup truck. We had a great evening, just bullshitting, talking, laughing, drinking. The only real discussion I remember was about Romania and watching the sun move across the horizon. Life is good.
And the best part of day. I got to help unload the truck of summer supplies. A semi truck. Life is really good.
Day 2 of being with Günter started mostly sunny with birds singing their morning symphony and I said I would catch up fairly quickly as he left about 7:30. Catching him soon, was not to be, as it turns out breakfast came with the room, which I discovered when going over to gift shop for morning coffee. A waffle and sausage patty. Not bad! Conversations with more travelers with Florida license plates then onward, but a mile up the road is a hike which reportedly is bike able but I decided to walk and the decision was quickly verified when numerous down trees and boggy conditions would have made walking a necessity anyway. A good walk overlooking an old abandoned gold dredge. Lots of history in this 40 mile region.
Finally caught Günter after 3 hours as he was starting up the second big climb of day. I drove to the top, changed into biking gear and had a delightful downhill ride for 4 1/2 kilometer (3 miles) then climbing the 220 meter elevation gain back (700 feet)to car. Nice to ride again. A stop for lunch at the top in the car when it started raining, then began to thunder and lightning. After a few minutes I said I had no interest in camping up here on ridge of “top of the world highway” in this weather, and he agreed. We had hoped to get just beyond the U. S. Canadian border and camp, but glad we decided to head into Dawson. Whew, snowing, cold temperature at freezing, driving somewhat slow due to visibility, slush, and generally just not good especially for camping.
We descended into Dawson taking the ferry over the Yukon river which gave us time to read texts which began arriving just before the ferry as we got close to town and cell reception. Somehow we survived 38 hours without WiFi internet access. The clocks changed on phones with time zone, but zero bars or reception. Amazing world when one can survive 38 hours without communication with the outside world.
Found a hotel and moved in, having to change rooms once due to leaking ceiling from all the rain continuing to come down. A dinner celebration, then on to “ Diamond Tooth Gertie”, a saloon, with can can show of the 1890,s. We noted that we were probably the oldest ones in there, but a very pleasant time.
Friday, with great sadness I departed to return home. Depressing, and I was wondering what the heck am doing. Reached the ridge where conditions yesterday were bad, now starting to dry out, but I was still feeling down, so changed clothes and went for a nice bike ride 10k down the road and returning to car feeling much improved. Back on the road again, spirits lifted, and opted to take the “take at your own risk” road to the abandoned town of Clinton and the bridge over the forty mile river which we have floated several times. This road had even less traffic and when you came across someone you stopped and talked. One fellow (of the two cars I came across. turns out is the owner of the entire town of Clinton, then returned to top of world highway. This road being somewhat busy with a car every 30 minutes you only wave when you pass someone.
And easy going through border. Farthest north U. S. border and not sure why they put it on the highest most remote section of the road. Someone smarter than me, figures these things out.
Now camping at our lunch spot where yesterday it was storming so bad. Dinner and into tent before the rain started again, although did note a right rear tire on car a bit low so checked pressure and yes leaking. Pumped it with the bicycle pump taking almost 15 minutes but exercise is good.
In the morning tire looked ok but pressure down so pump again and drive to chicken where no tire repair, but a compressor. I was told to be brave and get to Tok. Stopped to pump the tire with bicycle pump 2 times in the hour and half drive (78 miles). I do have one of the doughnut lightweight spare tires, but have had very bad luck with them, and best if one can avoid it.
Along the way looking for two women riding to Ushuaia, whom Günter had met along the way, but I did not see them. Did stop and talk with a couple of Germans heading to Las Vegas, and a couple from Utah heading to Utah. Nice to see people out and about exploring.
Made it back to Tok repaired tire for $25 pulling the rock which had punctured the tire. A nice walk between rains and now back to Anchorage. I think it is time to quit living vicariously.