Day 8: Dawson, YT to Chicken, AK, via Eagle, AK
What we thought would be a bug-infested morning ended up being a pleasant one. The mosquitos stayed where they were and did not seem to want to bother us. This was fantastic. My tent, however, had attracted hundreds of little flies overnight (I don't know why) that had set up camp between the tent and the fly. In the morning, when I took off the fly, they stayed put, and I had to wipe 'em off with a branch. Seriously though, hundreds of the suckers. I don't understand why.
Anyway, enough of my invertebrate commentary. We peacefully packed up camp and set off into town to track down Dad's tire. We made it to the town center, with its touristy/frontier feel, and asked around for where Kluane Transport was. It wasn't in town, but at least a steamboat was.
Well, back out to the industrial section that we'd passed by on our way into Dawson. We tracked down Kluane and picked up Dad's tire. The AC10 is about as knobby as they come and we decided that if we could make it over the next 1000km on Dad's Trailwing before we returned to Whitehorse, this would probably be best. Something about that AC10, high speeds, and abrasive chipseal just seemed like it would be a bad combination. But hey, at least it was insurance.
Since we were in Gold Rush area, we had to check out the dredges.
Pretty amazing, these machines. I mean, they're huge for one thing, they move under their own power (when floating on a pond, of course), and the amount of earth they process is pretty astronomical, at least for the era in which they were created. The digging head was stripped of its bucket conveyor,
but at least they had the buckets kicking around. These things must've weighed around a gazillion pounds each.
Mm.. Old iron.
We carried further down Bonanza Creek Road, hoping to track down some more dredges. Dad had mentioned that when he was up here last with Mom (this was back a few years), there were all kinds of dredges left sitting all over the valley.
Our search yielded nothing, but at least we got dusty.
It was about time to swing back into town, stock up on a few days' provisions, and at least ride around town a bit.
After groceries came gas, where we met a guy on an '09 KLR. We chatted for a while, discussed the KLR in all its glory (doohickeys and faulty wiring on his end, reliable, proven engine on mine), then parted ways so we could find lunch. Food was found at a local hotel, was fast, tasty, and just what we needed.
The ferry was next: we were on our way west, towards the Top of the World Highway.
Met a couple guys on Vstroms on the ferry. They were from Saskatchewan and having quite a good time up in the north country as well. We played a bit of tag with them along the TOTWH, first them pulling off to the side, then we pulling off, each party passing the other when this happened.
The road was half paved, half gravel.
And the views were spectacular.
In this next shot is the border crossing: basically a cluster of cabins, miles away from any other existence.
The wind was blowing, but the wildflowers persisted in their blooming.
.. Betcha can't tell which way the wind was blowing.
We met the Strom folks at the border once more, and as we sat there, the sky opened up. We'd not experienced rain in a fair number of days, and it was quite wet, as we'd remembered it before.
Since on this trip we were making such good time, we thought it only right to do a few side trips. The road up to Eagle, AK, looked promising, so we thought we'd check it out. It was early afternoon, and the road was 100km in each direction. Perfect.
We carried on further, through gravel canyon twisties. It was pure joy to ride such well-maintained dirt roads. I might have slid sideways once or twice.
We descended into Eagle, unsure of what to expect. For all we knew, it could be a ghost town. Instead, it was a fairly bustling village with an eccentric air about it. This was punctuated by our stop on the main street.
As we turned around to go to the river's edge, a young chap on a unicycle came by, gave us a wave, and carried on down towards (maybe) the school. It summed up my experience of the people in Eagle. They were friendly and fun, living a pretty carefree lifestyle.
My impression of Eagle changed, however, when we got down to the water's edge.
We were stunned. What had happened here? The entire front street of Eagle had been torn to shreds, houses moved off their foundations, and massive damage felt for miles along the shoreline.
I had to know, so we talked to some yellow-shirted volunteers (from a church in Fairbanks, helping the Eagle community out on the 4th of July no less) to see what had happened.
We got the full scoop from them. Basically, in early May, during spring breakup, the Yukon River had gotten jammed up with ice somewhere around here:
This, of course, led to a massive rise in water, coupled with large ice chunks floating above the bank. Although Eagle was on a 15-20 foot steel-reinforced bank, the water had risen above this fortress, flooded the front street of town, and brought with it ice chunks that had pushed houses off their foundations.
the volunteers mentioned that some houses had been swept up to 1/4 mile from their original location. Here, you can see crews restoring upstream villages.
This entire experience left both myself and Dad stunned. The amount of damage that an ice-choked river can cause was evidently astronomical. What a fragile existance we forge, in the face of all that nature can throw at us. The other thing that struck me was the heart of the volunteers that were helping to rebuild Eagle and surrounding communities. As the local rednecks were taking pot-shots at a barrel across the river, these volunteers were here, on Independence Day, just trying to help. It made us want to drop everything and stay here for a week to clean up and rebuild.
We pulled ourselves away, rode slowly up and out of Eagle, and set out for the trip south.
The fireweed was in full bloom along the road, and it was a pretty surreal experience to ride a beautifully packed gravel road through meadows of fuchsia.
The road continued in its twisty joyfulness, the rain pattered every so often, and we were having a ball.
If you're in the area and have half a day (or are getting close to camping time), check out Eagle and the road up. You'll be glad you did. They have camping in town, so if you're at, say supper time, and are unsure about whether it's worth it to go up, it is.
We carried on towards Chicken, on the much straighter section of the Taylor Highway.
At one point, I lost sight of Dad behind me. Knowing he was getting into his "fuel concern" section of his range, I stopped and searched for him across the drainage basin we were in.
He's there somewhere, I swear.
Ah, there we go.
We rolled up to the Chicken service station and campground somewhere a little past supper time, filled up, and took full advantage of their "free covered camping with a fill-up".
After supper, we were doing some chain maintenance when an older gentleman wandered over. We enjoyed a well-thought-out, slow-paced, savor-the-moment kinda conversation with him. His name was Spike Jorgenson, a former Superintendant for Schools in this area of Alaska. When he was hired on, the job description included the need for two reliable modes of transportation: one ground vehicle, and an airplane to reach the out-stretched communities of northern Alaska. He had actually flown into Chicken that day as well.
We talked for a good hour or so, ourselves thoroughly enjoying our time with Spike. After he left, Dad and I shared a smile. This was why we were here: to enjoy, experience, and learn more about the country and the people that we were in. Looking back, this was one of the best days of the trip. We didn't put in quite as many miles, but we experienced what the land was about, and it wasn't all in tourist towns.
Spike had invited us up to the bar on the hill for 4th of July celebrations. We opted to explore the land a bit instead.
Another dredge had been brought here from up the creek.
There was old iron everywhere.
We bedded down amid cannon-fire from the bar. From my understanding, it has something to do with talking women out of their panties. Interesting area, that Chicken was.
Final mileage, July 4th:
This was a day of experiences, and although the riding was excellent, the people and the stories made today what it was.
The "plan" for the next day led us to Haines Junction. We'd see what came of that.