Impromptu Mini-Road Trip

I went into town today to check my mail and to look for frames for the toilet room pictures. En route, I saw two hitchhikers on Front Street looking for a ride south. It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon and I found myself thinking “Gee, I wouldn’t mind having an excuse to run to the Dempster corner and back…” And just then I caught a glimpse of their sign. It said… Dempster Corner.

I pulled over to get a feel for them and to assess how much gear they had. They were a French couple, him from Quebec, her from France, with two huge packs, a smaller bag, a guitar case, and a very large dog. I figured we could just squeeze into the car. So, I told them to hang on while I ran my errands and that I would be back for them shortly.

We had a great (if cramped!) drive down as they regaled me with tales of their adventures. Last year, the guy came to Dawson and hitchhiked across the Top of the World Highway, getting stranded for five days! He ran out of water and after two very thirsty days he began to prepare for the worst, writing out his last wishes in marker on his air mattress. Shortly thereafter, he was picked up by a wonderful elderly couple that took him into Dawson and insisted on giving him $100 to help him out!

Another thing we discussed was the state of hitchhiking in Canada. Both are like me–they would never hitchhike or pick up hitchhikers anywhere else but in the Yukon, and especially not in northern BC along the Yellowhead highway! But it’s part of the culture here and everyone does it then pays it forward or has it paid forward.

The pair was heading up into the Tombstone mountains to hike and I would have been tempted to drive them to the trailhead had the Dempster not been closed due to flooding. I’m two weeks ahead of my trip to Inuvik and have already conceded that the trip is most likely to NOT happen. 🙁 It’s hard to be optimistic when faced with reality.

Indefinite Closure of the Top of the World Highway

The continuing rains and washouts have threatened bridge integrity, so the Top of the World Highway connecting Dawson City, YT, and Chicken, AK, is closed indefinitely, with folks stranded along it and at least one person missing.

This is going to severely impact Dawson tourism. The prediction is that a season that was off to a roaring start has screeched to a halt.

I’m pretty bummed about this. I’d hoped to use one of my precious afternoons off to make a jaunt to Chicken and back, just to get out of town. There aren’t really any places to ‘go’ from Dawson within a reasonable day’s drive round trip and there’s no point in going back up the Dempster for a few hundred clicks since I’ll be doing it in its entirety in August.

But, at least I’m not stranded on a dirt track or lost in the muddy waters of the Yukon River.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

There isn’t much to report these days beyond the closing of the Top of the World Highway due to washed out sections between the border and Chicken. I saw pictures of some of the damage and it looks like the apocalypse, with the road stopping at the end of a wide chasm. The road on that stretch is very sandy and unstable, so add in the unseasonably rainy weather we’ve had and you have a recipe for a lot of spoiled vacations. Some folks are extending their stays in Dawson, others are avoiding the town all together. We’re busy as ever, but as we head into the biggest weekend of the season, we have to wonder if it’ll be a bust.

As for me, I am working my tail off, having taken on another contract. There is a lot going on behind the scenes, but it is much, much too soon to be making announcements. All I can confirm is that there is a pot at the end of the rainbow. The next few months will tell me if it is filled with gold or pyrite. 😀

The Top of the World Highway (and Chicken, Alaska)

Several things came together this week to give me an excuse to drive the Top of the World Highway from West Dawson to Chicken, Alaska today!

My neighbour is moving to Anchorage and wanted a spotter behind her rig (a very nice Airstream) in case she ran into problems on this reputably rough road. She had driven the Top of the World before and knew that there is pavement shortly after Chicken and that Chicken is doable as a day trip from Dawson. So, not having had a day off since I got back from the Chilkoot and wanting to go to Alaska in memory of my dad who would have been 60 on the 24th, I found myself with ample excuses to go for a drive. Dad loved to go for drives and he would have enjoyed today’s trip so much!

The Canadian portion of the road is easy, mostly paved with a few gravel sections. The US side is essentially a dirt road, but we got lucky in that it had just been graded. Lately, people have been arriving at the campground from that road with their nerves fully frayed, but there was none of that today. The weather wasn’t the greatest, but I preferred a bit of mist and drizzles to having to keep my eyes glued to the road!

We left at about 10:30 and got lucky at the ferry, being able to drive on immediately. This was my first time since childhood going onto a ferry with a vehicle and it was good practise for this fall when I go to Vancouver Island! It was a most peculiar sensation to be moving forward without pressing any pedals!

It took us two and a half hours to get to the border at Poker Creek. She sailed through surprisingly quickly. I was asked where home is and it was lovely to not have to skirt around the question and reply “Dawson City.” He asked me where I was going and then why when I replied “Chicken”, shrugging when I said “Just to say I’ve been.”

It’s 40 miles from the border to Chicken and it took us almost two hours to get there as we followed two identical fifth wheels that exercised an overabundance of caution (not that I can blame them). We stopped at the new gift shop to get a free chicken (think keychain-sized plucked rubber chicken!) promised to us if we presented a brochure signed by the manager here. We then continued on to ‘downtown Chicken’, which includes a couple of very nice outhouses, a kitschy gift shop, a saloon, a chicken coop, and a cafĂ© offering pretty good grub. Chicken has a year round population of 15, no flush toilets or phones, children are home schooled, the injured are medivacced to Fairbanks, and the old grump has left town. It’s an interesting place that had me hearing dueling banjos, if you get my drift…

The drive back was much quicker, even though I stopped at the pitifully few pull-outs to get pictures and to marvel that I was there, in mainland Alaska. It’s been an incredible summer!

The re-entry into Canada was easy as the border guard was a French-starved québécoise more interested in chatting about how long Dawson has been home than in whether I was trying to smuggle anything into the country. She did get around to asking me if I had any booze (no). It was surreal to cross from Alaska to Yukon in French!

About 75km shy of Dawson, I passed a couple of cyclists who seemed to be having tire issues. At first, they tried to convince me that they were fine, but the more they thought about my offer of a lift, the more it obviously appealed to them. They had doubts that all their gear would fit in my car, but I had every confidence it would. Check out the pictures for proof! 😀

We had a good chat as we continued on to Dawson, amused by the added serendipity that they were picked up by a fellow French speaker (he’s French, she’s German). They had planned to camp in West Dawson, but were happy to come here, to Bonanza Gold, when I told them that we have hot showers and laundry facilities!

The ferry crossing took no time at all, but it was 8:30 when we got back to Dawson. I suggested that getting food would be a good idea and they offered to treat me since I’ll be driving them around a bit tomorrow to find parts for their bikes. I think the dump will be a good place to start looking!

Today exemplified why I love this life so much; each morning is full of possibility for adventure and new encounters. Days like this just didn’t happen when I was doing the daily grind in Gatineau.

In the toad, crossing the Yukon. My first time since childhood on a ferry in a vehicle!

In the toad, crossing the Yukon. My first time since childhood on a ferry in a vehicle!

Slowly climbing above the treeline.

Slowly climbing above the treeline.

Slowly entering tundra.

Slowly entering tundra.

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So pleased I finally caught a Welcome to Alaska sign!

So pleased I finally caught a Welcome to Alaska sign!

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Boundary, just after the border. In summer, lodging, gas, and food can be found here, but it was closed today.

Boundary, just after the border. In summer, lodging, gas, and food can be found here, but it was closed today.

I had this image of a village of chickens...

I had this image of a village of chickens…

entering downtown Chicken

entering downtown Chicken

Downtown Chicken, part one

Downtown Chicken, part one

Downtown Chicken, part two. Of two.

Downtown Chicken, part two. Of two.

Chicken's chickens. And duck.

Chicken’s chickens. And duck.

Look at those purple mountains!

Look at those purple mountains!

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This is why it's called 'Fireweed.' The flower is bright purple in the summertime and turns to these fiery shades in the fall.

This is why it’s called ‘Fireweed.’ The flower is bright purple in the summertime and turns to these fiery shades in the fall.

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the edge of the world

the edge of the world

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I told them everything would fit if we put one bike on the roof.

I told them everything would fit if we put one bike on the roof.

They were amazed at my ability to gauge how much I can fit in my car. Apparently, the limit is one bike on the roof, one in the trunk, two people in front, one person in back, two huge backpacks in the trunk, and small items scattered throughout!

They were amazed at my ability to gauge how much I can fit in my car. Apparently, the limit is one bike on the roof, one in the trunk, two people in front, one person in back, two huge backpacks in the trunk, and small items scattered throughout!