Saturday, June 18, 2005

Moose Creek Campground, Stewart Crossing, Yukon

For another day.The Dempster runs about 500 miles north to Inuvik, Northwest Territories, on the MacKenzie River Delta. The adventure riders I met in Dawson had just completed the annual ride up the Dempster.

1:30 a.m.

I haven’t taken time to write things down lately. Too busy moving.

The “Dust to Dawson” riders had barricaded the main street and were about to begin “the games”. I didn’t earn the privilege, so it was awkward remaining. With a feeling “I don’t belong here, it’s their town," I left Dawson and headed south.

Gas stations closed before 11:00, and I was left running on what I had. Targeted this town, and made it with a gallon to spare – the one I added along “Top of the World”. I'll fill up in the morning.

The campground is amazing; groves of white-barked birch, almost glowing in the evening twilight, solitary birds singing clear and strong in the still night. Well off the road and, once my neighbor turned off his generator, quiet. Immaculate. Even wheelchair-accessible outhouses! Went over and banged on the window of a van, rousing the occupant who had gone to sleep with her headlights still on. Another vehicle is just arriving. Typical in campgrounds. Travelers keep all hours.

A peaceful ride from Dawson. The air moist from recent showers, mist rising from the roadway. Lush forests creating an avenue, lined with fuchsia-colored flowers. The road empty, except for an occasional truck. Just the rush of wind and the engine humming like an airplane. Small black or gray rabbits (appearing to be dwarfs) huddle on the shoulder, quiet witnesses to my passing. Gravel for 10 miles perhaps, wet and slippery.

No dinner, but I found the remaining cashews from this morning and enjoyed them. Water out of a “nalgene” bottle is superior to that from that silly MSR dromedary bag. I tossed that pain-in-the-butt bag.


Back in Tok, I didn’t feel so bad when I straggled out of the tent at 8:30 and noticed two other motorcycle campers were still sleeping. Most of the camp vacated; it sounded like an armored division pulling out this morning – early.

Sunny and warm. Did laundry, went through my bags, looking for stuff to send home; my goal to offset the weight of the spare tire I will now be carrying. Journals, sketch book, Travels with Charley, Northern Forests handbook, down jacket, business shirt, Prudhoe Bay t-shirt, some souvenir pins, extra cargo straps, "Chala Lght", "Krill Light", Swiss Army Knife. All things that are not being utilized. Paid about $25 to ship the 10-pound box to my storage unit in Sonoma County. The postmaster said "allow three to five weeks for delivery." It sure sounds like the Pony Express to me.

One of the other riders in camp stopped as he was leaving. He said "The Top of the World (Taylor) Highway" was thus far the highlight of his trip. That was in my plan for today. "Take a lunch and stop up there." Coincidentally, I think I recalled "Toddy" mentioning that he was returning to Dawson from Inuvik today. Maybe I'd reconnect with him over there.

Up the street, visited the Tok General Store, specializing in natural foods. Such stores have a characteristic, and very enjoyable fragrance. Purchased apple juice and cashews. The young lady tending the shop was painting a picture of a moose. Outside, a girl came over to talk about bikes. She is getting an 800cc bike soon. Born and raised in Eagle, she wants to go to California. “California’s too crowded,” I said, but then realized I have no right to spoil her dream.

Decided to move on, foregoing lunch, and not work on the blog back at the RV park. Storms were building fast over Tok, and to the north, the direction I was heading. Starting up the Taylor Highway, numerous vehicles were parked beside the burned forests; morel harvesters. You could see them foraging among the black stick spruces. Signs warn the mushroom gatherers that this is grizzly bear territory.

Along the Taylor Highway north of Tok. These burned-out forests are drawing thousands of morel mushroom harvesters.

A forest burned over last year. The black spruce grows very slowly in the far north. I'm told these spindly little trees can be over 100 years old.

Thunderstorms were unavoidable, though the highway seemed to conveniently skirt around the worst of them. Arrived at Chicken, Alaska just as a stream of motor homes and "fifth-wheel" rigs were rolling in from "The Top of the World Highway" (which is a gravel road!) There must have been 20 or 30, with more already parked in the camp. "What happened to wilderness? Jeez!"

What can you say?

During my refueling stop at Chicken, there must have been 20 to 30 of these guys pulling in, after completing the run over the "Top of the World Highway."

I didn't realize how popular, and famous, this highway is. From Chicken on, the road was a muddy gravel, soaked by the storms moving eastward just ahead of me. With traction uncertain, and the potential of meeting a motor home at each curve, there wasn't much opportunity to sightsee. Cloud cover was restricting the view anyway. Some black and red mud stretches proved the most slippery, but the road was generally easy. It just demanded patience.

The high country is rolling grassy mountaintops, sparsely populated with stunted trees. It was clear that the views were commanding, 360-degree and certainly over 100 miles on clear days, looking deep into both Alaska and the Yukon. Another border outpost at the top. Lonely duty, I imagine.

On the Canadian side, the road was much better; mostly gravel but without the mud. Sleepy, having difficulty maintaining attention, I stopped to walk around. Shocked to see the plastic gas can hanging on a strap from the back of the bike. From the mud, it was clear that it had been dangling since the American side. "That's it!"

Emptied the gallon into my tank, and left the container on the roadside. So it came to pass that I was following that Adventure Rider's advice, almost to the letter.

Descending into Dawson, it was curious to see billboards lining the road out in this remote area. The highway ends at the famous ferry crossing. I was the lone vehicle in line. The Yukon is an awesome sight at this point, broad and very fast-flowing. The tiny ferry was on the far side. Other vehicles started to arrive.

The "line" for the Dawson ferry.

The Dawson ferry, providing free service across the Yukon River. It's the only way into town from The Taylor Highway. The swift current here forces the ferry to make a wide arc, approaching the opposite bank from downstream.

"We're running on only one engine, so you'll have to back the car off."

A couple from Tacoma, offered to take this picture of me.

I'm about to receive a free map of Dawson City!

Across the river, I wandered into downtown with it's dirt streets and boardwalks. On a side street, motorcycles were lined up on both sides, out in front of the Downtown Hotel. Asked inside the hotel "where are all the bikers?"

They directed me to a back patio, where I walked in on a celebration. Thirty or forty riders who had completed the "Dust to Dawson" ride, were now basking in the energy of that feat, well-oiled with brew. I saw Toddy and we caught up briefly. Stood by watching the theater, as awards were handed out and individual achievements noted (such as the stupidest maneuver). Even introduced myself, "the party-crasher" as they went around the patio, asking each person to introduce themselves and, if they have one, identify their Adventure Rider sign-on. But soon, I began to feel a bit out-of-place, and wandered off.

Found an ice cream shop and ordered a milk shake. Walked along the river banks, then, following someone's recommendation, rode up to "The Dome", high above town. A great panorama from that point.

Front Street (I think), Dawson. I'm parked at the ice cream shop. That's where you'll find me.

Taken from the famous Dawson Dome, the Bonanza Creek watershed is far below. This was the focal point for the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1890's. Those snaking piles are the tailings from dredges. Prospectors are still working the streams back there.

Another shot from Dawson Dome, looking south. The old town is lower right center. The Yukon River flows north here, then turns west into Alaska. Over the years, the dome has been a gathering spot for ceremonies and celebrations.

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