As aforementioned, I’m weeks and weeks late updating this because we have been having such fun in Anchorage with Chris’ fam. Last we left you all, we were leaving Inuvik and heading back down the Dempster Highway. While on our ride up the Dempster, everything was green rolling hills and birds and the last few flowers of summer; there was a very marked difference on our trip back down. Autumn had come in the few days when we’d been north of the Arctic Circle. The scenery was very much awash in reds and yellows, contrasting beautifully with the rocky crags. While it is all very pretty to drive through, it was a bit frightening because we still had quite a bit of traveling to do and I didn’t want to get caught in the North for the winter. Rain was forecasted for the next few days so we were trying to get back to Dawson before it hit.
We spent our first night in Engineer Campground, a little further south then Rock River, where we had stopped on our way up. The campground was nice, but everything was a bit damp and that didn’t bode well. It started to rain that evening and continued all night. It stopped briefly for us to get up and take down camp, but started again when we hit the road. Luckily, we have awesome bikes and didn’t have far to go, but it sure got muddy quickly. Here we are having made it up and down the Dempster Highway in one piece (well, two pieces; maybe four if you include the bikes).
We decided to try to wait out the rain in Dawson City because the Top of the World Highway, going from Dawson City, Yukon, to Chicken, Alaska (yes, Chicken), is supposed to be very beautiful. It goes up to a four thousand feet of elevation and apparently one can see many mountain ranges from the tops of the passes. However, after two days of waiting, the skies hadn’t cleared so we decided to go anyway. Had I walked outside and realized how cold it was, I might have encouraged us to wait another day. But summer wasn’t coming anytime soon, so we toughed it out.
There is another ferry crossing when leaving Dawson and after that the road turns to dirt and starts to wind upwards. I noticed little bits of something flying through the air and wondered what they were, thinking they couldn’t possibly be snow because it’s August. Well a few more kilometers down the highway and I was amazed to see not only snow coming at me, but snow all around me. It was certainly cold enough for it, at minus two degrees Celsius. I just put my head down and booked it. There wasn’t any view to see because we were in the middle of the clouds, and my poor little fingers felt like they were getting frostbitten in my gloves. I am once again so grateful for the invention of the heated vest. At one point, I stopped to wait for Chris, who wasn’t going 110 kph, and while waiting I did some jumping jacks and ran around the bike in circles, and then plugged the vest back in and did some squats next to the bike. It got the feeling back in my fingers, but I was far from warm. We weren’t focused on capturing pictures because it was so cold, but this was taken shortly after the US border where we met a new friend. When I pulled up to the border crossing, lo and behold, there was another crazy motorcyclist in front of me. We stopped on the US side and all had a chat and decided to have lunch together in Chicken. We weren’t originally planning on stopping for lunch as we had packed sandos, but we really needed to stop to warm up. And I wanted to stop in Chicken because it is called Chicken. Apparently, when they founded the town, they wanted to call it Ptarmigan, but they didn’t know how to spell it, so they went with Chicken.
The restaurant had a wood stove in it, which was absolutely amazing, given the circumstances. We all took our boots off and warmed our toes, ate awesome home made onion rings and chili, and watched a mother moose and her babies stroll by across the parking lot. After sufficient warming had occurred, our new friend Kevin decided he’d come with us to camp for the night at Wrangell-St Elias National Park. The snow had stopped and the further south we went the slightly warmer it got. By warmer I mean it was possibly above freezing at this point. We needed to stop for gas in Tok, and when we saw the station, Kevin turned in a little early, but I realized why as his bike shut off and he coasted as far as he could. He had run out of gas just in time and only had to push the bike 100 feet or so. Very lucky. From there it wasn’t far to Nabesna Road, where we would drive into the park.
We found a campsite overlooking a lake with some mountains in the distance. The ground surrounding us was all tundra, with small spruce trees, moss and shrubs, and absolutely nothing good for starting a fire. As the sun was going down, the temperature was dropping again so we struggled to pick up all the bits of wood we could find. There wasn’t much. Kevin and Chris started chopping down the baby spruces and cutting logs, hoping if we got enough coals burning, we could eventually throw the fresh logs on. But our bigger problem was that we couldn’t get any coals going. Nothing was lighting. Everything was either alive, wet, or both. Eventually, though it took us a fair amount of time, we realized that the pinecones would do well to start the fire and that the needles might actually burn. The end result was us throwing a whole tree in the fire, letting all the needles go up in a huge conflagration, and then throwing another whole tree in. I later read in the Denali Visitor Center that because life is so hard on the tundra, with the constantly drenched soil and the short growing season, it takes much longer for trees to grow. So while a spruce might look like a baby to us because it is only three or four feet tall, it might be thirty, forty, fifty years old. I felt kind of bad when I read that. But it was bloody cold out.
The next morning, the clouds had cleared up and we realized that the mountain range in front of us was THE Wrangell Mountains! We were staring straight out at Mount Sanford, the second highest mountain in the range, standing at 16,237 feet. We hadn’t even been able to see it the night before with all the clouds. With the clear skies, it was also freezing.
Luckily, my sleeping bag unzips at the bottom and I can walk around in it. It’s kind of inconvenient because it has no arms, but it’s worth it. We packed up camp, defrosted our windscreens, and got going. Back at the main road we parted with Kevin, who was heading back to B.C., and we continued south towards Anchorage. It wasn’t far, and the temperature increase was noticeable as we got farther south. We pulled in to Chris’ mom’s house in the early evening and I got to meet Toby Ventura for the first time! Very exciting. We have been in Anchorage now for the past week and a half and we are here for a few more days before we head to catch our ferry in Haines, AK. A couple more blogs about what we’ve done since we’ve been in Alaska (which is a lot), and we’ll be all caught up and ready to keep going again.
Thanks for reading, and check in to hear about our rafting trip, and our trip to Denali National Park. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to have dinner with Barack when he was here, but we had a great time anyway.