After our run up to Prudhoe Bay we had a couple of extra days around Fairbanks to service our bikes and catch up on errands. Not real exciting but these kinds of days are pretty rare on a schedule so we made the most of them.
The reason we had a bit of time up our sleeve is that we’d planned to go to the Dust 2 Dawson in the Yukon and were a bit ahead of schedule. At the Beemer dealer the on the morning we were heading out of town we met another two Aussie boys (Wade and Phil) that were also making their way down to South America, but they had eight months to do it and were also pushing down to Antarctica.
They too were on their way to the Dust 2 Dawson, but they were headed down south for a couple of days beforehand. We’d decided we were going to take our time and just spend a couple of nights getting there, so we cruised down to Tok to spend the night. Not much happening in Tok, its pretty much just the intersection for the Alcan and the hwy to Anchorage.
We checked out the campsite that was recommended for bikers, but it was early and no one was there so we opted for a campground in closer to town (that also had showers). Cheap as chips and nice – only thing is is was right next to the airstrip. We were joking about this being an issue and were surprised to see that at 12am after coming back from dinner and a few drinks with an American couple we’d met a plane started taking off – I’d forgotten that as it never gets dark, light planes can fly 24/7! Luckily that was the last plane for the night and after a good nights, quiet sleep we packed up camp and aimed for a little town between Tok and Dawson called Chicken.
The road there was nice enough, it became a little more fun when it turned to gravel, but was sealed for the most part. The road did take us up onto some cool ridges where we could see for miles into the vast wilderness, which was cool. On the way there we came across a road block where there was an RV that had gone off the road and now looked like someone had blown up a kitchen, the cabin had broken off the chassis and there was wreckage everywhere!
I thought it must have been a pretty serious accident and was contemplating the sensibility of people who don’t normally drive such big vehicles, hauling them through some pretty remote and sketchy roads (for something that big anyways). I later found out that the driver had actually just run off the road into the ditch and it was the recovery effort that had destroyed the vehicle!
Arriving in Chicken we fuelled up and set up camp on an RV site in the Chicken Gold Camp. Chicken is not normally somewhere that riders and other travellers spend a lot of time. Most people stop in for fuel on their way across the Top of the World Highway, check out the bar that is famous for shooting women’s underwear out of a tiny cast iron cannon and get their photos taken with the big chicken.
As we were in no hurry we decided to spend the night here before our final push to Dawson and discovered the charms of this quirky little town. I said that not many travellers stay in Chicken for long at all, but that is not entirely true. People come from all over the place (mostly Alaska and northern Canada) to try their luck prospecting. You see Chicken was once part of the gold rush up in these parts and whilst the five-story monstrous dredge is not still devouring the creek beds, there is a thriving industry in recreational gold mining.
People come for weeks at a time, armed with sluices, shovels, water pumps and gold pans to wash the gravel in the creek and sift through it in hope of finding their fortune (or at least enough to pay for their little holiday!). And find gold many of them do. One guy that had been there for three weeks had found about 3/4 of an ounce, which with current prices is worth a bit over a grand. Not big money for the amount of hard, cold, dirty work you need to do to get it but everyone we talked to seemed to just enjoy the chase and striking it rich is just a bonus.
Jock and I, having big dreams of financing our trip by spending a couple of hours on the pans, had no such luck. We had fun and managed to find a few flecks (which have since fallen out of their little vial and into the pocket of my riding pants) but it was just interesting to see what they were doing and talk to them all about it. One thing that struck me was the seemingly uncontrolled destruction of the creek beds. I’m sure it’d been done worse previously in the past, however I couldn’t help but think that we would never be allowed to cut up a watercourse like that (well at least to my knowledge), the greenies would have a fit. I guess that way out there, no one really knows or cares.
In the pouring rain the next day we packed up camp and set out for Dawson across the Top of the World Highway. We’d seen quite a few riders heading over quite tentatively, but looking at the state of the RVs and cars that were coming through from the other direction I didn’t think we’d have too many issues.
As we set off in the 170km to Dawson the rain only followed us for the first little stretch and while it didn’t turn into an amazing day, the cloud did lift a little revealing glimpses of the amazing panorama the road offers. Belting along the road, the only traffic we saw were RVs coming in the opposite direction and we made good time to the Canadian border, where a quick chat with the official had us on our was over the top and making our way down, past the drifts of snow that were still alongside the road, towards Dawson. Arriving at the ferry that would shuttle us across into town we were quite impressed with the skill of the driver who effortlessly navigated the heavy barge across the Yukon river’s relentless current. Apparently this free ferry runs 24/7 – I guess its still cheaper than building a bridge.
Arriving in town it was immediately evident that there as something going on. There were bikes everywhere, but what surprised us more was the amount of other tourists (RVs and tour buses) that were about. If we weren’t coming for the D2D we wouldn’t have come up here, but apparently everyone else still would have!