August 7, 2008 – Day 12: Whitehorse, YT. to Tok, AK – 387.28 miles
The days are getting pretty long now, 20-21 hours of sunlight. It was 4:00am and I was wide awake. Actually, I’d been wide awake since 1:00am, guess I was just waiting on the sun. Time to pack it up and get on up the road.
- Takhini River, Whitehorse
The day started with light rain and there was a definite chill in the air. Attire for the day started with long johns, followed by long-sleeved t-shirt, next a sweatshirt with hood, Leathers, Bacaclava, and ¾ helmet. Wool socks and warm gloves rounded out the uniform. Over it all, rain gear. The forecast called for rain, heavy at times, all day long. Just a great day to make this leg of the trip.
The road from Whitehorse to Haines Junction was 155.51 kilometers of fog and cold rain. It’s the kind of cold that impairs the judgment of many a good rider, and the rain, well it’s heavy and steady. No stopping today gotta make Haines Junction before the frost bite sets in. First thing I actually remember about Haines Junction is a little coffee shop on the south west corner of the junction. I was stiff all over and shaking pretty good. I got inside the coffee shop and stood next to the door shaking and dripping all over the floor. A party of 6 was sitting next to the window and had seen me pull in. As I walked to the door their eyes followed me in unison. Now, standing inside and next to the door, their eyes were still glued to me, I must have looked a mess. About this time a nice woman came up to the counter and escorted me to a booth in the corner where she told me the heat is the strongest and I would have plenty of room to spread my clothes out to dry. I thanked her and began to remove my rain gear. As I was checking my wristwatch, not bad, made the trip in 2:05hr., the nice woman sat a cup of coffee in front of me. I can’t remember if she asked me if I wanted a cup, or if she just saw the need in my eyes. In either case it was greatly appreciated. She left me to drink my coffee and returned about 5 minutes later, with a menu and more coffee. I ordered some breakfast and watched the party of 6 watch me. Just when it was starting to get a little freaky an elderly man joined the group and they all got up to leave. As they filed out they all proceeded to give me one more going over as they spoke to each other in a language I did not recognize. As the last person in the group started out the door he gave me a nod and walked out shaking his head. I sat in the booth looking out the window at the rain, it was really coming down good now, and I found myself laughing at the site of the party of 6 running around and bumping into each other, trying to get out of the rain and into their rather small RV, all at the same time. As I was watching the spectacle the nice woman that had been serving me brought my order and watched the show with me.
- Beginning of the Day’s Ride
She asked where I was coming from; she already knew where I was going. She said she had seen me ride in and there were only two ways out, either way, Haines or Tok, the ride would be tough. I told her I had come from San Diego and was headed to Tok. She smiled and muttered something about, leaving San Diego for this, as she walked away. I’d been in the coffee shop for almost an hour and I was feeling a little better. Outside the rain had lightened and it actually looks pretty good, actually, it looks beautiful. It was time to get back on the road. I started suiting up and the nice woman came over to give me my bill. I asked her if she had any recent information on the road north. She said they were working on the road around Destruction Bay and they may or may not have a pilot car for escort through the area. Other than that just the usual stuff. Critters, dead or alive, sitting in the middle of the road, Permafrost ruts, construction delays, might be a little worst after all the rain in the past 24 hours. I handed her a twenty, thanked her for her hospitality, and walked out into the clear, cool air.
From Haines Junction, the road turns North West and starts to parallel the east side of Kluane National Park. This scenery is some of the best of the trip but sadly the weather keeps shooting to a minimum. About 15km outside the town of Destruction Bay I see the now all too familiar sign, “Break in Pavement.” I slow down and fall off into the now fully flooded gravel pit of a road, top speed 15-25kmph. I trudge along praying I don’t hit one of those softball size rocks. The break in pavement stretches for 9.5km. I got through it, that nasty stuff, I was through the construction area and I was still upright and riding. I pulled into the town of Destruction bay feeling pretty good about myself and my solid skills as a rider. I fueled up, got myself a candy bar to celebrate the Journey, and then I lit a cigar, saddled up and headed north to Alaska. 15km north of town I pulled up behind a tractor trailer rig, not just any tractor trailer rig, a bottom dropping gravel hauler. Just in front of him was a very attractive girl dressed in what appeared to be several layers of wool, down and gortex. She was holding a stop sign and looking back and forth between the horizon and the gravel hauler. I looked up the road and couldn’t see a thing for as far as I could see. I shut down the bike and got off to speak with the young woman. We were waiting for a pilot car to take us through the area and he was still about 15minutes out. She said the road was in such bad shape from all the permafrost damage that a stretch of 65km had been dug up and they were laying new DG (crushed rock) and oil. Like clockwork, 15 minutes later, the pilot car pulled in with one truck and an RV following closely behind.
The pilot car turned around and the gravel hauler took off after him, I followed from a safe distance, not wanting to get pelted by the rocks being kicked up from his tires, and another car was now following behind me. This isn’t so bad; I was actually keeping up with the truck and doing the full 35kmph speed limit. About 10km into the construction the part sand, part mud, and oil mixed road started getting softer and deeper. My speed slowed proportionately and I found myself lagging behind the pilot car and truck in front of me. The car behind me decided he should be going faster and pulled out to pass me. I had no choice but to take the full force of the mud and oil soaked rocks flying out from beneath his tires. I continued to trudge along, sometimes almost catching up with the vehicles in front of me before having to once again, slow down and fall behind. The ride proceeded in this same fashion for the full 65 Km.
I saw the flashing lights of the pilot car sitting on the side of the road as I rounded the corner. Across from him, in the oncoming lane of traffic, oncoming being a relative term, since there was really only one lane, sat two cars waiting for the escort to leave. The truck and the car that had been in front of me were nowhere to be seen. As I passed the pilot car the driver gave me a nod of approval and a double tap on the horn. I tapped back but my horn was now sounding more like a wounded duck than a horn. I had made it through the great Destruction Bay Malay of 2008 and it was clear sailing the rest of the way to Alaska, well except for the permafrost ruts and the occasional “break in Pavement” sign and the ever present lingering shower. Despite road conditions and all the rain, I still found the beauty of the Yukon forced me to stop and shoot at a few locations, I had just packed up the equipment and was getting ready to head out from a little photo op at Snag Lake, I looked down at the fuel gage, a little over half a tank, time to look for fuel.
I pulled up to a single fuel pump on a gravel driveway in front of an old rustic cabin. An old man came out and watched me fuel the bike. Turns out he had lived in Beaver Creek all of his 88 years. He asked me the usual questions I had become familiar with answering. Where had I come from, How long had it taken me, what was I doing riding a motorcycle on a day like this. As I paid for the gas and was getting ready to leave, the old man shouted at me over the sound of the engine, “When you get to Tok, ya gotta eat the ribs at Fast Eddie’s Pizza and Rib joint. I nodded appreciatively and headed back out on the road.
- Alaska/Yukon Territory Border
It wasn’t long before I saw the sign “Welcome to Alaska.” I’d made it I was actually riding down the Historic Alaskan Highway, in Alaska! How cool is this! I see another sign up ahead, “international Border US crossing 2 miles ahead.” As I pulled up to the tall, buff, female customs agent, I couldn’t help but notice her friendly smile. Sure beat the smiles those guys in Carway were sporting. She asked to see my passport and asked me the usual questions, Where was I born, where was I coming from, what was my business in Alaska, She then asked if I wished for her to place an Alaskan stamp on my passport to commemorate my entry into Alaska. After she stamped my passport and handed it back to me she finished by saying, “Enjoy your stay in Alaska, you’ll find the roads are in much better condition up here. I smiled, said thank you, and added, the better roads would be greatly appreciated; I then headed off to explore Alaska. I looked at the bike’s odometer reading, it showed a little over 278 miles I looked at my watch, and it showed 2:57pm. I had been on the road 10 hours, 57 minutes and I still had another 109 miles to go. At least the roads should be in better condition.
I was approximately 20 or so miles up the road from the border crossing when I saw it, as I got closer it came into focus faster than the USM on an EF400 /f2.8L.”Break in Pavement.” I slowed down and proceeded with caution as I had done so many other times during the trip, but to my surprise, the road was fine. A quarter mile later the road ended and the oil and mud soaked gravel began. I couldn’t believe it; this time the road had rocks the size of softballs covering the entire surface. I rode through the rock garden, at about 5-7mph for close to an hour before the pavement began again. Two miles further and the next sign came into view, “Break in Pavement.” This time top speed reached 10mph, but there was an extra twist. Construction equipment was all around me. Everywhere I looked I saw huge bulldozers, graders, water trucks, they didn’t have much to do today, and work crews. The road was all mud and these guys moved like ants on a picnic basket. As I negotiated my way through the maze of equipment, sliding around in the mud, trying to dodge the still softball size rocks in the road, it dawned on me, this was the section everyone had been talking about, 45 miles of mud soaked roads, at times 6-8 inches deep, on a Harley-Davidson FLHX. For the first time during the entire trip I was actually feeling a since of fear, strong fear, fear of getting ran over, fear of doing an endo, fear of dying, and then as quickly as it had started, it was over, I had made it through the mountain pass from hell, it was all downhill from here, or at least until the next, “Break in Pavement.”
The signs just kept coming, every time the same routine, slow down, slosh through the mud, oil and rocks for a few miles and then hit the pavement and tweak the throttle until the next sign rears its ugly head. Welcome to Alaska, better roads, my ass.
I pulled into Tok little after 7:30pm. It had been a very long day 15 ½ hours riding on roads no motorcycle, or car for that matter, should have to endure, and yet I felt invigorated, excited, and ready for a good stiff drink. I checked into my room at the Burnt Paw & Cabins Outback, took a long hot showed, cleaned up and headed back to the lobby/gift shop. I ask the lady at the counter if she could direct me to Fast Eddies Dining establishment. She said they closed at 9:00pm. I looked at my watch; it read 9:05pm. I asked if there was any place still open where I could get a bite to eat. She directed me to the hotel next door and said they served dinner in the bar until 1:00am. What do ya know dinner and drinks? I thanked the nice lady and made my way over to the Westmark Hotel.
- End of the Day Tok, AK
As I sat down at the bar a good looking woman, I guessed to be in her late twenties or early thirties came over to take my order. She said her name was Wilma and, the bar had a margarita special going on, Grande’s on sale for the price of a regular. Seemed a little strange drinking margaritas in Alaska but I’m not one to pass on such a sweet deal. I asked her to set me up and bring me a menu when she had time. As I was looking at the menu I asked Wilma what was good to eat, she said they had the best Mexican food this side of the Mexican border. I looked up from the menu, a little confused and explained to Wilma that I was from San Diego, California and I had eaten Mexican food from both sides of the border. I considered myself somewhat of an expert on Mexican dining and I would be difficult to please. She insisted I would be pleased and even offered me a free exchange or money back guarantee if I was disappointed. As I was drinking my margarita and waiting for my carne asada plate I asked Wilma how a woman such as herself ends up in Tok, Alaska. She said she moved here from New Jersey with her boyfriend five years earlier. They had a fight, her boyfriend left and she had been up there ever since. She never really meant to stay; she just never found a good reason to leave. A little bell rang and Wilma disappeared through a door behind the bar. When she immerged a few seconds later she was carrying a plate filled with meat, rice and beans. She placed the plate in front of me and disappeared again only to return with a plate of tortillas. I gotta say that was some damned good food; the carne asada was excellent and served with traditional Mexican beans and rice. Wilma approached me a few minutes later and asked what I thought of the food. I told her she was right, the food was excellent. She disappeared through the back door once again, and this time she returned with a short, stout Hispanic gentleman. This is Jesus, the cook. He was born and raised in Mexico and moved to Tok a little over ten years ago. I told him we had an expert eating his cooking. He wanted to meet you. I thanked Jesus for the excellent dinner and the three of us sat there drinking margaritas and talking for at least a couple of hours. I shared the details of the day’s ride and expressed my joy of making it over the roads in one piece. Wilma and Jesus both laughed and then a look of sincerity came over Wilma’s face. She looked into my eyes, leaned over the bar and told me I still had about 45miles of bad road and construction between Tok and Fairbanks. I looked back into her eyes, smiled and told her I wouldn’t expect anything less. As I walked back to my room I really began to feel the effects of the margaritas. I looked up at the sky and then down to my watch. It was a beautiful sky, bright blue with large thunder clouds floating across it. The time 12:15am, and I thought to myself, this truly was the land of the midnight sun, and rain, lots of rain.