30th June – 1st July 2013
Our route out of Dawson was over the aptly named Top of the World Highway, a mainly gravel road which was originally a pack trail from the gold rush era then later improved and called the ridge road. In the 1930′s the road was extended to the American border and from there into the Alaskan communities of Jack Wade and Chicken.
The highway is so named because along much of its length it skirts the crest of the hills looking down on the valleys and is 127 km or 79 mi and only open during the summer months. Due to the lack of trees for shelter it is not particularly safe in winter even for snowmobile use besides the border crossing is only open in the summer.
As it is mainly dirt we were warned that we could face two problems. After a long dry spell the road gets really dusty, this makes passing other vehicles on the narrow road hazardous due to poor visibility. The other problem is if it’s wet, the dirt surface gets really slippery. Calcium carbonate is mixed in with the dirt when it’s graded to help make the surface pack down hard, this helps to stop heavy traffic mashing it up. No problem if you are on four wheels however on two wheels it can be really treacherous when it’s wet as plenty of people had warned us. There was a heavy rainstorm the previous day which kept us in Dawson a day longer, the next day dawned fine and warm for which we were grateful.
We left late that morning to give the sun time to dry everything out and we got to ride the road with very little dust and spectacular views. There was the odd slippery patch here and there so we had to watch where we were putting our wheels but other than that it was fine.
It was very narrow in places with no guard rails and large drop off into the valleys below.
We even saw small pockets of snow at the top.
The border at Poker creek (USA) or Little Gold Creek (Canada) depending on which country is the most northerly land border port in the USA at an elevation of 4127ft with a population of two, the Canadian and US guards are hopefully best friends as it features one of the few jointly built single building customs ports of entry. They also stamp your passport with a great moose picture. The border crossing went smoothly and we were then free to enter the USA.
We stopped at the Alaska welcome sign to survey the views.
From the border it was a short ride to the fabulously named Chicken, Alaska. The story goes that the first towns folk wanted to call the town ptarmigan after the birds found nearby but no-one could spell it!! Ptarmigan’s kept many a miner alive in a hard winter and look a bit like bush Chickens so Chicken it became and that name stuck.
There’s a great sign on the wall in downtown Chicken with some cool Chicken facts check out the photo.
The locals say strange things happen in Chicken, Alaska and indeed our strangest encounter to date happened here in small township of approx 15 people (in winter).
Kev was outside having the usual conversation with a stranger: where, what, why, how, by the time Karen joined them it had been established that Tom hailed from the town where we both come from. Not only that he lived in a village on the outskirts which Karen grew up in and that Karen possibly went to school with Tom’s sister as they were about the same age.
Karen asked Tom his surname then proceeded to quote his address and after a timely pause added, I used to babysit for you ! I was your next door neighbour !
There then followed hugs all round and a brief catch up of news from both parties. The surprises didn’t stop there after Tom introduced Kim his partner originally from Australia we established her home town of Mount Eliza Melbourne was the next town over from Lilydale where we stayed at Pierre’s. Karen did her hydrotherapy in Croydon pool where Kim used to swim as a kid, what a small world we live in.
Tom and Kim had found one old Elk antler in the woods and weren’t sure what to do with it. We know we cried and with a bit of modification we had our Mad Max antlers back and fitted to the roof. There a picture of us chopping it down to size with our hacksaw, it was a bit of fun and made a good picture but sadly they didn’t stay put as well as our old Merino horns did in Aussie. After a while we left them in a campsite to find their next home.
The other funny thing that happened was when Kev slipped into the bar to take some pictures of all the hats and decorations hanging from the ceiling, Biva and George were the sole occupants having a drink at the bar whilst trying not to get lost amongst all the hats. Kev sat out of the way minding his own business when all of a sudden George (the guy at the bar) starts playing with the clapper on this huge bell on the bar and then CLAANNGGGG!!!! The barmaid then laughingly announced that anyone that rings that bell has to buy everyone in the bar a drink.
This happened just as Karen was parting the swing doors looking for Kev so being the good sport he is George bought us both a drink and we got talking. By the end of the conversation not only had we got to know one another as bit better but George had invited us to come and stay with him at this cabin near Denali. He and his buddy Biva were headed the other way back down to Dawson for a week’s vacation as they had never been there before.
After that a trip to the chicken poop was required.
We enjoyed a meal in downtown Chicken and set our tent out in another part of town. The sign on the garage wall made us smile…..
After staying the night we went to explore the other sights including this rather large metal chicken which made a good photo-op. The other large thing in Chicken was a steam dredge but having toured the Dawson city one we just admired this one from afar.
Not so long ago Chicken used to have no electricity, running water toilets or cell coverage which was probably half the appeal of visiting it in the first place. There are still only three establishments in the whole town but now they have some limited wi-fi, some flushing toilets and generators for electricity. Its remote location will keep Chicken’s rural charm for a bit longer despite the advances.
We left Chicken behind heading out on the dirt towards Tok (pronounced Toke).
Next up – Fairbanks Alaska