Day 14, July 17
Fairbanks AK to Dawson City YT
Breakfast was awesome. The almond torte was out of this world, everything was cooked to perfection. We had an incredible time talking to Debbie’s husband Dave. Hes been prospecting and mining the area for years, and this property was passed down from his father and uncle. Great stories and a very interesting guy. I want to eat more, but then I’ll be sleepy, and we’ve got some gravel miles ahead of us, so I stop before I’m stuffed.
We get packed up and on the road. We stop for a few pictures with Santa in North Pole (just the city name, its really a suburb of Fairbanks), and head out towards Chicken, the last outpost before the road turns to dirt, it’s also our final Alaskan town of the trip.
Top of the World highway really does feel like you’re at the top of the world. Most of the road clings to a windswept hilltop, sometimes dirt, sometimes paved. The only trees you see are far in the distance below. All around you is dark green-black scrub with occasional patches of brilliant purple and yellow wildflowers. Rust-red soil and rocky outcrops are visible through the thin patches of vegetation. I really expected to see herds of caribou here, but no luck.
These are our last few miles in Alaska. At the crest of one hill, we look down on a dull green metal building with a white roof and a large Canadian flag flying. This has to be one of the loneliest and most inhospitable customs posts we’ve seen so far (and there have been some lonely ones!).
The Yukon Territory has about 30,000 residents for the entire 186,000 miles of wide-open space. Although spots of Alaska feel lonely compared to civilization, the Yukon feels downright deserted!
Top of the World highway descends from the top of the world, and drops us down a steep grade overlooking Dawson City and onto the Yukon River. There is a ferry crossing here (in the winter it’s an ice bridge).
Dawson City, with a population of 1250, is the second largest city in the Yukon. Yep, lonely territory, definitely! While waiting for the ferry, we meet a guy riding an XL650, he’s just purchased the bike and is riding back home to Seattle. I don’t know if I’d trust any used bike I just purchased to a 1,000 mile plus jaunt, especially on roads where the nearest service station is at least 100 miles from anywhere else!
Riding in to Dawson City, we fall back in time about 100 years. Dirt streets, wooden sidewalks and turn-of-the-century architecture are everywhere. You expect to see folks riding horseback, wearing long dresses and woolen suits. The reality of Dodge Minivans and people in cargo shorts and tank tops is a jolt to the senses.
This is the neatest town! Many vintage buildings are restored and being put to new uses, and some are owned by the government. Of these, some are restored as they were and are a part of living history (including employees dressed in period clothing), other buildings have been left to slowly settle in to the permafrost and fade away. The overall effect is amazing. Home of Robert W. Service (the Poet of the North) and Jack London (Call of the Wild) for a short time, this area drew gold miners and early adventurers who were drawn by the beauty and harshness of the surrounding land.
Our hotel is the Midnight Sun, restored in the 1980’s, but not to modern standards, our small room feels like we really are back in time but with cable TV, running water, and a toilet! The lobby area has tin ceilings and an old wood reservation counter. You can purchase ice cream and alcohol — two staples of the North!
We spend the evening exploring town. There’s a music festival starting, were lucky to have a room tonight, as everything is booked solid starting tomorrow. This place is so neat, I’d love to spend a week here. As it is, we take in as much as possible before its time to hit the hay. Tomorrow is 477 miles of gravel road to Inuvik. Our plan is to spend the night in Inuvik, then take a small plane up to Tuktoyaktuc, a native village on the Beaufort Sea.