I rose early and hiked a mile to the motorcycle shop. Top notch service. They replaced my worn tire with a new Metzeler by 930am. Three hundred dollars later, yes it is that expensive in the Yukon, I took on the frost heaves of the Al-Can once again. I was forced to continue on the Al-Can, rather than traveling north via the Klondike to Dawson City. The Yukon River ferry, the only means of crossing from Dawson City to the Top of the World Highway to access the Alaska border crossing, was still shut down due to remaining ice on the mighty river.
I waved and beeped the horn as I passed Otter Falls. From the roof, Wally returned the gesture with a friendly salute. I gassed up at Haines Junction, preparing myself for for the majesty of the Wrangell St. Elias range. As the monstrosities revealed themselves, I yelled aloud, “These really are the fields of Elysian and rivers of Okeanos!”
Written 4 years earlier along the same stretch of highway:
I look out over the valley juxtaposed to the Wrangel St. Elias mountain range, listening to Jet, loving life with my bro driving, Dad a little sick, and Mom in a quirky Far-Side-comic mood. The vista demands my attention. I’ve seen it before. It’s God’s perfect scene. Towering, jagged peaks kissing the clear blue sky, while the olive, lime and forest hues bow down before the rocky juggernauts, sharing aesthetic harmonies with their minor blue neighbors of mirrored glass. It conjured a familiar feeling in my heart of lover and beloved embracing. Heaven is this scene that I knew before ever seeing it with my eyes. I see it with my heart.
I basked in the greatness of the scenary and felt alive, but a sad loneliness crept up from the superficiality. My friends, bears and carribou came out to play, to remind me that I really wasn’t alone. I briefly retired to a rest area for coffee, overlooking Kluane Lake. A pleasant couple from Anchorage pulled up in a conversion van. I asked them the mileage to Paxson on the edge of the Denali Highway. They’d never heard of the town, which I should’ve read as a cautionary indicator that Paxson wasn’t really a town, at all.
Later, I rolled up to the border crossing into Alaska with my GoPro camera running. The broder official stepped out of his glass booth, “I’m assuming your camera’s off?” It wasn’t, and I’d hoped he wouldn’t notice. Caught red-handed, I down played my guiltiness by reaching for the off button, “Uhmm, Let me make sure.” I’m sure the bright flashing red light didn’t blow my cover, at all.
I supply my documentation, fire the ignition, step down into first, engage the clutch, and roll on the throttle. I did it! I rode a motorcycle to Alaska. 20 miles later, I stop to log my achievement via video diary. I laugh about my border crossing shenanigans.
After seeing 3 cars in 100 miles of Alaska highway, I pull into a Tok staple: Fast Eddies for an early dinner. My family stopped here before, so I gave them a call from a dinning room both. My dad cautioned me that the Denali Highway may still be closed, but I disregarded his advice like so often sons do. I should’ve listened.
I blasted down the Tok Cutoff, encountering the worst road conditions to date. This area of Alaska is extremely swampy, leading to rapid road detoriation. Every 10 miles, a gravel section, which I enjoyed on my off-road equipped adventure motorcyce. I just wish I was on my KTM 990 with the 21 inch front wheel, I thought. The BMW sported an inadequate 19 inch front.
I turned northwards towards Paxson on the Richardson highway. Realizing I was low on petrol, I hoped I could fill up before the Denali Highway.
For adventure motorcycle riders, the Denali Highway lies towards the top on the bucket list. The original entrance to Denali National Park, the Denali boasts 135 miles of softball-sized stones intermixed with mud and dirt, sweeping curves, elevation changes, and romantic vistas. And no traffic.
I blew by Meiers Lake Roadhouse which looked closed. Riding along Paxson Lake on a curvy, mood-changing section of road, I pulled into the run-down, funky, character-filled Paxson Lodge. I inquired to the owner, Chet, about the status of the antique gas pumps. He answered that the closest gas was Delta Junction or back the way I came at Meiers Lake. With a full-up a necessity and the late night sunset quickly approaching, I anxiously sped to Meiers Lake Roadhouse. I dropped the kickstand, and knocked on the locked door. A wrinkled, hunched man sucking on a Virginia Slim answered the door. Can I get some gas? I asked. Sure, let me get the keys. He returned 5 minutes later with a set of keys required to activate the pump. The tank took 4.5 gallons, almost capacity, and I followed the man into the bar area. While waiting on my credit card transaction, I learned that this chain smoking couple, owners of the roadhouse, were orginally from Michigan which at the time, was my current home. Throughout my time in Alaska, I met more expats from Michigan than any other state.
Since Meiers Lake didn’t have an vacancies, I rushed back to Paxson Lodge. I booked a room, settled in, and walked down to the bar. I walked into a family affair. Everyone drinking at the bar were related to the owners. Sons, daughters, in-laws, and cousins. Hunting, infidelity, and the Arctic Man, an extreme race and festival where suped-up snow machines tow skiers, were the topics of conversation. Over an Alaskan IPA, I learned that Arctic Man becomes the third or fourth largest town in Alaska where attendees use extreme winter sport fandom as a guise for drunken debauchery. 200 hp snow machines towing skiers over a mountain at 100 mph, while onlookers binge on cheap whiskey and craft beer, what’s not to love?
I mentally prepare for the ride ahead over a couple more Alaskans, witnessing a rapid alcohol induced decline in civility among the patrons. I retreat to my room before the atmosphere spirals too far downward. I upload my pictures and video, charge my GoPro, and hit the sack. I noticed a sign before pulling into the lodge that the Denali Highway was still closed due to snow. I prayed a prayer of invocation and drifted off into an adventurer’s slumber.