After enjoying Uncle Frank’s company in Anchorage, Top of the World Highway’s siren song beckoned for adventure. This remote highway, connected to the Al-Can by the Taylor Highway through the funky tourist dive of Chicken, boasts as the only alternative border crossing in and out of Alaska. Snaking over the peaks of three thousand foot mountains, the highway’s massive winter snow accumulation coupled with the late thaw of the Yukon River at Dawson City caused a late spring opening. No bridges connect the Top of the World to Dawson City over the Yukon, only a ferry transports vehicles and pedestrians. And the extreme temperatures delay the ferry season until the frozen river flows again. It was May 22 when the ferry opened for business, thus, I was forced to forego this route on my original acsension to the last frontier. Time to make this adventure happen.
I departed Anchorage at 9am, a particularly late start to tackle the 450 miles that lay ahead to Dawson City, YT. Making good time on the Glenn Highway aided by light traffic, I twisted the throttle to 75. The speed limit read 55. I leaned into a sweeping left hander that hugged a 200 foot jagged precipice, a spotted a state trooper heading towards me in the oncoming lane. “Oh, fuck. I’m done.” I hit the brakes and slowed to 55. He slowed flashed his lights briefly, the siren screaming a quick, Bleep Bleep. As we moved past each other, he locked eyes with mine through his stereotypical aviators. He extended his index finger, pointing directly at me. “Shit, I could lose my license.” He sped passed me and I continued on, bewildered. “Do I pull over? Is another cop ahead to pull me over and take me to the station?” After a minute or two, I realized that it was just a warning, a rather ominous warning, but just a warning, nonetheless. For a the next 50 miles, I rode the speed limit, thankful for the trooper’s mercy. But then, the rode opened up and so did the throttle.
I cruised past Tok and onto the Taylor Highway. I refueled at Chicken, vowing to spend some time exploring this kitchy mining-town-turned-hippie-hang-out on my return trip the next day. The road leaving chicken zig-zagged along the banks of the hellish rust colored water of Atwater Creek. Then I ascended to the Top of the World. The road surface was gravel-turned-mud due to the freshly plowed snow banks melting back across the route. At certain points, the snow banks towered ten feet skyward with a sharply cut vertical edge. It was as if a giant eqiupped with the world’s largest carving knife effortless shaved away the snow provide me safe passage. “What kind of machine could do this,” I marveled.
I crossed the border with ease, excited to explore the romantic gold rush dwelling of Dawson City. The Top of the World Highway might be my favorite road in Alaska. The vistas of bald, rounded mountain tops and severe valleys stirred that sought after feeling of blissful adventure. I approached a GMC dually pulling a fifth wheel, only the third vehicle since Chicken. I passed the rig effortlessly at 55, inadvertantly throwing a cloud of dust into the trucks path. I descended a series of switchbacks into the Yukon River Valley and cut the engine at the ferry entrance. It was 7pm. Nine hours of non-stop motorcycling. Before the ferry returned to the west side of the river, the GMC dually stopped behind me. I approached his window and apologized for the dust. He asked me where I started that morning. “I left Anchorage at 9am this morning.” “Holy shit, we left Anchorage, too, but at 4am.”
The Yukon River’s waters are deep and the current mighty. The ferry struggled towards us, traveling in a exaggerated crescent moon shape to most efficiently maneuvre the current. Ferries treat motorcycles as royalty. I was first on, first off.
I hit play on my Go Pro and explored Dawson City in awe. Bonanza! The center of the Klondike Gold Rush boasted circa late 19th century architecture, restaurants, saloons, and boardwalks. I passed Jack London’s cabin where he lived during the winter of 1897-98, which inspired his featuring of Dawson and nearby Forty-Mile in his classic, The Call of the Wild. Then I glimpsed a building-side mural that read,
The Spell of the Yukon
I wanted the gold, and I sought it;
I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvy–I fought it;
I hurled my youth into the grave.
I wanted the gold and I got it–
Came out with a fortune last fall;
Yet somehow life’s not what I thought
and somehow the gold isn’t all.
–Robert W. Service
Klondike Kate’s was my lodging for the night and Diamond Tooth Gerties my entertainment. After getting settled in my most expensive but most adequate room of the trip, I ventured to witness a Gold Rush gambling hall in all of it’s recreated glory. Gerties exploded with energy as I entered. I ordered a Ice Fog IPA at the bar from one of the many hipster-tatt’ed Canadian college students employed in Dawson for the summer season. I chose a table near the front of the stage, eager to witness the cancan dancers’ performance. Four cancan dancers, probably coeds from Ontario, took the stage. The master of ceremonies, named Gertie of course, sang medlies. Then, towards the end of the show, while I was finishing my fourth Ice Fog, a muscle-toned brunette, definitely the most aesthetically pleasing of the foursome, picked me to join her on stage with three other victims. I was the third audience member to drunkenly slur the tongue twister, Sally Sells Seashels. I either recited the words flawlessly or I botched them in the most amusing manner because I was chosen as the winner and then invited to remove my cancan dancer’s garter. I whispered to the dancer, “I don’t use my mouth do I?” She responded, “You can do it aboot any way you like.” Feeling awkward and self-conscious, I shyly removed it with my hand. I am married, remember?