Thursday, June 5, 2014

Days Five & Six Alaska Hwy -- Whitehorse to Tok, AK -- Chicken

We knew when we left Whitehorse that most of the road on the 397 miles to Tok was in bad shape. We never do 400 miles in one day but we needed to plan and prepare for the worst road we would encounter to this point. Other than Haines Junction, about 100 miles up the road, there are very few services on this stretch so our tanks and our larder needed to be full.  We always make sure the CRV and Opus have enough fuel to get to the next stop which could be many miles away. 

We expected prices this far north to be more than in the lower 48 for food, fuel and campgrounds and they have all met that expectation.  The least we have paid for a site with hook ups has been $30 while the most has been $43.50.  We try to only pay for the services we need so we now ask for a site with only 30 amp.  We can do without a sewer connection, but if we don't have one we cannot use our washer and going to the laundry is also expensive.  Most parks have had wifi, but now that we are in Alaska we can use our air card if we are near a town.  I was surprised that many parks have cable TV. Great, we could have watched the Pens in the Stanley Cup play-offs if they had not been eliminated!!!! One must for RVers making this trip is a Good Sams membership.  Most parks offer a 10% discount for members.  We did stay in a Yukon government park on the way to Tok and it was only $12 for dry camping. We hope to find a few more less expensive or free boondocking spots down the road.    
Since we knew we would be traveling on roads with some bad gravel patches we tried to protect the CRV as best we could.  Two yoga mats on the windshield, a kitchen floor mat (wine decor approved) over the radiator and road wrap on the hood, roof and mirrors.  It worked very well.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of how covered with stones and dirt it was by the time we got to Tok.
Day five included more beautiful scenery of the Yukon mountains and  just okay road conditions.
Check out the profile of Old Man Mountain.  With The Milepost's mile by mile narrative you don't miss any of the sights along the way.
This section of the 1942 road followed an old stagecoach route so they used this bridge that predates the Alaska Highway.  It was soon bypassed with a new bridge that could carry the heavier military equipment.
Just outside of Haines Junction the beautiful mountains of Kluane National Park came into view.  
And then Kluane Lake, the largest in the Yukon. 
We ended the day five drive with a great camp site right on the shore of Kluane Lake.  Not only was it a lot less expensive than the RV parks we have been staying in, it was much more beautiful.  The first time we walked down to the lake all this ice was piled up on the shore.  After dinner a couple of hours later we went down to the lake again and because the wind had changed all the ice was gone.
By morning the clouds had cleared and there was a lot more snow on the mountains.
Our campground view from Opus.  The beautiful scenery all along the highway continues to be spectacular.
Just a few miles down the road on day six the road began to get worse.  This section is built over permafrost, ground that normally stays frozen year round.  But when you lay blacktop and have 16+ hours of sunlight to heat it up the permafrost melts and the road just falls apart.
The scenery was great and bad road conditions required slow driving so we did get to enjoy the views.  After 60 miles of bad road we saw a flashing sign ahead and it warned of uneven pavement for the next 115 kilometers.  That meant over 70 miles of worse road conditions than we had up until this point.
A few of the bumps we encountered while driving as slow as 10 mph in many places.  The frost heaves are sometimes long meandering holes that may or may not be marked, like a crime scene.  One stretch was so bad that even the oncoming trailer truck was hardly moving as it swayed side to side.  And then we came to the first of two traffic lights where we had to wait for the pilot car to lead us across several miles of gravel.   The bad news is we have to cross this same stretch of road when we head south, the good news is those gravel stretches should be newly paved road by that time.
The engineers have tried many different strategies to conquer the frost heaves caused by the permafrost but to this point no solution has been found.  On this section they are trying something new with vents to try and get cold air below the road.  Driving on this section of bad road was made worse by a passing rain shower, turning the dust to mud.  All that sure made for a long day as it took eight hours to travel 240 miles. 
We crossed several glacial river valleys.  There was not a lot of water in most of the rivers.
Check out the mirror, we were surrounded by beautiful snow capped mountains.
We did not get very many pictures of wildlife along this section except for a couple of moose.  We did see several swans and a couple of bald eagles, but they were to far away to get good pictures. 
And the 49th state is our fiftieth.  Since going on the road in 2007 we have slept at least one night in every state and 11 of 13 Canadian provinces.  We have had Opus in seven time zones, all that can be reached on wheels.  That said, we still have many, many places to visit down the road. 
We had not been in Tok more than a few hours when the phone rang.  It was our Class of 07 mates John and Lora who were in another RV park in Tok.  They lived in Alaska for many years before becoming full timers.  We have not seen them for three or four years, so it was great getting caught up on all our travels.  Because they lived here they also had a few suggestions for don't miss stops this summer.  We plan to see them again in Wasilla.
In Whitehorse we decided that we wanted to drive the entire length of the Alaska Highway.  This means we will not be going on the Top of the World Highway because we did not want to take our home over 40 miles of narrow, steep gravel road.  Also, we will not get to Dawson City on this trip, so we already have an excuse to return.  We did want to go to Chicken on the Taylor Highway so what do you do after driving nearly 2000 miles?  You get in the car and drive another 190 miles to a little town with a population of about 15.  It was a great drive with wonderful views of the large forest and more distant mountains.  We would have traveled this road if we had gone to Dawson City and driving this short section reinforced the fact that it was a good decision to not take Opus on this route.  We later learned that there is construction on this route, so we feel we definitely made the correct decision.
Chicken is an old gold mining town that still has a few active mines.  As you can see everything here is all about chickens.  The infamous story about the naming of the town is the old miners wanted to name the town after the official Alaska bird, the Ptarmigan.  But no one knew how to spell it (no spell check back then) so they settled on the name Chicken.   Other than the mines there are three businesses in town all selling the same things; RV spots, food, booze, souvenirs and very expensive fuel.
Here we are with Chicken's biggest chicken.  The sign post tells how far it is to other chicken related towns from, Chicken Gizzard, KY to Two Egg, FL.
There is also a lot of old mining equipment, including this huge dredge, lying around all over town.  Chicken has now been added to our been there done that list.
Isn't social media wonderful.  I saw a post on Facebook that other Escapees were in Tok.  I made a comment and the next day Bea, Bennett, Wanda and Wallace show up at the door.  Wallace and Wanda were the first SKPs we met in 2007 when they were on the parking crew at the Escapade.  We have crossed paths with them several times since.  We had a fun time sharing tales about our trips north.  We hope to see them again later in the summer.

Even with the terrible roads we endured on this leg of the journey, the trek continues to meet and exceed all expectations.  We only have 100 more miles of the Alaska Highway and then it is on to Fairbanks and Denali to begin exploring the last frontier.

1 comment:

Doing It On the Road(Part II) said...

Great post and beautiful images. There is so much to see that one trip just isn't enough.