The line waiting for the ferry to cross the Yukon River can be more than two blocks long. If you wait in that line it may take you several hours before they load you for the trip to the other side. I decided to get up early and board the ferry before the big crowds. I figured that not only would I skip the wait but it would put me out ahead of traffic on the Top Of The World Highway. I set my alarm for 5:30am.
It was hard getting up at 5:30am. It has been quite some time since I’ve had to get up than early, and with the days so long and bright up here, I have become something of a night owl, staying up until midnight or later, and sleeping in till 8 or so. I almost couldn’t force myself to wake up, but the alternative thought of waiting in line spurred me out of bed.
I hit the ferry a little after 6:00 and boarded almost immediately. The road from Dawson to the border of Alaska was dirt but fairly smooth and wide. There were many places along the road where RVs had camped for the night and most of the travelers were still sleeping as I drove past. I took my time and stopped to make breakfast at one nice pullout above treeline. There was no hurry to get to the border crossing because they didn’t open until 8:00.
I kept thinking as I drove this highway through the Northwest Wilderness how big this land is and how small I am. When I hiked the AT there were times at the top of a mountain where you could see for miles and miles of nothing but forest, but you new that out there were roads and towns and eventually civilization. Up here, the forests are wild and immense and void of any human impact. There are things out there that could eat you! When Alaskan bush pilots went down in this area they were in for a struggle to survive.
I reached the US border about 20 minutes before they opened. There were already two cars in line that were earlier than me. They let me back in after making sure I wasn’t bring in any elk antlers. I assured her I wasn’t. The road was paved and new for about two miles and then it got bad.
I had read in the Milepost and also on Richards blog about the narrow, winding road from the border to Chicken, Alaska so I was pretty well prepared for it. A lot of the road runs along the side of a mountain with 1000 foot dropoffs and no guardrails. And on top of that, the road is too narrow for two big rigs to pass each other without moving way out on a soft shoulder. I took it slow and easy and had no problems.
The last two miles driving into Chicken and five miles beyond were under construction and very rough. It looked like they had dumped dirt in the road and not even leveled it out. I was driving over piles of dirt coming down the last mile into town. The construction north of Chicken was the kind where you wait a half-hour for the pilot car to return.
Chicken, AK is a tiny mining town in the middle of nowhere. The story is that the miners wanted to name the town ptarmigan but none could spell it. That’s my type of guy – I have trouble spelling chickin! The town survives by catering to tourists staying in the RV park, browsing the mining artifacts, and eating in the diners. I saw an advertisement for chicken pot pie but the cafe I stopped at didn’t serve it so I had a turkey sandwich.
I drove twenty miles north of Chicken and spent the night at a BLM campground called West Fork Campground. I was the only one there for a while but then the sites filled up later in the day as more people came across the Top of the World Highway from Dawson. I have no cell so I will wait till tomorrow when I get to Tok to post this.