The Top of the World Highway
Tok, AK to Dawson City, Yukon, Can.

August 19th, 2002

Having left Fairbanks, we drove most of the day, and late into the evening, pulled into Tok, and into the old campground we previously stayed in. After a dinner out, went to bed. The next morning we were off to the Top of the World highway. We had heard stories, actually horror stories, of this road but were quite pleased to find that the morning went by with nothing more than a few gigantic potholes. It would have been a most enjoyable trek had visibility been sufficient to see the mountains. The climb at times reached 9 degrees. It was quite a strain on the old truck. As soon as we reached sufficient altitude, we passed into the clouds which appeared as thick fog on the road. As if on cue, the weather lessened just as we pulled into Chicken. This community, if you can call it that, lies somewhere around the middle of the trip only a few miles from the Canadian border. We had to stop at the famous Chicken Center to watch gold panning. For a $5 bill, the gal at the trading post would rent you a gold pan and point you to the nearby creek. A pile of diggings had been set aside for such occasions. We didn't take part but watched as those who didn't mind getting a little wet hauled down a pan full of rock and sand to try their luck. Low and behold, one elderly gentleman from Switzerland did find a flake of gold. It stood out like a flashlight in the dark, although probably 100s of thousands of years old it was as shiny as if newly created. Gold never tarnishes. It is one of its most endearing qualities. Before we left I had to get a picture of Laura driving the chicken sled. Even without the howl of the dogs and the whiteness of the snow I could tell that I had a wilderness queen on my hands, heading for the land of adventure. The small sign outside the chicken center stated plainly, "Check your gas, next gas 70 miles". I looked and we had just about half a tank, or some 18 gallons. Little did I know that for the next 10 miles (or whatever it is to the border), it is a potholed rutted gravel road with a 9 degree climb and no let up. Within the first hundred feet of pulling out the old truck started its downshift. Most of the way we drove at 40 mph with around 3100 rpm. About a mile from the border it really got steep. Downshifting again into the final low gear we dropped to 32 mph as the rpm began to move toward the red line. I wasn't sure which would occur first; red line, or the rpm boil-over. The flat stretch of the checkpoint came in view just I was making the decision to stop, something I have never had to do before. The border was a resting point. There were only a few RVs in front of me but it was taking 15-20 minutes for each one. The pretty young customs agent seemed to be the only one working. She asked the usual question and I gave the standard answers. About alcohol, I said "yeah, one unopened bottle", I was surprised when she asked me the size. I didn't really know. She really pressed this issue so I said, "Lets go back and look". Laura took her back and showed her the bottle of Scotch. The next thing I saw as that pretty little thing carrying my Scotch away, with Laura in tow. I stayed in the truck and grabbed my book. Fifteen minutes later Laura was back with the bottle and a yellow piece a paper. We'd been fined $20(American) for transporting an illegal amount of whiskey. The bottle was a 1.75 liter container --- oops, We were only allowed 1.5 liters. In all the times we have crossed back and forth over the border this had never happened before. Each time since 9/11, the trailer had been checked, and all bottles had been passed over. What can I say, it's all in the cost of doing business. Had it not been raining, the rest of the way most likely would have been beautiful. Our view was a half mile through clouds and fog. About half way down the gas light came on. This caused me to discontinue using second gear for a speed retarder. Somewhere, on one of the more horrendous pot holes that I hit, the front king-pin brace we carry in the bed, flipped up and came down on the power cord to the trailer, pulling it from its socket and disconnecting the trailer brakes. Fortunately I had been running with the headlights on and noticed that the side running lights on the trailer were out. When I finally got the rig stopped I could smell the truck brakes. At the bottom of the hill, we found that the Yukon River ran between Dawson and us. The Territory runs a very small ferry back and forth between the banks. With the river being swollen after several days of rain, it was all the little boat could do just to get to the docking area. The docking area was almost a misnomer as there was no facility. The ferry simply pulled up to the bank near where the road ended and we drove off into the mud. We had arrived in Dawson City.

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