Day 23: Top of the World into Alaska!
Today started out with a new adventure! I had to take a ferry across the Yukon River from Dawson to continue on the road to Alaska. The ferry is a free service provided by the Yukon Government (and to facilitate tourists coming to Dawson). In fact the only way to get to Alaska via the “Top of the World Highway” is to go through Dawson, and take the Ferry.
Any road named “Top of the World” had to be worth a detour. And to cross into Alaska on the norther most border crossing? That’s pretty cool too. The ferry was surprisingly easy to drive the bus onto and the staff directed me to my parking spot. It’s not a large boat, so my bus took up most of one of the two rows for vehicles. The ride took about 10 minutes, maybe less, and travelled about 100 yards across a fast moving river.
Once across it was a steep climb out of Dawson up a well maintained dirt road. The bus did great going up the hill. Granted I was only going 35, but that’s just fine with me when there could be big bumps or potholes I need to navigate around. It was a warm day (already about 75) and I had most of the windows in the bus open (this will be important to remember later on). The first 5 km were really steep, then it leveled off into a slow climb for the next 20km or so. We passed through areas of thick forest, then areas of open tundra. And as the road winds along the ridge from peak to peak, there are views of mountains and valleys for miles. All unspoiled by anything man made. I tried to take a lot of pictures to help illustrate the experience, but I’m not sure they do it justice.
I stopped for lunch about halfway to the border. It’s so awesome to always have my kitchen with me. It makes stopping for lunch easy. I just pull over and whip something up. When I’m done, I pop back on the road. Lunch is my favorite meal in the bus, mostly because it’s simple and doesn’t involve a lot of prep work or clean up. And it’s a nice break from driving.
After 170km we reached the Alaska Border. When I pulled up I was the only vehicle there. And let me tell you, this border crossing is literally in the middle of nowhere. You pull through what looks like an industrial xray machine (probably is) and then meet the customs agent at her little booth. Yes. There is one customs agent. And the border is only open from 9am to 9pm. If you are running late, you wait til morning. No exceptions.
She asked me the usual questions and I was granted access back into the United States. Woo hoo! We officially made it to Alaska! The next 10 miles of road are the best pavement I’ve seen in my entire life. Then the next 60 miles are the worst dirt roads I’ve ever been on. It felt more like a motocross track than a road at some points. I was averaging 20 miles an hour. It was super stressful having to watch for traffic, study the road for potholes, bumps, and huge frost heaves (places the road mounds up because the wet dirt underneath freezes and the water expands). It was 60 miles of hell. But hey, I was in Alaska.
I stopped in Chicken, AK to pick up a “Top of the World Highway” bumpersticker and some diesel, not realizing that Tok, AK was only about 60 miles away, and also where I was stopping for the night. I could have waited for the diesel. I asked the guy pumping the gas how the road was and he said “They are Alaska roads”. I took that to mean that I had more motocross track ahead. And I did. Almost all the way to Tok. It also rained. Which didn’t help with the road conditions, but did help with the dust.
When I arrived in Tok I sought out the visitors center to look for recommendations on camping spots beyond the usual RV parks. I’d planned on dry camping / boondocking (camping by the side of the road like I did a couple nights ago). But I thought I’d see what they suggested. I also wanted a lake to paddleboard. Funny thing. Most people have no idea what paddleboarding is. So I usually just ask for a place to kayak and assure them I have my own. Its easier than explaining what a paddleboard is. Anyway, the guy was somewhat grumpy, but suggested Moon Lake. Camground right on a lake and it’s $18. I didn’t really want to pay for a campsite, but a campsite on a lake in Alaska? Yeah, I’ll pony up $18 for that.
I’d also heard there was an awesome thai place in Tok called Jen’s Thai and that it was basically a food truck. Turns out it is in the parking lot of the visitors center. It was also just about dinner time. And I also was exhausted and didn’t want to cook. A little tofu pad Thai hit the spot. Delicious. I’m TOTALLLY craving spicy food. Not that my food in the bus has been bad, it’s just not been spicy.
20 miles down the road was the Moon Lake State Recreation area. I pulled in and even on a Saturday night, the campground was mostly empty! Score one for the grumpy old guy at the visitors center. And it’s on a gorgeous lake. I picked a campsite and backed in the bus. No hookups at this park, which is fine I don’t need them. Pepper was hungry so I fed her and took her for a walk (and paid for the campsite). After that the rain had cleared out and the skies were clearing. I decided it was my turn for a little exercise. I pulled out the paddleboard, pumped it up, and hit the water. The lake is shaped like a crescent moon (hence the name) and my campsite is right in the middle. So I went left and started around the lake. As I passed the bus on my way back I saw what looked like a brown horse at the waters edge ahead. As I got closer I realized it was a moose! She was small (I assume it was a she because there were no antlers) but she was a moose! It was really exciting. I’ve seen other moose this trip, but not on a lake. She looked at me, flapped her ears, and kept grazing. I guess a guy standing on an inflatable raft wasn’t a concern for her. As I’m watching her from a safe distance, she starts wading into the water. And then she swims across the lake in front of me! It was so cool. I of couse didn’t have a camera or gopro with me, so I turned around and headed back to camp to grab it, hoping that I could get back and get some photographic evidence!
Luckily she was still by the shore when I got back, so I can at least prove I saw a moose! But I swear she did swim across the lake. Moose are actually pretty good swimmers!
After that excitement it was back to the bus to download the digital photos and video from the day and write this blog post. No cell service here, so it will have to be posted when I get service.
Lastly… The Canadians know how to build dirt roads. And they weren’t dusty or washboard. Americans? Not so much. These roads were SUPER dusty. Which brings me back to the point that it was really hot out and all the windows were open. Yeah. Bus is filled with dust. Even the back storage area is full of dust! It’s nuts.