Wednesday, 11 August 2010 – Haines Junction to Tok, Alaska – 290.6 miles
The weather was nice but I was in no hurry to get on the road. I was dreading what the highway flagger told me about the road conditions being poor for miles to come.
I hung around the campground until early afternoon using their WiFi connection to catch up with e-mails and a few blog updates and generally wasted time. I finally decided that my delay was not going to make road conditions any better. Might as well hit the road (lots of enthusiasm there, I know).
As I was getting ready, I saw a young fellow doing the same reluctant gearing-up process. I walked over and said hello. (I’m very good at stalling.) He was from Japan and on his first trip to North America. He bought his BMW in Seattle and was riding to Alaska, too. We talked about our ultimate destination - Prudhoe Bay. He said something like, "Prudhoe Bay? You?! That?!? (pointing to the scooter)" "Yep," I said. He furrowed his brow, said something in Japanese, paused, then, with a big grin he said, "Adventure!" Yep!!
We rode together for a while on roads that were in great condition. (As it turns out, I’d misunderstood what the flagger said. You’ll see what I mean later.) I felt like I was holding my new riding buddy back and I wanted to take some photos along the way, so we parted ways near the upper part of Kluane Lake. Here’s a photo looking back at it. In real life, the lake reflected about 15 shades of blue. Beautiful!
The roads continued to be good and the weather was nice. I saw this police car on a side road as I approached Burwash Landing.
Somebody had made good use of an old gate. It's the only law enforcement vehicle I'd seen in days and it gave me a good laugh.
The road conditions began to deteroiate outside of Burwash Landing. I finally realized that the flagger had really told me was not that they were bad before Burwash but after Burwash - and beyond. Ohhhhh, now I get it.
The Canadians have a pretty good system for alerting folks to upcoming road hazards: there is usually a sign posted followed by fluorescent pink flags marking the spot. You can kind of see the flags here. On the US side of the border, the problem areas are not as consistently marked or as easily seen. (I'll tell you about it in a bit, I promise.)
I stopped at a turnout to have something to eat and give my self a pep-talk. Pulling in behind me were a retired Marine, his wife and their two dogs. They had come from the opposite direction and I asked about the roads. "This ain't nothin'. It gets worse." Then they laughed so I thought (hoped) they were kidding at least a little bit.
I stopped to refuel in Beaver Creek. The woman who runs the only gas pump, restaurant, hotel, and laundry is a pretty no-nonsense, no chit-chat, just-the facts kind of gal. I think she was even crankier than me. Signs were posted everywhere: Leave your pets in your car. No trash service here - take yours with you. Restrooms for customers only. There were more but I think you get the gist. These two signs showed she had a sense of humor, too
There was a Welcome to Alaska sign and even more road construction just north of Beaver Creek.
Alaska'a state highway 2 runs from the border of Canada's Yukon Territory up through Fairbanks. It is also known as the Purple Heart Trail.
The road was no longer paved, now just gravel and dirt. This little fella didn’t seemed bothered by it at all.
As the road got worse and worse, I realized that retired Marine and his wife were not kidding. It was muddy and slippery. I heard it described later as greasy oatmeal. Then there were the gravel sections (gravel on mud). Then there was the section of fist-sized rocks. Yowza! I had never ridden in conditions like this and felt like I was in way over my head. "It's ok," I kept telling myself. "Slow and steady."
The scooter was taking quite a beating, too. I was worried about what kind of damage was being done and if I'd have the tools or knowledge to fix it.
I was tempted to stop and camp at Deadman’s Lake. The name was foreboding and there were ravens cawing all around me – like a scene from a bad movie.
I decided to press on to Tok. Not only did I want to avoid another a very low-mileage day of riding, I also didn't want to feel defeated by the road again.
I'm very glad I decided to keep going. The road construction ended and there was now beautiful new pavement under my wheels. Then, I came around a bend and saw the most spectacular view of dozens of lakes and ponds shining like mirrors in the setting sun.
It was the worst day of riding I’d ever experienced. I was tense and tired and very glad I made it to Tok. I stopped at the state park on east bank of the Tok River, found a quiet site and made camp.