Prevalent along the roadside from British Columbia to Alaska is a wildflower called Fireweed. It is the territorial flower of the Yukon Territory. We were told that Fireweed got its’ name because it is the first plant to reappear after a forest fire. In Alaska, the initial blooming of Fireweed is considered a sign the middle of summer has been reached. The flower blooms from the bottom to the top and it is said when the fire reaches the top summer is over.
After lunch at the Kantishna Lodge, at the end of the road into Denali National Park, we had a choice of two optional activities, panning for gold or watching a presentation on dog mushing. Frankly, neither particularly appealed but, loving dogs, we chose the latter. Fate favored us once again; Emmitt Peters, Jr.’s presentation on dog mushing was a highlight of the trip. Emmitt, a competitive dog musher himself, is the son of an Iditarod hall-of-famer, who smashed the previous record of 21 days by winning his first Iditarod race in 14 days, changing the way the race has been run ever since. Emmitt, the father, Started the Iditarod thirteen times and finished in the top 10 ten times.
Emmitt, the son, has been mushing since before he can remember. His knowledge of the subject is encyclopedic. Even better, his comedic lines, delivery and timing are as good as any stand-up comedian you have ever enjoyed. He is knowledgeable, engaging and hilarious! The subject proved most interesting.
The embedded video is crude, the audio distracting and the videographer apparently dozed off towards the end. Stick with it, though, to see the dogs straining to get going.
Only thirty percent of the visitors to Denali National Park get to see the summit of Mount McKinley. Clouds obscure the peak most of the time. We were able to see it only because, on our flight back from Kantishna to Denali, the cloud layer did not reach the summit and our pilot was able to get us above the clouds. Had we not chosen to fly back out of the park, rather than riding the bus back, and been lucky enough to get a pilot who made a special effort to get us a view of McKinley’s peak, we would have been among the seventy percent who never see the summit.
Having heard horror stories about possible delays at the ferry across the Yukon River and crossing the border, Addie and I decided those irritations could be solved just by being first in line. The plan worked perfectly, but when we reached the Yukon Territory-Alaska border, the road was closed for paving.
After waiting an hour-and-a-half, the woman apparently supervising the paving project, said we could proceed, but gave us very explicit instructions as to where to drive. We believed we followed her instructions exactly. Maybe she gave us too much credit, believing we would figure things out as we proceeded.
We drove forward, keeping hard to the left. The only building we saw had Canadian flags on it and was situated such that a vehicle coming from the opposite direction would be on its driver side. We assumed (yeah, I know!), that we would soon come to the U.S. Customs station. We did not! Well, what the Hell, we had crashed the border, but thought we had made a clean getaway. Wrong, again! As we were enjoying a laugh about being international criminals, here a Jeep comes up behind us with multiple flashing blue lights. We decided not to make a run for it in a 6000-pound, diesel pickup truck and immediately pulled over, hands visible on top of the steering wheel. I am convinced the officer enjoyed a sexual rush when, in his most authoritative command voice, he bellowed, “You have entered the United States of America illegally! Return to the checkpoint.”
By the time we got back to the check point, another couple, following the same instructions we had, had done the same thing and been stopped by the senior officer at the checkpoint. Much to the disappointment of the officer who had apprehended us, the senior office recognized it as innocent mistakes and sent us on our way.
Alaska remains a popular destination for motorcyclists. Many riders are seen everywhere on all kinds of bikes. This is purely anecdotal, but it appears to me that KTM’s have gained disproportionate ground with the adventure tourer crowd. They are prevalent everywhere.
Dawson City was a boomtown during the Klondike gold rush. In fact, that area is responsible for eighty percent of the gold mined in Alaska today.
Though I could not photograph it, so that it could be read, a newspaper article displayed in the window of Lowe’s Mortuary painted a grim picture of conditions in Dawson City during gold rush days.
The attached photo gallery shows several interesting artifacts from that window display including a hearse pulled by sled dogs, a horse-drawn hearse on skis, and an old set of embalming tools.
To spend as much time as possible in the places most interesting to us, we included some long days and distances in our itinerary. Banff, Alberta to Dawson Creek, British Columbia and on to Watson Lake, Yukon Territory was one such stretch. Having planned to camp in Watson Lake, we arrived totally exhausted and needed to be rolling EARLY for the run to Dawson City, Yukon Territory.
Besides being too tired to face setting up camp that evening and having the time required to break camp the next morning added to an already long day, we decided to sleep in the truck. This plan was certainly not ideal, but seemed to be the lesser of the evils. In fact, “sleeping” in the truck turned out to be the least of our problems.
To make a long miserable story short, we were consumed, devoured, eaten alive by hordes of voracious mosquitoes! There was no choice, we departed Watson Lake at 3:30 AM. Once we got the truck cleared of mosquitoes and cooled off, life was good except we had had zero sleep after a hard day and another hard day had begun way too early.