Alaska Trip – Day 7

DAY SEVEN:  THURSDAY, JUNE 18

This would be a day of near-broken legs.  A day of the Sourtoe.

The morning had spurts of rain as we packed up our motorcycles at the beach house.  Knowing we had a shorter distance of around 360 miles to travel for the day, none of the three of us were in a big hurry to bug out this morning.  I actually went down onto the beach and walked around on the hard packed sand; making phone calls back home to my wife to guarantee her that I was still alive and somebody else wasn’t sending automatic text messages from the inReach SE tracker.  Unlike many trips in the past, I found this adventure to take my mind away from everything back in real life.  My Zumo has over one thousand MP3 music files on it and I had not even listened to a single one while riding north.  It was as if my mind was free of distractions, stress, and worry.  I found that I just was not missing home at all; not that I don’t love my life back there, but I think I was just really enjoying the “me” time that this trip was providing.

The initial plan for the day was to go into Whitehorse to find fuel, food, and an extension cable for my heated gear so I would be able to stand up while riding and stay connected to my source of warmth.  We knew the roads would start getting worse the further north we went; in the event of mud for many a rider, the bike is more stable to ride if you stand while you throttle (it also helps to give the butt some relief from the seat slamming into it repeatedly on bad roads).

The forty minute ride to Whitehorse was uneventful; the heated gear once again doing what it was designed to accomplish.  Fuel was easily obtained and a local also pumping gas with us answered that the Yukon Inn across the street had a reputation for good food.  Review obtained, the decision was made to ride a hundred feet and park the bikes in search for some pancakes, eggs, and meats.

I recommend the food at the Yukon Inn.  However, we all found the waitress to be have a severe Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde personality.  When she wasn’t scolding you and being ticked off at your actions like putting your riding gear on another table in the very unfilled dining hall, she was wrongly trying to correct whatever was coming out of your mouth repeatedly.  The server apparently decided that making others feel stupid while working her hated minimum wage job was her life calling.  Sometimes she would forget that she hated her customers and would give you a smile…too bad she never brought around the additional cups of coffee that she kept telling everybody that “I’ll get it for you a minute”.  This was one waitress that did not get a very good tip from any of the people I saw in the restaurant.

While we sat there, we watched the rain pour buckets in the parking lot through the streaky large windows for a good ten minutes.  Two motorcyclists at the next table struck up a conversation with us; they had spent the night at the hotel and like nearly every other person with two wheels, they were planning to make a run for Dawson City the same day to join in the Dust2Dawson (D2D) event.  D2D is a annual gathering of adventure riders who for a few days land at Dawson City, Yukon, find comradeship with other like minded people, go do some rides together, and participate in some fun competitive activities to test one’s riding skills.  A group picture is taken on Friday at midnight in the daylight; hundreds of people get in on it.  We would be there today (Thursday) but leaving early Friday morning and missing much of the activities in order to stay on track with our planned schedule.

These two gentlemen had made the trek to D2D several times before and regaled us with a few of their riding tales.  Neither were in a hurry to leave the comfort of the restaurant while the weather continued to be so foul outdoors; however we needed to start the search for the heating gear cable so we bundled up and headed out in the rain in search of the hopeful daily prize.

First stop, Yukon Yamaha; this is on the main highway as you approach the turn off to the Whitehorse town center.  We got there minutes after they opened and walked through the puddle-laden parking lot into the large building.  The clerk behind the counter acted like we were asking for a religious saving and this was the local pub.  He never even heard of heated gear, so he claimed.  Seriously?  A quick look around the establishment proved him right…nothing here.  He suggested going to the biggest electronics store in Whitehorse, known as The Source.  It was the Radio Shack of the town apparently.  We finally found it after zigging back near where we had previously ate and found they were an hour away from opening.  Great.  At least the rain had subsided for now.

We had passed Yukon Honda on the way to The Source so we backtracked since we saw on the side of that building that they also sold Can-Am motorcycles (you’ve seen these, they have the two tires in the front and one in the back…a backwards trike bike).  Nope, no heated gear here either; they suggested going across the street to Canadian Tire, because “they have everything you want”.

Turn bike around, go in, clerk in the automotive area has no idea what heated gear is.  I’m showing him the end of my jacket liner connection and I get a simple “don’t know”.  So I search the electrical section…no dice.  Time to go sit at The Source until they open.  After sitting in the parking lot for half an hour watching the female inside the store staring out the window watching us, she finally unlocks the door at the scheduled time.  “Nope, you should go to Fairbanks or Anchorage”, she says to my request.  The aging matron was also unfamiliar with the invention known as heated motorcycle gear as well.  Seriously, nobody in the Yukon wears heated gear?

I decide I’m not worried about it anymore; if it comes unplugged, it comes unplugged.  I can plug back in whenever a road becomes easily ride-able again.  Side note:  I came back home after the trip and quickly found three of these cables sitting on my work bench.

So we get to finally riding towards Dawson City after coming up empty for the cable.  Even though we blew nearly two hours in Whitehorse accumulating five different “No” replies, we still aren’t in a hurry today.  We had been slamming down the miles for days, dancing on both sides of the posted speed limit signs.  It was nice to just move along knowing we would make our destination with plenty of time to spare later in the day.

The rain was hit and miss through the morning and afternoon hours.  Many places we rode, the rain had just recently visited and made some of the roads a little messy to traverse.  We did get stuck in a couple of construction zones; all on this day were controlled by the human element:

What struck me was the great attitudes these ladies had working as personable stop signs.  In Indiana, road construction highway workers seemingly call it a day if a rain cloud even appears in the sky.  The lady above told me she was working the night before when the torrential rains that had nailed us at the beach house had struck there as well; she had been out there for hours in it since they don’t stop working “unless it gets bad”.  My hat is off to the road workers and their work mentality up north.

Typical work zone look:

Most of the scenery looked like this for the day’s riding:

As was becoming usual, there was signage placed in different areas where past historical fires had occurred:

 

And outhouses were available at many of the roadside pull-offs in case too much coffee in the morning causes you problems later in the day:

Unlike the states, most pull-offs don’t advertise a toilet being there…but you’ll find they are in over-abundance in case the Mexican food you ate the day before is not in agreement with you today.  All I visited were very clean, had a great supply of TP, and a low amount of graffiti.  They seemed to really take care of all pull-off areas.

The notices inside about being careful when exiting due these being located in active bear zones could be a little unnerving though.

We spent the day taking our time riding north up the Klondike Highway, which allowed us to meet many of the other motorcycle riders at the rest stops we were stopping at (yes, don’t end sentences with a preposition…I can hear my middle school English teacher yelling me now forty years later).  This picture doesn’t show it, but each stop would fill up with bikes if the line at the fuel pumps had large RVs putting go-go juice into their large tanks.  At this stop, the cashier told me we just missed a group of more than 25 motorcycles that were traveling together.  WHEW!  Glad I didn’t get behind that line for gas here.

In Canada and around Alaska, somebody must have the job of riding around and attempting to alert travelers as to where potholes and frost heaves are in the roads.  Frost heaves are simply that…where the road buckles up or down due to the thawing of the winter’s ice or snow.  Some roads farther north are on permanent permafrost or semifrost which constantly goes through the freezing and thawing cycle based on temperatures.  To mark these areas, little orange flags are planted along the roads:

Sometimes the flag exists where they are needed, sometimes they do not.  Here’s an example of a frost heave that is not marked, that is nearly impossible to see at the posted speed limit, but would send a rider like me high into the air once the tires hit that bad section of payment:

Part of the adventure.  Make sure you keep at least one hand on the handlebars.  That means you need to figure out how to juggle your coffee if you decide you also want a bite of that Snickers bar calling your name.

As would become his custom, Rob would push his motorcycle away from the gas pumps after each fueling so the next person could use the dispenser.  Jeffrey, I, and nearly everybody else simply got on our bikes, started them, and rode them to side.  Something about that Beemer…loved to be pushed.  And Rob obviously loves to push a bike as much as he likes riding them:

This same rest stop had dogs laying by the door to the trading post that nearly every single person stopped to pet on the way in and out.  Made me feel homesick for the two rescues I have back home:

At this fuel stop was probably forty or more motorcycles waiting for fuel or off to the side waiting for their owners to mount them again to continue their journeys.  I listened to a nearby loud conversation with a 72-year old grandfather and his protege just out of college grandson who were riding extremely race-oriented Hyabusa motorcycles, which are the world’s fastest street production motorcycles.  Not really the best choice for this type of adventure, but people will ride about anything up here.  Apparently grandpa bought these two bikes for his grand-kid and himself on the “advice” of a motorcycle salesman in California that they were great bikes to blow past the slow riders and to take to the Arctic Ocean; neither had much experience with riding and neither had ever been on dirt roads before from the conversation I overheard.

Some adventure riders were trying to convince them to turn around and go back home; when they refused, the experienced riders tried giving some tips of how to ride in the mud, but neither of these Hyabusa riders were having anything to do with that advice and simply mounted their bikes and took off like there was no tomorrow.  I would catch up to them later down the road in a couple of hours and watch the grandfather nearly break a leg more than once.

One of the seemingly millions of bridges we crossed:

Got to stop for a second and say that the many bridges we crossed were very cool.  Some had board planks, some had see through grating, some were concrete.  I like a oddly styled bridge; anything with character that I can look at while riding makes it even more enjoyable for me.  I’d usually slow down, look down through the grates, or look over the sides to check out the water below.  Some could be a little slippery when wet; like mud riding, just let the bike dance around a little in the lane and you’ll get across just fine.

Stewart Crossing, pick a direction (we chose left; no need for any condiments today):

Somewhere around a area called Clear Creek I believe (sorry, not exact, as I didn’t get a photo to GPS coordinate it several weeks later), we came up to a long construction zone.  In front of us were dozens of RVs, trucks, and motorcycles.  Immediately ahead of me were two Hyabusa motorcycles…ignorant grandpa and his second generation offspring that I had seen at the last rest area.  We sat for just a minute or so until the pilot truck had come to our end (great timing, sometimes you had to sit for twenty minutes), turned around, and started escorting the line of traffic through what would at times become a pit of mud, for around ten miles.

Grandson was in front of grandpa, who was in front of me.  I am by no means an expert off-road rider, but I do know the basics. One of the first things you learn riding in dirt or mud is to allow your motorcycle to “dance” around.  It’s not going to go perfectly straight, but it will continue going forward.  You have to tighten your knees on the gas tank, and loosen your grip on the handlebars (which seems counter-intuitive but it works).  Let the bike go…stay on the throttle, understand the bike will move side to side a little, and never…ever…put your feet down to catch yourself as you move forward.  And keep giving it gas because once you have traction, completely letting go of the throttle is one of the fastest ways to lose it.

Grandson was doing okay, but the 72-year old virgin rider was breaking every riding rule with his high-powered motorcycle with the smooth street tires on it.  He fought the dance that the bike was having with him; trying to lead hundreds of pounds of plastic and metal in a pattern it was not designed to work well within.  I fully expected to watch him die or at least snap a leg as he continued to freak out and come to stops or slow down and plant a leg to keep his bike upright.  His throttle control was non-existent; obvious from the numerous wheelies the bike did and the flying around of his rear tire and the constantly lost traction and having his rear tire come around the side of him.  To ride in mud, you need to achieve and maintain traction.  This means don’t let off the throttle because you come to a stop and have to start all over.  This went on for miles.

It was like watching somebody that has never hiked decide to conquer Mount Everest.  This type of motorcycle adventure requires skill and experience.  Grandpa had neither.  It was impossible to pass him on this torn up two-lane road, as every time he lost traction he would slide all over both lanes of travel in the dirt and then the occasional mud.  The last two miles or so, I could see him physically shaking on the bike as he continued to try to learn how to ride in the muck that was appearing more often on the road’s surface.

His grandson had made it to the end of the construction minutes before and was long gone with the other traffic.  Grandpa simply pulled over.  As the three of us passed him, along with the many vehicles behind us, I could just imagine what was going through his mind.  And this was nothing…the construction zones in Alaska are known to be much, much worse when the ground was wet.  I hit the gas and caught up with the grandson who had neglected his own family member in order to fly on his bike…I simply pointed behind us as we passed him.  Looking in the rear view mirror, I watched as he turned around to go search for his disappeared relative.  I did not see either of them again; I don’t know their status.

As we got closer to Dawson City, it became apparent that this was the gravel capital of the universe.  For miles…many miles, both sides of the road were piled as far back as could be seen with the “junk” of the nearby Yukon River.  Dredging remains of trillions of tons of dirt would become the town’s claim to fame from any visitor coming in from the east.  It felt like you were riding through a dirt landfill for a long time.  Nothing at all pretty about it.

Eventually the municipal edge of Dawson City came into sight, a town that has been designed to retain the look of the late 1800s:

Our first goal was to get across the Yukon River and to a large campground that we knew from past research would fill up very quickly with motorcycling visitors for D2D.  To get across the mighty Yukon River, the government runs a free ferry service pretty much 24/7.  Here’s a long distance pic of it getting ready to load vehicles on the other side of the river:

It was captivating to watch the ferry captain fight the current and to get the ferry docked onto the land:

Each ferry run takes 10-15 minutes to load and get across the river one way.  Only two full-sized RVs are allowed at a time onto the barge; the rest of the room was taken by cars, trucks, motorcycles, and pedestrians.  We got across easily enough, rode into the campground on the other side (about 200 yards on the right after disembarking the ferry), and promptly got separated from one another as we searched for an optimal spot for three camping amigos.

Jeffrey and I caught back up with each other and we repeatedly circled the grounds looking for Rob who was nowhere to be found. We finally decided to just get a site since more and more traffic was coming into the campground.  Rob wandered in about fifteen minutes later, long after I had registered and paid for the site.  He must have been off somewhere pushing his bike or something and did not want us to see it.  The campground is HUGE, and was posted as being full by the time we returned to the site later that evening after going into Dawson City.

Unpacking the bikes seemed to take forever…but for $12 for all of us to camp at the big site, we weren’t complaining about the time needed to erect the tents and get things ready for occupancy later that night.  This was the cheapest lodging of the trip.  As the designated leader of the group, I made the payment.  I think next time I do a trip like this, I’m going to be a follower and see just how much money I save.

About an hour later, we made the decision to go back into Dawson City as pedestrians and did the fifteen minute walk back to the ferry landing.  We noticed that the RV line going east had more than a dozen RVs in line…which amounted to a wait of at least four hours for the RV at the end.  As pedestrians, we walked right on, and the twenty or so lazy motorcyclists joined us to ride into town (yep, should have rode across again).  This evening’s walk was a lot of exercise but well worth it for three growing out of shape motorcycle riders.  Side note:  I wear Sidi Canyon motorcycle boots; love them.  Very comfortable to ride or walk in; and waterproof.  However, on occasions like this, the Sketchers carried in the right side pannier would be utilized for ultimate off-bike comfort.

On the Dawson City side an old paddle boat, the SS Keno, sits on display in all her glory (do a Google search on her, very interesting story!):

Of course, Rob who was used to pushing his bike around all the time, decided to tackle a larger challenge.  I think he moved it about eighteen feet before deciding it was time to go find a bison burger or something else to eat:

We made our way to the famous Downtown Hotel, home of the Sourtoe Cocktail and the swinging wood doors that made you feel like you were going into a saloon in Dodge City a hundred and fifty years ago:

Mind you, it’s around 8PM and the sun is still high over us in the sky.

We ordered some ice cold brewskis and settled in to listen to an amazing piano player.  Impossible to describe, this finger artist of the ancient piano played better than Liberace, Cliburn, and anybody else I ever heard tickle the ivory keys.  Seriously.  He’d take requests, and play like he wrote the pieces. He filled in music in between notes to make it even more “rich”, the quality of such far exceeding the original scores (sorry, music terminology escapes me).

Classical, rock, country…this guy played like nobody you’ll ever hear.  At the end of each song, the whole place would explode with applause…the maestro of ivory keys would gulp a beer and fire into the next song.  Simply f’n extraordinary is the only way to explain it.  You hear talent like this but just a few times in your life.  Being able to listen to this quality of music, that I never heard before, made the whole trip worth it.

We got into lively discussions with the riders at the tables around us, all having a great time providing stories of their journey so far, their destinations over the next few days, and the things that we had seen.  Waiting for our food (I had the bison lasagna…and it was amazing), we continued to share some brews as we also waited for 9PM.  At three hours before midnight, the famous toe would come out of its hiding place and the energy in the whole place really went through the roof.  In the meantime, another cold one please:

Let me explain the Sourtoe Cocktail.  Supposedly it’s a dead man’s nasty rotten toe that gets dropped into the $15 shot of your choice (I may be wrong on price here; I did not partake and I heard a few different dollar amounts from others).  You have to allow the toe to touch your lips when you drink your shot.  Doing such gets you placed into a “elite” club of lip-to-toe connoisseurs from all over Earth; people come from all over the world to get their yellow paper certificate acknowledging this accomplishment.  A few years ago, a guy walked in, purposefully swallowed the toe, threw five hundred dollars on the table as was the posted penalty, and walked out.  So now there’s a $2500 fine for anybody doing the same.  The toe is “sanitized” between each person doing the shot in a bed of salt and rubbed down by a member of the establishment.

Jeffrey did the toe shot, with Rob recording it.  Of course, Rob managed to screw up the video (on purpose I think) so that you couldn’t see the actual toe touching Jeffrey’s lips.  We laughed like crazy for half an hour regarding this once the camera video was reviewed; goading Jeffrey to do it yet again.  Even the next table got into the action of coaxing him to go through it once more so video would capture it properly. So he stood in line again for another thirty minutes to do it a second time.  Instead of letting Rob or I video it, Jeffrey decided to hand his camera to a woman standing nearby…who ALMOST screwed it up again.  It was close, but you can barely see the toe touching his lips. If she had screwed it up, I think the funny farm ambulance would have had to cart Rob and I out of there.  A great night of kinship with a lot of similar minded people.

Jeffrey got two certificates for his participation:

I had absolutely no interest in doing the shot; Rob did not care to partake either.  My thoughts on the toe:

There’s a lot of debate over whether or not it’s a real dead man’s toe.

SPOILER ALERT:  If you don’t want to hear one opinion about whether the toe is real or not, skip the next two…no…three paragraphs.

While Jeffrey and Rob were in line for the first shot, I got talking to a guy at another table that claimed to work for the RCMP (the po-po up there for you COPS on Fox watchers).  He laughed when I brought up that Jeffrey had talked about doing the shot ever since we met up; he said to look up the Canadian Justice laws when I got back home and gave me the actual code as reference that I wrote down.  The guy continued that it was simply a marketing trick that makes the bar tens of thousands of dollars a year and puts the down more on the map and to take things like this with the spirit they were intended.

Found the code ([URL]http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/c-46/page-91.html[/URL]), and here’s what it states:  Every one who (a) neglects, without lawful excuse, to perform any duty that is imposed on him by law or that he undertakes with reference to the burial of a dead human body or human remains, or (b) improperly or indecently interferes with or offers any indignity to a dead human body or human remains, whether buried or not,is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.  It seems that no matter the amount of fun had with this “toe”, somebody in government would step in and stop the activity per this law sooner than later.

Even Jeffrey, who got a really good look at it and felt it more than once, stated that it felt like a plastic toy to him when it touched his lips.

Regardless whether real or not, it was fun watching so many grown-ups carry on about the Sourtoe Cocktail and listen to the conversations of those lined up through the bar and returning to their tables after participating.  This cocktail brings people in all over the world…whether fake or real, it’s a very fun thing to people watch this activity.

During the course of the evening, two riders walked up to me to briefly chat, having recognized me from the hat I am pictured wearing in some of my photos and told a forum I’d be wearing up north.  It felt good to meet so many other people even if I didn’t write down all their names; all encouraged me to write up a ride report when I got back home.  Hope all of you are actually reading these long entries (I see quite a few of you are).

Hours passed and we eventually walked back to the ferry to get back to the campground.  I took the following picture at around 1:30 AM in the morning after I returned to the tent from a restroom visit (TMI, right?):

It was just so surreal to see so much daylight all night long.  Some of the locals had mentioned that come late August, they find their selves to be totally exhausted since they stay up way later than usual due to the constant daylight and as it starts getting darker earlier, their sleep-starved bodies start putting them into a odd form of depression.

Tomorrow, we will finally make it to Alaska.  We meet another ADV regular while waiting for “the Man” to open up the international border crossing.  We visit a place called Chicken, with some very different personalities at that location.  And, this would be the end of the line for one of us on this trip.

Mileage:  360 miles (or around there)
Areas traversed:  Whitehorse, Dawson City
Gas:  $62.29
Food:  $17.89
Lodging: $12

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