Sunday, August 17, 2014

Catching up on our travels, the Ehlenbergs and we left Fairbanks two weeks ago and drove to Delta Junction, the official end of the Alaskan Highway, then on to Tok, AK.  Tok is the first community into and out of Alaska on the Alaskan Highway.  It has only two roads, one leading South to Valdez and Anchorage, and one to the North, heading to Fairbanks.  Taking the Alaska Highway, everyone passes through Tok.  We stayed five nights while waiting for Rich to catch up with us, back from his trip to Oregon and the Monaco International Rally.  The weather was very nice while we were there so we were  able to grill our fish for dinner and enjoy evenings out of doors.  The mosquitoes had not caught up with us yet.  There is one restaurant in town, Fast Eddies, which is modern and has very good food. They provide a nightly music program, free of charge.  There were two programs, one a local singer/songwriter who entertained us with his own songs as well as some well known tunes such as North to Alaska.  The other was a Bluegrass groups which we did not hear.

Some interesting information about the area: Tok is the coldest spot in North America, reaching minus 83 F in the winter and has a summer temperature in the mid to upper 80's, therefore, they experience an annual change of up to 160 degrees F.  Their schools don't close for weather unless the temperature drops below minus 50 F.  Vehicles throughout Alaska have electric plugs dangling from the front bumpers to allow keeping the car warm in winter.  Cars have electric heaters installed for the engine block, battery and oil pan.  Most parking lots offer electric outlets in which to plug the vehicle heaters. If there are no heater plugs, you simply don't turn your engine off while shopping or running errands.  Even at that, the mechanical parts such as clutches, brakes and steering get very stiff in the cold.  The local Lions Club has provided an outdoor swimming pool for the residents, the only one we saw in all of our travels.  Their thinking is that many of their residents fish and most cannot swim.  Their hope is to reduce death by drowning.  Also, the town has no official government eliminating the need for lawyers.

We were extremely anxious about traveling the Top of the World Highway from Tok AK to Dawson City, in the Yukon.  People who had driven across had been telling us horror stories about traveling the highway and others were telling us "no big deal, just take it slowly." To add to our anxiety, we had heard that 3 RV's had gone off the edge of the highway just this summer, no guardrails and soft shoulders. To help alleviate our fears, we took a car day trip from Tok to Chicken, then five miles out on the Top of the World Highway.  Other than steep grades (7 and 9 percent), narrow passages and dirt surfaces we thought we could make it across the 170 miles, if it wasn't raining.  The night before we were to leave for Chicken, to stage our trip across to Dawson City, Tok experienced a torrential thunderstorm with heavy rain.  The next morning dawned clear with blue skies and sunshine so we decided to move the coaches to Chicken and see what the next day would bring. We could always drive back to Tok and take the road toward Whitehorse.   Chicken is an extremely small town, population around 50 in the summer, much less in the winter, about 12.  Their claim to fame is gold mining and the book, "Tricia", written by a "lower 48er" who moved there to teach school.  To get from Tok to Dawson City, you must pass through Chicken.  The next day was nice again, blue skies and sunshine, so we anxiously left on our trip across the Top of the World Highway.  Since Canadian Customs didn't open until 9 am,  about 50 miles ahead, we left early to minimize the encounter with oncoming traffic and the need for vehicles to pass us.

Our travel across the highway was somewhat uneventful from a safety standpoint.  We did meet oncoming traffic and stopped or slowed down to let them pass.  However, the road was dusty and very rough in sections necessitating speeds of 25 to 35 mph.  One might question our sanity for taking three luxury motorhomes across such a road but we knew that many of the caravans also crossed the border that way.  The scenery was spectacular, especially on the Canadian side.  At the end of the road was a ferry to take us across the Yukon River to Dawson City.  The ferry is provided free of charge by the Yukon government, the only way to complete the trip.  We were very relieved once we arrived in Dawson City but decide it was an experience we never wanted to repeat.

Rich's coach being loaded on ferry

Rich's coach going across Yukon River

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