Adieu to Alaska and hello to a yellow Yukon!

Posted by Gordon Dunlop on September 20, 2015

After a fond farewell to the McMahan family, complete with a cute photo with the kids and their (slightly less-laden) bikes, we got back on the trail feeling re-energised and humbled at the wonderful generosity they afforded us. The valley from the Gakona turnoff on the road north to Tok, opened up into a beautiful array of golds, yellows and reds with beautiful glacial lakes and snow-capped peaks. Ninety minutes into our journey, a familiar looking plane swooped down low just above us. We guessed it might have been the McMahans and this was later confirmed when Jackie posted a photo of us from the plane. We imagined the excitement on the kids’ faces when they spotted us from on high!

While chatting about wild camping and taking measures to avoid bears, Bryan – who has wild-camped more than most – had allayed our fears by confirming that were taking the right precautions and that, in all his years, he’d never been bothered by bears while camping. “It’s the RV drivers that you gotta look out for!” For those of you unfamiliar with the RV, it’s essentially a small town on wheels, oft seen towing another car or a trailer the size of a detached bungalow. However, the danger lies not only in the scale of these vehicles, but rather, the drivers. The majority are retirees on the other of 75 and in chronic need of a cataract operation! Although, in all fairness to the RV drivers of Alaska, they have been very accommodating to us and have given us a wide berth while overtaking.

Our 65 mile day had taken us to the village of Slana where we camped for the night. While tuning up our bikes the next morning (or rather Meg was while I was stretching out on a foam roller!) a passing car stopped to chastise me for allowing Meg to do all the work! He also invited us along to his service station for some free coffee. Naturally, we took Jay up on his offer and were glad we did. He and his wife, Debbie, were fantastic company. We shared stories of life on the road and they gave us plenty of tips on surviving the wilderness. Jay told of a previous life in the corporate world and how he gave it all up to “live free” in the Alaskan wilderness. They now offer free accommodation (and coffee!) to passing travellers in an effort to keep people safe and to educate them about the area. “It’s not all about the money”, says Jay. He and Debbie were the salt of the earth and the positivity we felt after our encounter served as the fuel which carried us the 65 miles all the way to Tok, the most northerly point on our journey.

Tok was memorable for a couple of characters we met while taking a well-earned rest that evening. Firstly there was Charlie Campbell from Ireland who I gravitated towards after hearing his accent. Well, I’d been starved of some celtic banter for nigh on four months! We had a great chat about our travels and shared stories of the Camino de Santiago - a trek he does every year and one which my dad did three years ago. After initially trying to keep pace with the accents, which were growing increasingly stronger by the minute, Meg had to admit defeat and turned her attention to Hugh - a dog musher who offered to buy us a drink at the bar across the road. Across we went for ‘a wee warmer.’ The bar in Tok was straight out of the movies – a dingy place populated with a handful of well-oiled, though welcoming, locals. After sharing our story with Hugh and a couple of the regulars, an old chap at the other end of the bar piped up, bemoaning the lack of ‘talent’ in the bar. “Rory, why do you never allow any beautiful ladies into your bar?” “Present company excepted!” I intervened in defence of Meg. “Gordon, he’s lucky if he can make out who’s sitting next to him never mind who’s on the other side of the bar,” Hugh explained. While relaying this story days later in Whitehorse, we mentioned we’d had a drink bought for us by a dog-musher named Hugh. “Hugh Neff bought you a drink!” We were blissfully unaware of having been in the presence of greatness!

Having achieved 125 miles in the previous two days, we allowed ourselves a morning off and treated ourselves to a cooked breakfast – complete with reindeer sausage! We eventually got going at 3pm and started off on some nice flats before the rolling hills returned. We camped just short of Northway Junction, the last village before the Canadian border. While stopped in the village the next morning, we chatted with Don, a seasoned bicycle tourist from Anchorage who gave us some good tips for the road. After 55 miles of cycling, we finally reached the Canadian border at 5:30PM. We felt a real sense of achievement upon crossing our first border and, after some fun pics at the border, we carried on for the 20 miles to the Yukon’s first town, Beaver Creek, and Canadian customs. Our first taste of the Yukon’s roads were testing. Hilly and rough with precious little tarmac and plenty of loose gravel. The 20 miles were a struggle, but, spurred on by a desire to camp and have a rest day in Beaver Creek, two weary travellers eventually passed through Canadian customs at 7:45pm our time, or as we discovered the next day, 8:45pm local time – we thought it was getting pretty dark! We’d earned our rest day after a great 75 mile effort. It felt good to have reached Canada after a mere 11 days on the road!