North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 15)

August 17, 2019

Day 15  7/12/19

I woke up to a smoky morning in Whitehorse. I know that sounds like the opening line for a country song. I couldn’t really tell where the smoke ended and the low clouds began, but the net effect was somewhat limited visibility of the mountains around me.

All reports I saw indicated that the Alaska Highway was still open through the wildfire zone around Beaver Creek, so I wouldn’t have to take the northerly alternate route through Dawson City to the Alaska border. Based on the news, wildfires were also threatening the Klondike Highway near Dawson City, so my original route was the best option.

I could see the outlines of mountains as I pulled into Haines Junction for gas, and I’m sure that it would be a very scenic area on a clear day. I stopped for a few photos on the other side of Haines Junction at one of the Alaska Highway’s trademark gravel turn-offs. I even managed to keep the bike upright when the ground was a bit lower than my left boot thought it should be.

The landscape really opens up to some stunning views as you approach Destruction Bay, which earned its name from the brutal winds that knocked things down during construction of the Alaska Highway. Kluane Lake is the large water feature here, and my iPhone photos don’t fully capture the majesty of the area.

Just past the “beach” parking, the road crosses Kluane Lake in a spot that seems like it would produce a wind tunnel effect between the mountains. I saw a sign that warned of very strong crosswinds. The sign was accurate. The unpredictable and uneven wind gusts made the relatively short journey across the lake challenging, to say the least.

A few more minutes of riding put me at the parking area for the Soldier’s Summit trail. As I’d mentioned previously, this is the site of the dedication ceremony for the Alaska Highway in November 1942. I pulled into the parking area and decided to stay bundled up (minus my helmet), due to the strong winds and cold temperatures. When I was getting my hat out of the tank bag, I noticed that the tank bag’s lower straps were much looser than they should be. A quick inspection revealed that the retention clips had come unhooked, probably due to vibrations from the rough (or non-existent) pavement over several days. Fortunately, it’s an easy thing to remedy by removing the seat. I discovered later that my GoPro Session was still running while I was getting things sorted out, providing indisputable visual evidence of my problem-solving skills on the road.

The trail is about .6 mile round-trip, somewhat steep, and has nice views and interpretive signs along the way. It culminates at a historical marker and flagpoles for both the US and Canadian flags.

The ride to Beaver Creek was going to take about two hours, but it started raining steadily not long after I left Soldier’s Summit, and I slowed down accordingly. The rain and lack of shelters at the pull-offs forced me to delay eating my picnic lunch, over the objections of my grumbling stomach. The rain also created a muddy mess in several construction zones. Marble-sized gravel on its own is bad enough, but combine that with mud, and you’ve got some difficult and unpleasant riding.

Once through the roadwork, I saw temporary warning signs for reduced speeds associated with the wildfires. It was very smoky, but the fires close to the road were out, and traffic was moving through the area. This had been a serious wildfire, and I could see why they’d closed the road intermittently during the past week.

I stopped in Beaver Creek for gas and a late lunch. The rain was taking a brief hiatus, but the bugs didn’t get the memo and remained on the hunt for blood. My DEET-infused spray held them off long enough for me to finish lunch, and then I was back in the rain heading for the border. The Canadian Border Services Agency checkpoint for inbound vehicles is actually about 18 miles inside Canada, as opposed to being co-located with the US CBP checkpoint at the border. I stopped for a photograph at the “Welcome to Alaska” sign in the rain and then got back on the bike for the short ride to our CBP station.

I provided the correct answers for the border crossing quiz and continued on my way into Alaska. I thought the road situation would improve in Alaska, but plentiful potholes and frost heaves greeted me. There were also a lot of freshly poured sections of asphalt that looked slippery. I gained an hour due to the time change and pulled into Tok amidst the smoke and rain.

Daily portrait challenge: When the zombie apocalypse comes, I’m with him and his Unimog.

What more can I say about today? It involved many miles, some heavy rain, sketchy road conditions, amazing scenery, and historical points of interest. All the ingredients necessary for adventure riding. Tomorrow, I begin to discover our 49th state.

Total mileage: 389.5

Lodging: Almost Home B&B (VRBO), Tok, Alaska