October 25, 2013, Category: Alaska, Travel

I start the day grumpy, and end the day grumpy. In the middle—more grumpy. Go ahead, you can laugh at my mishaps. It’s all here for your entertainment.

Day 17: Whitehorse to Skagway to Watson Lake

Check out the novel: Trudge On, Soul

front
The icy wilderness of Alaska is the perfect place to lose yourself. But Warren doesn’t want to lose himself. He wants to lose someone else.
The book, Trudge On, Soul, is the result of three long years of late nights, critique groups, and editing. If you haven't read the blog, I'd suggest you stop reading and at least click here to read the preview chapters of the book. The blog and pictures have spoilers and the book is a much better read. Think of the website as a documentary, and the book as an engaging movie. Triumph Motorcycles did an article on my Adventure here. A Photo Album of the trip is available here. Click here if you want to jump to the start of the blog with an index of each day.

The Adventure Continues...


I ended the day yesterday with a spoiler and today I’ll start off with one. Tomorrow will be one of the most amazing days of our trip. Breathtaking scenery, the end of a 5 day wildlife drought (in spectacular fashion I might add), and gorgeous weather. But that is tomorrow. Today you best buckle down the hatches and zip up your rain coats, because it is wet, windy, and ugly!

[Insert Blurry Wavy Going-into-the-past Transition]

Created with Microsoft Fresh PaintToday started early, 12:00am, as I tossed in my tent and silently cursed our neighbors. I had been asleep for a couple of hours when they lit a fire, laughed and joked in Russian, drank vodka (disclaimer: that is a guess), and something that baffled me. Every twenty minutes, a whooshing blast about three seconds long would erupt and send them into hysterical fits. I imagined it was a WWII flamethrower, as that is what it would have taken to keep a fire going out in that rain.

Being the passive person I am, I dealt with the situation by not dealing with the situation. I wrapped my coat around my ears, buried my head in my sleeping bag, and tried to meditate my way through it. When that didn’t work, I finally yelled out, “Come on man, it’s 1:00 in the morning!” Nothing. How do you say “Shut the $#%& up!” in Russian?

I can get into some crazy funks when I wake up in the middle of the night. I kept scratching and slapping the invisible itches that made me think I had bugs crawling on me. I finally resorted to my iPod which helped me calm down and relaxed me. At 3:30 I popped out my ear buds to the soothing, quiet of rain and finally got some sleep.

I woke up at 7, it was still raining and so I went back to sleep. I repeated this at 8:00. At 9:00 the wake up calls sounded. It was still raining but we couldn’t wait all day…which is exactly what would have happened. But I’m glad I didn’t know it at the time, I don’t know that I could have dragged myself out of bed knowing what was ahead of us.

I packed up everything I could inside my tent before moving it to the bike which helped minimize, but did not eliminate, the wet and mud. The tent got stuffed away soaking wet. No way around that.

DSCN0805We started off on a 150 mile detour to see the town of Skagway. Incidentally, it is only 20 miles from Haines, Ak by boat (where we got off the ferry so long ago). The area is full of scenery and history and we planned on riding the train ride up the mountain. I was sure we’d see wildlife today, I mean just over the hill we had seen Grizzly bears ten minutes off the ferry some 15 days ago. We had been told the weather was great and we were geared up for a fabulous day. Knowing this erased the long night and rainy morning.

The scenery along Highway 2 into Skagway was spectacular. Or so I imagined. There were fleeting moments when the fog opened up and we glimpsed dark green lakes, sprawling valleys, or distant snow-capped peaks. But these moments only served to mock us by giving us flashes of what we were missing.

DSCN0804Near the top of the pass, where the world drops down into vast wilderness, we fought rain, wind, and a thick, Stephen-Kingish fog that rolled over the peak. The road carved up the mountain. On our left, a wall of jagged rock vanished up into the haze and to our right, a vast abyss of bright white nothingness obscured the drop-off. With wind, rain, and a top speed of 10MPH because of poor visibility, it was probably better that we couldn’t see how far down we’d fall.

While leaning the bike against the wind and focusing on what little road I could see that the road seemed to rotate from side to side. Like riding through a spinning tunnel in a spook alley it felt like the ground was trying to flip me over.

Capture4White knuckled, we crested the mountain and cheered. Although the rain picked up, the fog and wind thinned out considerably. The rainy stretch to the USA border crossing felt like fair weather compared to what we had just weathered.

Trial and error had taught us a few things about crossing borders; we both should drive through together, we must remove our helmets, we must turn off our GoPro’s (which we hadn’t mounted yet today), and the Officers are robots from outer space void of all positive emotion.

Normally, we would have our passports ready to go when we pulled up. But it was raining hard and we decided to wait until the canopy to keep water out of our tank bags. As we pulled up, the guard barked out a harsh “one at a time!” He seemed pissed that we had even considered driving through together and Mike fell back.

I rolled in and while taking off my helmet tried to explain that if I turned my bike off I couldn’t start it again for several minutes but he cut me off with choppy, “Turn off the bike!” I did. I should have kept my mouth shut, but I wanted him to know we weren’t trying to cause problems and so I tried to explain why we had both come through together. I didn’t get very far; he shut me up again and asked for my passport.

I realized I need to keep my trap shut and handed it over. He vanished and I started shivering. Without my heated vest the cold moved fast.

DSCN0806Moments later he returned and began the questioning. I answered his questions.

“We are friends.”

“We’ve been in Alaska.”

“We are going home to Seattle.”

“Blue. No, Yellow.”

He asked me if I bought anything in Canada, I said yes, a bracelet for my wife. I think the stress made me remember wrong, it really was a necklace. With the way things were going the mistake may have ended me up in a federal prison.

“How much was it?” he asked.

“Fifteen dollars,” I said.

He tilted his head and looked at me over his glasses. “Fifteen-dollars?” he said in a disgusted voice. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what he was insinuating. Was he taunting me for buying a cheap present?

“Well, I’m planning on getting her something nicer too,” I said.

He didn’t budge. Not his eyes, not his smile, not his folded arms. I just looked at him unsure about what he wanted. Finally he handed me my passport, “Get out of here.”

I thanked him and started putting on my helmet.

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint“GET OUT OF HERE!” he yelled and pointed to the USA.

I set my helmet on my tank bag, pulled my clutch, and started doing an extremely awkward shuffle forward. I had a vision of myself trying to ride a toy tractor as a kid: feet flailing against a slick kitchen floor and me going nowhere. I couldn’t start it yet, it hadn’t been long enough. I knew if I even tried the timer would reset and I’d have to start waiting all over again.

“Start your Vehicle!” he yelled.

I turned back, (but continued to do my little clumsy shuffle forward) “I can’t, it won’t start for a few more minutes…”

I pushed for all I was worth to get away from him. Huffing, I reached the edge of the covering, which like a safe distance away. I started putting on my helmet.

Later Mike told me that when I stopped, the Robot Guard stopped talking and looked at me. “That guy just won’t leave,” he said to Mike and started walking towards me.

I heard him yell something and turned around to see him marching for me. He pointed into the rain, “Get out of here!”

I was done being nice. I gave him the best, “are-you-freakin-serious?” look I could muster. Yeah, that’s me “not being nice.” I began my funky foot scramble into rain and went another ten feet. I scrambled to get my now dripping-wet passport safely stashed, my gloves on, and my helmet secured. By then Mike had pulled up next to me with a few choice words about his own experience, I started up my bike, and we got the heck out of there.

WP_20130ee901_003Skagway was so windy that my bike rocked back and forth when I parked it, even though we had parked behind a sign to block some of the wind. For the next two hours as we walked around town I worried that I’d find my bike on its side when we returned, courtesy of a nice strong gust.

We passed on the train ride; for $120 we could ride up the same foggy canyon we’d just driven down (and that we had to drive back up). We figured the fog looked the same whether you were on motorcycles or trains and decided to save our time and money. We had caribou and buffalo sandwiches for lunch that were pricey but sounded adventurous. They ended up being a slice of sausage on a bun with some mustard. It was food though, and we were hungry.

DSCN0813-001The small Skagway museum had an exhibit of a prospector with all the gear he was required to haul. That, along with several old-time pictures of a miserable trek up the mountain, painted a brutal journey faced by the prospectors. Boats delivered them here to being the trek to Dawson. The foggy mountain we rode over is the one they climbed over, several times with multiple loads. And I’m complaining about border agents, a bit of rain, and some fog. Geez! I’m a wimp!

WP_20130901_002As we loaded up to head back up the mountain I had more than just a few butterflies in my gut. It looked bad up there. I knew what we had to ride through and I really didn’t want to do it again. But what choice did I have? Okay, technically we did have choices. We could get a hotel until it cleared or even get on the next ferry and float all the way to Bellingham. But in our minds, there was no other option but up the mountain. We loaded up and headed out. This time I mounted my GoPro. I wanted to get video of the nightmare ride (or to capture my death).

The ride out, however, turned out much nicer than the one in. Plenty of rain, minimal fog, and at times the sun peeked through.

DSCN0822Once we made it over the mountain and back onto the Alcan Highway, it rained hard and heavy. The afternoon was excruciatingly long, cold, and wet. Our goal for the day was Watson Lake and it seemed like a thousand miles away, all day long. Gas stations were sparse and to make it worse, one after another was closed for the season. I calculated that even with our extra gas we could not make Watson Lake.

I started running through options once we ran out of gas out in the rainy middle of nowhere. I’d run out first and I wanted to have some ideas if it happened. Use the spare gas and go as far a possible…but then what? Have Mike use both gallons and drive on ahead? Set up camp in the monsoon? Hitchhike to town? I didn’t like any of the options.

DSCN0832But to our huge relief, we stumbled upon a solution. It looked like a family had set up a few pumps and called it a gas station (and thrown a few beds in an old building next to the house with and called it a hotel).

And as we pulled up, Mother Nature let loose with a massive scream. Why is it I can be fine and then when my body senses a bathroom near, I am about to explode? I suddenly had to pee more than I needed to breath. I screeched to a stop next to the gas pump and ran to the front door without even taking my helmet off. I walked right into their kitchen, essentially. Inside the owners were having a family dinner/birthday party. I tried not to do the pee dance and asked for a bathroom. A friendly lady directed me next door to one of their rooms and I ran to it. It looked an abandoned hostile. A single bed with only a sheet, unvacuumed floor, and messy bathroom. I peeled off layers like a kid ripping open a Christmas present and made it just in time.

DSCN0829Once relieved, I went back to my bike and gassed up. My hands were pruned, cracked, and sore. I started shivering, then shaking uncontrollably. Without my heated vest plugged in to my bike, it got cold fast. My teeth chattered and my body shook. I suggested to Mike that we stay here for the night. Yes, I’d seen the rooms, I knew they were bad, but I really didn’t want to get back on that bike. I wanted to go into that dry room, put on my thermals and crawl into my sleeping bag.

But Mike didn’t like that idea. Disappointed, I kept moving. I got more layers of clothing and went back into the dirty bathroom and put them on along with my heated pants and boot soles. Once I was zipped up, I went back to the kitchen walking like a stiff zombie because of the many layers of clothing. Mike was drinking coffee and eating a muffin, of which he gave me half.

WP_20130902_001I was still shivering and he asked me if I was alright. I told him I just needed to get plugged into my bike and everything would be fine. We loaded up and headed out on our final stretch.

We would have run out of gas had that one last gas station not been open. At one point we saw what looked like the start of a funnel cloud and prepped for hail. We arrived in Watson Lake long after dark and found that the one campsite in town had already closed for the season. Luckily, the hotels hadn’t closed down and we parked and checked in.

We left a trail of water on the floor from the front door to our rooms hauling in gear. I put my boots and gloves under the blow dryer and we draped everything else all around the room. I plugged in batteries to charge and as water pooled on the hardwood floors, we went downstairs for a hot meal in the restaurant.

The following was my final entry in my journal for the day:

Twelve hours of riding over 400 miles today in horrible weather. I’m exhausted. I just want to get home now. It’s not going to stop raining, we aren’t going to see any more animals, and we still have 1200 miles and four days to go (at best). Good Night.

Spoiler Reminder: Tomorrow is Amazing!

Click here to continue to the next day.


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2 thoughts on “Day 17: Whitehorse to Skagway to Watson Lake

  • By Mama - Reply

    Misery … Definitely your day was the definition of misery. I’d read the definition right out of the dictionary but not having just read it myself I don’t want it to not fit the afore-to mentioned day. (I may have made that word up, but I like it.). I’m so glad I know you made it home and thank you for tomorrow’s spoiler. Now I’m going to bed and leaving you in the dirty room with only a sheet on the bed. (I would have been freaked out by that room … I have already imagined a bed bug infestation of your nice sleeping bag … Or fleas … They might actually be fleas. Yes, I can see they are jumping now, which is good, actually, because it is easier to get rid of fleas, even though it takes a miracle to do it. Goodnight.

  • By Chuck Smith - Reply

    Canadian Customs was always pleasant and conversational. The Americans were just cranky and miserable. The road into Skagway was just plain scary on a big Harley….. cold, windy, rainy, fog and big trucks headed into Canada. I totally understand your “exhaustion”. And once you get cold AND wet, you’re in a tough spot. Nice ride report. Enjoying it.

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