Day 20 – Talkeetna

We woke up in some gold mining fields in the back country near Petersville. No bears visited us overnight, and we made some breakfast and packed the truck. We did a couple more hours of off-roading and had a good look at the area. On one of the roads that we tried, a beaver had built a dam over half of it in one spot and completely blocked it in another. I guess the guys at the mines up the road haven’t been there yet this year.

Denli peeking at us as we drive to Talkeetna

We drove down the Parks highway a bit more and turned up to visit the town of Talkeetna. Its summer and tourist season is in full force and we got to enjoy some beers are the Denali Brewing Company and then some salmon, cream cheese and jalapeno spread. Very delicious. We heard that they had a reggae band playing in the park so I took a quick nap in the tent and then attended the festivities.

Denali Brewing Company, Talkeetna, AK

Carl met this cool guy named Travis, who it turns out owned one of the mines back were we were driving around the previous day. We looked at the map and our tracks and determined that it was the creek at the base of his property where we turned around because the water was a bit hight. He proceeded to show me some pictures of the creek when it is actually high and a full size ford truck up to the hood in water. This is how he described that crossing: “We had a dead bear, 30 ounces of gold, some equipment and a computer with us and only the computer suffered some damage.”

Reggae Band – Clinton Fearon

So Travis owns a bed and breakfast and tour company next to the VFW here in Talkeetna and he called the VFW to see if we could park in their lot for the night. Turns out they have a free campground. Bonus. I woke up on Day 21 and rode town to a trail around one of the lakes for a morning ride. The loop is basic and only 3.5 miles, so I rode it twice. It has a gentle uphill that I didn’t even feel and then on the backside it has some good fast sections through the trees. What a cool little town.

Morning bike ride around Talkeetna Lakes

Day 19 – Petersville and back woods

Today we left a really cool hostel where we met some nice French ladies traveling Alaska, a couple of guys from California touring on a trip without their wives, a guy from Washington up here looking for work for the summer, and a teacher and her husband and daughter from Washington DC.  Pretty cool time and we stayed in an old time canvas tent on cots.  It was nice to have a shower and a warm place to hang out that had AWESOME INTERNET!!!  Notice the website is updated and all the galleries are complete.  Kudos to the hostel for a great environment, and thanks Carl for the find.

We left with nothing in mind other than exploring.  We found a pull off where the “Igloo” was for sale.  We had a look around.  What a fun place that would be to complete and have as a hotel.  Later we ended up in Denali State park and found a great place to view Mt. McKinley, albeit the clouds were not at all playing along.  We decided to wait it out and in the end, the clouds parted and we got to see the top of the highest peak in North America… really cool.

Further on the road, I found a road to Petersville, AK, an old mining area that allows for open mining.   It was 18 miles to the end of the road and then 18 miles further to other claims.  We actually found multiple roads and crossed some streams.  We found a cool road up to the glacier valley a couple of miles from where Denali NP boundary was and could have made it if the snow had not covered a section of the road.  (Thanks Ben for the training, and I decided not to forge it).  Maybe next time.

We settled in on a campsite on an old Gold mine claim next to a stream and fixed dinner of Chicken Alfredo.  We talked to a mining lady who owns 7 claims up here and makes enough to keep doing it every summer and she said there was a rogue Grizzly that was wounded and pissed off two streams down the road.  We had traveled that road earlier and decided to explore some more rather than camping there…it’s a good thing.  Oh, and we saw two moose today with one running in front of us on the road.

Today was epic and the country back here is so beautiful.  Loving life and thankful for this opportunity. 

Day 18 – Denali Park

Today we headed into Denali. Thanks to Erik at the visitor’s center in Fairbanks, he suggested that we head to Savage River, which is the farthest you can drive up the road without a bus or a backcountry pass. Carl decided to do a hike and I wanted to ride my bike into the “restricted” road. It is allowed. I rode about 18 miles back into the park before turning around. I met a NPS road worker at the other side of the bridge at the 18 mile mark and I asked him where the animals were. He said they are on the other side of the pass. The pass being 5 miles farther than the spot I was currently. Carl and I had discussed 4 hours and I was already at 2.5 so I had to head back. Overall the ride was easy for technical and mediocre for difficulty.

The scenery in Denali is amazing, even with the rain and clouds. The land is so lush and green. I made it back to the truck in a total of 4.5 hours. A quick cleanup and we headed to the visitor’s center and bookstore. I found a cool “biking in Denali” postcard.

We stopped for some burgers in The Creekside Cafe in McKinley and then to a hostel across the street so we could get a warm shower and laundry completed.

The bike posing.
Sanctuary River, Denali NP
The bike posing again.
Teklanika River

Day 17 – Fairbanks to Denali

We stayed overnight in a Walmart parking lot. The advantage is that there are bathrooms and good WiFi AND we can do some shopping before we leave. Since the visitors center did not open until 10AM, we decided to head over to the Large Animal Research farm for the University of Alaska, Fairbanks because they have Muskox and Reindeer that they study. We tried to get a look at them and found they did not open until 9:30 so we waited 15 minutes. They have tours so we decided to join one so we could get some good information and get to see some of the animals.

We learned that the Muskox were extinct in Alaska from disease and hunting (I think) in the late 1800’s. Someone decided to get 30 babies from Greenland and transport them to a location in the Aleutian Islands. They returned many years later and found the herd had grown to the thousands. So they were reintroduced to Alaska. Their winter hair is incredibly fine and can be made into extremely warm clothing.

Caribou and Reindeer are of the same family but from different classes. Reindeer are much shorter than caribou. Reindeer and Caribou can interbreed to make Reinbou or Carideer. I’m not making that up. Caribou number around 2 million in Alaska. All in all it was a fun tour… and there were Muskoxen babies and reindeer babies.

We then went to the main visitor’s center and got some information. FYI, the visitor’s center in Fairbanks is very good and has a lot of great exhibits form early settlers, to indigenous people, to mining, and dog sledding. Very informative. We left and had lunch and then I went to the local community pool to use their showers; it has been some days. Then we fueled up and headed to Denali.

We stopped at the 49th State brewery to look at the bus that Christopher McCandles lived and died in, as told in the book and movie “Into the Wild” . Apparently they moved it from the site across the river because too many folks were going back there to take a look and one lady died trying to cross the river. Its a simple but informative display and there is beer afterwards.

Carl and I headed up the road to find a spot outlined in iOverlander and found two folks already camped there. We crossed the road and stumbled onto a much better site. Carl cooked steak, onions, and potatoes over coals (delicious). I took a hike back up the road and saw two moose run into the forest. I found a lake back in the woods and a float plane parked on its shore. Free Camp in a great spot.

Tomorrow I’m riding the bike in Denali and Carl is doing a hike.

Day 16 – Chicken, AK to Fairbanks

Today was a 300 miler. We got up a bit late from the Chickenstock and Carl did some post-carding for his peeps and I did some as well. We left Chicken and drove through to the North Pole and then on to Fairbanks with only a lunch and gas stop. We decided to camp in the Walmart parking lot and then tour the area tomorrow. We had a nice dinner at a local place and then worked to get all of this updated.

Christmas tree at the North Poler, AK
Old school drill
An old scooper machine.
Our Walmart Camping Spot

Day 15 – Part 2 – Chickenstock

Carl and I were so fortunate to have heard about Chickenstock that was held this very weekend. We have been traveling and camping and meeting folks along the way and having such a great time; AND not to be able to attend a music festival, we were excited to say the least. As we finished the last mile down the Top of the World Highway into the valley where Chicken Alaska resides, we could see the tents, the RVs, the music venue, and all the people and our excitement was evident.

We found a place to park and then proceeded to the gate to find out how to become one of the few that get to attend this event. Apparently they had been sold our for a while, but they noted that the front desk might have some tickets. It might have been our charm or maybe just our purely desperate faces, but we scored two tickets and a camping pass. We were told to meet with Simon who would help us find a place.

Simon and his wife met us at the front and after several spots, we decided to take the first one and quickly parked the FJ on some rocks to get it leveled. The tent went up, the bags were organized, Carl set up his tent at the foot of Chicken’s Chicken, and we were off to partake in the music, food and of course beer. We met the trombone player of a band called “The Skidmarks”, as well as many other people who were asking about the FJ, the tent, and where we were from and where we were going. We met some French Canadians traversing the continent from East to West; some Americans that are retired and traveling between Alaska and Arizona; some locals (from Fairbanks) who traveled up for the weekend’s event.

We arrived around 2 pm and watched several bands. We had a few beers and some pulled pork sandwiches and met a lot of cool people. At one point we headed up to the town center of Chicken, AK, which consists of a gas station/mercantile, a liquor store, a bar, and a restaurant, to take a look around. While sitting at the tables and learning about all of the shredded cloth in the parking lot (the Panty Cannon) we met Rick Sward from a band called KingSwardfish who has a great series of touring stories. His band was the closing act for the event.

We headed back to the event and watched several other amazing bands. Then the main event occurred; the Peep Drop. A Cesna plane flies over the crowd and drops a bunch of Marshmallow Peeps in bags over the crowd. Apparently the crowd can put $$ into a pot and if the peep lands in a kiddie pool and their number is in there, they win the $$. With the wind as it was, on the 3rd pass he managed to get most of the peeps into the crowd, but I don’t think any made it into the pool. A set dropped at my feet so I picked it up as a souvenir.

I was a bit tired from the long day so I decided to go back to the tent to nap a bit. I missed one of the bands, but Carl was back at the truck and woke me for KingSwardfish’s event. They are a riot on stage and pretty good musicians and plated until 3AM. Such a blast. And by the way, we caught the SUNSET over Chicken at a little after 3AM.

Chicken Alaska and their Chickenstock festival is a total blast. Hoping I get to do that again.

Day 15 – Tombstone NP to Chicken AK

Day 15.  – Tombstone NP to Chicken Alaska

Today was an epic day so far on the trip.  We stopped by the Interpretive Center at Tombstone NP to return the travel brochure.  The lady asked us where we were headed, and we had decided on Chicken, Alaska rather than another night in Dawson City.  She asked if we were attending Chickenstock?  What’s that? we asked… apparently the second weekend in June every year they have a big bluegrass and music festival and this weekend was the one.  How lucky are we?  

We made short time to Dawson City, fueled up, washed the truck, showered, and picked up a replacement part for my Coleman stove and headed toward the ferry.  

1200 miles on the Dempster

Side story… Coleman stoves are pretty robust as long as you take care of them.  I remember my dad having one of the old pump ones for my entire childhood.  Well now I have a propane stove that I have had for I don’t even know how long and I set up a 11lb propane tank on the back of the FJ so I don’t have to deal with the green cans.  Well I have been leaving the propane regulator attached to the hose and securing it to the tank when we drive.  I left it unattached so I could make coffee in Tuk before we left, but being sick and cold I just took off.  Well, this is what happens when it gets dragged behind the truck for 50 miles.  Needless to say, Thankfully the outfitter in Dawson City had one, for about the cost of the entire stove, but now I am cooking with gas again.

Dragging the regulator 50 miles is not a good thing.

The ferry is a lot smaller than the other ones and has to deal with a stronger current.  We got front row seats and then headed to the USA on the Top of the World Highway.  We crossed the border around noon and then made it to Chicken by about 1.  And the Chickenstock was in full swing.  We got lucky and managed to get one of the last camping passes and tickets for the show.  Great bands, great food, lots of cool people to meet, and as one lady we met said, it is one of the only places you go to where you can be totally disconnected.  Phones are for pictures only since no cell or WiFi is available. 

Yukon River Ferry crossing in Dawson City
USA Border Crossing at Poker Creek.

Such a fun time.  

Day 14 – Tuktoyatuk and Inuvik to Tombstone NP

Carl and I woke around 6AM on the coast of the Arctic Ocean.  It was about 38 degrees but had a pretty good breeze making it feel much colder.  We packed up and decided to head into Tuk to take some pictures and dip our toes in the Arctic Ocean before leaving.  Nothing at all was open and since it was cold, we headed back to Inuvik at around 8 am.  I had planned to make coffee but being so cold, I left without making it and managed to forget to put the Coleman attachment back on the propane tank, so after dragging that about 50 miles, it no longer works (reminder of the dog in National Lampoon’s Vacation).  Fortunately Carl has a burner we can use until I get a replacement.  It may take waiting til Fairbanks at this point.  Oh well.  

Campsite at the Arctic Ocean
Carl posing on a cold morning.
FJ at the end of the Trans Canada Trail
A lynx we saw along the Dempster

While back in Inuvik, we met with Fire Chief Cyndy, who offered a tour of the fire station. She provided a great tour and a great time. We even got to learn how to use a thermal imaging camera, handle and operate the Jaws of Life, and get geared up and get into and out of a Fire Engine. Such a great tour and amazing stories. Thanks Cyndy.

Ready to Roll.

We drove all but the last 100km back to Dawson City today.  There is not much to see on the Dempster highway with the weather what it is.  In the same spot we got snowed on the days before, we hit another drencher and followed the storm about 200 KM along the road.  We decided we wanted to stay at the Tombstone National Park campground because it was only $12 Canadian per night and had bathrooms and nice sites.  We got in about 10PM and set up camp.  We made dinner and had a few glasses of some amazing bourbon and turned in at 12:30 AM.  It is still bright as day out.

Someone is watching on the Dempster

We have a lot of good shots of the road and sites along the way and I will get them in to an album when we get good internet.  Tomorrow we will go back to Dawson City and see if I can get a part for my stove before crossing over the Yukon River and heading on the Top of the World Highway towards the USA border crossing into Chicken, Alaska.  

600 miles of this dirt road. Amazing scenery

Day 13 – Arctic Circle to the Arctic Ocean

I have made this a marathon. We were supposed to get to this point by Day 15, so we are two days ahead.  It is probably because it has been much colder than I expected up here and I have decided that I want to get to the trip goal and then back down to lower Alaska where we can maybe get 60-70 degree days.  

We woke up this morning to snow on the tent so we quickly made coffee and packed up and headed North again.  We had about 300 miles to go today to get to Tuk.  We made great time and found ourself in Inuvik about 2:30 PM where we stopped at the Visitor’s center and took a quick spin around town.  We met the town mayor and the fire chief at the City Hall today and they recommended a restaurant, a gas station, and a food truck on our way out.

It tool about another 2 and half hours to get to Tuk.  The landscape went from a boreal forest to a tundra, but looked more like the deserts where I grew up with the only exception that there are lakes, streams, and marshes everywhere.  We still have not seen the mythical Grizzly despite the signs that this is their country and where they live.  

We did get to the Arctic Ocean and met some real cool people along the way, including three guys from Vancouver Island the drove a silver and a yellow FJ.  We took pics and swapped stories and compared vehicles.  I was going to go take a dip in the Ocean, but there were “No Swimming” signs.   I have been fighting a cold for a few days and think that may not work out well for me, so I’ll pass that for some other time.

Again, I will add pictures to the posts as soon as I can get good internet.

Day 12 – Dawson City to the Arctic Circle

I had some maintenance to do on the truck and Carl did some laundry in the morning.  I managed to get a bike ride in up to an old dredge, so that felt good and was about 18 miles.  We talked to some fellow travelers and then checked out of the hotel “without internet” and headed into town.  We found a nice grocery store, a bakery, some tourist shops and of course a Library. 

After several hours in town looking at the old buildings and interesting things, we headed off to the Dempster Highway.  This is a long, 600 mile road with few stops at takes us to Tuktoyatuk at the Arctic Ocean.  It will take us two days to get there.

We stopped at the Tombstone park visitor’s center on the way and they have some great visuals and extremely helpful staff.  The road was extremely nice for a dirt road and we made it to the Arctic Circle around 10 PM.  Still bright as day. However, winters is not done here and it was spitting rain and sleet. We grabbed our pictures and found a site hidden from the mythical Grizzly bears.  The tent provide a good shelter and was fairly warm.  It was COLD and froze overnight.