Monday, June 23, 2014

June 21, 2014 - The Top of the World Highway a/k/a The Oh My Gawd Highway

So we wake up this morning and its raining and the ground is wet and getting wetter.  It had been raining since at least 5 am and didn't look like it was going to quit anytime soon.  My heart sank.  Yuck.....  Yesterday, a number of riders had come over the Top of the World Highway (ToW) and had a miserable and dangerous ride.  The ToW was wet, nasty, slippery and just downright dangerous. Boy, that made me feel real confident!  Our option was to retrace our route and ride about 750 miles to get to our destination of Tok, AK.  We had been advised that the ToW would dry out quickly if the rain quit.  Just wait about 3 hours and you “might” be okay.  Ha, that made me feel real good.

We only had about 200 miles to ride today but 107 of that was not paved.  I should say 107 of that was butt pucker ickiness!

See the big puddles and grey sky?  Oh, also that tiny patch of blue?
The sky is clearing....uh, not really.....

We got up and took our time getting cleaned up and packed.  We decided to go to brekkie and wait and see what the weather would do.  I considered finding a tow truck to take me over the highway but it was simply cost prohibitive and I would have gone the long way around before paying those prices!  Didn’t matter because we were going on the ToW.  We finished our meal, got our gear on and met up with our new friend Bill Woodall with the Super Tenere from Texas.  He was also going that way and was solo and decided to ride with us. I was glad of his companionship!

At around noon, we rode through town, fueled up the bikes and headed toward the ferry to get across the Yukon.  Note, the roads in town were muddy, slickery, snotty messes and I was tensed just from doing that!  We got to the ferry and I managed to get on the tiny boat without mishap.  Getting the kickstand down was another matter but I finally managed to get it sorted.  While we were crossing the river on the ferry, a paddle boat passed our path, fun!

As you can see, blue sky is really trying to beat the clouds and rain.

The ferry was really pretty darn cool.
Here is the paddlewheeler crossing our path.  Very nice.

I managed to exit the ferry without incident and we rode about 5 miles on chipseal before all hell broke loose.  All of a sudden, the road went from pavement to snotballs.  Slippery, slick, wet mud with tracks.  The tracks tried to pull my tires all directions.  Pucker factor 10!!!  Eric was in the lead, I was in the middle and Bill was bringing up the rear.

I kept looking for some gravel so I could get better traction but no, it was just mud.  Real slimy, slippery mud.  I would try to pick a decent line but sometimes no matter what, my bike would go it's own way and it wasn't necessarily the way I wanted to go!  I kept telling myself to keep loose, easy on the grips, arms relaxed and focus on where I wanted to go.  Man it was ugly.  

I was so happy I had the Heidenau tires on the bike.  They were definitely the right tire.  As a matter of fact, D2D could also have been a Heidenau convention, that many riders had them on their bikes. I'm sure I would have been down in no time if the Conti Trail Attacks had been on the bike!  Okay, trying to give myself confidence...talking to myself to keep relaxed, I had good tires, I had Eric in front and Bill behind.  God, please let me reach my destination safely!!!!!

We finally stopped about 15 miles into the ride and aired down the tires. That helped immensely!  What a change.  Now my bike didn't float all over the road but stayed where I pointed it.  Wow, big confidence builder.

I'm pretty sure I'm giving the ADV salute here.  The sky was clearing and we didn't have any rain, hallelujah!  We didn't really make many stops, just kept motoring on, focusing on the road ahead.

Some other riders passed us like we were standing still.  Gack!!!  Anytime I got above 40 my bike was wobbling all over the place and I was forced to slow down.  Just as well, I'd rather biff at 20 than 40 :-)

The Top of the World really is but unfortunately, we didn't stop at the big vista views for pictures.  We were intent on getting across the pass without mishap.

Sometimes, we would come around a corner and hit a ridge with massive winds blowing.  My instinct was to clench the bars but I forced myself to relax although it felt like the wind would blow me off the side of the mountain.  Ohhhh, and it was COLD!  Again, my heated jacket and grips were on the entire time.

We finally reach the summit and pull off for a much need break.  Again, I'm pretty sure I'm giving you all the ADV salute!

Now, that I've had at least two smokes, I'm happier and decided a wave would be nice :-)

It seemed like forever but eventually we got to the border crossing.

There is not much at this crossing.  The guards stay in a few small cabins here.  It is very remote.  I'm not sure if it's a great post or the one from hell.  I didn't ask the guard.  I just answered the questions, handed the guard my passport and was thankful they let me through.  Oh, it was cold and windy here too!

And muddy.
During most of our ride, we kept passing or got passed by this old guy on a really, really old Honda Shadow.  He was dressed in leather jacket and chaps.  Bbbbrrrrrrrr.......  He just putted along at a slow pace, making time and distance.  I was very, very impressed.  Unfortunately, when we took his picture he had his head down.  Bet he has some stories to tell.
Here you can barely see the Honda Shadow rider.  Yup, he certainly has some stories to tell!
The road is looking better.  Funny thing, this is at the road construction area which in my opinion was the best riding yet.  Big rocks packed into the mud made for good traction.  The only ickies was when I hit a big pile of that loose gravel (really big old rocks) that made my bike wobble, yikes!!!!  But that was minor.  For the most part, the road construction allowed me to pick up the pace and move briskly, like maybe 40 mph?

We made a quick stop and took a few pics and took care of business (smoke for me, pee for Eric, and Bill just waiting for us to do our thing).
We hit a lot more mud after the road construction. I think the scariest was when we were riding in mud and had a big downhill turn with an extreme drop into oblivion on the side.  Dayum, why won't the bike go where I point it?  I'm looking where I want it to go but it's not obeying.  Bad bike!!!  A few times I had to slow way down and make a concerted effort to turn that bike in the proper direction.  Made me cuss out loud in my helmet!

I was so intent on my ride that I didn't notice the massive, huge motorhome that had gone off the road and was upside down on the the bank.  Heck, I wouldn't have noticed if bears lined the road and gave me the ADV salute!  I was focused on riding safe and getting to some fricking paved highway!!!!

After what seemed to be hours and hours and hours and hours, we arrived at Chicken!  Yippee Skippy!!!!  What a fun place.  We pulled up to the fence and parked our bikes among at least 2 dozen other adventure bikes (and not adventure bikes).  Yeah!!!!!

I deserve a MEDAL.  I made it, I made it, I made it!!! And, I didn't fall, I didn't crash, I made it.  Oh baby, you have no idea how thrilled I was.  I made it over the nasty, greasy, slickery, snotbally Top of the World Highway.  I'm the Queen!!!!! (not really :-) )

There was quite a group of riders who made it over the ToW and stopped at Chicken, AK.  What a fun, silly place.  It made me laugh.  Here are some photos of Chicken.

My very dirty bike parked in Chicken.
The restrooms at Chicken.

We bought some stickers and postcards and took lots of pictures.  We chatted up the other folks who were parked there and had survived the ToW hiway.  It was awesome!!!!  I love Chicken.  Hey, it also meant the end of the dirt, or so I thought.

Here is a picture of Eric and Bill.  Yes, Bill is a real guy and I'm so grateful he was riding behind me.  Just knowing he was that gave me added confidence. He never crowded me but I always knew he was there.  Thanks Bill!!!!  What a great guy, so glad we met him.
We left Chicken and I was ready for pavement.  What???? It was mud, more mud.  More snotball, slippery, icky mud.  Gack.....Then two miles later it changed to pavement!  Hooray! 

Hahahaha.  We had a few miles of lovely pavement and then we hit road construction.  We would be riding along at a good clip and then all of a sudden it would change to rocks and ripples and potholes from hell with no warning!!!  Then back to chipseal and then surprise, more gravel crud.  Just when we thought we had survived the ToW Hiway and back on pavement, we were constantly bombarded with ickiness, potholes, mud gravel, slop and more ick.  Darn....  At least in the Yukon we had flags or cones to denote a frost heave, potholes or construction.  Here, on Alaska Hiway 9, there were few warnings.  

Oh my....I was so ready for smooth, easy pavement...And, when we got off Hiway 9 and onto Hiway 2, it was just that.  Bliss!

We eventually arrived in Tok, Ak, our destination for the night.  After cruising through town and not finding our lodging, we stopped at the visitor center to get directions.

We found our cabin, The Caribou Cabins in Tok.  I was elated.  I survived the Top of the World Hiway, managed to get down AK Hiway 9 and now, bliss, a beautiful cabin (not a shack) awaited us.  Oh, yes, I'm happy now!

Doesn't that look inviting?

What an incredible day.  This was one of those days that you will NEVER, EVER forget. It was a huge challenge for me and I conquered it.  I was so skeered :-)  But, I put my mind to it and overcame my trepidations.  I focused and rode well.  I didn't crash, that's a good thing!  I don't need to do it again but I'm glad I did it.  I'm so glad I didn't chicken out (pun intended) and take the long way home.  I ponied up, rode the ride and made it safely.  It was, for me, an extreme adventure.

Hahahahaha, guess now I can truly say I'm an "Adventure Rider", what do you think?

It doesn't look "that" bad, but here is a pic of the mud on my forks.  I might actually have to wash my bike soon.

Thanks for following along.  I sure appreciate you reading my blog and leaving comments!

Cletha, spending the night in Tok, AK


  1. I am enjoying the heck out of your photos and tales. Having lived up in Alaska for many years, I am astounded why anyone would want to ride that road. ;) I can't think of a place in the US with more beauty or more hardships for motorcyclists. You are doing amazing!!! KUDOS!

    1. Thanks and I'm so tickled you are following my blog. It was a challenge :-)

  2. Congrats on completing the ToW ride!
    Next time y'all come down to the Stagecoach RTE, plan to stay a couple of extra days and we will break out the dirt bikes for some offroad practice. We will get you comfortable with sliding around....then you will be looking for every dirty/muddy road that you can find!

    1. Well, how nice is that 203. You're on! Maybe the end of the year if we can swing it. Thanks!!

  3. Your saga on the TotW brings back most colorful memories of my first ride there in July, 1996. Like you, I left Dawson in the rain. Had been there two nights, and just couldn't afford any more of that. The ferry captain across the Yukon River took me aside and said, "Look, fella, you really don't wanna ride this road, today, trust me. It's raining hard here, and up the hill on the other side, it's gonna be raining even harder. That road is gonna be a mess. I'll take you back to Dawson for free, if ya like..."

    Never before or since have I had better advice that I didn't take. And, I was on an old K100LT with skinny Metzeler tires -- probably the worst possible bike for the task. But, you ride what you have.

    It rained all the way to Chicken -- the first place I could dare stop because my wheels were about 6" deep in the muck, and I'd fall over if I stopped. Bought gas. Rode to the US border. Provided some very colorful language to the poor guard, which he had heard before, I'm sure. He said (exactly), "Well, sir, I sorry to tell you that you have another hundred miles to go, and it's going to get much worse." It did.

    1. Bless your heart, JD, what a story. And, a memory you'll never forget. Thank you for sharing your story. Giggle, cause I have an idea what you went through.

  4. I fell asleep last night waiting for this last blog post and then woke up this morning and first thing I did was grab the computer! You are AMAZING!! Thank you so much for sharing your adventure! The past couple of blog entries were so funny! I like the games and the town of Chicken but really enjoyed reading your riding through the muddy, snotty, slickness mess.LOL You are definitely Queen! I used to think I was Queen of the World but I proudly pass that crown on to you, as I have not ridden the ToW highway or half the riding you've done :-)

    Until the next entry, My Queen......Love your humble follower :-)

    1. I'm so glad you're enjoying my blog. This has been a huge adventure for me and the ToW was the pinnacle of adventure for me so far! I'm just thankful I made it in one piece. I'm so glad it had dried out some, otherwise, I might still be there :-)

      We can be Queens together!!

  5. Cletha - the road queen warrior, I bow to you humbly because as I read your latest adventure I'm sort of thinking there is no f#@!5+*&#g way I would do what she just did! You are a TRUE adventure rider girl and I'm so proud of you! I love, love, love following along. Sunny skies and safe travels on your continued journey.

    1. Awwww Minna, you flatter me to much :-) Thanks, I finally feel that I'm truly an "adventure" rider after that ride. I'm so glad you are following me!

  6. Replies
    1. Yup, Bob. It's all been fantastic and a great learning experience. I'm loving this!!!

  7. That description of the ToW highway is my biggest riding fear, MUD! Congrats for successfully doing it! And chicken sounds like big fun. :D

  8. Exciting, to say the least! See any Harleys up there?

    1. Sure Rex, lots of Harleys. Those that came over the Top of the World Highway looked none the worse for wear! Not too many at the Dust 2 Dawson event though.

  9. Hey Cletha - this is Mike (Tina's BF) we are thoroughly enjoying your blog entries. I find it especially entertaining your very accurate descriptions of the road conditions. 3 years ago, my riding buddy, Marcus and I went to Deadhorse up the Dalton highway and the road conditions were just horrendous. l Your very accurate descriptions are bringing back very fond memories and perhaps a few not so fond memories LOL We also used the K60 Scouts and am wondering how you are finding their performance. Again Thanks for your blog, Tina and I hope to have our own Adventure blog here soon as well. Ride safe and have fun.....Mike and Tina

    1. Hi Mike. I'm loving the Heidenau's for the off road and road construction stuff. It took a bit to get used to the feel on the highway but I'm good with them now. Super happy I had them for ToW!! My Conti Trail Attacks probably would have had me eating mud more than once :-) Can't wait to see Tina and you writing your own blog about your adventure! Hey, come visit us!