Thursday, August 11, 2016

Chicken & Top of the World Highway


The morning of our departure from Tok, Steven reassured me, "We don't have to do this." The "this" he was talking about was our chosen route out of Alaska via Chicken and the Top of the World Highway into Dawson City, YT. I absolutely was not looking forward to it, in fact, I think it was the first ever departure day in two years that I wasn't excited to go. There was something about it that made me feel uneasy.

But the alternative was repeating the route we'd already done (the Alaska Highway through Destruction Bay) last May, which was seven plus hours of dusty, gravely, bumpy roads through miles of construction. You might recall that we drove separately so Toadie wouldn't get rocks thrown on her windshield while being towed behind Scoopy. That wasn't very appealing either. 

There is lots of information and personal accounts of folks who have traveled the Chicken/TOTWH route, and the most consistent advice is to travel the roads when they are dry. Of course, if it's too dry, the dust will choke you. If it's been raining, the roads will be slippery. So of course we had been monitoring the weather between Tok and Dawson City. Reports showed daily rain showers mixed with periods of sun. Great, basically useless information, which was adding to my uneasiness.

Another thing that bothered me about the TOTWH route is the absolute isolation. There are others traveling the road, of course, but you won't find any services beyond Chicken, and there's not much there. If Scoopy were to have a flat tire, for example, it could be a day or more before a tow truck would arrive, and then what? You don't just change the tire on a big rig out in the middle of nowhere. I can't even imagine what Scoopy would look like after being towed on these roads, it would likely destroy her. At least, that was my fear. Steven says I tend to catastrophize things.

I decided I would just have to cross my fingers and hope for the best.

Our RVillage friends Hank and Shirleen had taken the Chicken/TOTWH route a few days before us and Hank sent multiple reassuring texts. He suggested that we break up the trip and overnight in Chicken as they had done rather than take on the entire trip in one day. I thought that was a great strategy, so off we went to the thriving metropolis of Chicken, Alaska. It took us three hours to drive 66 miles from Tok to Chicken on a mostly paved road, and by paved I mean crappy and full of potholes. We nonetheless arrived in great spirits, which was a vast improvement over our earlier moods.

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We were greeted with this less-than-stellar road at the beginning of our trip to Chicken.

I know there are a lot of people who arrive in Chicken and say, "Is this it? What's the big deal?", and I can understand that, but we LOVED it! There are two campgrounds and free RV parking behind the cafe, but when we pulled into the Chicken Gold Camp, we decided immediately this is where we wanted to stay. It was the cleanest place we'd ever seen. I mean, even the dirt was clean. Plus, there were old gold mining dredges and paraphernalia everywhere that screamed "photo op!" to Steven. It is also home to a popular music festival in June every year (Chicken Stock) and fairly close to the airport (Chicken Strip).





Fun in Chicken!

We got ourselves parked in the dry camping area and while Steven went out to investigate, I took a hot shower to wash away all my fears and anxieties of the day. When Steven came home and realized he had lost his glasses, I was chill about the whole thing, and we went out to retrace his steps only to find them on the ground in front of some rusted out metal thingy. Since we had arrived safely in Chicken and we found his glasses, we decided to celebrate!

There is a gift store/cafe at the campground, so we sat out on the deck and ordered a bottle of wine. The stress I previously felt about our exit route was gone. I'm not sure why it built up in the first place. I've certainly driven Scoopy into some places she had no business going, but I was always confident. For some reason, this route had me rattled, and it was a gigantic relief to let that go!

You can see Scoopy off in the distance while we enjoy our refreshing beverage.

Y'all may remember that one of the members of our traveling household is The Chicken. Two years ago as we prepared to hit the road fulltime, I bravely added The Chicken to the "sell" pile. The outcry on Facebook was swift, and 100 comments later, Steven said, "The Chicken stays!" Hooray! She has been with us ever since, in spite of the fact that both of our Mothers have expressed interest in taking possession of her. (We did end up getting my Mom her own Chicken, but Steven's Mom is still waiting . . . )

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The Chicken’s Big Adventure!!

The next day, after a few early morning photo ops, we hit the road, confident and eager to get on our way. I was in a much better frame of mind and was totally prepared for whatever the day brought. The first leg of our trip was 42 miles from Chicken to the US/Canada border. And of that 42 miles, the last 14 was paved, smooth as buttah! Still, it took us just over 2.5 hours, which means the unpaved portion was not paved. And by not paved I mean crappy, full of rocks, potholes and washboards. If I hit 20 MPH, I would holler at Steven, look at me, I'm speeding! Seriously, it was slow going.

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We met with all types of terrain and weather that made driving slow and challenging.

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The Mighty Yukon River at last!!

Toadie looks more like she was off-roadin’ than on-roadin’.

At the Yukon River Campground. Was it worth it? Heck yeah!

We made it through the border in about 10 minutes, with the main inquiries being about guns. No, we're not traveling with guns. That was about it, and soon we were on our way. The last leg of the trip, from the border into Dawson City, was the fastest part of the route. However, we ran into some low clouds and muddy roads, so it took us about 5.5 hours to travel 109 miles.

Click on the image above for an epic timelapse of the TOTWH!

Descending into Dawson City was such a joy! I knew we had one more challenge, and that was driving Scoopy onboard the George Black, the powerful ferry that moves RVs, trucks and cars across the mighty and very fast-flowing Yukon River. We decided to save that for another day, as we chose a Yukon Government campground on the north side of DC, right on the river. Whew!

So it was Goodbye, Alaska! Hello, Yukon!


  1. Glad you went to Chicken and Top of World highway. We never made it. Fred recalls it had been raining a lot around that time so we passed. It looks like a fun funky town. I was surprised at how nervous you described your feelings before you went. You're such a trooper. I think you are just looking an excuse for gulping down a bottle of wine afterwards, as if you need an excuse! I recall the Cassier Highway as lovely. We also too that route coming home and because it was the middle of September, we were catching campgrounds right before they were closing for the season. You should have much better luck since it's so early. Enjoy.

    1. I almost chickened out. (See what I did there?) And it was a surprised to me that I felt so nervous about the trip. The wine was just such a perfect ending to what turned out to be a pretty great day!

  2. That was the only thing I feel we missed. When we were leaving, the highway was flooded so we scratched Chicken.
    I'm having a hard time buying your fears, you've driven through just about everything except Baghdad during the war. You are the MAN!

    Don't let your fear show, you'll scare Steven. :-)

    1. LOL, you make me laugh, Fred! I have taken Scoopy into some questionable places, including a few Trader Joe's parking lots. Those are always a little cramped, but we need our supplies, right? :)

  3. That was quite an experience. How will you ever handle being back in the lower 48?

    1. It was a fantastic experience, but you know, once you head for home . . . and there's always the near future. Lots going on that we are looking forward to!

  4. Drove the Totwh in the opposite direction in 1994. I just remember Chicken and the fist sized rough gravel from Chicken down to Tok!

    1. I can't even imagine! I think they've done some improvements since 1994!

  5. Haha, The Chicken made it to Chicken! Great photos. :-) Definitely looks like a place we would enjoy. That is some seriously slow traveling, though. Wow, 2.5 hours to go 42 miles?

    1. Traveling these roads requires time, attention and patience. Pretty doable if you don't relax and let your guard down.

  6. Glad to know you made it safely!

    If you do not know German them maybe you didn't know that your wine was "chicken" in German.

    1. I didn't know that, but we did see the chicken logo on the bottle!

  7. If you stop in Dease Lake and stay at the Dease Lake RV Park say hello to Bill and Margaret there. Good friends of ours who winter in Arizona with their motorhome. The side trip to Telegraph Creek is a must do, and although the road is gravel, your camera's will get a workout, the scenery is breathtaking.

    1. Steven read about Telegraph Creek and would have loved to visit there, but it requires a bit more time and effort than we have to give at this point. It is hard to see it all.