The road to Chicken was paved but had lots of holes and dips as it is closed during the Winter and left to the snow. The tourist season has not yet begun in Alaska and most places are closed. The saloon in Chicken was semi open and we managed to get a drink but I was disappointed in the lack of swing doors. However, the stories from the bartender made up for that:
There is a sign above the door, as you enter, that demands that all firearms are left in your vehicle or handed over to the bartender. We had thought this was a comedy sign but were informed this was a genuine rule as only a few years ago an argument had broken out between two gold miners over a claim in the valley. The argument became heated and led to gunfire. The dispute was finally stopped when the bartender fired the canon in the bar, leaving a hole in the saloon door.
After leaving Chicken we started the long climb up to the Top of the World Highway and towards the border with Canada. Along the way we had our first encounter with a bear. It was half way up the bank on the side of the road, reaching for some possible food in a tree. We stopped and looked at it, it stopped and looked at us. I said to Badge “What do we do now?” , he replied “Get the camera out”. Not quite the response I was expecting. The heart rate was increasing and then I heard a car coming along the road. I flagged it down and asked if we could ride alongside it to get past the bear. The driver was happy to do so and then began rummaging behind his seat. He pulled out a pistol and placed it between his legs, reassuring me he would deal with any trouble. We rode alongside and when we got closer to the bear it turned around and began to climb away from us. It paused every so often to look at us but lumbered away, definitely looking rather afraid of us. The experience certainly got the adrenalin running but has reinforced the advice we have been given that the bears are generally scared of humans and run away.
We had a steady climb upwards on gravel roads to get to the Top of the World Highway. The temperature decreased the higher we rose and the landscape became reminiscent of previous Arctic trips. We camped on the tundra, marvelling at the small arctic flowers, and enjoyed the 24 hour daylight. The night was bitterly cold and our water bottles all froze in the tent. The condensation on the inside of the tent froze overnight, showering us in icy flakes when we arose in the morning.
The wind was strong, making cycling difficult, and was bitterly cold, gusting down from the Arctic north. My nostril froze on the side of the prevailing wind. I was wrapped up in merino clothes and was even cycling in my down jacket. We crossed the border and entered Canada.
Canada provided us with some less dangerous wildlife spotting and we saw a marmot, porcupine and fox.
The cold conditions had caused a problem with our stove so we spent another very cold night up on the ridge. A section of the road was closed as some snow still needed to be cleared. We had a diversion that meant a very steep down followed by a very steep up, on loose gravel. About half way up my humour was waning and I informed Badge, up ahead, how deeply unhappy I was with the current situation. The movement of his shoulders indicated chuckling, however, he did concede that conditions could indeed be improved upon. They did not; the following day began with big fat flakes of snow falling around us.
The snow did stop and we began a well earned 4 miles of downhill to the mighty River Yukon where a ferry took us across to Dawson City and much wanted warmth and food. We have now washed off seven days of grime and filled our stomachs with delicious food. Tomorrow we ride towards Whitehorse.