We're down to our last day of riding, and are only 160 miles from the Alaska ferry terminal in Haines. The ferry leaves at 8:30 P.M. and we have agreed to leave several hours in Haines to do laundry, visit a friend's mom, make some phone calls and buy provisions for the ferry ride south. We plan a noon arrival.
Other than the Dalton Highway, the Haines Highway (Haines Junction to Haines) is one of the most remote and beautiful we will travel this trip. It is 151 miles, with no services available for 135 miles between Kathleen Lake and Haines. The road cuts across the heart of the St. Elias Mountains and borders Kluane National Park Reserve in Yukon Territory, Tatshenshini-Alsek Wilderness Provincial Park in British Columbia and the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve for the last forty miles as the road crosses into Alaska.
My first trip down this highway was in late-August, 1970. Along with my first wife, and son Greg, we were bound for Ketchikan, where I had received my first promotion to office manager. Only four years out of high school and just two years after moving north from Illinois, at twenty-one I was giddy with thoughts of a successful career in the making. I was on my way.
With all our belongings packed in a new pickup truck, the drive and ferry ride from Anchorage to Ketchikan was a great adventure. I'll never forget the first twenty miles on this road after the right hand turn off the Alaska Highway at Haines Junction. It was little more than a dirt track, and like my earlier comments about the Livengood Highway north of Fairbanks on this trip, it was unfathomable that it continued on for 150 miles. From time to time, wild horses grazed beside the road as we sped by, and an occasional moose made its appearance. Autumn was well under way, and the deep golden hue of the birch trees, florescent in the evening sun and contrasted against the blue sky and dark green of the surrounding coniferous forest, is still engraved in my mind's eye.
We stopped for the night at a beautiful lodge built of giant logs about thirty miles south of Haines Junction and close by the shore of Dezadeash Lake. I remember the owners were from Chicago, and had fallen in love with the area and built this roadhouse. A grizzly bear skin hung on the wall in the lounge as a pine log fire crackled in the mammoth stone fireplace. The scene was straight out of a Jack London novel. It was easy to see how they could fall in love with the Yukon.
In several subsequent trips along this highway, I've never again seen the lodge open for business, although the structure still stands. Even today there are few cars that travel this lonely highway and it's hard to imagine how enough money could be generated to make the economics work. Or perhaps the winters, with temperatures dropping to – 70 degrees Fahrenheit, were just too tough. I'm reminded that you need more than love for the Yukon to survive here. This is a wild and untamed land.
Although the surface is paved now, it was still gravel when I last traversed it in February, 1982, required to travel in a twelve car convoy, led and followed by local law enforcement in four wheel drive trucks, because the snow was so deep and the temperatures so cold it was an extremely hazardous journey.
That is not the case today. We leave Haines Junction in sunshine and warm weather and enjoy the high peaks of the St. Elias Mountains on our right, and vistas across to the Boundary Range on our left. In between, the morning sunshine sparkles on first Kathleen, then Dezadeash lakes. The four of us pass, meet and pass again, as Eric and I stop to take pictures. We are down to our last day of riding in this northern wilderness, and I sense that each of us tries to savor every minute of it.
The BMW continues to miss frequently, but while we are still 1,000 miles north of Seattle, we are less than one hundred miles from Haines and the ferry and just two hundred road miles from a warm, dry garage at home where I can work in comfort. I sense it will make it, and I'm in no mood to attempt roadside repairs on this last day. I ask Jan to put up with the continued irritation and we move forward.
Sixty miles from Haines we cross 3,500 foot Chilkat Pass, riding beside boulder-strewn, glacier-fed streams rushing quickly south to Lynn Canal, a great fiord of the Pacific Ocean; just another hour away for us. As we crest the summit we are lost in the clouds for several minutes, then quickly emerge into the sunshine as we ride the last twenty miles to the U.S. border.
The terrain changes abruptly. Over the next ten miles we leave the treeless tundra and glaciers of Chilkat Pass in Beautiful British Columbia, and as we descend toward tidewater are immersed in the giant Douglas fir and Sitka spruce trees for which Southeast Alaska is so well known. Where the road seems to have been shoveled and picked from the rock in Yukon and British Columbia, as we enter Alaska it now appears to have been hacked from the forest by chainsaw and axe. The change is both abrupt and profound. We are obviously close to the beginning of the final chapter of this adventure.
We arrive in Haines by noon. The BMW is still with us, still sputtering and will certainly make Bellingham. The Triumphs are in pristine condition and have been a motorcyclist's dream. The Cavalcade has done its duty.
We have ridden 4,377 miles. Life is good; if a little sad that
our ride is essentially over.
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