We had stopped in Whitehorse and decided to grab a bite to eat. We rode hard that day and in the rain for most of it. We stopped at a place called the “Miners Daughter” and were debating on finding a campsite later that night or finding a hotel room in town. The hotel room saved the day and we parked our bikes for the night. The “Miners Daughter” didn’t feel like a place you would find in Whitehorse. I guess I was thinking the pubs in town would have more of a Klondike/Yukon feel. It was kind of modern industrial feeling but was comfortable and the food smelled good. We ordered a double order of wings and a pitcher of beer.
We started talking to a couple of locals and found out that they were into motorcycling as well. They seemed to get a kick out of the fact we were riding all the way to Alaska and back. They were also very forthcoming with places we should ride while we were in their neck of the woods. They recommended the road between Skagway and Whitehorse as a beautiful ride and a great road. They talked about the curvy road, beautiful scenery and the fact the road was relatively new so you could have a little fun while riding.
We were on our way north to Dawson City riding the Klondike Highway at that point but discussed maybe trying to fit it in on the way back to the US. Well, we ended up deciding that we should make it happen. It was the right decision.
We turned right on Hwy 3 at Haines Junction and headed south to Haines. We discussed we would need to get there early so we could take the ferry to Skagway. We knew the ferry only ran a couple of times a day and making the afternoon ferry was on our mind. This was going to add time to our route but we knew we could make it up somewhere along the way when we got back in the States. How often did you make it this far North after all? None of us had been there before either so off we went.
The ride to Haines was spectacular. In fact, it was designated a “National Scenic Byway” in 2009. The designation is well deserved. The ride is supposed to take between three and four hours. The ride took us about five hours as we continued to stop and take pictures. The further South we went towards Haines the larger the snow -capped mountains became. We saw more Bears that day and the scenery was incredible.
We eventually arrived at the Dalton Cache US Customs office. I was the first through and Customs Officers are all business. Typical questions like “How long were you in Canada? Did you buy anything? Are you carrying any weapons? Who did you visit while you were here? Are you carrying tobacco, alcohol and how much if so?” It surprised me towards the end when the officer asked me if I liked my Triumph Tiger Explorer. I told him that I did and was having a great trip despite a couple of earned repairs. He then went on to tell me that his brother owned the same bike that and he didn’t like it as much as his BMW. He then went on to tell me my bike sounded mechanical and he didn’t care for that sound. I told him it reminded me of my 1977 KZ1000 and I loved the sound. We traded a few good-natured barbs back and forth and I finally told him that my friends back there were going to wonder what the hell was going on when they looked on and saw the two of us wrestling over our bike disagreement. He then informed me that he would win our wrestling match. I let him know that it was only because he had a gun.
He apparently had a sense of humor after all and let John know that he liked his bike when he came through. We all got through Customs and were headed to Haines. Once we pulled into town we stopped for gas and a local overheard us talking about taking the ferry to Skagway. He informed us that the last ferry of the day was leaving in twenty minutes and we were unlikely to make it.
We decided we would give it a try and we did go a little faster than the recommended speed limit as we raced to the other side of town. I was perfectly happy if we got stuck in Haines as I had already heard of a great little pub that served fresh Halibut. I am sure they would have served Buffalo wings too. We made it to the marine terminal with five minutes to spare and bought four tickets to Skagway. The agent informed us we were “standby” and that we might not make it on the boat. We did make it but were the last to board the boat.
The ride to Skagway was only 45 minutes but it was a nice ride. The views were incredible and the weather was great. It was interesting to learn a little about Skagway as well. I learned most of it when I was back but who’s keeping score? Skagway is a Tlingit word meaning, “Where the north wind blows.” In late Summer of 1896, there was gold discovered in the Klondike region. The next Summer prospectors started showing up by the thousands. It turned into a mining town with saloons, brothels, gambling houses and mercantile stores. It grew rapidly and became the first city in Alaska to be incorporated in 1900. There are many stories about colorful characters and the city has been depicted in many movies over the years.
We set up camp on the north end of town and walked into the downtown area for dinner and a cold beer. We stopped in at the Red Onion Saloon. The Red Onion was first opened in 1898 and was one of the towns many brothels. The Saloon’s website says, “though the times have changed the spirit has not.” When we first arrived in town on our motorcycles we parked on a side street. There was a walking tour and the guide was dressed up as one of the town’s infamous “Good time girls.” She played right into character as she yelled across the street to the four of us, “Hellooo boys!” Of course, later we would find out the tour originated out of the Red Onion Saloon. We met a few characters while we were in town as well. One local walked in towards the end of the evening with two dogs and a chicken. Apparently, her pet chicken had been picked on earlier in the day by another chicken and she didn’t want to leave it home so she carried it with her around town. I didn’t have the heart to tell her how many chickens dripping in Frank’s hot sauce had met their fate so far on our trip.
We also met a character that came barging out of a saloon door. It was straight out of a movie. It was probably midnight and still bright outside. He came charging out the door and challenged us by asking, “who the fuck are you guys?” We let him know we were the fucking handsome chaps. We couldn’t help but laugh as I doubt that was the answer he was expecting. He settled down immediately and next thing you know wanted to take us hiking in the mountains. We politely declined.
The ride out of Skagway the next day was surreal. It was everything the two guys in the Whitehorse pub had told us. The scenery was so different that it is hard to explain. Mountain top lakes and turquoise puddles dotted the landscape. The topography was so different and unique that we all could care a less that we lost a day or two on our ride back. The ride the day before into Haines was spectacular and it felt like it just kept getting better. I highly recommend taking that detour if you are riding to Alaska. In fact, I would take a day in Haines and in Skagway if possible.