4 Things You Should Try on the Top of the World Highway

Charles Kuralt is supposed to have said the interstate highway system allows us to drive across the continent without seeing anything. Sometimes you choose to do things the easy way and you know you aren’t getting the full experience. Think about our four recommendations for memorable travel. Our way almost always is slower, may be more scenic, and probably will involve more learning. You know what we mean — you don’t remember as well the quick victories or the boring days.

These four tips should make most memorable your driving experience from Dawson City to Chicken Alaska on the Top of the World Highway. You will be able to look back and say, “That was a day!” and you will always remember it. It worked for us and we think you would never forget it either.

1. Take the ferry for the river crossing the same day as a 34-rig caravan
2. Invite a 23 year old from Australia to ride with you from Dawson to Chicken
3. Do not turn off the water pump for the driving day
4. Leave both roof vents open with one exhaust fan full-on

Some free things just don’t seem worth the price. Today many folks, after five hours, would gladly have paid premium to cut two or three hours off their wait time. None of us understood just how long the line up would be, and certainly none expected wait times over five hours for this free ferry.

The Airstream caravan’s plan was to line up for the ferry between 9 and 11 a.m. We smartly read in the The Milepost Alaska Travel Planner we should wait until 11 to let the ferry traffic subside before rushing down. We arrived at 11:15 and so many rigs and trucks were waiting, there was no line-up space remaining. We had no idea how long the wait would be, but were pretty sure it was going to be awhile.

Recommendation #1 allows you to stay in a nice place much longer than you planned. It takes a very long time to put 34 additional RVs across the ferry in one day. We abandoned the ferry crossing line, parked the rv and truck in town and shopped awhile. Two hours later we returned and found ourselves seventh or eighth in line. Little did we know, our wait time would still be over four hours.

Some trips no RVs would cross the river from Dawson. Some trips one or two would board and get across. At one point no RVs gained access to the ferry for one hour forty-five minutes. This despite the ferry loading, crossing, unloading, and returning from across the river once every twenty minutes. There were commercial vehicles, local vehicles, buses, whose turn came before ours.

Occasionally we’d see one of our group get across the river and our hearts would briefly lift. The next trip no Airstreams would get across and we realized, we’re here for a long wait. During one such period Debbie struck up conversation with a young woman sitting with other pedestrians awaiting the ferry. Jess, from Australia, is on a one-year sabbatical from university in Melbourne. She explained she wanted to get to Chicken today. Debbie offered her a ride with us. We didn’t have room in the truck cab or bed for her guitar and huge backpack, so we stashed these in the RV.

Finally our turn to board the ferry. Two Airstreams creeped on very very slowly under the skillful guidance of the loadmaster. In a few minutes we had crossed the fast-running Yukon River and pulled from the ferry onto the soft gravel apron, scraping the RV’s hitch on the ground briefly until we pulled away completely from the ferry. And we’re off, climbing upward upward onnto the Top of the World Highway, toward Chicken!

We often share rides from hamfests, rallies, or caravans to reduce the number of vehicles. It’s nice to visit with folks on the way to dinner or a show or museum, too. We haven’t previously shared a ride with someone we met only an hour ago. Recommendation #2 worked out the best — we enjoyed listening to Jess tell us about her family’s dairy farm, her university work to-date, and her travel experiences of the past six months. We hope she feels the same way, considering the day’s events.

Towing an RV, you almost never pull over and see water running out from the floor-line of the entire trailer’s length. When we pulled into one of the scenic overlooks for a brief rest stop, Jim heard the trailer’s water pump running intermittently, rummmph, rummmph, rummmph. Before he could walk to their side, Deb and Jess had hopped out and saw water puddling under the trailer’s curb side.

Jim hopped into the trailer and turned off the pump. Then he discovered the gravity of recommendation #3, above. The very bumpy fifty miles of Top of the World Highway had bumped slightly open one of the trailer’s faucets and bumped closed the corresponding sink drain. Luckily, we were able to discover it when only twenty gallons fresh water had pumped through the faucet and onto the trailer’s floor.

Why are these people smiling? Jess is smiling because her guitar case and her backpack are waterproof. We combined our beach towels with some from friends, Tom and Vicki Johnson, and were able to mop the water up entirely. But wait, what about recommendation #4? Why is this water in the trailer so muddy?

And we thought our formica table and counters were white this morning in Dawson. And the dinette cushions now look brown with undertones of blue. Dust was everywhere. Almost everyone in our caravan had dust infiltration from the longest, bounciest, dustiest road we’ve ever traveled. But we’re the only ones who left vents open to bring in more dust. Close the vents now and we’ll take care of this after we find our campsite.

We arrived at our campground in Chicken Alaska without further incident. The benefit of leaving both roof vents open and one of the fans on is we could spend our wedding anniversary, the day after driving to Chicken, thoroughly cleaning the interior. Our trailer hasn’t been this clean in a long time. Who would have thought of spending all day on their anniversary sharing this labor of love, united in purpose? Perfect!

All the work done, Debbie was available to snap this great moose picture. Some people, with less responsibility, might have spent a long time looking for a moose picture. We finish up our work at the right time and hear the call, “A moose is by the campground”. Debbie can grab the camera and walk right down there, get the best moose picture of the trip. Kinda makes it all worth it, you know?

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

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6 responses to “4 Things You Should Try on the Top of the World Highway

  1. In travel, there are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met. Jess sounds like a gem. We are glad her guitar case was waterproof. And, regardless of the day’s challenges, Happy Anniversary!

    • Jess was very glad her guitar and backpack were waterproof. We are too. We’re also quite happy our trailer has not a stitch of carpet — carpet flooded and covered with tons of fine dirt, friends, would have been very very bad. See how lucky we are?

  2. Happy Anniversary, Ya’ll!

  3. This is one anniversary you won’t forget for a long time. Makes for a great story, and a good reminder for us to remember to turn off the pump.

    • Aw, who cares about a little fresh water, it just sloshes out the dust better. You’re right, Beth, very memorable even in this wholly memorable caravan trip through BC, YT, and Alaska.

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