Airstreaming to Alaska – Chapter 12: Top of the World Highway to Chicken, Alaska

Posted January 4, 2023 – Narrated by Carmen
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Airstreaming to Alaska

Chapter 12 of the “Airstreaming to Alaska” series.

“People who count their chickens before they are hatched act very wisely because chickens run about so absurdly that it’s impossible to count them accurately.”

“You are a catastrophist.”

Ruth, my editor friend, wearing a “I am silently correcting your grammar” T-shirt, captured and labeled me with the benign efficiency of a seasoned naturalist before tightening the lid on a killing jar.

Chicken Alaska
Near Chicken, Alaska

She’s good! Touché, shoe-fits, call’m-like-ya-see ’em.

I accept the characterization. In fact it’s my favorite emoji 😱

Thanks to the Greeks, there’s a word for “a tragic turn of events.” Catastrophe, Catastrophic, Catastrophist. The tongue needs a grab bar just to say the word. Sounds like a saber-toothed tiger devouring prey. Looks like a rusty fish hook stuck in wooden dock, thirsty for a bare foot. It runs with scissors, yanks consonants up by the roots, orphans vowels and sells them into slavery. It is a word I can trust to carry out its stated purpose.

Top of the World Highway
Views from the Top of the World Highway between a break in rain and fog

If you’re dead set on eating sushi from a food truck, walking and texting while crossing the road, or planning a drive to Alaska, I will pray for your welfare, but do not mistake me and Jim for influencers. No.

We are chroniclers.

Jim and I love our lifestyle, but we do not peddle it. If, on occasion, the joy is piled on a bit thick that’s because (as a true-blue catastrophist), I deeply sense that every day we awaken, intact on this boiling cauldron of a planet, we are experiencing a bonafide miracle. It would be a pity not to savor every second.

Top of the World Highway
Views from the Top of the World Highway

Jim, though he listens to my concerns, actually believes good things are supposed to happen 😇. Like the starry-eyed pioneers of old as they prepared for the journey west, Jim plans for the best but he also gears up for every catastrophe I can imagine. He prays I’m wrong. I pray he’s right. We’ve found balance.

But writing this blog is my job, so prepare to be terrified of driving to Alaska.

Top of the World Highway
Top of the World Highway near the Taylor Highway junction

The Ferry

At Dawson City, Yukon, we boarded the George Black Ferry to cross the swelling, raging Klondike River on a glorified raft during a downpour.

I reined my tongue. Kept thoughts to myself. I knew what he was thinking: “It’s free, safe, government-approved transportation so, okay, let’s do this. What could happen?

And, he knew what I was thinking: “So, this is how it ends.”

george black ferry
July 10th ferry crossing

Once again the miracle of human technology won the day and I was thrilled that we will never, ever do this again.

Top Of The World Highway

Now we entered the recently reopened and deceptively named Top Of The World Highway which makes it sound both like an actual highway and a joyride. Top of the World Highway connects to the Taylor Highway and our first Alaska destination: Chicken, (no joke) Population: 12 (or 7 depending on the time of year and who you’re asking).

chicken alaska

Chicken is to pie as pie is to Chicken.

We heard that Chicken has pie and we were holding to that image because every scrap of research warned us this would be a rugged drive. So while over-landing to Alaska I learn that I can be bought with pie.

top of the world highway
“sections of very rough road, soft shoulders, hairpin curves and steep 1000’ drop-offs.”

After hours of brain-rattling washboard road and giant potholes behind us, we pulled over to shake off the stress and evaluate damage. Thus far, we hadn’t seen another vehicle on the highway. All good, we prepared to move.

top of the world highway
Resting on the Top of the World Highway

Then, a truck passed, skidding sideways in the mud, barely clearing our rig before fishtailing wildly up the hill.

top of the world highway
“Do not risk a tip over by putting a wheel into the soft shoulder. WATCH your trailer wheels on turns. Stop for oncoming traffic at narrow spots.”

I repeated my silent prayer, “Chicken and pie. Chicken and pie. Only 110 miles. Dear God, please, oh, please. I am a mother and a daughter, a sister and a friend. Don’t let us be a cautionary tale. Just get us, without incident, to Chicken and hot, delicious pie.”

chicken alaska pie
Endless pie waiting for us in Chicken

On a sunny day, the Top Of The World Highway would dazzle us with spectacular views of the valleys and rivers below. But in wet conditions we were forced to focus on the slippery-as-snake-shit dirt road – until great waves of fresh fog from hell, ranging from bad,

top of the world highway

to worrisome,

top of the world highway

to terrifying, rolled in.

top of the world highway

Pardon my navy-brat mouth, but we shall always remember this road as “The Grab Hold Of Your Sweet Ass Highway.”

top of the world highway
“Steep hairpin curves with 1,000 ft. unguarded drop-offs.”

Alaska

The drive went slow. Four hours and sixty-some miles later we reached Alaska, too exhausted to celebrate or care.

poker creek alaska

There were no crowds or red carpet or a big brass band to greet us. There wasn’t even a booth stocked with We Overlanded to Alaska merch. We passed some historic buildings which had not reopened since the pandemic. A ranger welcomed us to the United States and performed the usual inquiry about contraband before waving us through.

poker creek alaska

We stretched our legs, took the “Woo-Hoo We Made It” pic …

poker creek alaska
July 10th, our arrival in Alaska

and scrounged up a bite of yummy lunch from our Alaska-power pantry.

Well nourished, we gathered strength for the final forty-two mile stretch to Chicken. The smooth newly paved road beneath the tires felt unfamiliar and totally out of context, like pearls before Moose.

top of the world highway
The sign said Alaska but it sure looked like Yukon: Hurray for lines on maps.

Then, almost instantly, the thrill was gone. Fog obscured our vision.

top of the world highway

Jim slowed The Beast to a crawl. As we rounded a curve we spotted moose and a herd of caribou running uphill.

top of the world highway

Wow. Had we not lowered our speed at that precise moment we might have crashed into this young man waiting for help beside his disabled vehicle. He said he’d stopped as a herd of caribou crossed the highway, but a few stragglers caught him off guard, causing him to skid and roll into the ditch. He was okay but his car was totaled.

top of the world highway

We were three hours from the nearest town offering towing services and, of course, there was no cell signal. Jim used our inReach emergency satellite system to call for help.

Our position – on a downhill curve with no shoulder – was incredibly unsafe in the fog. Fortunately, there was little traffic. We spent an hour there texting details to secure emergency services and during that time only one other vehicle – a motorhome – slowly passed. Then, as we waited for a text confirming roadside assistance was in route, a truck screeched around the curve stopping just a few inches short of slamming into all three of us.

We had to get out of there, but the young man chose to stay with his vehicle. We wished him well and, out of concern for his safety, we left our emergency traffic triangle kit.

top of the world highway
Weeks later, our adventurous friend messaged us. He made it to Tok, where he gifted the car to a mechanic and caught a bus to Anchorage where he boarded a flight to Hawaii.

An hour and a half later – following another twenty mile stretch of dirt road – we finally pulled into …

top of the world highway
State-line Squirrel says it all. We were so done with this road.

Chicken, Alaska

As the chicken flies, the town is about 173 miles from the Arctic Circle.

chicken alaska

Gold mining is the thing that makes Chicken Chicken,

chicken alaska

one of the few surviving gold rush towns in Alaska.

When the town was established in the early 1900’s, the founders wanted to honor the ptarmigan – the Alaska State Bird, but they thought it over and decided to name the town Chicken because, hell, everybody knows how to spell Chicken.

The postmaster agreed the idea was gold.

chicken alaska
Chicken Post Office

Not much has changed since then. There is the Old Town …

chicken alaska

and the new town …

chicken alaska
Sorry. Correction: This is the old town. The previous photo is the new town.

The tiny community free-ranges widely over 115 square miles.

chicken alaska

There’s the cafe, gift shop and gas station …

chicken alaska

a roadside motel, RV park, general store, a suspension bridge

chicken alaska

a very cool miners cabin

and a band stand.

chicken alaska

Chicken is an off-the-beaten-path international destination, drawing flocks of tourists who like to scratch in the dirt for gold …

chicken alaska
Gold panning class

and do the Chicken dance at the annual Chickenstock Music Festival.

They even have an airport so folks can fly to Hawaii. During the pandemic Jack in The Box gifted Chicken $10,000 to help the town weather the pandemic. Interesting. That sum is chicken feed for a huge corporation, but it’s just about right for a Hawaii get-away for 7-12 people.

chicken alaska

The homemade pie at the Chicken Creek Cafe is famous in these parts. The classic breakfast …

and reindeer stew were not small comforts considering how deep in the tundra this place is. Our first made-in-Alaska brews were top-notch and they soothed the sciatica pain brought on by the frost heaves.

Reindeer stew

The ceiling of the saloon is festooned with thousands of panties donated to The Panty Canon. It’s a tradition for road warriors with Dead Butt Syndrome to celebrate their Alaska arrival by blowing up their underwear. Chicken Creek Saloon is the Sistine Chapel of grunge bars, and we’ve seen a few. With no WiFi or cell signals, the music is entirely classic vinyl. Boom!

chicken alaska

And, yes, there is pie,

chicken alaska
Just follow the red chicken …

an endless counter of perfectly crusted, rewarding pie.

chicken alaska
Congratulations! You made it!

And plenty of chickens.

chicken alaska
Don Quixote Chicken
chicken alaska
The World-Famous Eggee Chicken
chicken alaska
Just some other chickens

The photobombing chickens are unavoidable.

All my pics got clucked up.

chicken alaska
Just another chicken

A Chicken overnight rest was on the schedule.

chicken alaska

But, parked there beside the saloon and the cafe we just felt like, “Hey, what’s the rush?”

chicken alaska

After all, the next stop is Tok, to wash the rig.

chicken alaska
chicken alaska
chicken alaska

Maybe, we should just walk over to the airport and fly to Hawaii!? 🏝️

chicken alaska

We voted on it and two out of three wanted to delay the clean-up for an extra night in the Chicken coop.

chicken alaska
Subjected to these impossible conditions our security specialist nearly surrendered his resignation.

Cheers 🍻 We made it to Alaska without loosing our pants.

chicken alaska

Thanks for the pie, Chicken 🥧 and one more round for The Road 😱

top of the world highway
Some potholes are long and deep (This road was fresh in 2017)
top of the world highway
and some potholes are short, considerably deep and dangerous
top of the world highway
When it’s raining one must assume they are all, at minimum, Chicken deep.

Chapters in the “Airstreaming to Alaska” series



If you want to see our exact route, click here.

*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.