Given that temperatures in Dawson continued to be -20 to -30 degrees, Thane was justifiably worried about getting the 800 I'd been riding started so we could get home. Personally, I knew there was nothing I could do about it, so I just kept Thane company as he fretted.
On Saturday afternoon (-20 or so) when we went out to start the machines to get gas, many riders were out in the cold figuring out ways to warm up their sleds. Some had bought work lights or heaters at the local hardware store to provide heat under tarped off machines. Others had strung extensions cords from amenable locals businesses to power other heat sources. Thane asked me to fill our water and empty engine oil bottles with hot water so he could tuck them in around the engine, but after I went through all that effort (poor me, I had to go back to our warm hotel room), he didn't end up needing them. While our friend Richard and I acted as the moral support crew, Thane and his buddy Chris laid in the snow to adjust the carburator fuel screws on the 800 to make it run richer at idle. For whatever reason (it's all magic to me), this worked and the sled started after just a few pulls.
Happily, the magic continued Sunday morning and both sleds started reasonably well right after breakfast (ours, not thiers). Of course, it didn't hurt that it was only -22. Despite the "warmer" temperature, I had a much harder time staying comfortable on the return trip. Before we left our hotel room I taped up my face and Thane taped his goggles to his helmet, and I wore the same clothes I'd worn for Thursday's ride - except for my socks. I switched from liner socks under heavy synthetic ones to a pair of hand-knitted wool socks that had felted slightly and were too small for Thane. My feet were chilled all day. I don't know if that was enough to make the rest of me cold or not, but something was. It eventually took three layers (one balaclava and two neck gaiters) to keep the wind from freezing my neck.
The real problem with so many layers is that I couldn't move my head - literally. The balaclava extended from under my helmet and was tucked into my coat collar which was zipped up tight. The two neck gaiters were layered over my bulky coat collar. I could only tip my head side-to-side as far as it would move within my helmet (an inch or so either way). I couldn't turn my head at all. By the time we'd ridden 140 miles, I had such a bad kink in my neck that I was in agony. In retrospect, I should have stopped, taken off my helmet, and moved my head around to relieve some tension, but I didn't. My neck vertebrae all popped very loudly when I released my head in Tok.
Despite my continual chill, it was a beautiful ride back to Tok. The sun continued to shine unimpeded and it warmed up to -8 by the time we reached Chicken (although riding the river bottom into Chicken was the coldest part of the ride). Once again, a bowl of chili was well recieved at the Chicken store, but we didn't linger longer than it took to eat and pee.
The best news of the day was that the Dawson Sled Dawgs had gotten their groomer running and were able to groom the trail to Boundary. Most importantly, they were able to cut a flattened trail across Terrible Terrace so that it was actually ridable if we hung well off the uphill side of our machines. This maneuver is standard for side-hilling, so it wasn't a big deal. I didn't hear that anyone had any trouble on the return trip.
I think the longest part of the ride was from the end of the Taylor Highway to Fast Eddie's in Tok, the last 20 miles. No reason for it except that I was ready to be done (and my neck was killing me). Oddly, however, as we turned off the Taylor Highway I was a bit saddened that the trip would be coming to an end. It suddenly seemed to have gone by so fast.
Nonetheless, I welcomed Fast Eddie's parking lot with relief. It was actually 20 degrees above zero in Tok! All we had to do was load up our machines and check in with Customs before we could warm up over a well-deserved dinner. Our biggest disappointment was that Fast Eddie's stops serving milk shakes in October. Don't they know Alaskan's eat more ice cream than anyone else in the U.S., and that we do so year-round?
We'd barely made it to Chicken on the first day's ride when our friends were asking us if we'd do it again. I just said, "Ask me if I make it back to Tok!" Now, the answer is definitely, "Yes." But...I can't quite imagine making an annual tradition of it like so many do.
This year marked the 18th anniversary of the first time a small group of men decided it might be fun to see if they could ride across the top to Dawson. A couple of old-timers on our ride had completed the journey each of the 18 years. In our group, Chris had ridden it 10 times and Marion and Richard six or seven. For me, the allure of doing it again would be to see how the ride is under different conditions and to recognize faces I saw for the first time this year. If I never do it again, that's okay, too. It will be one item checked off my bucket list.
Thane did keep reminding me, as we complained about the cold, that the whole thing had been my idea. I promised that our next adventure could be hiking the Na Pali coast of Kauai or sea kayaking in the Sea of Cortez or something else warm.
Now, where is my atlas so I can find some other remote corner of the world to explore?