The lights of the northern variety: Valdez, AK to Beaver Creek, CA

We woke up fairly early for us, knowing we had a lot of miles to do. I thought it was a cold, grey, and overcast day, but once outside the tent I discovered it was quite the opposite. Due to being in a bowl of mountains the sun hadn’t got to us yet!


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It was beautifully clear, with not a cloud in the sky; prefect weather for a ride. It was 11am when we hit the road, and I was instantly pleased that we’d decided to stop when we did. The scenery was beautiful, and it would have been a real shame to have missed it. And not only was the scenery beautiful, but the roads were lovely and quiet too, just they way we like it.


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Being surrounded by mountains, it was so nice when you got on to a bit of road that the sun had reached, you got literally bathed in sunshine and warmth, it was glorious. There was a real feel of autumn in the air too, as we inhaled slightly chilled air, and played with leaves that covered the side roads.


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Eventually we left the mountains behind, and had smooth flat flowing roads lined with trees; some firs, some with bright coloured leaves, and some with no leaves at all. Ed then spotted some things on the road that we’d missed on the way in, some random drawings in tar, by a creative and obviously bored highway worker. Very amusing.


Pac man monster!

Pac man monster!

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Love heart

Love heart





We soon spotted snow and mountains to our right, that got bigger and more awesome as we rode. They’d been hidden by clouds on the way in, but being a clear sunny day they were now on full display, in all their mighty glory.


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We eventually got back to Glenallen (a much warmer and pleasant arrival than last time!) where we fuelled ourselves up with Thai food, the bikes up with petrol, and then made our way to Tok. The road and scenery was pretty flat and standard as we left Glenallen, but the mountains still remained to our right, looking awesome covered in snow.


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As we continued, more and more mountains appeared in the distance, and the range seemed to go on forever. We soon found ourselves surrounded by hills and mountains, and the temperature started to drop around forty miles from Tok. It was at that point that I noticed just how blue the sky was! I actually had to stop and stare at it, I mean it was seriously blue! Ed rode back to see what the problem was, ‘nothing, just look how blue the sky is!’, ‘Er yeah, it’s really blue?!’ The sky is something you can take for granted sometimes when riding, you’re busy looking at the road or other scenery or whatever. Sometimes you have to make sure you look at it, and I mean REALLY look. It’s amazing.


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About ten miles from Tok on a long straight, snow appeared at the side of the road, as did two large silhouettes. On closer inspection we discovered that they were moose, and one was f*cking massive! Moose are so big that we’ve often joked about riding under one, that would make some awesome gopro footage! It would have to be perfectly executed though (the move not the moose) and the moose would have to stay perfectly still. I think we’ll give it a miss. We stopped in the road, not wanting to get too close. I was also much further back than Ed; I’m never sure how to gauge the situation where moose are concerned, so tend to stay well out of their way. I can never remember if you’re supposed to run, stand your ground, hide up a tree, or use your boyfriend as a human shield. We edged nearer and they soon disappeared in to the trees. I’ve no idea how the big one got his antlers through there though to be honest, one of life’s little mysteries.


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We continued on and soon arrived in Tok, where it was pretty damn cold. There was ice and snow on the roofs, and snow on the ground; it was quite a shock to the system I have to say. We fuelled up and got directions to the Eagles Claw Camp-ground, where we’d arranged to stay the night. We pulled in and were greeted by the owner, Nessie. She’d had the camp-ground going for over fourteen years, and had all sorts of different types of accommodation for bikers to stay in. Unfortunately for us though she’d closed for the season, and packed everything away. Luckily the walled tents were still there and empty, so she said we were welcome to stay in one of those if we wanted to. Sounded good to us! We made our way to the walled tent, unpacked the bikes, then went in search of food; we were famished and in need of warmth.


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We found a restaurant called fast Eddy’s, where we had an awesome calorie laden burger and a hot drink in preparation for a night in the cold. On our way out of the restaurant we met two guys called Jeremiah and Doug, who were driving a car down to Seattle. Jeremiah randomly gave Ed a ‘lucky coin’, and they then pointed out that the aurora was out, much to my excitement. This then lead to me being in and out of the tent like a yo-yo that night, desperate to see the Northern Lights. I must have driven Ed mad saying ‘Is it?!’, ‘Isn’t it?!’ ‘Is it?!’ He then advised that I’d definitely know when they’re properly out, having seen them up in Sweden. A faint glow kept appearing and I stayed up until 2am to see them, but the glow then disappeared and I went to bed accepting that tonight wasn’t the night. It was however the night for being cold. Despite putting on an extra layer top and bottom, and still having my hat and gloves on, I couldn’t sleep because of the cold. It was bloody freezing and my feet were like blocks of ice. I also wasn’t kicking out any heat, so the sleeping bag around me was cold, as was the mattress, so every time I moved I just got colder. It really wasn’t a pleasant night. I must have got to sleep eventually though, as the mercury began to rise in the early hours of the morning.


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We got up fairly late and I made some tea and porridge to warm us up. By the time we’d got moving and packed up, it was 1.30pm when we went to leave. Nessie came back on her lunch break just as we were about to leave, so we had a chat and said goodbye.


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We also found out that it was -9c in the night, no wonder I’d been cold! Nessie advised that we check with the lands authority that the road and border were open to get to Dawson City, as she was sure places like Chicken had closed for the winter. We thanked her then headed in to town, not worrying about our fate, as we were sure the road would be open. We found the lands authority office and went inside. There was nothing on the notice board, so when we asked the lady at the desk if this is where we find out if the Top of the World highway was open, we were extremely surprised when we got the answer ‘No, it’s closed’. We couldn’t believe it. We were gutted. For the last week we’d been sticking to a schedule, rushing to get there, only to discover that it had been closed five days previous! I’d even been checking a Yukon road conditions website frequently which said it was open; turned out that it hadn’t been updated for quite a while! I learnt two lessons that day 1) Always cross reference your sources, and 2) never have a plan or schedule, they suck. We were both disappointed, we’d been really looking forward to riding the road and checking out Dawson City. At least we hadn’t only missed it by a day, that was some sort of consolation, kind of. Deflated, we made our way to Fast Eddy’s to decide what to do. We made a few calls just to confirm that it was closed, and all confirmed that yes it was. We did find out that you could ride part of the road at your own risk, which was fine. The problem came in the form of a closed border crossing. We didn’t want to risk violating our visas, and putting the rest of the trip in jeopardy. It just wasn’t an option. That then left us with only one other option, so at least we didn’t need to decide what to do. We ended up having some lunch and caught up on internet related stuff, before realising it was gone 6pm and really too late to go anywhere. We went to the store to get some dinner, then made our way back to Nessies. She was more than happy for us to stay another night, and gave us a propane heater to take the edge off the cold. I think she felt sorry for us! We’d bought a tin of chicken chow mein, sauce, veggies and noddles for dinner, so cooked that up. I’m no going to lie it looked pretty rank, and was incredibly bland, and I’m not entirely sure that the white flecks floating in it were chicken; Enter butter to the rescue! I put a load of butter and chilli powder in it, which made it taste surprisingly ok, but by that time the noodles had lost all of their texture. ‘And texture was all we had!’ exclaimed Ed, much to my amusement.

After dinner Ed went to bed, while I stayed up desperate for a glimpse of the northern lights. I left the stove going until it ran out, and had the propane heater going in the corner. I stayed up until 2pm again, repeatedly poking my head out of the door to see if I could see anything. It was so cold outside that I didn’t want to risk going out and losing all my body heat and reducing my temperature. There was one faint band at low level across the sky, and another vertical streak appeared, which shimmered momentarily before they both disappeared. I then decided to call it a night, but once again I was too cold to sleep. The propane heater ran out of gas and we had a spare canister, but I was too cold to get out of my sleeping bag to change it, so just lay there for ages in the fetal position. Luckily though my hero then came to the rescue! Ed could tell I was cold, so he got up and changed the gas canister. He’d also bought me a heat pouch, so he got that going and put it in my sleeping bag. He then went one step further and sacrificed his own Exped mattress to put on top of me, and bungied it on so I was in a little Exped sandwich. That’s love that is! So thanks to Ed’s efforts and being such a star, I could finally get to sleep. I didn’t actually fully appreciate how amazing he’d been until I was telling my mum the following day. I was like ‘Wow, you did so much for me to keep me warm, you even sacrificed your own bed and warmth! You’re awesome! That’s a keeper right there.

We woke mid morning and I made some breakfast and tea to help get us motivated. We chatted a bit and milled around and explored the site, before making our way to fast Eddy’s for some lunch before hitting the road.



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Of course we were there much longer than we should have been, and it was late afternoon before we decided to leave. We left Tok and the sun was setting quickly, so about twenty miles out we decided to find somewhere to camp. I was still desperate to see the northern lights, so wanted a spot that wasn’t surrounded by trees, with a good view of the sky. We couldn’t see anywhere suitable, until I spotted a track that went up to a clearing. I went back to investigate and discovered that it was an old quarry, and it was perfect!



View from the quarry

View from the quarry

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Ed went on a fire making mission while I put up the tent and made pesto pasta for dinner.



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We were just tucking in to that when Ed spotted a streak of aurora in the sky, I checked the time and it was only 8.50pm. We were then treated to an amazing display about two hours long, it was magical!



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Streaks and swirls shimmered across the sky, they were everywhere! To the left, right, above us and in front of us, even behind us at one point. You couldn’t have got a clearer sky or more perfect place to view them.



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We took lots of photos (sorry they’re not the best, we were still learning how to use my camera!) and had some fun with them, especially when Ed wanted a naked photo. We hadn’t learnt about 1st and 2nd curtain flash with my camera, so instead lit the bikes up with our head torches and then had to stand there still for thirty seconds while it did a long exposure. It wouldn’t have been so bad had it not been around -2c, and if I hadn’t made Ed retake the photo about 6 times, the poor sod was freezing his nuts off! Very funny.


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There was then further amusement when I went to write ‘I love 90’ with my head torch. Turns out I can’t write 9’s backwards. I’d just written the 0 when Ed said, ‘Do another 0, DO IT!!!’ So I did it, and ended up with this…


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Eventually the lights died down, until there was only a faint glow along the horizon. We both decided they weren’t coming back, so put the camera and tripod away and started packing up and got ready for bed. We were just about to get in to the tent when a long band appeared across the sky, which started to get bigger and brighter. Before we knew it half the sky was filled with aurora, all shapes and sizes, swirling and shimmering. They were moving so quickly that I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t think I’d ever get to see them move so fast. It was like watching one of those videos of them that had been sped up, except this time they were live and real. As the bands shimmered it looked like a silhouette of people running across them, there was so much going on I didn’t know where to look. Then there was a wide band of green in the middle, and a big whitish pink band appeared below it, shimmering from west to east. It was mind blowing. It was on such a huge scale that I couldn’t believe my eyes. Then as quickly as it had appeared, it disappeared, until all that was left was a faint band across the sky. What a finale. I never expected it to come back, let along bigger and better than before! It was truly amazing, and something that I’ll never forget. What an experience. I did think it was a shame we didn’t have the camera out for it, but there was so much going on I think it would have just been a big, bright, massive blur! Plus it was nice to just enjoy it and really soak it in and savour it; it’s not every day you got to see the northern lights. And more than content with what we’d seen, we finally went to bed, tired from all the excitement.


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I woke mid morning, and instantly thought back to the night before. I felt like I’d been on hallucinogenic drugs and had had the best trip ever, it was all a magical blur of colours and shapes. A weird and surreal memory. I went and collected a pan of snow to make us a cup of tea, while Ed got the fire going again.


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We hung out and chatted for hours, slowly packing everything up. It was so nice not to have to be anywhere by a certain time or date. For the past week or so we’d been under pressure to get to the TOTW highway before it closed, and to Dawson while there was something going on. And I’d stupidly applied this pressure myself, by making the plan in the first place. Albeit for good reason. But now we were completely free again, and it felt good. Really good. I certainly won’t be making any more plans in hurry, at least not if I can help it. Lesson learnt. One problem with solid, non-flexible, time-bound plans, is that they don’t allow for things like mechanical issues, or anything else that life throws at you. So when something happens it causes unnecessary pressure and stress. It also becomes all about getting to the destination, not allowing you to truly relax and enjoy the journey, which is what it’s all about after all. I therefore conclude that plans should be avoided at all costs, whenever possible. From now on I shall only have ideas, as ideas keep you free, and freedom is what it’s all about.

By the time we’d got packed up it was 3pm, and we hit the road shortly after 3.30pm, destined for the border around seventy miles away. It was overcast and the colours of the day were various shades of green and brown, however after overdosing on colour the night before it didn’t matter. We stopped at a fuel station to fuel up and get a hot drink, and Ed got something to eat. It remained cool and overcast, and as we continued lakes appeared to our right. The trees that lined the road were mainly fir, or bare where all the leaves had fallen off for another year. We eventually got to the US border, where we became a bit confused. A sign to the left said ‘DO NOT ENTER’, and a sign to the right said ‘KEEP RIGHT’. That was all simple enough and self explanatory, but what confused us was that we didn’t need to be stamped out of the US. I’d never been across a land border before, and Ed said that all the borders he’d been across required you to be stamped out of one country, go across no-man’s land, and then be stamped in to the next country. We’d ridden past the signs but thought to be on the safe side we’d go back and ask. We didn’t want to keep riding, only to be told that we had to ride back. I went to the toilet while Ed went in to find out. When he came out he said ‘Well that guy’s got a complex!’ First he had a go at Ed for riding back on the wrong side. We’d actually gone through some cones so we weren’t in the road, and he had a go about that too ‘This is not your playground!’ he said. Ed calmly explained the situation and how it worked at all the other borders he’d been across, which is why he was double checking that we were doing the right thing. The border guard wasn’t exactly nice about it, and told him one way or another that it wasn’t how borders worked. Normally Ed would argue the point, but thought better of it in this case. Rather bemused we jumped back on the bikes and continued on to the Canadian border. It was getting dark, and not having a headlight I was rather concerned about going through the border at night. I also didn’t want to set up camp in the dark, so started looking for a place to camp. There was however a distinct lack of potential camping spots. There were either really steep slopes that you’d need a dirt bike to get up, or muskeg, which is essentially marsh land and not exactly suitable for camping. We carried on and the terrain didn’t change, when next thing we knew we were at the border. Luckily they didn’t notice my lack of headlight, and waved me through to the window. There I was “greeted” by a rather serious looking chap. The kind that looks like his face would crack if he smiled. I’m sure he was lovely, they’re probably trained to show no emotion. Either that or he was in fact an arse. I’d be rubbish as a border guard, what I’m thinking is usually written all over my face, and if someone smiles at me I have to smile back. I can’t help it, it’s the way I am. I confirmed where I was from, where I was going, that I had no firearms, and a can of bear spray, and that I didn’t have $10,000 in cash but wish I did. My passport was returned to me and I was sent on my way. Simples.

Ed soon followed and we carried on to Beaver creek, where we were hoping there would be food and somewhere to stay. Luckily on this occasion we weren’t disappointed. We found a restaurant called Buckshot Betty’s for dinner, where they had nice hot food and we got chatting to an Alaskan family who’d been on a three week hunting holiday. They were really nice and from an island called Chichagof, about a three hour ferry ride from Juneau, and said if we ever ended up there we had a warm place to stay. Unfortunately it was a bit out of our budget to get there, otherwise we’d have taken them up on the kind offer! We had dinner and chatted to them about all sorts of Alaska related things, before they went on their way and we went in search of a camp-site. We inquired at the restaurant but the owner said it was $18 and there weren’t any lights, we’d be better off going to the RV Park. Fair enough, I admired her honesty! It was rather mild and started to rain, so we made our way to the RV park, just up the road. It was $15 for a site, with hot showers, free Wi-Fi, and free coffee. Done. We found a site and also spotted another tent with a motorcycle next to it, first one we’d seen in a while! So fed, watered, washed and weary, we finally hit the sack.

8 thoughts on “The lights of the northern variety: Valdez, AK to Beaver Creek, CA

  1. Anders Pantzar

    Thank you for interesting reading it’s always a pleasure to read about your adventures, this far I’ve almost only have been on bike tours around Europe but – one day I will go for a longer adventure. I’m looking foreward to your next story / Anders

    • You’re welcome Anders! Pleased to hear you’re enjoying them 🙂 I highly recommend going on a longer bike adventure, it’s awesome and great fun, but short ones can be just as fun!! That’s all we’re doing, short ones constantly on repeat 😉 Hope you get to do your dream trip soon. All the best

  2. Paul Nijenhuis

    Very good writing again Rachel, can’t wait for the next episode.
    By the way, how is the Lifan engine holding out on your bike? We’ve
    had some discussion on a dutch forum about the quality of these kind of chinese copy

    • The Lifan engines have been good so far, as far as we’re aware! Only issue we’ve had is Ed’s inlet valve wore down and had to be replaced last week, we think due to it being an inferior metal. They can easily and cheaply be replaced though. I haven’t had any problems with mine, yet! haha

  3. Barry Monkfish

    Very enjoyable, looking forward to the next instalment of your adventures.

  4. Chris

    Again a Brilliant blog . Very descriptive account of the aurora if it was as good as you described I’m very jealous.
    Keep it up

  5. Yes, one of the hardest countries in the world to enter is one of the simplest to leave. At the moment they don’t know I’ve left and won’t until I try and get back in. In Tok I went to the Grumpy Grizzly Cafe and had a Grumpy Breakfast with reindeer sausage, I put ketchup on the ends to give the red noses. Ride on – Write on.

  6. Hello!
    Very happy for you!
    Reading alot, about your sufferings from cold weather, and want to share my thing about get a bit warmer in a sleepbag \ bed ( surprised, why Ed not feed warm to you…maybe it is too old ? 😀
    Oh yes, the general thing: get a plastic water bottle: 2liter from coca-cola, for example, and full it with warm water to the neck. do not warm water too much – if temp is higher around 80 celsium, bottles plastic start to deformate, but even 60 degree water in 2liter bottle work very well and long to feed you warm, especially cold feet!
    You can also try bottle topped with water to warm-in in microwave owen – cautiosly, with control temperature after each 2 – 3 minutes!
    I can also try to warm water in bottle via put bottle on its side on an oven – if oven not be very – very hot, plastic not melt, and water slowly get warm. Use at your own risk, but for me, that work very well, when i was shivering and hard to get warm in a bed…;)

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