A pair of jokers tries their hand at international poker run
By the time my Trek Over The Top traveling chum and I reached the Alaska border, late as usual, both our hangovers and the skies had cleared and we finally had a chance to reflect upon the last four days of our international activity.
The fact that we were cruising along at 80 mph was mildly distracting, but manageable. Besides, we had been running fast and loose with Lady Luck all weekend. Not that she ever winked back at us — both of us had pulled aces as a first card during the poker run, but then the hand turned into a remarkable pile of nothing. The second poker run? Well, let’s just say we did all of our gambling with the alarm clock earlier in the day, and the snooze button held the trump card.
Despite our speedy ways while riding our snowmachines during the annual Trek Over The Top run between Tok and Dawson City, Yukon, we seemed to be running chronically behind schedule.
That’s because the Trek is well run and efficient, and simply will not wait for laggards like us. The annual event has been helping snowmachiners, gamblers and yes, imbibers keep on schedule for more than 20 years.
The Tok-to-Dawson City ride covers 200 miles each way, and traverses some of Alaska and Canada’s most wild and scenic countryside. The “trail” is really the Taylor – or Top of the World – Highway, starting near Tok and ending on the Yukon River at Dawson City. The route is groomed, thanks to the volunteers at the Tok Trailblazers and the Dawson City Sled Dawgs snowmachine clubs. While the riding on the road surface is something even a novice could handle, it is the remoteness, the ready potential for inclement weather and often sub-zero temperatures that make this a ride better suited for advanced intermediates.
And don’t let the “highway riding” lull you into complacency: wind blows sizable drifts over the route; some blind corners hide short stretches of pavement, which means sled control is at a minimum; and many of the riders like to let their machines roar, reaching speeds of more than 80 mph. All these variables — and more — make for an interesting, edgy trip.
The secret? Plan for those bone-chilling temperatures (on one run four years ago, the temperature at Chicken dipped to minus 32; the run on March 10 hit temps in the high 20s – T-shirt weather!); make sure your sled is reliable and familiar; and get some miles on that sled – the Trek should not be the first ride of the season. Another key factor is gear. It’s a balance between packing enough gear to stay warm and safe, while keeping the sled light enough to handle well.
Some folks will still insist on packing too much, their snowmachines resembling the buggy in “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Their overindulgence often leaves gear scattered all over the trail, free pickings for the folks riding sweep. No cargo sleds are allowed, so ask a Trek veteran for packing advice.
You’d be surprised how little you really need in Dawson City. It’s a slumbering town in winter that springs to life once the Trekkers cross the Yukon. The Klondike Visitors Association folks walk out and greet you as you roll in, and if you’re lucky, the Snowshoe Shufflers will smother you in hugs as soon as you remove your helmet. A quick pass through customs, and you are handed your golden tickets to the town.
“Trek is really close to Dawsonites’ hearts because it gives us an opportunity to spend time with our closest northern neighbors,” says Paul Robitaille, marketing and events director at the Klondike Visitors Association. “The entire community looks forward to hosting Trekkers and showing them a good time. Twenty years of having these guys is just awesome. It has become more than an event, it’s really a relationship between Dawsonites and Trekkers. Most of them come back here during the summer and have developed lifelong friendships.”
It’s true the Trek does evolve from an event into a tradition; once you experience the cool ride and warm hospitality, it’s a hard spring ritual to shake.
“I have been on Trek now 18 times. I have gone twice two years in a row and I have been the sweep 15 times,” says Damon Brooks, president of the host club Alaska Trailblazers, owner of Iron Dog Outfitters and co-owner with his wife, Maggie, of A Mooseberry B&B and Beaver Fever Café in Tok.
Other Trekkers have made every trip during the event’s 20-year history and are honored on stage for their stick-to-itiveness. The Shufflers plant lipstick-laden lips atop their foreheads, like little ruby merit badges anointed to Trek veterans.
With side attractions such as legal gambling, curling, historic tours, Sled Dawgs club rides and barbecues, it’s no wonder Trekkers keep coming back. Add to that a legal drinking age of 19, nightly entertainment, raucous bar games and notable cash and prizes for poker run winners, and you’ve got one of the best wintertime event bargains around.
“Participants should prepare for the most fun they’ll have, probably all winter,” says Robitaille. “The trail is groomed, so it’s easy for beginner to expert riders. We get tons of snow, so you can play on the sides if you want to. And once you get to Dawson, get ready for a welcoming bunch of Canucks who love having you. It’s also good to remember we have a casino here and eight bars in three blocks, so prepare for a good party!”
Want to get in on the fun? It’s as easy as browsing www.trekoverthe top.com to make sure you qualify. While the event is part party, part adventure riding, the Customs folks do take their task seriously: You can’t have a criminal background (i.e. DUI) and you must have a current passport.
Aside from that, the other obstacles are simple to overcome. Plan a good six hours if you are driving from Anchorage and get there the night prior to the start of the Trek. The savvy Trekker also will stay in Tok Sunday night after the return trip and make the drive back home rested, and in daylight.
Trek Over The Top
When: March 6-9, 2014
Where: Tok to Dawson snowmachine ride across the Taylor Highway, 400 miles round trip
Cost: TBD, but figure around $525 for the Trek, which includes: trail grooming; three nights accommodation; six meals; gasoline at Chicken; gambling; nightly entertainment; a chance at cash and door prizes. Event organizers plan to offer up discounts for military, new riders and women. Sign up before Oct. 20 and be entered to win a free Trek entry for the 2015 event. The discounts are evolving, so check their web site often for the latest details.