Life on the Open Road: Chicken, Alaska
If there’s one place that knows how to practice “social distancing,” it’s Chicken, Alaska.
The winters in the interior, like much of Alaska, are dark and frigid; no one goes in and no one comes out, well, except by snow machine. The road out of Chicken, the Taylor Highway, is not maintained after October, the temperatures dip down to -50 degrees Fahrenheit, and one’s nose hairs turn to snot-cicles.
Wikipedia records Chicken’s population at 17 people year-round, but the locals (most of whom live there half the year) will tell you there are only two people that stay in Chicken all year long—the postmaster and her husband.
Thankfully, my husband Chris talked me into visiting Chicken during the summer months. Chris is a sick man, I mean terminal; he’s got gold fever, and he’s got it bad. He will literally go to the ends of the earth for the precious metal—and it doesn’t get much farther than Chicken, Alaska, which is only 40 miles west of Canada’s Yukon border. The closest town with supplies is Tok at 80 miles away. Chicken itself has three small businesses that only operate during the summer and rely on road trippers driving the Top of the World Highway from Tok to Dawson City, Canada.
All of the businesses run on solar and generator power and only have connection to the outside world via satellite. Even water has to be hauled in from the nearby 40-Mile River, as most pipes cannot withstand the annual permafrost. Talk about hard living.
Chris had been following one of the three Chicken businesses—Chicken Gold Camp—on Facebook in hopes of mining there for a week during our own anticipated summer sabbatical. But, when he saw an ad looking for a couple to work there for three months, Chris thought sending in our resumes was the next best thing. Before heading into the great unknown that’s named after a farm animal and also happens to produce my favorite breakfast food, my husband opened Google Maps so I could take a virtual drive-by of the area. “That’s it?” I said, staring in disbelief at the seeming dirt-heap-of-a-town that was settled into a thick, foggy haze and surrounded by sparse trees and dilapidated mining-equipment-turned-signage scattered here and there. It looked isolated. It looked dismal. It looked way out of my comfort zone.
So, I sent our resumes into the great unknown.
The next morning, I opened my email and saw these four words:
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Article by: Sarah Reijonen
Photography courtesy of Sarah Reijonen
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