Tok: The weirdness of Alaska condensed

People often mention the famous southern hospitality of the southern states in the US, but it turns out that people in the north are also incredibly hospitable. Our host Sarah, her two daughters Amelia and Rosalie, and their very cute border collie puppy made for blast of a stay. As a nice bonus, we got enough food and hot chocolate to fatten up a bit for the cold north where we will be visiting soon.

After leaving Whitehorse, we thought we would go to Kluane National Park to do an epic multiday backcountry hike to Observation Mountain and the Kaskawulsh Glacier. However since 1) the weather forecast was not that great, 2) we did not find a place to store our non-essential stuff, 3) we did only have 5 days to make it to Fairbanks, and, most importantly, 4) due to bear activity that part of the park was actually closed, we decided against this. This meant that we suddenly had oodles of time, or so it seemed. We thus decided to stay an extra night with our great Couchsurf host in Tok and spend a day in the typical Alaskan village of Tok. This was an absolutely amazing decision. We did not find a host in Fairbanks yet, so we would not really have a place to go to anyways.

The streets of Tok

The days before, we had visited everything to our interest in Whitehorse. In Tok we visited really everything and it was far more interesting than Whitehorse.

After visiting the truly great visitors centre in Tok (the largest log cabin in the world) and all five shops in Tok, Emily finally managed to buy some northern art from a Yukon Athabascan artist. Here we found a TravelAlaska flyer that explained the etymology of the rather strange name of the town: “The origin of the town’s name is still a lively debate in Alaska. Some believe it is named after the nearby Tokai River, which in 1901 was recorded as the Tok River by the U.S. Geological Survey. The town was founded in 1942 as a construction camp for the Alaska Highway and those working on the highway spent so much money in the camp’s construction and maintenance that it earned the name “Million Dollar Camp.” Others believe it was first called Tokyo Camp until anti-Japanese sentiment caused locals to shorten it to Tok. And, still some believe it was named after a husky pup that belonged to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in charge of building this section of the Alaska Highway.” Wikipedia offers even more explanations, including on in which Tok is derived from the Athabascan word for “peaceful crossing” and one in which the T stands for T junction and OK comes from the handwriting on a map of engineer approving the location of the Junction from the Alaskan Highway towards Anchorage.  Well, if the winters are long and cold enough, everyone has time to come up with his/her own theory.

Picking a place to get some lunch was easy as well, since there is only one restaurant in town: Fast Eddy’s, which serves a killer burger. On the way, we stopped by a small shop selling gold nuggets, and found a woman celebrating her 74th birthday.

What a logo

The real highlight of Tok, however, and worth a visit even if it would mean a 5 hour detour, is Mukluk land. This garage sale/museum/junkyard/Kunstkabinett/amusement park cross-over amused us for hours. For a mere USD $5 entry, you can enjoy Santa’s rocket ship, whack-a-mole, a 3,000 head strong doll mausoleum, Tok’s first jail and gift shop, skeeball, mini golf, a collection of outhouses on wheels used in the still active outhouse races, a large collection of rusty snow mobiles, poetry, the world’s largest Mukluk, and a bouncy castle. Also expect a warm and long hug by the founder and owner of this, eh, place Beth Jacobs. We would love to go back.

They have such a great collection of weird stuff

And freaky stuff

And fun stuff

This place, and other encounters we had, might lead us to petition the Alaskan government to change the state’s motto from The Last Frontier to Wonderfully Weird. That would just capture the essence of Alaska much better. The slogan of Alaska’s (and by extension, America’s) northernmost brewery, the Silver Gulch, in Fairbanks summarizes it as “where the people are unusual, and the beer is unusually good.”  A couple we would hitchhike with later on summarized Alaska as the land of broken toys. Maybe it is true that we are attracted a bit to our own kind, but we kind of like it here.

Holding the free local Mukluk newspaper

No words

Laurent takes this very seriously