Posted December 4, 2022 – Narrated by Carmen
Chapter 11 of the “Airstreaming to Alaska” series.
“This is the Law of the Yukon,
that only the Strong shall thrive;
That surely the Weak shall perish
and only the Fit survive.
Dissolute, damned, despairful,
crippled and palsied and slain.
This is the will of the Yukon –
Lo, how she makes it plain.”
Long dusty roads.
Thick wildfire smoke.
Every morning we untangled our weary bones from the mosquito net …
to resume the ongoing discussion, “Should we turn back?”
For me, the question was complicated. True, this was a dangerous and uncomfortable place. But thinking of ways to die – all of us at once; me first, then him; Pico first, me second, him last; him, me, and poor, poor Pico last – this is what I do.
Imagining death by explosion, landslide, tidal wave, asphyxiation and anaphylaxis is a thing I picked up as a child while living in southern Italy on an infant volcano which occasionally burped plumes of lethal gas. I should have turned my talent into a career as a Worst-case Scenario Specialist, but instead I use it to torture myself.
Thinking the horrible doesn’t make me risk-avoidant, it just gives me a tummy ache and annoys those around me. Over the years Jim has adapted to my hair-raising projections which may have saved our lives a few times. The occasional close shave, near miss or narrow escape inspire gratitude for every breath we can grab on this beautiful, blood-thirsty planet.
Here, on the crispy-thin Alcan my powers had purpose.
This is a place where the Circle of Life is not a song, a region where creatures readily sense the sharp edge of their existence.
At my request, Jim would have turned the rig south at the first available opportunity whether he wanted to or not. That is a sacred Living in Beauty pact.
There were days on the Alcan when we both felt we were out of our depth. But Jim is an advance guy. For him, problems are like oxygen. We would press on, like a moving target if necessary.
In the end, The Alcan made the decision for us. Turning south was out of the question when the road closed behind us.
It was the talk among the soakers at Liard River Hot Springs. A few days earlier we crossed the very spot where a flash flood busted the road in two.
Watson Lake, Yukon
The Watson Lake Visitor Information Center kindly allowed us to dry camp in their parking lot. With a region-wide cell-service outage (which had nothing at all to do with flood or fire) we needed the complimentary WiFi. Though the signal was weak, we were able to connect with family, attend to the (LIB) blog, and confirm campground reservations up the road.
Meanwhile, we explored the legendary Signpost Forest.
The Visitor Center staff provided supplies and a craft area to design our personal contribution.
The next morning we continued west toward …
The constant drizzle cleared the stench of wildfire smoke from the north.
Yukon, is a great watery paradise made of a million minor paradises.
The territory is named for the river which flows nearly 2,000 miles through mostly untouched wilderness beginning at the McNeil headwaters and turns west toward the Bering Sea. The Yukon converges with the Tanana and Klondike Rivers and countless tributaries.
These waterways are glories among thousands of impressive lakes, streams and islands that go unnamed. The tease, Yukon: Larger Than Life did not prepare us for the grandeur of this vast wilderness in Canada’s smallest territory.
With river banks overflowing, it was no surprise the charming Village of Teslin was in a state of emergency …
and our campground, under water.
The local authorities allowed us to park in the rest area on the hill.
The view of the village below, backdropped by mountains, changed constantly in the shifting light.
We stayed in Teslin for only two days. The dangerous water was not safe for the kayaking we’d planned.
Fortunately, the George Johnston Museum was open.
We didn’t know what to expect but the film, Picturing A People made us feel as if we’d been let in on a secret.
The lovingly preserved archive of art, antiques, garments, handwork and photos told the story of a visionary artist whose dedication to his work continues to influence generations of villagers.
We pulled out of Teslin with more respect for this land, and for the resilience of the community and for the strength of stories shared.
Following the signs …
we detoured south about a hundred miles …
to beautiful …
Atlin, British Columbia
There, we settled in beside the lake …
We came for kayaking …
but there’s more. We visited the little firetruck that didn’t save the town …
and some cool boats.
Neat old stuff like that.
Atlin doesn’t take its long-lost boomtown history too seriously.
This town is progressive.
There’s no cell service or WiFi, but it’s not about turning back the clock.
It’s about making room for peace …
and quiet …
But don’t be surprised if you have a great shopping experience in paradise.
Atlin is probably one of the most beautiful places on earth …
… to meditate, write a poem, draw, or just stare at the tranquil lake.
If we ever go dark, you can find us in Atlin.
Starting early, we followed our detour back to the Alcan.
Wildlife viewing was best on the side-trips.
That morning we left one of the least populated hamlets in British Columbia and entered the territorial capital …
Big town, big stores. We were desperate for tactical gear. Herbal repellants are enough in the lower forty-eight, but not here where the mosquitos train in terrorist camps.
Our first stop in Whitehorse was to explore solutions at The Real Canadian Superstore. The locals set us up …
and invited us to attend the Canada Day parade and festivities!
Swift as the panther in triumph,
fierce as the bear in defeat,
Sired of a bulldog parent, steeled in the furnace heat.
Send me the best of your breeding,
lend me your chosen ones;
Them will I take to my bosom,
them will I call my sons
Special events continued throughout the day.
To live in sub-arctic Whitehorse you must be sturdy and resourceful, but when the going gets tough, Yukoners go to…
Nordic Eclipse Hot Springs – Whitehorse, Yukon
Newly renovated and only a short walk from our campground …
a paradise of relaxation awaited us.
We were two lucky cheechakos.
Sometimes we had it all to ourselves.
As the region-wide cell-service outage continued, hanging out at Eclipse kept us informed. Word from other soakers was the Klondike Highway north to Dawson City was closed due to fire…
and the Alcan was closed to the south – the way we came.
The store shelves emptied.
We moved camp to the city to wait out the fires and position for a possible evacuation. The Real Canadian Superstore Parking lot provided refuge for two days.
In this stressful situation it was a comfort to be near vital services.
The delay also opened a window of opportunity for a paddle on the Yukon River at Lake Lebarge … yes, that Lake Lebarge.
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
Dawson City, Yukon
The following morning, the Klondike Highway to Dawson City still remained closed. Jim, following a trickle of news reports, calculated that if we reached the closure point – 175 miles up the road – chances were good we’d arrive as the road opened.
For 330 miles we drove through fire …
and blinding smoke…
weaving through torturous detours …
and, we made it!
“I had thirty-five cents in my pocket when I arrived. I did not have that much when I left more than two years later. But if I could turn time back I would do it over again for less than that.”
On a picturesque slope overlooking the mud-flat confluence of the Klondike and Yukon rivers, the city was established in the traditional territory of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in.
In the summer of 1895 the population held at 200 mostly Hän-speaking people.
The next summer over 40,000 stampeders arrived in the largest mass migration in the shortest period of time in North America.
“And there I strove,
and there I clove through the drift of icy streams;
And there I fought,
and there I sought for the pay-streak of my dreams“
Four years later, as the Klondike Gold Rush wound down, the surviving stampeders dispersed …
leaving the city frozen in time, a fever cooled.
You can’t blame ’em for packing out. Even with a piping hot red-light district it’s cold in them thar’ hills.
Bonton and Company is the best dinner in town.
After dinner and a show we wandered over to the Sourdough Saloon.
A bunch of the boys were whooping it up
in the Malamute saloon;
The kid that handles the music-box
was hitting a jag-time tune;
Back of the bar, in a solo game,
sat Dangerous Dan McGrew,
And watching his luck was his light-o’-love,
the lady that’s known as Lou.
This is an authentic watering hole where patrons are challenged to kiss “the nasty toe,” – an amputated appendage surrendered by some unfortunate Yukoner for this dark duty – lying in state on the bottom of a whisky tumbler.
So Clancy got into Barracks,
and the boys made rather a scene;
And the O. C. called him a hero,
and was nice as a man could be;
But Clancy gazed down his trousers
at the place where his toes had been,
And then he howled like a husky,
and sang in a shaky key:
“When I go back to the old love
that’s true to the finger-tips,
I’ll say: ‘Here’s bushels of gold, love,’
and I’ll kiss my girl on the lips;
‘It’s yours to have and to hold, love.’
It’s the proud, proud boy I’ll be,
When I go back to the old love
that’s waited so long for me.”
For fifty years, you think know a man, then the Spell of The Yukon, or the midnight sun, or the local appellations, or all three, most likely, do their sinister work.
Jim cozied up to the challenge, positioning himself in line, ready to throw his money on the table. Then, like magic, a parable leapt off my tongue snapping my beloved out of it: “Men who play footsies with cannibalism sleep in the dredge.”
Jim cooled his curiosity by watching from the sidelines while I lingered on the porch, my attention focused on keeping that nice supper down.
Next morning we were off to board the George Black, a teenie-tiny ferry which is supposed to navigate our party of three and our 9,000 pound rig across the rapidly rising Klondike during a thunder storm while Jim nurses a hangover.
Pico, him, me. Me, Pico, him …
I have no doubts that the devil grins
as seas of ink I spatter.
Ye Gods forgive my literary sins.
The other kind don’t matter.
Chapters in the “Airstreaming to Alaska” series
- Chapter 1 – San Diego to Malibu
- Chapter 2 – Malibu to Morro Bay
- Chapter 3 – Morro Bay to Santa Cruz
- Chapter 4 – Santa Cruz to San Francisco
- Chapter 5 – San Francisco to Eureka
- Chapter 6 – The Oregon Coast
- Chapter 7 – The Strait of Juan de Fuca
- Chapter 8 – Victoria, British Columbia
- Chapter 9 – Victoria to Mackenzie
- Chapter 10 – The Alaska Highway
- Chapter 11 – Yukon
- Chapter 12 – Top of the World Highway to Chicken, Alaska
- Chapter 13 – Tok to Valdez
- Chapter 14 – Glacier View to Anchorage – coming soon!
If you want to see our exact route, click here.
*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.