YUKON JACK IN WHITEHORSE
After clearing Canadian customs from Hyder, we get to drive through the fjords again, and up the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. This rustic, part-gravel route runs through thick woods, and has hardly any traffic. We spot a red fox and a couple of moose, but are not quick enough with the camera. A full day of slow driving awaits us.
An ominous thunderstorm looms ahead. Cold winds keep our windows closed and camping seems like too much of a chore this evening. So, we stay at an overpriced motel near Dease Lake. Many motorcyclists stop here, as the next town in either direction is far away. Jack loves sleeping on a motel bed probably more than we do. We have not seen television in a long time, and still there is nothing on. The following morning we head to Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon.
We are back on the ALCAN Highway, which reminds us of our journey with brother Frank several years ago. In keeping with a custom that Frank and I started, Mare takes the wheel at 3:00 p.m. and I crack a cold one. We roll through hills and valleys dotted with ponds, streams, lakes and pines. We spot a moose munching the bottom of a pond, while several others chew leaves from the trees. Today’s drives lands us in Whitehorse.
We take Yukon Jack on a long walk along the Yukon River in Whitehorse. Making camp in a square sandbox separated by a row of trees from the next site suites us just fine. We really need a shower. In the washroom, the shower calls for one loonie for five minutes.
“What is a loonie?” I ask a man who stands at the sink grooming.
“A loonie is a dollar,” he smiles.
“I’m a loonie too.” (I can’t resist.)
“Yes, you seem to be,” he says. “And, a ‘toonie’ is two dollars.”
“Okay then…for three bucks we get looney tunes.” We laugh until an uncomfortable silence descends with the awareness that we’re both standing in a bathroom.
The dramatic walkway along the Yukon River leads us into downtown Whitehorse. Eagles and Kingfishers fly while we enjoy a brisk walk. In town we enjoy some great food at “Klondike Rib and Salmon Bake,” where Elk and Musk Oxen stroganoff are also on the menu. John and Nancy befriend us, a couple who pull a 5th wheel from California. We convince a German couple, who join our picnic table, to order the ribs.
Canadians enjoy a $16.25 daily tax credit just for living in the Yukon Territory. Wages are higher here than in B.C., and the cost of living is lower. Still, Vancouver draws them away.
Two days in Whitehorse helps us to catch up on internet stuff, before we head out towards Haines, Alaska. Along the way, we stop in Haines Junction for an exhilarating, single-prop airplane ride through Kluane (pronounced clue-way-nee) National Park and Reserve around mountain peaks and over glaciers. Crevices that run several hundred feet deep sometimes fill with fluorescent blue pools of water. Our one-hour flight brings us over the most spectacular section of the Kaskawulsh and South Arm Glaciers.
We can see Canada’s highest peaks in the St. Elias Mountains and the world’s largest non-polar ice-fields. The flight is well worth the splurge of over $300. The plane barely crests the tips of the peaks and then buzzes just above the cracking glacial ice fields. It is a real rush!
What are the odds that we share this five-seat plane with the German couple that we met at the Klondike Restaurant back in Whitehorse? We seem to run into folks over and over again in this vast territory. The cliché is true. It’s a small world. Mare gets concerned when Trevor, our 23 year old pilot, lets the German man fly the plane. However, he attests to flying Gliders through the Alps, and probably has much more experience than Trevor.
In Haines we find a campsite for $16.50 per night, run by the nearby Halsingland Hotel. Nothing compares to the peace and quiet of a camp in the woods, with your wife and dog. We book this spot for three nights. And then…a busload of 32, yes 32 teenagers arrive and set-up tents on two sites right next to us.
Before long, they form a circle, and in the middle a few of them wear big diapers…let the Sumo Wrestling Tournament begin! Let us get the hell out of here, and we spend most of the evening at a local restaurant/pub, The Fireweed, for some pizza and Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap. Our new friend, Brad, brags about the nearby Mexican restaurant, curious about our opinion of the food, since we are from Phoenix.
Later in the night, the kids serenade us to sleep with singing and cursing. At least they leave the following morning, giving us an even deeper appreciation of peace and quiet.
We take Jack along a hike up Riley Mountain. This steep trail of switchbacks winds through forest thick with trees, skunk cabbage and hoards of other green vegetation. About three miles up to the summit, where we lunch on peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, we enjoy spectacular views of glaciers, peaks, Lynn Canal, Taiya Inlet and the Chilkat River. The many trails around Haines provide hikes with incredible views. Walking the spongy soft forest trails is certainly one of our favorite activities.
Back at the camp, Sue, a retired school teacher who lives in Missouri, travels with her Jack Russell terrier and camps throughout the Northwest Territory. She tells us of a job opening, as a camp hosts, where you live in a log cabin and, obviously host the camp. We drive to the end of a gravel road and speak to John and Jenny, the couple who currently work there.
“It’s kind of like living in a fishbowl,” the man says. “But you get used to it. We get to live here in this little “look-out” cabin for free, and they give us $300 monthly to help cover food costs.”
Mare and I consider this “job” for next summer. We will try to talk to the Ranger before leaving Haines. But first, we must try Moseys Mexican Restaurant, which we like.
Over coffee at the market the next morning, of course we run into Brad, who is delighted to hear us rave about the Mexican food.
This evening, I cook fresh caught Sockeye Salmon, with potatoes, onions, and peppers, out in the wild. We munch on the meal next to our fire, drink some cold ones, and enjoy the peace and quiet of camping. Tomorrow we will take the ferry to Skagway, after a treat of halibut and chips at the Bamboo Room.