THE WAY THROUGH SKAGWAY
The realities of camping kick in to full gear with a downpour. Rain rattles our truck cap. We scramble to close the small screened windows and the tailgate, but everything is wet. We are cold. A stream flows under our tent, which holds our suitcases, so I must crawl out of the truck and throw a few bags into the cab. Jack jumps out into the mud and we both take a pee. Sodden, we crawl back into the truck bed and snuggle under the covers with Mare for our final night of camping in Haines. Rain camping makes us feel rugged, and dirty.
Rain continues through the fog the entire next day while we wait for the eight-thirty ferry to the town of Skagway. The “Bamboo Room” bar and restaurant provides food, shelter and internet. I call all three motels in Skagway and they have no vacancies, so we will set-up camp when we arrive around ten o’clock tonight. The one-hour ferry ride through the inside passage still astounds us with the beauty and isolation of wilderness. Although nights are not very dark around these parts, the Skagway campground/rusted trailer park appears pretty strange. Mare overhears the conversation of two young women in the washroom.
“My ears are bleeding,” a young gal says. “Why is that?” They giggle.
“Here, try some chap stick,” her girlfriend says.
Mare emerges from the stall and sees both of the girls making faces in the mirror and laughing; tripping, no doubt. At least we hope.
Lone strangers roam through our wooded campsite, in the rain, and this is the only time that I wish I had my firearm. Nobody bothers us though. After a night of sound sleeping in the cool woods, we pack camp in the fog of morning and head out. Our gear is soggy, we stink, and even Mare yearns for a motel room. We cannot find anyone to pay for our tent site, so, off we go.
Our efforts always receive a reward…waterfalls spill from the mountains and a big Black bear eats alongside the road in this Mars-like scenery. I stop about ten feet from the bear and try to keep Jack from barking, while Mare photographs him through the truck’s open window.
We decide to take a slight detour, sixty miles down a gravel road to the remote, small village of Atlin, next to Atlin Lake. The name “Atlin” means “Big Water” in the Tlingit language. This lake is the largest, natural freshwater lake in BC. We spot a mama Grizzly foraging with her two toddlers. Once we pull ourselves away from admiring the bears…, clank! The skid plate under my truck drags in the gravel. I get out and struggle with the only bolt holding the metal sheet on, while Mare keeps her eye on the grizzly bear, who still forages about 50 yards from us. That damn bolt takes forever to come off!
We are half-way to Atlin, and decide to keep on truckin. Well worth it. We get lucky and cop a yet-to-be refurnished cabin at “Atlin Inn.” From our window we see Llewellyn Glacier hanging on the mountain across the lake. A float plane takes-off near an island, and folks fish for trout. This little village is proud of its gold rush history dating from 1898.
Ahh…a warm shower feels so good. I cook some ground lamb with onions, peppers, broccoli and corn, in the same pot, and we dip tortilla chips into the heavenly hash. It’s good with eggs for breakfast as well.
“I have to get that splash plate fixed,” I say to Mare.
“The man at the tire shop said you really don’t need it.”
“He fixes tires for a living, doesn’t even have bolts, and I doubt he gets out much.” (Threads are stripped and need tapped)
I decide not to take mechanical advice from my wife, who deals with rattles on her car by turning up the radio. I mean, we have many more gravel roads to explore and I don’t want to get stuck out here, even if she does not agree.
We walk around Atlin, (doesn’t take very long) and take in sights such as a 78 foot, gas-powered, wooden lake boat built-in 1917. They cut her in half in 1927 to add 30 more feet to hold 198 passengers. The boat is currently being refurbished since her last season in 1937. Wooden churches, the Canadian Mounted Police station, and a small museum make up most of the town.
After breakfast, we backtrack 60 miles out of Atlin. The grizzly and her toddlers are still foraging near the spot where we broke down. Once we make it to Whitehorse, every mechanical shop is closed on Sunday, so we camp. The following morning I get the truck fixed, throw in an oil change, and off we go.
The ALCAN Highway just does not have the close-up, remote scenery of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway (Hwy 37). We turn off of the ALCAN and again, drive the 450 miles that twists through mountains, glaciers, rivers, lakes and canyons on a mostly hard surface.
The primitive campsite on Dease Lake offers an outhouse, and that’s about it. I refuse to pay $10 for a bundle of firewood. It’s hot out anyway, and still, darkness is not really that dark.
The next day’s long drive brings us to the town of Smithers. Our guidebook paints the town as a haven for artists, poets, and writers. Our guidebook really paints a bright picture of everything. Smithers does have friendly folks and good pizza, and a plethora of outdoor sports activities abound for every season. But the temperatures soar, and we feel like we’re back in Phoenix. Bugs gnaw away at us all night long in the back of the truck, and we can’t leave fast enough the next morning.
Now, covered in bug bites and a few welts, we drive about 400 miles to a nice motel on Williams Lake. Jack jumps onto the bed and does not move for the rest of the evening. Mare and I enjoy air conditioning, a shower and wi-fi before joining Jack. Tomorrow we continue south towards the States.