I really like Whitehorse, really, I do. But the hustle and bustle of even a cool town can wear me down. I’m not much for seeing the usual tourist sites of a given local, generally getting on with my business, and then heading for the hills. I had numerous things to attend to, however. The 11 litter MSR bladder I had lovingly carried through many thousands of miles, had sprung a leak. Besides, previously having traveled with a trailer made it possible to simply strap the apparatus to the top of the trailer and carry on; but traveling with panniers is another thing altogether, and the bladder concept wasn’t as useful now. So I needed water bottles. I needed to purchase a phone card, do laundry, buy food, convert U.S. dollars into Canadian fun tickets, make phone calls, buy a reading book, and get my load straightened out. Without much fanfare, I accomplished these tasks and skinned out by 1:00 pm. In all honesty, Yukon hospitality has been hit or miss for me in the past and now as well. It seems 2/3 ‘rds of the folks I meet are friendly and open. And all of the first nations peoples I talk with are open to conversation, it’s always been this way. There seems to be that reserved crowd who just don’t dig folks on bicycles around. For example: at the Braeburn Lodge, the proprietor, an enormous bellied, white bearded dude, who could have passed as Santa Clauses’ cousin, sporting a Harley Davidson T-shirt, simply grunted when I spoke, and barely gave me the time of day. He sure took my money for the regionally famous Braeburn Cinnamon Bun that I purchased though. Paradoxically, when speaking to a First Nation’s man in Carmacks, we chatted and chuckled, and he wanted to know why I didn’t have a fishing pole with me, as some mighty fine suppers’ could be had ahead. Why don’t I have a fishing pole I contemplated?
A ways past Braeburn, the terrain opened up to an unexpected valley of agriculture. Soon though, the North Klondike Highway turned upward once again, and we rose into the Spruce, and my favorite forests, revealing rivers and meadows. I take a short 2 track leading into said forest, and it dead ends into a splendid old cabin, long since forgotten. It looks to have been built during the Klondike gold rush years at the turn of the century, but it could have been a tad bit more recent, I don’t really know. Rusted tin cans, old miner’s boots, fragments of tools, and a caved in sod roof, rounded out this historic and peaceful camp. I walk down the hill, after setting up camp, and a spectacular site unfolds before me.. Fox Creek, teeming with Grayling, and surrounded by meadows and high mountains to the west are a treat to my eyes and senses. What a place to have lived at one time.
After a bit, the mighty Yukon River herself appears, and after following her course at river level for a short while, the road climbs upward, diagonally across the ancient alluvial plane, and settles down upon the flat bottomed benches overlooking the great river. Sprouting from this bench, are great forests of Spruce as big as any I have ever seen.
Onward, a car pulls over and two fellows I had met previously, from Juneau, inform me that there is a big Grizzly just up the road. I say farewell and cautiously pedal on. Not much further, I spot the large brown mass, way further off than I expected. The creature is perhaps 800 meters away, on a hillside, digging for rodents; it looks to be a big one too.. perhaps 800 lbs. I say farewell again, and off I go. The North Klondike Highway, from Whitehorse to Dawson City, largely follows the relative path of the Dawson Overland route taken by gold seekers of the great Klondike Goldrush of 1898. The treasure I seek on this passage is not gold, but animals. Today I spotted a large rabbit; like none I have seen before, with large furry white feet and belly, brown back, and shorter ears than I am accustomed to seeing. This was no cottontail or jackrabbit. I mention this to locals and they say it is an Arctic Hare.
The daytime temperatures are nearing the mid 80’s.. This seems astronomical for this time of year to me, and the locals tell me that the ice breakup was literally last week! It went from winter to summer almost overnight, skipping spring altogether. Wacky.. This part of the Yukon is definitely drier than other parts of The North, it reminds me bit of central and western Colorado at around the 6,000′ to 8,000′ elevations, although here, the mean elevation is nearer to 2,000′. Today, as I passed through the areas north of McGregor Creek, I spot the Klondike Treasure I have been so anxious to see.. In addition to the big Grizzly spotted the other day, today I spy another Arctic Hare, two separate Black Bears, And another creature that has been so elusive to my eyes until now. I was pedaling along on a flat straightaway, ipod cranking out the Allman Brother’s “An Evening With The Allman Brothers”, and I see up ahead, maybe 300 meters off, a dark shape, clearly cruising the tree-lined corridor of the Klondike Highway. I thought it was a bear at first, perhaps even two bears considering the movement I was witnessing. I stop way early in order to change the lens on my camera from a 10mm wide angle to a 24-105mm telephoto zoom. I put the camera around my neck and pedal on, cautiously. Getting to within around 75 meters or so, it dawns on me: It is a Wolf.
At first, the wolf does not see or hear me, (one of the real advantages of bicycling The North) and I am able to fire off a couple shots of the camera. Then it looks up, we lock eyes for a solid 5 or 6 seconds, then the Wolf turns and gallops into the brush. I cautiously pedal a bit more, as I wish to continue on, just as as the Wolf. It re appears from the thicket and we stare at each other for a bit, and then it is gone. What an exhilarating experience seeing this magnificent creature.. It was mostly black, with bits of grey streaking, and a long, long, bushy tail that too was black and grey. It’s face was grey around the eyes and it’s snout was as black as a northern winter’s night. I pedal on, and after 65 miles of hammering, I am exhausted and in need of a place to call home. I spot another Blackie, and just passed there is a small two track leading into the woods. Not spectacular camping tonight, but it will do. After supper, I go looking around and spot both Grizz and Blackie prints. I am truly where I want to be! The next morning, en route to Dawson, I catch the views of three more Hares, a fat, wallowing, Porcupine, and another elusive creature, the Black Marten.
I met a couple of guys from Dawson City, Jordan and Cafrey, who were hitchhiking back after a visit with friends in Carmacks. They mention for me to stop by “The Pit” for a round of drinks when I get to town. Anyhow, I’ll be in Dawson by tomorrow night. Dawson is the farthest north town in the Yukon accessible by car, so I guess you could call it the hub of the northern Yukon. It has much the same appearance as I’m sure it did 100 years ago. It’s streets are dirt, sidewalks wood, and false fronts galore. Many of the old, original buildings are sinking or leaninginto the melting permafrost. I grab a couple of beers and head to the outskirts to camp.
The Dempster is now weighing heavily on my mind. The plan is to go to Dawson for a day or so, then head back out and up the Dempster, hike into the Tombstone Mountains for 2 or 3 days for a peak bag and some photography, then continue for a pedal up to Inuvik, above the Arctic Circle, in the Northwest Territories near the Arctic Ocean, over 500 miles from Dawson, then, turn around and pedal back. Am I biting off more than I can chew?
Only time will tell…