The RV Adventure Part II: The Yukon

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Day One. This is always exciting. We'd flown into Whitehorse the day before, and when you show up for The Beginning, it's like being a little kid with a midway pass. Melissa and I ran around looking for our new home for the next week, and found one with 'Lorraine & Melissa' on a piece of paper in the dash. She immediately changed it to 'Thelma & Louise'. Our hosts started to worry at that point. Each of the RVs, 24 footers, were equipped with a fully loaded fridge, cupboards full of every snack you could imagine, blankets, pillows, and towels. We stashed our luggage, Missy plugged in her iPod, and we were lost within a block. They waited for us to catch up, and we headed out. Yeah, it's as exciting as it sounds. First stop was Skagway, Alaska. We took a train ride up to the Whitepass, which traces the trail originally used during the gold rush in 1898. You hear all these creepy stories about how many people and animals died, and as the train snakes up and up, the sides drop away and you start to realize why Sarah Palin is nuts. This is tough country. This trestle was one of the original ones, all falling apart now. The mist made it eerie. Near Fraser River, B.C. You wind in and out of Alaska, the Yukon and the top of B.C. all day. The mountains never get old, and some of the lakes are turquoise. Ice, ice cold, but brilliant blue. In a single shot, you get rock, dessert, forest and snow. Unbelievable. There is very little traffic, and we keep looking for moose and elk and things, but I don't see anything. Once, Melissa said she saw a bear. I think she was lying, though. I'm just putting this in here so you can see what a fruitloop I was stuck with all week.
The Alsek River, in Haines Junction, Yukon. We were actually in this river. In a boat. One of those blow up boats where you can sit on the sides, and the guide navigated it down the river for nearly 3 hours, steering it just with a couple of oars. You twist and turn - it was really awesome. The river is only about a foot deep, in some places not even that, but it's got a wicked current. You get instructions before you head out. 'We've never had anyone fall overboard, but hold onto the rope and don't lean too far. If you fall in, it is very cold, and the current will instantly start moving you at about twice the speed of the boat. You can freak out, or, you can just stand up. It's not even up to your knees.' Everyone's a comedian. Entering Kluane National Park, this is Kluane Lake. It is stunning. Part of the world's largest protected area (and not just by Canada - by the World Protection Something Or Other as well), we stared at this lake for an hour or so through the windshield, then finally pulled the RV over and hopped out. There is very little traffic, and I just hoped somebody didn't steal the rig while we were off in the bushes. It's such a drag if someone steals your press vehicle. This is the little beach we found after ditching the truck. The water was icy cold, and somebody had made a little bench out of driftwood. Everything is so isolated, it's hard to believe you aren't the first ones to be here. It's about 7:00pm here. The Star ran the pic of Melissa in Kluane Lake, and I got grief hearing that I hadn't really gone in. Ha. I cannot begin to tell you how cold this water was. The ice had been off for 6 weeks. The sun was incredibly warm (we got up to about 30 degrees each day we were there - record highs for the area), and it was still not 8:00 at night yet. We got to camp right on the lake, and when we got out of the water, a cooler of beer and wine was there. GO RVing Canada and Yukon Tourism...best hosts, evah.
I would go back in a heartbeat. Heading into Chicken, Alaska. This is before the road got bad. See all the dead trees? White spruce beetles, which are destroying huge swathes of the northwest in North America. It's devastating to see the damage, and the dead trees just become standing kindling for fires that rip through. We smelled several fires that were burning as we went, and heard of worse ones as we left later that week. The record high temperatures were wreaking havoc. This is the race to the Canadian border, which closes at 8:00 pm. The road looks okay, but it had been graded and was washboardy. We climbed higher and higher, and you're great as long as you don't look over the edge. Part of the problem? There are no signs telling you how close - or far - you are. Our guide has skipped ahead in his Jeep which was just a little more agile at taking the road then we were. Even if you knew you were only 20km from the border, around here, that could be an hour. Top of The World Highway. This is the border between Alaska and the Yukon. I cannot tell you how great it was to get here, in spite of the crabby lone border guard who, you would think, would have been thrilled to see us. Not so much. We had driven all day - and now we just had to trundle on down to Dawson City for the night. We figured - all downhill! Easy. It's about 7:30pm here, we got to Dawson at 11:00. Argh.
8:00pm. I just liked this photo. Dawson City is home to an amazing School of the Arts. It's a first year degreed program for many disciplines from film to art, and people come from across the world to attend. This is a remarkable, huge artwork hanging in the main theatre, comprised of 'pieces' made by various students. You can stare at it for an hour, and not get all the details. This is Melissa with our Yukon Tourism rep, Frank Wilps. Any guesses on what movie they were imitating? Downtown Dawson. Well, the whole place looks like this. Population 1832 (though when we were there, it was some pretty wild nights. My guess is that that number may be rising in about 9 months...not counting anyone that got killed outside the rowdy bar we were in). These wide wooden planked sidewalks are everywhere - the streets are laid out in a grid running from the Yukon River, the streets are dust. In the winter, the ice on the river is deep enough to smash huge boats to splinters. One of our favourite bars used to be a brothel. Very fun paddlewheel boat tour up, then down, the Yukon River. The owner, Brad Whitelaw is a carpenter by trade. He also owns the Triple J Hotel in town, and with his fiancé Heidi has launched into the Paddlewheel business. You can book it for a tour, or an event. As soon as you pull away, the huge paddles start churning, and the water starts flying. It's very cool - and they open the bar up right away, and Whitelaw turns into your bartender. You get a great history lesson of the area - and there's a lot of history.
The Paddlewheel boat. TOne of my favourite pictures from Dawson City. We were sitting in the brothel - sorry, former brothel - when someone stuck their head in and yelled at me to grab my camera. This is a small town - they knew there was press there. A guy had pulled his truck up front and parked, and his pups instantly stuck their heads out. At first glance, you could get a little queasy wondering if someone had mounted the heads there - but they were cute as buttons and friendly. There might not be a lot of people here - but every single one is a character. When he left, we went back into the brothel. I mean bar. Bye to Dawson City...I plan to go back. Maybe in the winter, when instead of 19 hours of sunlight, they get a mere 7. There is no part of the trip that wasn't spectacular. Whether you fly to Whitehorse and go from there, or make the cross country trek from home, we have an amazing country that has to be seen to be believed. An RV saves money on hotels and meals, and admittedly supplies a level of luxury you couldn't get on say, a motorcycle. We saw a lot of bikes. For more info, contact me, or <a href="http://www.gorving.ca">GoRVing Canada</a> or <a href="http://travelyukon.com">Yukon Tourism</a>.