Aug. 10, 2016
There was a huge lineup outside the bar, which we really didn’t expect, and even more surprising was the type of crowd; it seemed senior citizens liked kissing severed toes as much as anybody would.
Dave and I arrived in Dawson City, Yk just hours before the Dempster Highway was washed out in several places and closed. On the streets of Dawson we had sun, groceries, beer and well, we had to try the whiskey shot with the severed toe didn’t we? But that tomfoolery didn’t start until 9:00 p.m. so we took the ferry across the Yukon River, found a free place to camp, then walked back to the ferry and crossed over into town again to see what the Sour Toe experience was all about.
Parting with $5.50 Can ($4.20 USD) for a shot that smelled like nail polish remover, we stood in a line with other tourists until eventually we came face to face with The Captain.
Toe history; it is said that in the 20s, a rum runner named Louie Liken had his toe amputated because of frostbite and for memory sake, preserved it in a jar of alcohol until 1973 when Captain Dick Stevenson, a Yukon local, found the jar and brought it to Dawson’s Sourdough Saloon. For fun he started plunking it into the drinks of those unfortunate or brave enough. It has been documented, either through true fact or creative license, the original toe has been replaced seven times because of people ‘accidentally’ swallowing it. Somehow there was always another toe at the ready. One toe was donated after an inoperable corn was discovered. Another after a lawn-mowing-in-sandals accident. And yet another from diabetes.
In 2013, a man who had been a local and had just collected his rent deposit, clambered up to the bar and, after purposely swallowing the toe, slammed $500 down on the bar—the fine amount at the time for swallowing the toe—and left. This was apparently the first time the toe was swallowed deliberately. The fine has since increased to $2500, which was written on a sign staring Dave and I in the face when it was our turn to take our shots with the toe.
I listened to The Captain’s rules for taking the shot and begged my throat not to let anything but liquid pass through. I was less worried about paying the $2500 fine than discovering the next morning what a ‘passed’ severed toe looks like. Hopefully the toenail was trimmed.
After more than enough excitement for the night, Dave and I cradled our sloshing stomachs back to our tent and fell asleep to nightmares of toe jam dancing in our heads.
On Aug. 11, 2016, we crossed into Alaska over the Top of the World highway, which was beautiful and passed through the, “most northerly border port in the U.S.A.,” then found Chicken, a small, adorable town, population 23 in summer and 7 in winter.
Here we met a 10 year old and his mother travelling from Vashon Island, WA. I absolutely love seeing kids’ eyes light up over our bikes and the best is hearing them talk about their dream to one day do what we’re doing. This confident young man already had a few years of riding a dirt bike. I gave him a Riding Full Circle business card and asked him to contact us, even if it’s 20 years down the line, when he begins to live his dream.
If not for Dave, I would have left Chicken with the sweet memory of a young boy who wants to travel the world on his motorcycle and some fun photos of the poultry statue.
But trust my boyfriend to scout out the hidden underground of surface innocence. While I was perusing the gift shop like any normal tourist, Dave was off collecting information about a bar in the area he’d heard was enthusiastic about blowing up women’s underwear.
I found him in this bar; the kind of place that’s always dark no matter what time of day it is with neon lights out front advertising different brands of beer. Inside, stools were lined up around the counter and there were a few small tables off in the corner where I imagined illicit conversations happen in the wee morning hours. In the middle of the bar, a pool table stood sturdy, front and centre.
As any hopeful man would do, Dave inquired about what was involved with having his girlfriend ‘donate’ a pair of underwear to the bars’ ceiling. And as any abiding girlfriend with poor judgment would do, I decided I could part with one of three pairs I’d brought along for our two-year trip; a totally impractical G-string that was already showing signs of wear and tear—(wait, that doesn’t sound right…)
Anyway, we settled into the bar with a beer each and watched while the bar tender found some gunpowder for the canon. He was all out of canon ammunition. Ahhh, Alaska. In the meantime, Dave busied himself with a contest to see who could lift the canon my underwear was about to go in, with one hand from floor-level. A half dozen guys lined up for the challenge but none of them, including Dave, could lift the 30 lb canon with one hand. At some point I began my own wager for who would drop the canon on their toe, thereby providing another back-up donation for the Sour Toe bar in Dawson City.
While the bartender started to pack the canon, Dave and I spoke with a handful of bikers from Fairbanks, Ak who’d come in on low-grumbling bikes that rattled the glasses in the bar. I was most interested to speak with a biker-trucker who had a long, grey ponytail and had been hauling up and down the Dalton highway for 30 years. He had all kinds of stories to tell and we listened to them intently over another beer.
An hour after we’d arrived, the bartender, who I feel should be eligible for danger pay, had procured enough gun powder to pack into the canon and was now out in the parking lot stuffing my underwear into one end of the canon with a stick. We all gathered ’round, cameras in hand, to film the green fabric being blown to smithereens in a parking lot somewhere off a dirt road in Alaska. The first spark of the lighter produced a limp backfire that plopped the wick out of place and fizzled out in the gravel. The bartender tried again but the second and third try resulted the same way. As you can imagine by this time there were all kinds of indecent comments about my underwear being too ‘damp’ to ignite.
The fourth try was unenthusiastic—fair enough. It was becoming clear gunpowder didn’t have enough oomph to light up the canon. We all gave up and I was wondering what to do with my underwear now it had been manhandled and pounded into a canon, when a guy from the crowd thought of sticking the wick into a wine bottle cork so it wouldn’t back out. This was a great idea and it finally worked.
Once the underwear had finally exploded the party fizzle out. Dave and I walked back to our tent we’d set up behind the bar in the dirt. As we left we heard a biker from the decreasing crowd grumble, “Well I didn’t ride this far to spend the night sober.” We chuckled crawling into our chilly tent hoping for a good nights’ sleep.
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