I love the north and particularly the Yukon; the abundance of free food growing in the forest is intriguing, like low-bush cranberries, huge, fat blueberries and the mushrooms! I want to pick them but have no idea which of them will be a welcome change to our regular pasta meals and which will make us into dancing, hallucinating nudists in the forest. Or worse, dead nudists.
In total, the Yukon has a population of 37,178. Whitehorse’s population is 27,690, which means less than 10,000 people live outside this charming city. The second most populated area is Dawson City with 2,308 people. The Whitehorse visitor centre gives out free 3-day parking passes so you can park anywhere downtown and go exploring. Free parking is a great concept that more cities and towns should provide for visitors. After all, this is usually where the most services are. If tourists and travellers can easily access shops, galleries and other visitor services, it stands to reason that the area’s economy would benefit.
We spent four days in Whitehorse while Dave sourced parts for his bike and got other parts machined to fix his wheel bearings. Because of the great contacts we’d met, he had access to a garage with tools and got everything back together and ready to go on his bike.
On July 29, we planned to ride to Skagway, Alaska but woke up to rain. We were staying with friends. It’s hard to leave a warm house with tea and showers and a roof over our heads and trade it for wet riding and camping gear but we rallied and went for it anyway. Along the way the rain let up and the sun poked out a little. We stopped in Carcross, where a friend of Dave’s, Derek Crowe, has been instrumental instigating the creation of Single Track to Success—a program involving first nations youth who help build mountain bike trails in the area. Carcross is also known for being the smallest desert in the world and also perhaps the northern-most. Although it certainly looks desert-like, with its 640 acres of sand dunes, the Carcross desert is in fact not a desert at all but a deposit of silt left behind when large glacial lakes dried up after the last glacial period, 10,000-ish years ago. It is a very interesting stop along the way from Whitehorse to Skagway.
We found a map at the Carcross visitor centre that showed a back road up Montana Mountain. Of course once Dave had seen this, we had to go exploring. The road was beautiful and allowed us to glimpse some of the trail work Derek had done with his helpers for the mountain bike community. We eventually came to where the map indicated a washout we could not ride over. After a few photos, we turned around and headed down to the highway to make our way over the next 100 km (60 m) to our destination.
The road to Skagway is incredible. Through the pass, there are hundreds of teal and turquoise coloured alpine pools positioned like giant baths scooped into big bowls of granite rock. If it hadn’t been 11°C (52°F), I’d have stopped for a swim but as it was the wind left a pretty chilly slap on any exposed skin. We were finding ‘summer’ in the north to be quite wintery.
Once we’d reached Skagway, we parked the bikes and walked around town checking out the giant cruise ships that come up from the south then went to scout out a Thai place we’d heard about. Apparently people in Whitehorse will order take-out then seriously drive the 177 km (110 miles) one-way to pick it up and drive back. I can’t fathom this is true but after eating there we wondered if maybe it was.
We had been told about a free municipal campground about 20 km (12 m) out of town in some flats by the inlet. We found this perfect spot and set up camp. It was very peaceful. We could hear eagles in the nearby forest but were only able to actually see one.
On the morning of July 30, we decided to take a day off and rode into Skagway to find a hiking trail up to Dewey Lake. It was 11 km (6.8 m) round trip with 2952 ft (900 m) of elevation gain. Although we did the hike in four hours round-trip, our legs were killing us for about five days afterward. We could barely get on and off our bikes and glared at staircases with disdain. Sitting all day on a bike does not get one in shape.
We spent another night out at our beautiful campsite in the flats. Part of the evening’s entertainment was hanging out with two Swiss couples travelling in converted Land Cruisers they’d shipped from Europe to Halifax, Nova Scotia and then driven to Alaska. It was a very fun evening full of light-hearted rivalry between the two couples, one older and one younger, about what made their rig better than the other. Although their vehicles looked very similar from the outside, they were quite different on the inside as Dave and I found when we were given tours through both the next morning, (after they had hand delivered fresh coffee to our tent!). We exchanged addresses and very much hope to see them all again in Europe.
On July 31, Dave and I returned to Whitehorse but this time had the pleasure of staying a few days with a good friend of my parents. Joan Turner met my mom and dad when they all worked together at Lake O’Hara near Lake Louise, Alberta, back in the late 60s. Joan and her husband Don were excellent hosts. We arrived just in time for happy hour and a dinner party. The food was incredible and healthy. Even Dave welcomed the kale salad from a neighbour’s garden after several days of pasta and crackers. While we sat at a set table on the Turners’ back deck, I realized it finally felt like a real summer day. The sun was almost hot, we had cold white wine in our hands and I was wearing the one sundress I travel with for the first time in weeks.
It’s the little things in life…
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