Friday, July 3, 2009

"A bunch of the boys were hooping it up..."

We arrived in Dawson the afternoon of 30 June and “touristed”. I know that is not a proper word, but it should be. Touristed, verb: active. Meaning, when visiting an unknown place, to act as a tourist, to be appropriately awed, to exclaim “wow” or “neat”, and, especially, to leave money at the entrance to all attractions. We enjoyed the day and were delightfully educated about some of Dawson's most famous citizens. At the top of the list was the visit to Robert Service's log cabin, from which much of his Yukon verse was penned. Unlike most poets, he derived a considerable income from his work. The latter half of his life was spent with his French wife, either on the Brittany coast or the French Riviera. Not bad for a guy who wrote about the “wage slave”, eh? [The /eh/ is out of consideration for YT being in Canada] Also, in Dawson is a very complete presentation on Jack London, with a replica of his original cabin up on Henderson Creek. They said some of the logs in the replica were actual logs from the original...reminds me of the axe my Dad had, “passed down through six generations – four handles and a new head, but the same axe”.
1 July is Dominion Day in Canada (cf., 4 July, Independence Day in USA). Dominion Day celebrations were inaugurated by a speech (which we missed), a parade (which was a wonderful small-town affair, with farm wagon floats bedecked with almost pretty girls wearing too much rouge, fire trucks with fully functional sirens, and uncountable numbers of kids on bicycles weaving in and out of the parade vehicles), and a very satisfying strawberry cake dessert at the Visitor Center. Brenda's miniature Schnauzer accompanied us, as it was too hot to leave her in the camper. Chloe – who has learned to stay quietly at heel and to not jump up on people (amazing what 24/7 for three weeks will do) – was the recipient of literally hundreds of pats on the head and scratches behind the ear.
By early afternoon, we had had enough of Dawson. We hitched up and headed out to travel the Top of The World Highway and thence to Tok, AK. The drive was magnificent for the scenery. From Dawson with an elevation of 1400 feet, we climbed to over 4500 feet. Twice I had to stop to let the Ford cool off! After having gained the necessary elevation, we drove for miles on narrow twisting roads above the timber line, meandering through the mountains. In some places, the road was truly a single lane. Fortunately, when we encountered oncoming vehicles, we were in stretches of the road with sufficient room to pass side by side. With one dump truck, I did come to a complete stop as he eased by me. There are no guard rails. Before ascending the Top of The World Highway, I was chatting with a Swiss couple (we were taking a lunch break at a Provincial Park on the shores of {yes!} Lake Lebarge) who had taken a rented truck slide-in camper over the mountain. They were appalled at the lack of guard rails. I suppose when this road has as many centuries of travel on it as their Alps, it too will be guard railed. Meanwhile, it was a great adventure.
Right after the long haul over the Top, we cleared US customs. It took less than five minutes and didn't cost me anything! They didn't even ask me about any damn bear spray. The Customs Officer did ask if I had a gun. Then, when I said yes, he asked if I had declared it to Canadian Customs. I said yes, and that was that. He didn't want to see the shotgun nor the paperwork.
Chicken, AK, was the first town we passed. Oral history has it that the initial inhabitants of the community wanted to name it Ptarmigan, after the bird of that name; however, no one could spell Ptarmigan, so it became Chicken. We didn't stop in Chicken, but traveled on to Tok. Now, the oral history on Tok has it that the civil engineer drawing out the route for the Alaskan Highway indicated on the map that this was a good location for a “T” intersection. The main road (#2) goes on to Fairbanks and the side road (#1) goes to Glennallen. He penciled on the map: “T” OK. Of course, at the intersection of the highways, a small community arose and called itself Tok. We ate a restaurant hamburger, took a hot shower and went to bed. It was about 11PM and fully light enough outside for any daytime activity, but we were too tired for any more fun.

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