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Good Deeds on The Dempster

Hi everyone!

We are now in the beautiful Kluane National Park.  We sadly and, in my case, tearfully, left Dawson City on Tuesday morning and then spent two relaxing nights at a luxury B&B in Takhini Hot Springs. We arrived in the park early this afternoon.

Can I tell you how exciting it was to watch my amazing wife come in second in the Dawson City women only poker tournament?  The $2100 was nice–that is for sure–but I was just so proud of her!

We had a laid back morning after Tel kicked ass in the tournament, and lazed around our B&B until lunchtime.  After that, we piled into our SUV and headed across the Yukon river to the Top of the World highway.  And trust me, whoever decided this road was a highway certainly took some liberties with the term!

Top of the world "highway"

We crossed into Alaska for the second time this trip at Poker Creek, Alaska.  This “town” has a population of two–the two American border guards!–and is the highest land border in the US.

My folks at the Poker Creek, Alaska border crossing

We were going to drive to Chicken, Alaska, but decided to turn back at Boundary, Alaska as the “highway” was under construction, and was in even rougher shape than usual.  While on the way to the Canadian border, we ran into two herds of caribou!

Traffic on the "highway"!

The next day, we got up early because we knew we wanted to drive up the Dempster highway.   The Dempster is the road that leads up past the Arctic circle to Inuvik, NWT. It is an area of spectacular, rugged beauty, untouched by the outside world. While walking to our car, we heard from a friend of our innkeeper that two young men had been stranded on the Dempster, having had three flat tires.  They repaired the first one, only to get two more.  With no more spare tires, one of them took the two flats and got a ride with a passer-by to Whitehorse, where he had the two tires repaired.  The other poor guy stayed with the car, waiting for his buddy to return.  We vowed to look for the guy to drive him to his car.  And…….120 km up the Dempster, we found him!  He was sitting by the side of the road, two spare tires beside him, hoping for a ride back to his car.

Happily, we met Yan, a young man from Quebec who had *kayaked* from Yellowknife to Inuvik with his friend Damien (now waiting with the car on the highway).  They took their 1992 Plymouth Reliant, with 350,0000 km on it, down the Dempster, running into nothing but bad luck.  First their car was robbed, then the starter broke, and they had to leave the the keys in the ignition permanently.  And then, the three flat tires.  Yan had left Damien with the car with nothing but bug spray and bear spray, and had taken 36 hours to get to Dawson, get the tire fixed, and get back to the place where we picked him up.  He was a really interesting guy, and I really felt he was a bit of a kindred spirit.

Could not imagine a more beautiful place to be stranded!

We drove him another 80 km up the Dempster to Damien.  Once there, we gave the two guys all the food that we had in our SUV, as they had been so long without food.  And we waited while they changed their tires, and then followed them the 200 km back to Dawson to make sure that they were OK. We all felt really good about this, and were super happy to know that they made it back to Dawson safely.

Yann & Damien


Good deeds aside, the Dempster was spectacular. The scenery is amazing, and again, the term “highway” is not really appropriate….it is a rough, bumpy, pot-hole filled gravel road, with gigantic sharp rocks jutting out all over the place. But the starkness, the remoteness….they were amazing. And….we ran into a herd of wild horses!!  Well, we did not run into them–we saw them from a distance. We were about 60 km from the Arctic Circle, the sub-Arctic terrain, glacial lakes and snow covered land were completely different from the other places we have visited in the Yukon.  Another highlight on a trip filled with awesome experiences.

The Dempster Highway....heading to the Arctic Circle.

Beautiful, but does not do it justice!

I have to tell you that I was extremely sad to leave Dawson.  Crying sad.  I *hated* leaving and wanted to spend more time there in a way that I cannot describe.  There is just something about the place…..I am under its spell (and will be writing a blog post entirely about this spell when I get back home).

After leaving Dawson, we spent one and a half days at a ranch in Takhini, only leaving the property for lunch on our second day.  The grounds were beautiful, full of dogs and horses and, not surprisingly, more Quebeckers!  We felt sooooo relaxed leaving there this morning.

And now we are in Haines Junction, inside the beautiful Kluane National Park, a gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage Site.  We head back to Whitehorse tomorrow morning and the four of us fly home on Saturday.  If I do not write again, I will definitely write the above mentioned post on the spell of the Yukon when I return to Ottawa.

Bye for now, and thanks for reading!

Mel

Lake Kathleen inside the spectacular Kluane National Park

She’s in the money!

Dawson City is a magical place. If you haven’t been here, it is hard to imagine that something like this even exists. It’s all wide, dusty streets, wooden sidewalks, old buildings, history everywhere.

Our favourite bar in Dawson--the Pit.

Love this building!

There is a vibrant, living history in this town, and it’s easy to get lost in it.  I already know I will miss it when we leave on Tuesday.  I already know I will be back.

My folks and I went to a Robert Service poetry reading at his cabin yesterday.  We were captivated by the speaker, Andrew.  What an amazing experience–the cabin in the forest, the amazing words of Robert Service.

Listening to Robert Service poetry with his cabin in the background.

The reading was an hour long, and included a fascinating history of his life. Over the years, Robert Service has been incorporated into so many myths and stories around this part of the world.  People swear he had a claim in the Klondike (he never did), that he rescued a miner from the burgeoning river (never happened), that he finished his days in the Yukon (once he left, he did not return).  In fact, he never considered himself a poet, preferring to think of himself as a storyteller, a person who spoke about the things that made others uncomfortable (prostitutes, drinking, gambling). We were honestly enthralled, and want to give a huge shout out to Andrew from Parks Canada for making this such an unbelievable experience for us.

 We spent a lot of the day at the casino yesterday because Tel was participating in a women only poker tournament. The tournament was held in the casino, Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall. We were there for long enough to see all three shows!  My Dad ended up being actively involved with one of the shows…..singing show tunes with Gertie (the host) and even getting pulled up on stage by one of the can-can dancers to do the Charleston!!

My Dad singing show tunes.

Making more friends!

And so you might be wondering about the poker tournament that Tel entered?  We had read about this women only tournament before we even arrived in the Yukon, and had been thinking about entering.  Tel decided the day before that she wanted to play, and we went to the casino yesterday at lunch to get her registered.

 Turns out that women around here take their poker seriously!  About thirty seven women registered, and the tournament started at 2 pm.  My folks and I kind of wandered in and out while Tel was playing, and I tried to give her as much space as possible so that she could focus.  I struck a deal with the pit boss and he agreed to come and find me in the casino and keep me updated on how she was doing.

At about 10 pm, I was playing Blackjack with my Dad and the pit boss came up to me at the table and broke the news: Tel’s in the money! She had made it to the top ten, and was guaranteed a piece of the pot!

We hung around the casino, jumping with joy every time someone else got knocked out……she’s in the top 8, top 7, top 6….and finally….TOP THREE!!!  There were crowds of people packed around the table when Tel knocked out the number 3 contender, putting her in the top two.  Tel was head to head with a local woman, Ashley, for quite a while, until finally the casino manager said that the tournament would have to be decided based on a chip count.  We held our breath while the pit boss counted the chips……Tel had $248,000 in chips and the other woman……..$249,000.  One chip short of a tie!

Still, for second prize she won $2090……pretty freaking awesome for an out of towner to do so well.  I am so incredibly proud of her, of who she is as a person, of how she played, of how decent and honest and kind she is. And she has now become a part of the local gossip….we heard that she was the only tourist to participate in the tournament, and she managed to knock out some really incredible poker players in Dawson.  It was a ton of fun, and a really great part of our time here in Dawson.

We are just about to head across the top of the world highway to Chicken, Alaska, so I will be back to write more about that later in the week.

Bye for now, and thanks for reading!

Mel

Dawson City or Bust!

After a great week in Whitehorse, the four of us piled into our rented SUV and headed north 560 km to Dawson City, in the heart of the Klondike.  Tel and I are in HEAVEN….we love, love, love it here, and are beyond thrilled to be back!

The drive here was…..interesting.  And long.  All along the Klondike highway, you see big patches of burned out areas, with signs indicating the year of the forest fire.  I think we saw 5.  And at two points, we were stopped for 20 minutes or so due to construction.  This is the only road from Whitehorse so our options were kind of limited!

We arrived in Dawson ready for cocktail hour, and Tel and I immediately brought my folks to one of our favourite bars ever–the Westminster hotel.  It is not a tourist bar, but it is a place full of characters!!  The tavern (aka the “day bar”, aka the Snake Pit) is open from 9 am until the end of the day at which time the Lounge (aka the “night bar” aka the Armpit) opens.  My folks loved the Pit, even making friends with some of the folks that live here in Dawson.

On our first full day in Dawson, we took my folks out to the Goldfields area, where gold was first discovered in the Klondike.  We visited Discovery Claim, the first place on the Bonanza River where gold was found.  Each claim along the River is named according to this claim…so we also visited claim 6 above discovery and claim 3 below discovery.

At claim 3 below, we were given a fantastic lesson on how to pan for gold. We all mastered it within 20 minutes or so.

After our lesson, we took our pans and shovels and headed back down the road to claim 6 above where we spent a bit of time gold panning in the Bonanza River.  It was a ton of fun, and my Mom was so into it–definitely the most committed of us all!

We all found a few dollars worth of gold each!  My Mom got hers put in a locket that she can wear around her neck and Tel and I have ours in a vial.

Dawson is a fascinating town, full of opportunities to learn about life during the Gold Rush.  We honestly love it here.

My folks and I are just leaving to go and hear a reading at the Robert Service cabin, and Tel is just about to start a women only poker tournament!  One of us will be back later to tell you how she did and write more about our time here.

Bye for now, and thanks for reading!

Mel

 

What are you looking at Sir–my tips?

On day 3 of our Yukon adventure, we took my parents to Skagway, Alaska for the day.

We took a beautiful, scenic drive through the mountains, marveling at how we had to go south from Whitehorse to get to Alaska. We got to the border only to learn that, due to unpredictable weather, there is a 12 mile stretch of land between the actual border and the border guard post. At the Alaskan border, we were asked to leave our car and enter the building for an inspection–yikes!!! The customs officers wanted a bit more information on the four of us—I guess we looked threatening :) but we were on our way in just under 10 minutes.

Skagway is a tourist town, and pretty much the sole reason for its existence is the cruise ships that pull in there daily. I think there were 3 ships on the day that we were there. They have tried to create a Wild West kind of feel to the town, with wooden buildings and wooden sidewalks. We had lunch at the Red Onion Saloon, a former brothel during the Gold Rush. The employees are all dressed up as Madams, with corsets, push up bras and tips (dollar bills) stuck in their boobs. They WORK this angle with the visiting tourists, and are outrageously flirty with all of the customers. Here is a picture of my Dad with one of them:

Tel and I were watching the reaction of the men to all the boobs, wondering what it is about them that makes men turn into absolute morons. We watched one of the servers shake her boobs in an elderly guy’s face, and he actually giggled!! While we were sitting there feeling all superior, one of the servers walked up and shook her boobs in Tel’s face, causing her to spill her drink down the front of her shirt!!! The server’s response? “Don’t worry about it honey, we like when we get you wet”!!!!! Nice!! Tel turned 17 different shades of red!!

And it was this setting that gave us the title of today’s blog post: a man was sitting at the bar, literally slack jawed and staring at the bartender’s boobs. The bartender, tips stuffed down her bra, asked him “What are you looking at Sir? My tips?” We killed ourselves laughing!

We decided to take a 3.5 hour train ride to the White Pass, one of the two routes taken by prospectors during the gold rush (the other was the Chilkoot pass). The train ride was amazing, and for me was the highlight of our trip so far. Here are some pictures of the scenery:

We were amused and galled by being in the presence of so many Americans; there are some things I forget about that always surprise me when I find myself around large groups of Americans, and the YELLING thing is always the first thing that catches me off guard. I say this knowing that there are many Americans, some of whom I count as friends and that I love dearly, that do not in any way conform to this stereotype. The other thing that never fails to disappoint and frustrate me is their absolute lack of knowledge for anything outside of the US. Here are some of the conversations we heard while on the train:

Son: is the Yukon part of Alaska?
Father: No, it’s a state in Canada.

Grandfather (while sitting on a train, 20 meters past the Canadian border): well, we’re in Canada now and it really feels different here.
granddaughter: I know, it’s definitely colder.

Dumb guy: hey Mom, look at this Canadian $20 bill–it’s real!
My Dad: hey, look at this American money–it all looks the same.

Dumb guy’s Mom (to Tel): wow, your money is really interesting, it looks plastic.
Tel: you just have to be careful in the heat, it can melt.
Dumb guy’s mom: really?
Tel: No, not really. I was just kidding.

Truthfully, these things were more amusing than anything, and we were able to laugh off most of the stupid comments.

We took our time driving back from Alaska, and really soaked up the scenery and enjoyed the drive immensely.

On day 4, we went to the SS Klondike, a paddle boat that used to sail the Yukon River and we also went to the Fish ladder, a structure built to help migrating salmon bypass the Whitehorse dam. It was fascinating, and the next time I am on the blog I will post more about it. For now, we are heading out to enjoy our last day in Whitehorse before heading north to Dawson City tomorrow.

Bye for now, and thanks for reading!

Mel

If you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes

Day Two – and we’re still in love with the land of the midnight sun…  Sadly, we’re having our asses handed to us at euchre, and like everyone else we play with, we’re convinced the Outlaws have some kind of ‘secret signals’ to tell each other when to pick up and when to throw down.  I swear they must’ve known each other for fifty years for the amount of times they’re able to squeak a point in (or a game for that matter).  Oh yeah, they’ve been married that long.  Disregard my last comment.  They just really understand the rules of the game and they have their own unwritten understandings…none of which I always (or hardly ever) get.

 
After a fairly relaxed morning at our B & B (Versleuce Meadows, which is run by a really awesome lady named Roseanna by the way) we went and visited a kennel called Muktuk Adventures.  When Mel and I were here a few years ago, we met a really great guy: Frank Turner.  For all of you who follow our blog and follow the sport of mushing (I know there’s at least none of you who read our blog and follow the sport of mushing), you’ll know Frank Turner as a Yukon Quest participant for 20+ races, and the winner of the 1995 Yukon Quest.

 

Frank has a kennel just on the outskirts of Whitehorse where he has more than a hundred and twenty dogs.  Yup, that’s right.  120.  We met them.  All of them, I can probably name about two dozen, but I’ll save you the torture and let you look at the pictures with their names on their little houses.It was pretty hot in the sun when we arrived for our tour, and we got there about an hour early, not sure what to expect.  The one thing we did expect, however, was to be greeted with the very familiar Yukon charm and friendliness that we’ve come to adore and we weren’t disappointed.  Within a minute of getting out of the truck, we were welcomed by Manuela who is the ‘alpha’ (person).  She’s basically the handler of all 120 dogs and was born in Germany.  She was a remarkable person and had a really interesting story.  Here’s the reader’s digest version.

Manuela came to Canada from her home base in Germany (the Black Forest specifically, which Mel and I visited in May of this year).  She landed in Whistler on a year-long work & tourist visa and started as a housekeeper for a while, then a front desk attendant and by her own account, she felt like she wasn’t seeing the Canada she had come to see.  She asked around and seemed to get a general consensus that the Yukon was definitely worth visiting.  She called around with her very limited English to some work-stay type establishments to see if there was any farms/businesses who could use help from a carpenter (that’s her trade) in exchange for room and board.  She found a job and thought it was a perfect fit.  She came north via Greyhound from Whistler and got to Whitehorse, stayed at the local Tim Horton’s from 3:30 am to 8:00 am when she called her new boss, only to find out that the guy who was prepared to give her the job no longer needed her.  What an epic disaster.  I know I wouldn’t have handled that situation nearly as well as she seemed to have.  Turns out, she met someone at the Tim Horton’s that night who would prove to be a true knight in shining armour.

I don’t know him, but she called him JF.  He was a french guy living in Whitehorse and offered to let Manuela and her friend stay at his house that night.  I was waiting for her to start telling us how JF got freaky, or weird, or just plain asshole-ish, but she never did.  He really just wanted to help.  Seems to be in the water up here in the Yukon.  People really seem to just want to help.

Anyhow, I digress…  JF put Manuela in touch with a few people, including Anne Taylor (Frank’s wife) and Anne explained that Muktuk would need some fences built and some work around the property etc…and Manuela seemed to think it would be okay until her visa expired in September.  Just one small problem.  When JF was explaining that Frank and Anne owned a lot of dogs, Manuela (with her own German understanding) heard JF say ducks.  So, Manuela thought she was going to work on a duck farm.  I should’ve asked what she thought when she arrived.

Another quick digression…this reminds me of the time when Mel was working at the RCMP and one of her colleagues from Germany came to stay with us for 6 weeks.  We were sitting at the dining room table one day and Maria (Germany cop) asked me if we had beers.  I said ‘Yes’.  She asked where they were.  I told her they were in the fridge.  She looked at me very confused and said ‘You keep your beers in the fridge?’  I was confused by her confusion and said ‘Yes’.   Turns out she wanted to know if we had bears in Ottawa.  I later explained that they only came out at night in Ottawa and they weren’t fond of fridges.

Ahh….I forgot how much I like blogging!  Here’s really the readers’ digest of the rest of our day here in Whitehorse…

-We saw, played with and pet the most amazing sled dogs.  They were all so incredibly friendly, except the ones who were shy.  When we walked by, they just went into their houses.  Reminded me of people, including me on some days.

- We were just standing around when all 120 dogs who were really quiet a second before all of a sudden went CRAZY.  Like no kidding, CRAAAAAAZY!  Howling and jumping straight up in the air, barking, squealing, etc…  We looked around (I’m guessing we all did a 360 because it was like someone just flipped a switch and these dogs went nuts).   Turns out, Manuela and her team of handlers walked up the driveway towards the dogs.  We didn’t notice anything was happening until we saw them being unclipped from their houses and that’s when the ones who were untied got to go play in their big open pens.  It was amazing to watch.

(Mel has a video that we’ll upload here when we get a stronger internet connection)

-We went on a 40-minute walk with Manuela and 7 of her dogs down to the river.  She told us all sorts of amazing stories about mushing dogs.  I know more today about mushing and mushing dogs than I’ve ever known before.  Granted, that was never very much, but now I know way more.

-Manuela has aspirations to run the Yukon Quest, she said it was on her bucket list (yes Trix, that list…)  We don’t know how old she is, we’re guessing not more than 30 (if that).  We are all incredibly hopeful that she gets to realize that dream.  She brought both Mel and I to tears at one point, she was so passionate…. just so real.

When we finished our time with Manuela, we walked back to the common deck area (which she helped to build, incidentally) and got to spend about an hour with Frank Turner who told us about what he’s up to and some stories about his life.  What an amazing guy.  He used to be a social worker in Toronto and left that life to spend it up here, with his amazing wife Anne and their 120 furry friends.  I know that’s really minimizing who he is and what he’s all about, but every time I talk to Frank (twice now), I’m reminded that there are some really awesome and unpretentious people in this world.

Sandy, Frank Turner and Irwin

Frank’s got an incredible ability to draw people in and to remind them that the world you live in is the world you create for yourself.  Twice, I had to blink tears away, and it’s Mel that’s peri-menopausal.  I just love it up here.

After a bit more chat with Frank, we piled into the truck and his parting words were ‘So how did you guys meet, I really want to hear the story’ – to the Outlaws.

I’m being rushed for an amazing wild Alaskan sockeye salmon dinner and more wine, so we’ll catch up on the ‘how did you meet story’ the next post.  Hope everyone is well back home and want you all to know that we highly recommend Muktuk Adventures for anyone who’s planning a trip up here.  Definitely worth the time and money, and it might even make you think.

Hope you’re all having as great of a week as we are!

Cheers,
Tel

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