On September 23rd we left Tok in the afternoon and stopped for our last ‘cheap’ Yankee gas just before the border. At the border into the Yukon the Canada customs agent was chit chatting with me about photography. Lynne and I both thought it was going to be a record setting easy crossing. At the suggestion of the the nicest customs agent I had ever dealt with on my way north to Alaska I mentioned that I had been denied entry to Canada 9 years before due to having a photocopy of my birth certificate. She dismissed that but almost immediately changed her tone turning from runner up to nicest canada customs agent to the flip side I’ve known a lot over the years. “Did you know your passport expires in 4 weeks?” “Yes.” “Canada is like any other foreign country and requires your passport to be valid for 6 months beyond date of entry.” “I will be exiting the country in a just over a week.” I’ve grown accustomed to pulling into the bay to speak with immigration regarding why I was denied entry in ’03 (since it only says “Immigration” when the person at the window scans my passport) or being searched for suspicion of poverty but this was different. 45 minutes later and a less than friendly conversation about how Canada is not different than other foreign countries in its relation to the US or how I had been lying earlier when I didn’t mention I was considering a flight south for a memorial to return afterwards for my car and drive south my thoughts of Canada Customs were soured further. She said I could or perhaps would be denied entry if I tried to return north for my car even if the flight was a domestic Canadian flight and I was entering Canada by bus. At the same time I watched another Customs Agent turn around a retired couple from North Carolina, separating them from their traveling friends in another vehicle already through the border. I asked the agent about the regulations on the retired gentleman’s firearm. He casually said the shotgun was a grey area because it was about 1/2cm too short. Two events don’t define a place but in my head they went far in that direction as 2 agents followed the letter of the law and more regarding a couple of harmless Americans. I was issued a form permitting me short term entry of Canda. Regarding my car she told me to check with the Customs office in Whitehorse to notify them. On the form she typed “unknown” for citizenship when it’s plainy stated as USA on my valid US Passport. Beaver Creek customs has won the coveted title of most annoying! Congrats!
We drove the current champion for ‘most frost heaved’ stretch of road that I’ve encountered- the Alaska highway from Beaver Creek to Kluane Lake, the first stretch being the worst. In 2010 with my fully loaded Toyota pickup it was a 35mph white knuckle drive in 4wd across the snowy road pitching side to side and dropping into unexpected holes. Fortunately the road was dry and the Subaru wasn’t a handful. For a stretch we watched vibrant rainbows form before us at times seeing double bows. It would dim to return again as we turned another bend and the clouds moved through the sky. It was quite a sight and comforting to Lynne. I was excited to shoot photos along the highway of some spectacular beauty. We camped at the Donjek River and settled in for a cold night after cooking dinner on the lee side of the car. Wind batted at the Subaru. I had considered night photos as that had been a constant goal on this trip but the cold was too much. We stayed up and talked and cried, pondering lives well lived … and death. Recalling many memories that made us smile and lessons we’d learned. Loss of those we cherish and admire, the people we look to as anchors, is hard. It seems to rock us at our cores. I also see such loss as a challenge to live a more exemplary life and treat others better every day. To be known for kindness and for offering encouragement and smiles to those we contact.
Emotions often show themselves physically. After not sleeping that much I awoke to an achy body. It felt like I had the flu but I was optimistic for a while and wrote it off to a rough night of sleep. Later in the day I realized the bug I’d fought off in Anchorage was back with a vengeance. We drove to Kluane Lake and watched the wind drive whitecaps to the shore. This is another spot up north that I’m drawn to, stark and beautiful. We cooked breakfast at Burwash Landing and read up on a large fire they had. We made our way to Haines junction. My body wanted to sleep but we pushed on to Whitehorse arriving in the afternoon. First stop was starbucks across from Walmart (for free wifi- not coffee silly). I had to figure out whether or not to fly south. My brain capacity seemed to be hovering around 5%. Staring blankly into space was what I could muster. Making a good decision seemed out of reach. I pondered my options for a while and decided to fly (driving down in time seemed out of reach- even had we driven straight south from Tok). We were still considering a return to the north to finish our trip to the Arctic in the Yukon. After discussing things Lynne persuaded me not to fly south. Since I was sick I wouldn’t be of much help or support. I trusted her judgement and agreed. We looked at our ‘schedule’ and wanting to visit Yellowstone meant we were running out of time up North. We decided to take a short trip North of Whitehorse to salvage some sort of neato factor for Lynne. I wasn’t sure I could make the drive but decided to see what I could do in the morning. We picked up a bunch of veggies and Lynne cooked a delicious healthy meal while I chugged carrot juice. Somehow I managed enough brain capacity to help Lynne set up her tent. I slept well in the Roo and felt a little bit better in the morning.
Keno Hill Excursion
After a breakfast of Malto Meal we headed north towards Mayo and Keno Hill. Once again Lynne ate a Klondike bar on the Klondike Highway. We gazed at Five Finger Rapids, a foe of the overloaded river boats on the Yukon River during the gold rush. North we went until we reached Stewart Crossing where we left the main route to Dawson City and parted ways with a route we had traveled the previous summer to Tombstone & Dawson. Mayo has some interesting old buildings but the real history is further out the road. We left the pavement and made our way towards Keno Hill. It was chilly even in the sun and I was exhausted by the time we made it so I rested in the car for a bit before finding Lynne out for a walk through the historic town. We stopped at the Keno City Snack Bar, a place with lots of neat old things, and chatted with the owner. A couple of traveling librarians were also chatting with him about life in the north and checking on their library in Keno. That was our next stop. We looked at the campground to see what it was like before heading up to the end of the road on Keno Hill at the signpost. The temperature dropped and the wind picked up as we climbed. The views were nice but we found ourselves no longer in summer or even fall up top. Before dinner we met some workers from the department of Aboriginal Affairs & Northern Development, an agency surveying the environmental damage of the mines & tailings left behind. The cleanup there and at Faro are adding up to billions of dollars of cleanup. Mining money was made decades upon decades ago and now the responsibility is the taxpayer’s since United Keno Hill mines declared bankruptcy in 1999. They enjoyed sunset at the signpost and drove a bit beyond before returning to the town well below for a cozy night in town.
Facing the Roo into the wind we cooked dinner in the back of the car with the hatch open. It was so windy that even this arrangement resulted in mostly raw garlic in the veggie stir fry. This was a perfect compliment to tortellini and my immune system. My fever broke late that night as I sweated in my double sleeping bag. Lynne was wrapped in two warm down bags. It was so cold that night! It snowed but the wind carried most of it towards the Northwest Territories. The car shook and shuddered in the wind but we slept soundly in the Roo. We felt better about our decision not to head back to the Arctic a couple weeks later. 185km away was close enough in that season. In the morning we marveled at the patterns of snow sculpted by the wind. An even greater marvel was the distance to Mexico City- 4500km- further than several places in Europe including Paris 4400km, Moscow 4200km, Berlin 4300km & Hamburg 4200km! Yet this was nothing compared to the 7450km to Rio de Janeiro .. and that’s northern South America. This trip is hard to wrap the head around in terms of distance! Everything about it is big!
We took in the views and slowly headed down the hill getting out to look in different directions and take in the wildness of the Yukon. It’s so vast and unpopulated, everything I dreamed of Alaska being as a boy! Part way down the hill the snow disappeared and we made our way back to fall. Out we went under grey skies past Keno and then Mayo arriving back at the Klondike to fill up with gas at Stewart Crossing. South we went and the weather improved. Lynne gave me a baking soda hair ‘wash’ at Carmacks. I had seen her do this in the past and had been a skeptic of the practice but it turned really dirty hair into marginally dirty hair. Success I think. We made it to within striking distance of Whitehorse and went to the hot springs outside of town just off the Klondike highway. It was ~$11 per person and the hot springs we basically swimming pools but it was nice to soak in hot water! I was super tired again but on the mend. we met a nice couple from near Palmer AK who were hauling their horses to southern Idaho for the winter while they went to Florida. It was their first time driving south in 30 years and were surprised to learn you needed a passport to enter canada. They were hassled for a while but allowed ot enter Canada. They drove the Top of the World highway on the day were were looking to do so but turned around by the Customs Closed signs. After dark we headed to the Walmart parking lot, our home for the night once again. Lynne cooked up over a pound of hamburger with teriyaki. Sadly I spilled part of my hamburger in the parking lot. Lynne arranged her bags for the morning flight home taking only a carry on.