It’s three in the morning and we’re out walking the streets of Whitehorse.
The darned sun just won’t go down. Our minds have been fooled by a ‘Yukon blue’ sky that won’t fade to black and we are wide awake.
But then again – as our pals at Boreale Mountain Biking like to say – “In the Yukon, sleep is for winter.”
Our inaugural trip to Canada’s romantic north involved four jam-packed days – enough to get a good taste of this storied territory and leave us thirsting for more.
My coolest memories of Dawson City – which draws about 60,000 visitors annually given its synonymous status with the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush?
– Meeting a gold nugget-loving miner named Jim Archibald who’s been panning since the 60’s. He actually let me hold a small leather pouch containing about $23,000 worth of solid gold nuggets – never taking his eye off the prize, of course. Can you say “really heavy”?
– The sweet fragrance of beautifully beaded, smoked moose hide moccasins – handmade by local First Nations artisans and for sale at the Danoja Zho Cultural Centre.
(For the record, I didn’t have time to do the The Toe – but I’m O.K. with that.)
As for highlights from Toque’s train trip to Alaska?
– Climbing almost 3,000 feet in just 20 miles, traveling from lush green forest into treeless terrain that resembled the surface of a snowy moon and gliding down into the port town of Skagway which was touristy but fun, complete with saloons and faux whorehouses. (Assuming they were faux?)
– The bus trip back to Whitehorse which included a visit to the town of Carcross – previously known as Caribou Crossing – which sits beside Bennett Beach, said to be one of the top beaches in Canada. Easy to imagine this sandy mecca teeming with Coppertone-covered teenagers come summer.
– The Carcross Desert – found along the South Klondike Highway. At a mere 640 acres or one square mile, it’s considered to be the smallest desert in the world. These out-of-place dunes are used by locals for sandboarding. Who knew?
After rallying back in Whitehorse, we were – naturally – on a quest to find gold and the saloons in town were only too happy to oblige.
Mackenzie, our ruggedly handsome and yes, burly bartender at the Gold Rush suggested a couple of pints of Yukon Gold. Yukon Brewing calls it “beer worth freezin’ for.” It was. After a long (and I mean long) day, we had indeed struck it rich!
Whitehorse, the Yukon’s capital, is home to 25,000 permanent residents – also known as ‘sourdoughs,’ a moniker going back to prospecting days when miners carried pouches of sourdough starter on their belts.
Among these people are a few referred to as “The Colourful Five Percent.”
They say since the Gold Rush era, the Yukon has attracted ‘interesting’ characters. We can assure you this is true.
At our local saloon, there was the lovely, grizzled old guy we nicknamed “Shorty.” Sporting a permanent smile and holding court – pint in hand – at his favourite window table, he proudly wore demin short-shorts, well-worn cowboy boots and a tattered cowboy hat.
Don’t even ask us about Mr. Pajama pants!
There were also the usual suspects – the plaid-clad and bearded saloon dwellers who seemed gruff until later in the evening when ready smiles emerged in even proportion to beers downed.
And let’s not forget the other 95 per cent – Canucks who could live anywhere but who have chosen to make the Yukon home.
No question, there is something about this land.
This is a place of fierce beauty, a place where you can find that rare I-am-but-a-speck-in-the-wilderness feeling.
Now if you ask us, that’s rich.