2000-07-15 - 19:11:53
Gold! Gold! Gold! After nearly a month in Alaska, we've reached the Yukon, Canada, where from 1898-1900, Dawson was a tent city of over 100,000 desperate fortune seekers in search of the elusive metal. 100 years later, the town's population is a little over 2000, and the gold is tourism. Dawson still maintains and promotes much of the atmosphere of the original settlement, with dirt roads and original turn-of-the-century wooden buildings, bars and restaurants with names like 'Klondike Kate's', 'The Grubstake' and the 'Sourdough Saloon'. It even has an authentic casino(Diamond Tooth Girtie's) complete with vaudeville shows and can-can dancers.
The Taylor and Top-of-the-World highways lived up to their rugged reputations - the Taylor highway especially, with torturous hills and either dusty gravel or spattering mud. The numerous 'RV's' didn't help matters (although they were our water supply on several occasions) as they rumbled by throwing up dust and stones. One overweight RV owner summed up our differences when, after looking at our bikes for a minute, asked quite seriously "So how do you pop the top up when it rains?". On the 3rd day, we cycled into the bustling metropolis of Chicken; named by miners who wanted to name it after the Alaska state bird, but couldn't spell Ptarmigan - population 21 and a 3 legged dog, no running water, pit toilets, the last post office before the Canadian border, and the biggest pancakes and cinnamon rolls either Sarina or I had ever seen. The following day we cycled uphill for about 15 miles to the Canadian border at the start of the Top-of-the-World highway. The one U.S border guard was the spitting image of Sean Connery, while the Canadian guard must rate as the world's friendliest - after satisfying her that we weren't carrying guns, alcohol or cigarettes, she gave me a mountie stamp in my passport, and a carry bag full of soft drink, chocolate bars, chips and Danish rolls! Needless to say, I took an immediate liking to Canada, especially when the road returned to tarseal and road signs started measuring in kilometres. I'm convinced the French pioneers of the metric system must have also been Tour de France cyclists - how American cyclists cope with the long monotony of miles, I don't know; but I know that cycling a kilometre is far easier than cycling a mile, and cycling 100km is far more satisfying than 62miles...of course Sarina disagrees; she's spent the last 3 weeks bamboozling me with miles, fahrenheit, nickels, dimes and quarters...now it's my turn.
The 2 day ride across the Top-of-the-World was stunningly beautiful and cripplingly cold. On what must have been our coldest night yet, I was only just warm enough in 3 layers of thermals, balaclava, sleepingbag and tent. We were above the snowline, and it snowed lower down in one of the adjacent mountain ranges. The final 17km was a freewheeling, mind-spinning downhill to the banks of the Yukon, where a 24hr free ferry took us across the river to Dawson.
With Sarina's knees creaking like old stairs and mine feeling like they've come out the losers in a kick-boxing tournament with the local bear population, we've spent the last 2 days pampering ourselves with great food and homemade ice-cream courtesy of Klondike Kate's and the Midnight Sun Saloon. We've also soaked up some of the literary history of Dawson, which was once home to both Jack London and Robert Service during the gold rush years. Yesterday we visited their respective cabins and listened to a reading of Robert Service poems by well-known local actor Tom Byrne.
I wanted the gold and I sought it:
I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvy - I fought it:
I hurled my youth into a grave.
I wanted the gold and I got it -
Came out with a fortune last fall -
Yet somehow life's not what I thought it:
And somehow the gold isn't all.
(The Spell of the Yukon)
Sarina's knees are still complaining this morning, so we've decided to spend the next week or so in Dawson, while I (always a sucker for punishment) make the cyclists' pilgrimage up the Dempster highway to Inuvik, 740km north, in the Arctic circle. I'm still looking at the logistics, but as at 8.00am this morning(!), the plan is to leave tomorrow, take 5-6 days to reach Inuvik, then crawl into the first accommodating 'RV' for a ride back to Dawson with the enemy.
Total distance cycled: 1884km
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