Wanderung 29

Alaska or Bust

July 2014 - August 2014

3 Chicken, Alaska
Bayo Lake, BC 4


August 1: Dawson City, Yukon


Unexpectedly, a few miles beyond our campground, the highway was newly paved all the way to the border! That made the driving far easier and I could take my eyes off the road to enjoy the scenery, which was just grand. The highway is called the "Top Of The World" highway for the very good reason that you are way far North and the highway itself runs along the high plateau and ridges that give spectacular views of the mountains all around you. Rank upon rank of forested mountains faded away into the distance, gradually becoming more bluish and less distinct. The scene reminded me of the distant views of the Great Smoky Mountains from the Blue Ridge Parkway, but on a much broader scale as we seemed to be looking out 30-40 miles to the horizon and those mountains were everywhere!

We were given the usual courteous greeting by Canadian border guard folks when we crossed into the Yukon, and the guy was not real busy so he obliged us by not only giving our new passports their inaugural stamp, but giving us a big, fancy-Dan stamp of an old-time gold miner panning for gold. He said he had a smaller ordinary everyday stamp for most folks, but he reserved this big outsized stamp for tourists like us! Unfortunately, the Canadians apparently did not believe in maintaining the Klondike highway, because right after the border crossing the road surface deteriorated into a rutted, potholed mess of dirt and gravel. I slowed down and tried to duck all the potholes, but seriously there were times when the potholes were "wall-to-wall" across the entire surface of the road and I just couldn't go around them.


We packed up and got back on the road. We had another 12 miles of unpaved road, but then 14 beautiful paved miles to the border. The Canadian border patrol guy was very nice and even put the first stamp into our brand new passports. But now the road deteriorated. True, there were a few patches of the old road, but mostly it was dirt and gravel.


Murphy's Law: "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and at the worst possible moment!"

So I have Toyota Care emergency road service for the U.S., including Alaska, but it does not apply in Canada. So where does my car choose to blow out a tire? On the "Top Of The World" Highway in the northernmost reaches of the Yukon Territory in Canada, where there is, literally, nothing and nobody! A few miles after the border the washboard gravel road with its side-to-side potholes finally blew out our left rear tire. It was quite a loud "BANG" rather than a whimper, and Monika found a 2-inch slice where the steel belts had broken and were protruding from the tread. Clearly that was not fixable, so I jacked the car up and put on that thin, narrow, high-pressure "donut" spare tire and we limped very slowly and cautiously along the ruts and rubble of the road into Dawson City, Yukon. Only 3 cars passed during the 1/2 hour or so it took me to change the tire, but every single one stopped and offered to help us, so the frontier ethos of helping others in emergencies is alive and well in the Yukon.

After taking the small ferry across the Yukon River into Dawson City, however, our luck turned good. The folks in the Visitor Center told us about an RV repair place on the outskirts of Dawson City, and as luck would have it they had a Prius-sized tire and were willing to mount it on our wheel rim for total of $98 Canadian (or about $90 US). Considering we were out in the back of beyond where the scenery is fantastic but the people and amenities are few, I thought that was a very reasonable price.


About halfway to Dawson City we heard a big noise and the tire warning system came on. Indeed we had one tire that quickly went completely dead. Well as you all know, the spare tire is always the lowest thing. So we unpacked the back, got out the tire lifter upper, the book to see where to put it, the lug wrench, and of course the spare. Bob is extremely good at changing tires, so the whole thing did not take too long and we were back on the road.

But if I thought Bob was driving carefully before, now he really did and we made it into Dawson City without further mishap. At the Visitor Information we asked where a tire place would be and were sent to an RV park on the outskirts of town. This place was a gas station and camper store. I did not have much hope, since the tire had blown in such a way that we needed a new one. I was pleasantly surprised that they did have one and at a reasonable price. They said they would have it mounted in about an hour.


Since the "tire guy" was on lunch break, we dropped the tire off and drove back into the preserved historic Gold Rush district of Dawson City for a couple hours. There we had lunch and then walked all over the roughly 6 square blocks of carefully preserved antique buildings. We also saw the steamship Keno, a smaller cousin to the S.S. Klondike we had toured in Whitehorse on our way North. The Keno brought silver ore from the mine down the very small Stewart River to the junction with the larger Yukon River, where the S.S. Klondike transferred it to Whitehorse for processing. That may sound laborious, but before the Klondike Highway was built in 1955, rivers were the only means of hauling cargo around in the non-winter season. Folks, there are still only 6 highways in the entire Yukon Territory, and that is a huge expanse of mountains, forests, lakes and rivers. The rivers all drain either into the Yukon, which ultimately heads West through Alaska to the Bering Sea, or in the upper part of the Yukon they drain northwards into the Arctic Ocean. Clearly, it is easier to get around up there with a float plane than a car!


So we went back into town, had lunch and walked through town and looked and took pictures of the old buildings. Returning to the gas station we filled up and got our new tire.


After our walking tour of Dawson City, we picked up our new tire and continued down the highway a few miles to camp for the evening in a Yukon Territory provincial park.


We both decided we had seen Dawson City and were ready to move on. 10 miles down the road was a Yukon government campground were we sat up our car/tent for the night.

August 2: Klondike Highway, Yukon


Changing a car tire on a gravel campsite pad with mosquitoes bedeviling me wasn't the most pleasant experience of my life, but it sure beat changing a tire at the side of the Top Of The World Highway in dust, ruts and gravel with each passing car blowing dirt on you! The new tire looked great, but I still drove very gingerly for the next few thousand miles as I figured the other 3 original tires had also taken quite a beating during our journey and could therefore fail at any time. (Lest the Gentle Reader become overly concerned at this point, I will fast-forward and say that we had no further problems and all the tires lasted until we replaced the whole set with Michelins at the end of the summer.)

We stopped a couple of times during the day, once at a dangerous set of rocks across the Yukon River that had been difficult for the old steamers to handle, and each time we stopped I got out the lug wrench and re-torqued the lug nuts as they kept trying to loosen up whilst driving. I also could not help stopping on the shores of Lake Laberge because I have desperately wanted to see it ever since I read "The Cremation Of Sam McGee" by Robert Service, which begins:

"There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold:

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

But the queerest they ever did see

Was that night on the marge of Lake Labarge

I cremated Sam McGee. ..... "

Lake LaBerge itself turned out to be a beautifully, clear, pristine, and placid-looking lake with one or two small motorboats out on it. But what I was absolutely astonished to find out was that there was, in fact, an old steamship wrecked in the lake, which could very well have been the inspiration for the wrecked ship mentioned in "The Cremation of Sam McGee" ! Art taking its cue from life, I guess.


In the morning Bob put the new tire on the car and then it was more or less one long day of driving. The road was ok except for several sections of road construction, which meant several miles of gravel. We stopped for pictures along the Yukon and at Lake Laberge. Found a nice little motel and just collapsed. I am ready for a shower.

Copyright 2014 by R. W. Holt and E. M. Holt


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