Friday 25th July 3:00 p.m Dawson City, Yukon, Canada
Fairbanks was a blast! Billie's Backpackers Hostel was the first time in years that I've been surrounded by travellers, and I loved it. It was just a shame that many of them moved on over the five days I spent there. I wish I'd taken photos of some of the characters, so you could 'meet' them. The first two I met were Dan and Eugen. Dan is a manic American, in Alaska for the summer chasing work. He's an electrician, and was constantly laughing, and making everyone else laugh with him, or at him- he doesn't care which! Eugen is from Switzerland, cycling around Alaska and enjoying a break in Fairbanks. Then there was Red, big and bushy; by his own admission a little like an orangutang, only bigger and spectacled. Red and another American Hunt, are also in Alaska for work; they're forest fire fighters, and would get all excited when there was a faint smell of smoke in the breeze. They don't get paid unless there's work, and where there's smoke, there's money! Pam, an American girl seemingly in Alaska to get over a recently failed relationship, loved to read me quizzes from men's magazines. Burke was in the construction game. Larri *yes, spelled with an 'i'* is in Alaska looking to buy a block of land and build a cabin. He was so impressed with my project, that he decided to help me along the way. Thanks Larri, the twenty bucks paid for my first night's stay when I got to Dawson. Much appreciated. Marion, a sixty-six year old ex-cop from Missouri, is in Fairbanks for eight weeks working in an auto parts store. And of course, there was the owner Billie, always around with a smile.
On my second day at Billie's, I found a new message on my messageboard. It was a challenge from Terra, a Hawaiian girl I'd met on the bus ride from Anchorage. Her challenge was to join her and her friends for dinner and drinks at Ivory Jack's, a bar and restaurant outside town. My reward; dinner and drinks! It was open mike night, and Terra's friend's brother James was performing. He was very good too, and I'm not just saying that cause I'm scared of his mother. She was giving Terra and myself glares if we didn't applaud enthusiastically enough. Even James' grandma was there, with a handshake like a coal miner. When I commented on her tight grip, she wanted to shake hands again, I think to show me what she really had. I wasn't going for that; I'm not gonna have an old lady make me cry. It was a great night, and some solid performances by amateur musicians. Thanks Terra, Kathleen and Scott!
But I realized I couldn't sit around in Fairbanks, using up precious days of my ninety day U.S. stay. Thursday, the Alaska Trails shuttle made the trek from Fairbanks to Dawson, in the Yukon, and they were kind enough to let me hitch a ride. Thanks Art and Tom; I hope I send you many passengers! The trip across the Top Of The World Highway took twelve hours or so, with all the photo stops. I met a couple from California on board, Danny and Carol. Danny's recently retired from the movie business. They've sold their cabin in Malibu, and they're tripping around the country to find somewhere they'd like to live. They were kind enough to shout me lunch when we stopped in Tok. Thanks guys!
The trip took us through the town of North Pole, supposedly home of Santa Claus, although I think a few Finnish folk may argue that one. North Pole, Alaska is at least home to the biggest Santa Claus in the world. Hmm... Our next stop was at the Knotty House, where they make all sorts of things from burled, deformed timber. Apparently in some areas, a high acid level in the soil causes whole areas of forest to grow this way.
We stopped at the Yukon River, the only place where the mighty Alaskan Pipeline is actually suspended. Every other river crossing, it is supported from beneath. I met a nice girl there, but she wouldn't talk to me, let alone take my business card.
Delta Junction prides itself as being the real beginning of the Alaska Highway. It also seems to be quite happy about the temperature extremes it experiences, and apparently has some quite violent wildlife!
One of the highlights for me was the visit to Chicken, a charming but very small village along the way. I liked Chicken as soon as I saw the sign "Welcome to Chicken. Population 25 nice people, and 1 old grump!