Wednesday 30th July 10:00 p.m Skagway, Alaska
Whitehorse got kind of boring after a while, and I found out that my Skagway host wouldn't be coming through for another two days. I'd been keeping myself busy painting, hanging doors, brewing coffe and running errands, but I couldn't really hang around at an internet cafe for four whole days. I said my goodbyes to Roland, Wanda, Vince and Nicole. The plan was to set off hitching to Skagway, in south eastern Alaska- not looking forward to the long walk out of town to the highway. Just as I was about to leave, Vince said he could give me a lift to Carcross, about a third of the way to Skagway. He and Nicole were going to visit their friend Junior, and they were sure it would be okay for me to stay the night with them as well. Cool!
Junior is from Quebec and is quite a character. Some years ago, he bought almost four acres of land here, just outside Carcross. When he's not off working in the forests, he lives here in his partly-built cabin. When we turned up, he was just in the process of trimming a new load of logs, hoping to complete the cabin by winter. That afternoon was a big change in weather for me. Almost every day of my trip so far has been sunny and warm, even hot. Monday was cold and windy at Junior's cabin. I could feel myself getting a chill, but was too lazy to dig out a warmer jacket. I've been paying for that laziness ever since. I'm lousy with a cold; blocked sinuses, sore eyes, my throat is red raw and sometimes the extended coughing fits leave me in tears. I'm not much fun to be around, but I'm trying not to let it spoil my time in beautiful Skagway.
Anyway, back at Junior's. Junior cooked us up a great *but very salty* pasta meal. I really needed it, since I'd been living on bagels, croissants and coffee in Whitehorse. Vince and Nicole slept in Junior's double bed, Junior slept in a broken down pickup truck, and I slept in an old home made tent. It was one of the most comfortable night's sleep I've had so far, just cool enough to keep me from overheating in my ultra- warm sleeping bag. I was snug and slept through till 10:00a.m.but the damage was already done. I could tell when I woke up with a dry sore throat that there would be misery ahead.
Everyone slept in after a late night up talking so once we'd had a morning cup of coffee, it was time to get moving. Junior was hitching to Whitehorse, Vince and Nicole had business to do in Carcross, and I was headed to Skagway...but not as soon as I thought. I stood by the road for three hours, before hunger pains drove me to the gas station for some supplies. I bought a dozen bread rolls and a tub of cream cheese. After scoffing down six rolls right there, I was ready to try my luck again. Even if I got a ride straight away now, it would still go down as my worst hitching attempt so far on this trip. Half an hour later, a dark green pickup stopped.
"Do I need to worry about anything at the border?" the driver asked, and I wondered if this might be why no-one had picked me up so far. I was only half an hour from an international border, and perhaps people just didn't want the grief of being involved in a problematic border crossing.
"No booze, no drugs, no weapons!" I declared.
"Ever been arrested?"
"Then jump in."
His name was Howard. He's sixty-three years old, and together with his wife and daughter, runs a bed and breakfast in Skagway. This was his day off, and he'd driven to Whitehorse that morning to play a round of golf. The game had been rained out and Howard was returning to Skagway early, and disappointed. He appreciated the company, and took the opportunity to stop at a number of scenic viewpoints, and historical sites. He was obviously proud of this part of the world, and rightly so. As we climbed towards the pass, the trees got smaller and smaller, before giving way to a rocky barren landscape.
Howard's daughter Tara is designing a travel website about Alaska, and when Howard heard about my project, he was determined that Tara and I should meet. And so it was that I came to be invited in for brie and French bread at Mile Zero bed and breakfast, and ended up sleeping the night there, on the house. Mile Zero is a purpose built bed and breakfast, designed by Howard himself, and you can tell he's especially proud of it. His rooms are fully booked almost all through summer- I was lucky he had a space. In the morning, there was an array of 'goodies' spread out on the kitchen table, but I just grabbed a blueberry muffin*homemade...yummy* and a glass of juice and ran downtown for my eight o'clock meeting.
Michael Brandt is the marketing man behind the most popular and successful tourist attraction in town, the White Pass and Yukon Railway. I'd been in contact with Michael while I was still in Australia, and this morning I went to meet him. He listened to the story of my travels, and my plans for this project, then smiled and asked me what I want to be when I grow up. Cheeky bugger! But he bought me a coffee and arranged for me to take a ride on the historic narrow gauge railway, so I had to let him get away with it. Made me think though... I wonder what I will be when I grow up!
Skagway is only a small town but it's a pleasant place to spend a day just wandering around, and that's what I did. The year round population is about eight hundred. This more than doubles during the summer, with the arrival of seasonal workers from the lower forty-eight. But this is nothing compared to the masses of tourists that invade Skagway during the season. Skagway is a popular destination for cruise ships, and on my visit to the docks, there were four monstrous white vessels moored there. These oversized floating hotels disgorge up to ten thousand passengers *mostly oversized as well* onto the pretty little town, every morning. When you see the swarm of tourists swaggering up the little main street, overflowing from the footpath onto the street, with their ice creams cones and their bags of souvenirs, you can understand the love-hate relationship that locals have with the tourists. On one hand, Skagway needs the cruise ships for its survival, and I'm sure everyone in Skagway accepts it. On the other hand...well, as the bumper sticker says, If it's tourist season, why can't we shoot 'em?'
This is where the White Pass and Yukon Railway plays it's part. As the biggest single attraction in town, the scenic railroad relieves the pedestrian congestion downtown by transporting up to five thousand tourists a day to the summit, twenty miles out of town. And it was time for me to see what it was all about. We boarded the old wagons at 4:30 p.m. and away we went. Once the train cleared city limits, passengers were free to spill out onto the little decks at the end of the carriage. This railway line follows the route of the original gold rush line of the 1890's. A narrative accompanies the stunnings views as the train powers up the steep grade, the first site of interest a goldminers's cemetery. From conception to completion, a total of over 35 000 men worked on the rail project, which will go down in history as one of man's greatest triumphs over nature. One area called Deadhorse Gulch, is reputed to have been so harsh that it marked the death of over three thousand horses.
But I must admit that I was more concerned with the scenery. There was a distinct change in temperature just before we reached the summit, and our guide told us that many of the trees we saw outside, in spite of being no more than a few feet tall, would be over a hundred years old. It was cold and gusty on the homeward journey, but I stayed out on the deck jostling for that perfect photo! It was eight o'clock before we arrived back in town. I picked up my backpack from Mile Zero, thanked Howard, Judy and Tara, and checked in to a hostel down the street, where I was more than ready for the hot shower that awaited me