Yukon. North West Territory of Canada. In the winter, temperature go down to -40c and it gets dark most of the day. I thought it could be a good place for some adventures. A lot of Canadian dream about visiting this territory because it is not very well known, pretty remote and wild.
Whitehorse, capital of the territory, 26 000 inhabitants (out of 36 000 in the whole Yukon) and pretty much nothing around. I got the contact of a family that would host me for a couple of weeks in Tagish, a small community located 80 km away from Whitehorse. The dad, Maron, was working in Alberta and could pick me up in Fort Saint John (north B.C) on his way to go there. 14 hours drive up North. We were supposed to leave late afternoon, sleep in the car and arrive the day after. The first hours went fine but soon it got dark; the night was clear but the dust on the road made it difficult to see properly. Suddenly, a big moose showed up in the middle of the Highway ! Maron slammed on brakes and drove a bit on the side of the road to avoid it. We probably touched his nose. It would have been quite a crash! Right after this, Maron looked at me with a big smile and said: ” You can’t say you haven’t seen a moose now! HAHA ! “. I guess this was my welcome to the Yukon.
Later on, I learned that he was (among many things) a hunter and a guide for American and European hunters visiting the Yukon. He was the kind of guy who could stay 15 days in the wild forest by himself tracking animals. I sometimes felt like a kid next to him. He taught me many things along the way: the importance of Gas and Oil industry in North B.C, the story of the Alaska Highway, the poems of Robert Service…He also shared with me his vision of meat: “Beef is good 3 months, but then you get tired of it. Caribous? Very good but not in September. But Moose! Good ALL YEAR LONG! “. I was not surprise when we crossed the official boarder of the Yukon to see him taking his gun out, ready to shoot one. It didn’t happen.
I spent my early winter at Maron and Shelly’s house, along with their 4 children, 2 horses, 1 goat and a few chickens. This was the perfect place to get ready for snow time and I’m really grateful for the generosity and the delicious food I experienced here. During the 3 weeks I stayed here, I helped building a goat barn, milking the goat, chopping wood, teaching guitar, violin and piano to the boys… It was the first time in my travel I stayed long enough in a place to build some kind of comfort zone. But not the one that inhibits you. I was willing to use it as a base to explore, meet people , do new things. I was driven by the thirst of discovery. And I realized that this search for new things created an energy inside me that only rationality could counter balance. If I had more time, I would probably be somewhere even more north right now.
In this period of time, I had seen the face of most of the people in Tagish (around 300 inhabitants). I was astonished to realize that a big community of Germans was living there. Most of them came here for holidays and never returned. Kidnaped by the beautiful and exciting wild life. I learned that the Yukon was a good place to train sled-dogs for races and met the neighbours training them everyday (interview). I found some fellow travellers willing to go hiking and exploring this part of the Yukon (Tim from U.S, Colin from Ontario, Hanna and Hannika from Germany). And I was happy to experience the community way of life (in contrast with the city life that I know). I really liked the fact that each people as an individual tried to contribute to the community in his own way ( organizing music jam session, gym session, organizing a church service in his house…). They also organized events to bring the people together (Pancakes breakfast, Halloween party…). All this made the community alive. I also realized the importance of reputation. In a place like this, it is the only thing you have and you better have a good one if you want to start making business.
Although I only grasped a tiny bit of the Yukon, I felt an interesting connection with this territory. It made me travel inside my travel. I had the feeling to go back in the times of Westerns, Cowboys and Indians (nowadays called first nations, or natives for ethical purposes). I discovered the wilderness and the spellbinding mother nature. It is the kind of place where you can bump into a grizzly bear, moose, caribou, wolf, coyote, wherever you were. Not that I did with a grizzly, but the feeling of living in a place like this is unique because there is no certainty; the wilderness and the cold dark winter challenge your living being condition everyday.
It is time for me to move on now. I feel like leaving a friend behind as I found the relationship with nature very similar: you can be true to yourself. And as every relationship, I learned something out of it and go away more free than I was. I’m excited to break this periodic comfort zone that I built, dive again into the city life and get ready to spend hours on the road crossing this massive country … after a last escape in … Alaska!
The Alaska Highway was built in 1942 by the American Army in order to protect the U.S against a possible Japanese invasion from Alaska. This huge project was approved by Roosevelt and the highway was built after only 8 months! Between 14.000 to 18.000 soldiers worked on this project. This Highway starts in Dawson Creek in British Columbia and goes all the way long to Fairbanks in Alaska, 2 451 km in total.
Although Robert Wiliam Service is born in the U.K, he is known as the “Bard of the Yukon”. He lived part of his life in Whitehorse and Dawson City and left a huge influence in all this part of Canada.
“There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a land — oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back — and I will. ”
The Spell of the Yukon, R.W.Service
During my stay in Tagish, I met some mushers training their dogs for the Yukon Quest. It is a 1000 mile sled dog race going from Whitehorse (in the Yukon) to Fairbanks (Alaska). It is said to be one of the most difficult race in the world! It takes place in February, weather condition are harsh and sometime mushers have to sleep by the sled in the middle of nowhere.
Klondike Gold Rush
If you go to the Yukon, you will hear about the Gold Rush that took place in the late 1890’s. I unfortunately didn’t have the chance to go to Dawson, said to be “the capital of the Gold Rush” but around Whitehorse, you will see everywhere the footprints of the prospectors who traveled all the way from Alaska or U.S to find some gold. It is said that out of 100.000 prospectors, only 30.000 arrived to the final destination and 4.000 found gold in the Yukon river.