Of course I’m doing this the wrong way round. Those gold rush stampeders of the naughty nineties surged up to Whitehorse in Canada’s Yukon Territory, thence by boat down the Yukon River to Dawson City and the Klondike, before being tempted to stampede even further west to Nome in Alaska by reports of an even greater bonanza.
I’m flying from Nome via Anchorage to Fairbanks to take the Alaska Shuttle van along the Top of the World Highway to Dawson City. So call me wrong way Mike!
The plane from Nome is full of birders. Ooh look, it’s a greater beaked peregrine parakeet. Well, the lady certainly looks the part, her nose dropping more than the stock market in 1929 to meet lips half-parted over yellow teeth in an inchoate sneer. Come here, pretty Polly!
Anchorage is the world’s fifth busiest cargo airport, and huge Boeing-747 cargo planes from the likes of Eva Air, Korean Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Asiana, Singapore Airlines, Nippon and China airlines are drawn up on the tarmac ready to rush their loads to the seafood-loving palates of East Asia.
On the commuter plane to Fairbanks, we have a comedienne on board. One of the hostesses seizes the intercom to brief us on Alaska trivia. The only difference between caribou and reindeer is that the former are wild while the latter are domesticated. Also reindeers can fly. Boom boom! Guffaws all round.
And Santa’s reindeers must be female because males shed their horns by November, hence they would have none left on Christmas Eve as depicted, while females keep theirs until spring. So move over Rudolph, come on in Rudolphina – and powder that nose of yours, will you! Guffaws again rumble up plane and down plane.
The overland route from Fairbanks takes us past the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and, at Delta Junction, the end of the Alaska Highway, that vital wartime link connecting the lower 48 U.S. states with Alaska that in 1942 was blasted over 1,422 miles from Dawson Creek in British Columbia in just eight months.
Needless to say, the marker is a mecca for that blight of our age and bane of my current trip, the senseless, self-adoring selfie. One of our passengers, a German with the laugh of a hyena, thrusts his digital into my hands and orders me to take his imbecilically grinning mug shot. Jawohl, mein kommandant!
At the village of Tok, we change drivers; an octogenarian takes over, his hands a-tremble, but he drives with enough skill that my initial pronouncement of ‘OK, boys, here’s an accident in the making’ proves unfounded.
Views from the van near Tok
By the time we reach the hamlet of Chicken the selfie-crazed Kraut reaches his crescendo. The town has about four permanent residents, but it takes full advantage of its name, calling the public loo by its garage Chicken Poop and adorning it with male and female chicks bursting out of eggs.
Worst of all, by the side of a frantically flapping wooden giant rooster there’s a large billboard with a hole for a head atop a sledding child. Herr Kraut thrusts his digital into my hands with the incontrovertible order to snap him ‘at vunce’ as he rushes to insert his head. Oh for a rotten egg!
Chicken was once a gold rush site called ptarmigan, after the bird commonly found hereabouts. But as the spelling proved an obstacle for the miners, it was rechristened, and now lives on its past with a gold dredge, the Goldpanner Gift Shop and Chicken Creek RV Park.
Thus do we proceed to the US-Canadian border and the famed ‘YUKON Larger Than Life’ territorial sign, except that it’s been castrated, pronouncing only YUKO as its nice blue N lies in the dust below it.
I quickly sequester myself under a seat as I sense Herr Kraut’s digital-armed hand streaking my way, and he’s forced to order the driver to take his zillionth to the nth power selfie of the trip, grasping a remnant of the Yukon’s N.
The Top of the World Highway is spectacular as it crests ridges, overhangs valleys and gorges, skirts tundra and forests of spruce, till we come to a high bluff with the façade of a wooden cabin proclaiming ‘Welcome to Dawson City.’
Here Herr Kraut goes completely mental. After again forcing me to snap him in front of the façade, he’s running around like that flapping cardboard rooster back at Chicken, charging hundreds of yards up and down the highway, snapping everything in sight.
What he should be snapping, of course, he does not see. If you take a little trail to the right of the façade and proceed through the bushes, you come to the most magnificent look-out thousands of feet above a bend in the Yukon River.
There below, through the trees, Dawson City spreads itself out somnolently along the right bank, joined to the Top of the World Highway by a free ferry to take you across the few dozen yards of the Yukon’s swift current.
[Upcoming blog on Thursday: Of Dawson City, home of the Yukon/Klondike gold rush, and the can-can girls of the naughty nineties]
Views over Dawson City
By the same author: Bussing The Amazon: On The Road With The Accidental Journalist, available with free excerpts on Kindle and in print version on Amazon.
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