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from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Yukon Adventure, 4

As I wrote the other day, it was twenty years ago--exactly--that I left from home (Aurora, Ohio, at the time) and flew to Alaska, where I hiked the Chilkoot Trail from the old DEA townsite, over the Chilkoot Pass to Lake Bennett, Yukon Territory, where a train would take me back to Skagway, thirty-three miles away.  I kept a journal along the way ...

2 August 1993: "I think my knee [pain] is a bruise--it seems to be in a bone, not in connective tissue.  I'm hoping that 12-14 hours of rest will help."

3 August 1993: "Awoke this morning with a very sore knee, but I knew there was really no alternative but to go ahead."

Earlier, crossing Taiya R
Well, I used to tell my middle school students at the beginning of the year when I was introducing myself that, yes, I am a doctor--but the useless kind.  A Ph.D.  The kind who can't even cure your canary or clean your teeth.  (I could see some puzzled looks: What kind of doctor can't do anything? Answer: My kind.)  And I definitely couldn't either diagnose or treat my left knee that was aching so badly that morning.  I told Joe, and he helped me get my pack on my back (not sure I could have done it alone), and off we went from "Happy Camp" (yes, the real name), about four miles away from the Chilkoot Summit--and about thirteen miles from Lake Bennett, headwaters of the Yukon River (it was here that the goldseekers stopped, built boats, and then headed the rest of the way to Dawson City by water), where a train from Skagway now stops, carrying passengers (and hikers) through some of the most stunning alpine terrain in the world.

"[T]he trail from Happy Camp to Deep Lake was extremely rocky, and my knee grew worse & worse. ... But when I reached [Lake] Lindeman [still seven miles from Bennett], two wardens looked at it and advised me not to go on--they will take me by boat to Bennett at 2:00.  Joe decided to walk on--good for him!  I'll probably see him at the train."

The two wardens, by the way, were Frank James (no relation to Jesse and Frank--I asked) and Debbie Verhalle.  They let me use their radio phone to call Skagway to book a room (I was coming back a day earlier than planned) and to call Joyce, with whom I'd not spoken since I left Skagway (pre-cell era, folks)--"a conversation which ... caused me to sob like a baby."

Debbie--who was due in February, she told me--boated me across Lake Lindeman.  "She seemed to sense my mood and told me that I had covered the historical trail, ... and I told her I wasn't depressed: I knew what I had done, and what I had gone through."

Lake Bennett
At Bennett, we walked a mile to the train station--not really much of a place, just somewhere to wait.  The train arrived at 3:15, disgorging some tourists with video cameras who whirred away for a while.  Joining us soon were a couple of other hikers I'd not seen on the trail--"one of whom looked exactly like Sam Shepard."  Joe eventually arrived, too, telling me the "trail" was really nothing but sand and would have destroyed my knee.  He looked exhausted.

I gave Joe my water purifier (which he'd admired): I knew I'd never be using it again.  "'This is too expensive,' he said. 'This is nothing,' I replied.  'What you did for me on the trail--that was something.'"

The train left at 3:45, with hikers confined to a separate car (issues of odor?), and partway along, at Fraser (twenty minutes or so later), Joe got off to hitch a ride to Whitehorse, Yukon, where he was going to do some more hiking.  There had been some Man Bonding on the trail, and "I swear there were tears in his eyes.  I know that mine were brimming."

Train arrives at Lake Bennett

The ride the rest of the way to Skagway, over the White Pass (this was the White Pass & Yukon RR, built the second year of the rush), "was astonishingly beautiful, with bright sunlight illuminating the old trail, Brackett's wagon road, assorted relics along the way (abandoned trestle, ruins of RR buildings), and lovely views of the raging Skagway River, along which A. C. Dyer had struggled a century ago."

Pre-9/11 Customs was a breeze.  Back in Skagway, "I hoisted my pack and proudly walked two blocks to the Westmark Inn, where I quickly registered, called Joyce (her voice is the sweetest sound on earth), showered, shaved, put on fresh clothing for the first time in a few days, went downstairs and ate a decadent salmon dinner."


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