Dawn Reader

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

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Yukon Adventure, 5

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 ...

Skagway Street (web photo)
August 4, 1993:  I was back in Skagway, off the trail, knee hurting, greatly relieved, feeling proud of myself--perhaps (certainly?) excessively so.  Just to show you the hubris flowing through my veins, here, verbatim, is some of what I wrote in my diary that first full day back in Skagway.  There are some deletions (see ellipses), but I've left all the stuff that makes me look like a jerk.

This morning I got up about 7, took a shower and a bath [trail dirt was adhesive!], ate a bowl of oatmeal & juice ($8!), and headed out to shop and do some necessary errands, the most urgent of which was to find some underwear.  I could find 50,000 T-shirts with "Alaska" or "Skagway" on them--but a plain old pair of briefs?!  Good luck.  I finally found some in the sporting goods store ....  Skagway is aswarm with whining tourists toting cameras (video and otherwise).  I inadvertently stepped in the line of fire of one Sony-wielding woman who sighed derisively.  Fed up, I whirled and said, "Ma'am, if I tried to dodge every camera in Skagway, I'd never be able to walk a block."  She muttered an inauthentic apology, and I moved on, swollen with righteous satisfaction.

Why are people so unhappy?  Why do they spend thousands of dollars for an Alaskan cruise, and then snap and snipe at one another in the streets of Skagway when they could have accomplished the same back at home in the family room?  The whining I hear--about food, weather, hotels, etc.--is sickening.  The Visigoths could vanquish America in forty-five minutes.

Back at [Lake] Lindeman I had talked briefly with the two French brothers, and the older one (a chemist) said he had never seen so many fat people as he had seen in America.  (When I relayed that to Joe, he concurred.)  (The Frenchman also said he was on the trail because he'd read Jack London!)  Food is the ultimate opiate, easily available  tax-free, and its excessive use has reduced our nation to a playground of pudgies, ripe for the emergence of a bully.  Enough.

Well ... couldn't I be self-righteous and superior (elitist!), fresh from the mountains, my weight down near where it was when I was in high school.  Now, twenty years later, I cringe when I read (and type) these words.  My weight has ventured quite a bit north of where it was in 1993--several times--and as I write today, I'm down about 20 but feeling far more humble about such things than I did when I was a Chilkoot Conqueror (well, most of it, anyhow!).  One thing age teaches all is humility; I've certainly been an apt pupil since Chilkoot Days, that's for sure.

Later that afternoon, I sat in my room (#177) at the Westmark Inn and wrote a bit more about
Westmark Inn, Skagway
some specific memories from the trail.  (Some I've included already, so I won't rehearse them.)  Note some more post-Chilkoot Skagway Swagger ...

  • The merchants/clerks of the "real" stores in Skagway (the hardware, outfitters, railway depot) lose that glazed look when they hear two things from me: (1) I crossed the Chilkoot, (2) my great-grandfather crossed the White Pass during the Rush.  Suddenly, I'm not just some other jerk-tourist looking for an Alaska Ho! T-shirt.  [As I type this today, I realize that "Alaska Ho!" has a whole other meaning these days ...]
  • Twice I missed connections with Karl Gurcke, the Park Ranger who had been so helpful with my research on Dyea.
  • The camp/trail manners of some people!  Twice I was awakened by obnoxious loud campers who must have come straight from the Asshole Factory.  There was my tent, sealed and silent, its occupant obviously asleep inside, and these folks (one a group of Germans; the other, Canadians) carrying on like a bunch of 8th graders on a poorly-planned field trip.
  • About half the hikers I saw were women ....
  • The Canadian portion of the trail was far better marked (with cairns) and maintained than the U. S. side.
  • Bugs were not nearly the problem I'd expected ....
  • The 2nd day I noticed my hiking shorts featured a huge yellow stain spreading from waist to crotch, the entire circumference of the garment.  Now ... I fully realized that the terrors & trials of the trail were sufficient to cause one to be-piss himself, but I discovered the actual cause: The stain in my leather belt, loosened by the perspiration, had spread southward.  Nonetheless, to ward off any surprised/amused looks in Skagway ("Hey, Gomer, look at that hiker who peed his pants!"), I wore a sweatshirt (with "Phillips University" on the front!), stretched to crotch level.  (The operation was a success: No snide comments or pitiful looks.)


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