Dawn Reader

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

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Yukon Adventure, 6

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 ...

While I waited for my flight back to Juneau--and then home--I was writing furiously in my journal, not wanting to forget anything.  Some of the comments below are just quick things I wrote down; I'm giving but a sample ...

August 5, 1993

  • Also at [Lake] Lindeman I talked for a long while with the older of the two French brothers we'd seen along the trail.  He wore a Miami Dolphins' hat and his brother wore a Chicago Bulls'.  He said he'd done a lot of hiking in the Pyrenees & the Alps--and I believe it.  The two of them went up the Chilkoot summit like two scared squirrels up a tree.  They could have done it 2-3 times while I was engaged in my slug-like progress upward.
  • I now know why A. C. Dyer's diary entries [from 1898-99] were generally brief!
  • At the Scales [just before the final ascent], I turned to take some pictures, felt the camera tell me I'd fired the last shot, and proceeded to rewind so I could load a new roll.  But the rewind lever jammed, then broke, and I would take no more pictures.  But ... Joe (who else?!) promised to send me duplicates of all of his [he did])--AND ... Dedman's Photo shop in Skagway had a good assortment of slides showing the entire trail--so all was not lost.
  • This morning [Aug. 5, 1993] I ... stopped at the National Park office where I finally met Karl Gurcke, the Ranger and Dyea/Skagway expert.  A gentle-looking thirtyish man with a frazzled, incomplete beard.  He was grateful for my efforts to seek him out--and offered a personal Dyea tour the next time I come.  (That, my friends will be on a cruise ship, not after a Chilkoot hike!)  [Note: Karl had answered many questions for me about Skagway and Dyea, via mail and email, while I was working on my Jack London research.]
  • [My flight from Skagway to Juneau went first to Haines.  I rode alongside a Native American woman who] was on her way to Haines for the funeral of a subsistence fisherman who had drowned in one of the rivers after his boat capsized.  She'd been born in Haines but had lived in Skagway most of her 70+ years.  She, too, was a (retired) teacher, and we talked animatedly about our experiences--hers teaching in a Bureau of Indian Affairs school, mine in a suburban [one].  She thinks teachers are overpaid these days (I decided not to argue--she looked tough as nails and more than willing to mix it up), and we shook hands on the runway at Haines where she and the other half-dozen passengers deplaned.
  • [In Juneau, where I spent the night): Found a great used bookstore that has virtually every major book and periodical on the Klondike ever published.  I dropped a coupla hundred on some periodicals (plus a print for Earle [Labor, the Jack London scholar]: an 1898 Tappan Adney drawing of a dog team in Dawson) and talked Jack London with the shopkeeper, who had to be disburdened of his belief in a number of bogus London-tales he'd picked up over the years.  A nice man.
August 6, 1993: aboard Delta #166, Seattle-Cincinnati.
  • I've read about 170 pp of Vanity Fair, a wonderful book which I'm glad I've put off reading till now.  Will watch Born Yesterday, the in-flight movie, while I ponder my questionable fortune of being one seat away from an infant on both legs of my trans-continental journey.

Aboard Delta #326, Cincinnati-Cleveland

I really have no pithy insights to end this account with (the pilot just announced the flight would be just thirty-six minutes in length), but I can say that it was--in no particular order--gratifying, terrifying, exhausting, boring (portions of the trail were drudgery, and the thrill of carrying a backpack wanes more quickly than fun at a class reunion), and expensive.  (I wish I'd found as much color in the pan as A. C. Dyer!)

The only real regret I have is the anxiety I know I cause Joyce and others in the family. But especially Joyce.  For twenty-four years she has indulged me--no, supported me--in every venture I've proposed, even the dumb ones, and, in this case, the dangerous ones.  Would I be so indulgent?  I like to think I would.  The way she has made me feel for a quarter-century has been a glorious, unexpected gift that I know I would requite.  She takes true pleasure in my happiness--and I in hers.  This can be known by no other name than "love."

Some Things I Carried: I took with me on the hike a few things with sentimental value:
  • pictures of Joyce and son Steve
  • Phillips University sweatshirt (as I said in an earlier post--the Enid, Oklahoma, school, now defunct, where my grandfather taught, where my parents met in the 1930s)
  • my father-in-law's pocket magnifying glass
  • Cleveland Indian's T-shirt
  • Appalachian Trail T-Shirt, acquired at the top of Mt. Greylock (Mass.) when my younger brother, Dave, and I hiked that portion of the trail
In my journal, I also made the following list of the things Joe did for me along the trail ...
  • Led all the way, keeping a pace he knew I could match.
  • Took more frequent breaks than he needed.
  • Helped me get the pack on my back whenever I needed--and without my having to ask.
  • Pulled me up off my butt twice.
  • Insisted I correct his English (which was very good--though quaint at times: "I awaited more mosquitoes," he said once--meaning "expected").
  • Reached the summit some minutes before I did and when I did not appear immediately, took off his own pack and started down to look for me.  (I'm starting to weep as I write this.)
  • Always pretended he understood whatever I attempted to say in German.
  • Was kind enough, when he arrived at Bennett depot (where I was waiting), to tell me that the final portion of the trail would have "killed" my knee if I'd tried it.
  • ... He perspired approximately 1/10,000 as much as I.

Afterwards ...

Joe and I communicated a few times in the ensuing months.  Once, he sent me $200 cash to buy something for him at a sporting goods store--something the Internet could have accomplished for him nowadays.  I tried to find him the other day on Facebook and Google but no real luck.
"Altvater" is a common enough name in Germany.  In my book The Call of the Wild by Jack London, with an Illustrated Reader's Companion (Univ. of Okla. Pr., 1995) I included Joe in my Acknowledgements: "To Joachim Altvater, a young German man I met on the Chilkoot Trail during my hike over the mountains in 1993, I owe an enormous debt.  When I injured my knee approaching the summit, 'Joe' (as he wanted to be called) stayed with me all the way to Lake Lindeman, making sure I was able to finish what I had begun.  He has my eternal gratitude and friendship" (xviii-xix).

But the dedication of that book was for the most important person of all ...

For Joyce, who has always believed ...

A few other photos of the trail from Joachim "Joe" Altvater ...


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