Saturday, August 16, 2014

Dirty Northern Bastards

After 10 hours of riding we finally reached Whitehorse a little after 6:00PM. That meant the day was all over bar the drinking. According to them as knows, there’s about 33,000 people in the Yukon, of which 23,000 live in Whitehorse. But far from being filled with crusty old farts dying off in a tourist trap on the edge of nowhere, Whitehorse is pretty chill. Nestled between two sets of rolling hills at a big bend in the Yukon River, it counts among it’s virtues orderly streets, attractive women, handsome men, coffee shops, good restaurants, microbreweries, and the lowest air pollution of any city in the world. Such clean living must pay off. It has a hipster vibe with a young community who were making the most of mid-August’s long, late-summer evenings.

There’s a common idea that internet dating threatens the gene pool because participants pre-filter potential mates that in other circumstances would lead to meaningful, productive relationships. The argument is that our base instincts lead us to Wonder Bread, whereas random chance leads us to 12 grain pumpernickel. Yet, while dining and dating go hand in hand, there’s a reason that the Michelin Guide has lasted for over a century. Choosing restaurants isn’t like getting married and opinions and recommendations are what the internet is all about. Our research pointed us towards the Dirty Northern [Bastard], a gastropub downtown. After 1,500 miles of Molson Canadian, this hoppy little oasis filled with bright young things was a welcome respite. With every intention of writing a blog entry over a quiet pint, I instead got sidetracked by a retired miner who told me his life story. He had run away from home as a teenager and finally found himself physically and spiritually in Whitehorse and never left. Natural resources extraction work, mining, drilling, timber and such-like, was plentiful back in the 60’s and kept him gainfully occupied. His was the kind of work that still attracts young wanderers to this day.

The next morning we set out for Alaska and for the first time things started to feel remote. Foothills and low mountains to our right, while away in the distance to our left lay rugged, snow capped terrain. North out of Haines Junction Kluane Lake kept us company for the better part of an hour. The wide expanse of blue water seemed empty and I wondered what it would be like to sail across it and explore some of the inlets. Chilling rain found us occasionally, but also helped keep the dust down on the long stretches of resurfacing work we had been warned about. On one section we were required to follow a pilot truck. This meant a) waiting 20 minutes for the truck to turn up and lead us through the construction, and b) skittering about on 2-3” surfacing gravel at a speed too slow for safety.

At the border a friendly guard gave us the low-down on pretty much everything and let us back into America. Within minutes of crossing into Alaska we’d seen half a dozen police SUV’s with gun racks. In Canada we’d seen perhaps two police cruisers in five days. I’m not sure what that says about the two countries and how they spend their tax dollars, but I wasn’t sure it made me feel safer, either.

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