The Yukon has been fun, relaxing, and overall very pleasant. The territory’s official motto, “Larger than Life,” perfectly captures what this place is all about. The Southern Yukon is dotted with a large number of enormous, long, and narrow glacier-fed alpine lakes. Most of which flow into the Yukon River system, the watershed of its namesake. You can find a lot of mountains, hills, forests, and a few lovely towns. Most of Yukon has subarctic climate, characterized by long cold winters and brief warm summers. Having only experienced summer in Yukon, I have no idea what winter here feels like. But according to the people I spoke with, temperatures ranging between -20 and -30 degrees Celsius are common. Not sure whether I would enjoy that for several months…
After the long and steep rides from Tok, two recovery days in Dawson City were needed. These rest days are usually spent doing laundry, maintaining my bike, organising pictures, processing blog notes, and engaging in refreshing conversations with locals and fellow travelers. More often than not, there is considerable eating in between all of the above. 🙂
Dawson is a town with a unique character. This is mostly due to the abundance of restored buildings from the Gold Rush era. It is also featured prominently in the novels of Jack London, such as in The Call of the Wild which is one of my favorite childhood stories.
In Dawson, I finally met Rik, a fellow cyclist from Holland, with whom I had been chatting with on a cycling forum. Since we are both heading south, we decided to team up and ride the 530 km to Whitehorse, the Capital of the Yukon, together. On July 9, we left Dawson, and soon synced well in terms of our riding styles. It was a pleasant change after all those days of lone cycling even though I had never really been bored. When you are on the bike you get to see a lot, think a lot, and you run into people frequently. Actually, in most cases they approach you mostly out of curiosity about cycling in this region, or simply because they think you are nuts “torturing” yourself over the hills while gasoline prices are so low. 🙂
Moving along, I think the first stretch of the Klondike Highway was not particularly exciting. There are a lot of teeming forests and uninteresting hills. From Dawson, there is about 250 KM to cover before you get to a small town called Pelly Crossing, so we had to camp in the woods for a night. The weather deteriorated the next day. It was drizzling but then a guy who was parked along the road waved at us with a beer in his hand. Perfect timing, I thought. We pulled over and he asked whether we were up for a beer. Who would say no to that?! Man, that was one of the best ones I have ever had – possibly close to the one I had in Chicken a couple of days ago. It was an English Pale Ale named Yukon Red. My electrolytes were totally replenished, and the ride continued in a much more relaxed manner.
Continuous rain for several hours, however, scratched our mood. We were cold and really needed a decent shower after two days without clean water on our skin. Upon arrival, we made full use of Pelly Crossing’s well-stocked general store, bought lots of food, and decided to get a room at the attached motel. It felt like Christmas to sleep on a real bed again after twenty continuous days in a tent, not to mention today’s soaking wet ride. We cooked about 500 grams of spaghetti and added about the same amount of meat sauce. Demolished it in a matter of minutes along with a big pile of salad and another 1000 calories worth of dessert/candy/yoghurt.
Pelly Crossing is a completely dry town. That is to say, there is absolutely no alcohol available. Well, when you look around and observe the people who hang out in front of that general store you would know why. Alcoholism is a big issue up here. I noticed that in Alaska as well. Sadly, many of the obvious addicts are Native American people.
The sun was back on the next day. Our target was to reach Carmacks, where it was apparently worth staying at the Coal Mine & Canteen Campground. After a day of dry cycling without any real highlights, that campground in fact, exceeded our expectations. We had a superb view of the Yukon. Rik and I were in the mood for a massive burger, salad, milk shake, and the obligatory cinnamon roll. I felt like being back in Germany. We camped next to a bunch of Germans who were part of an organized group paddling the Yukon. I do enjoy canoeing as well, but obviously this Yukon River radiates something magical since this wasn’t the first time I ran into my people. You bump into Germans all over the Yukon. I also learned that Condor Airlines even operates a direct flight from Germany to Whitehorse during summer months. That’s a very unusual route but, I guess, the Yukon hype makes is lucrative.
By now, we had about 180 KM to go to Whitehorse. We passed more lakes and had perfect weather. It is amazing what drastic mood swings you go through as a cyclist. Maybe, that’s one of the reasons why cycle touring can make you really happy. 🙂 We pitched our tent at KM 110, a very nice campground right at the shore of Fox Lake. To my surprise, Rik jumped into the chilly lake! I was a wuss and preferred a sponge bath by the creek next to my tent.
Filled with excitement about experiencing a new town, we reached Whitehorse the following day. It was my 2000 KM milestone. My legs still hadn’t forgiven me since the daunting “Top of the World Highway” challenge. So, at that point, the decision was made: three full days of chilling, resting and, you guessed it, more eating in Whitehorse.
Besides being the capital, Whitehorse is also the territory’s largest city, with about three-quarters of the population in the Yukon which sums up to about 25,000. Despite the fact that it is so isolated, it is an important regional hub which feels lively, modern and busy. What city of this population gets to have two Starbucks branches in Europe or Asia. 🙂
Rik and I had arranged a place to stay via warmshowers.org. Olivier, the host, was a real gentleman. He immediately made us feel at home. We were able to share some experiences about Southeast Asia, since he had undertaken a long bicycle trip across Indochina and lived in Kuala Lumpur for a while. Olivier is French and a professional musician, who has made Whitehorse his home. That, again, says a lot about Whitehorse’s character and the quality of life up here.
Before we got to Olivier’s house, we had a funny encounter. Since there was a misunderstanding about the house numbers, we actually sat in someone else’s backyard for an hour until that house’s owner told us that we were at the wrong place. Apparently, this wasn’t the first time it happened, they told us. But Yukoners are very friendly and hospitable people, so we had a good laugh about our blunder before they directed us over to Olivier’s place. 🙂
At this point, I lost quite a bit of weight even though I have been eating like a horse. This is another very welcomed side effect of bike touring. 🙂 So the next three days were dominated by a lot of eating again, followed by strolling around town, planning the next few days, and getting a haircut.
On the whole, the Yukon has been treating us very well. We feel comfortable in this scenic environment that sees hardly any pollution. Alaska is similar but somehow there are quite a few cultural differences. Of course, I do not want to judge that since my personal experience is merely based on about a month in this region, but I see small variances. For instance, in Canada, you hardly see “No Trespassing!” or “Keep Out!” signs, whereas in Alaska even a cabin that looks like nothing more than a piece of junk carries those warning signs. Yukoners leave their houses unlocked, at least the backdoor. You don’t see anybody carrying guns. In Alaska, it is not unusual to see families whose father carries a holster with a gun. The attraction to noisy quads and wearing hunting camouflage attire in Yukon is also a lot less compared to Alaska. But that, I must admit, is just my personal observation, without judgment. The stark differences I noticed and my experience in both areas remind me of Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” though.