Whitehorse, Yukon / Mile 722 – A few thoughts from the road trip so far:
- The Team: A brief word of introduction about my driving companions. Samantha is a high school friend and a music therapist living in Massachusetts. Elise is a Williams friend who just returned from two years in Zambia with the Peace Corps. We have enjoyed teasing Elise about all of the technological progress that has taken place in the U.S. during her lengthy absence. (Actual quote from Elise: “What is youtube?”)
- Changing Seasons: While most of you are presumably still enjoying summer, fall has already arrived in the Alaskan Interior and in the Yukon. It has been a cool summer in the north, so the foliage may be turning a little earlier than normal, but it has been nice seeing a preview of fall colors… or at least a preview of yellow, because that’s the only color we really get.
- Strangest Sight: In Tok, Alaska, our route met up with the Alaska Highway (a.k.a. the Alcan), and we passed the burnt-out remnants of a Texaco station. The station was littered with old cars, charred scraps of metal, and other assorted junk. As we passed by, I noticed something even more out of place: a goat. Elise and Samantha didn’t seem to believe me, and I couldn’t really blame them for thinking that I was hallucinating, so we turned around and drove by the station again. Sure enough, there was not just one goat hanging out in the rubble, but two.
- Driving Hell: Having lived in Alaska for three summers—the season Alaskans sometimes wearily refer to as “construction”—I thought I was used to driving delays. But the hundred or so miles in both directions from the U.S.-Canadian border is in a category all its own. On the Alaskan side, we spent hours navigating slippery mud, brief stretches of pavement, and segments of alternating one-way traffic where road crews were ripping apart one side of the highway. On the Canadian side we bounded over a moonscape of frost heaves and potholes, and I pondered whether the disease or the cure is worse in road repair. On more than one occasion, Elise remarked that the roads were “just like Zambia!”
- Crossing the Border: The border is marked by a roadside stone obelisk, behind which you can see a perfectly straight band of cleared trees about 5 yards wide and stretching to the horizon. On either side of the obelisk there are interpretive displays about the Alcan and the surveying of the border. In a delicious bit of legal absurdity, the signs on the Canadian side are written in English and French, while those twenty feet away on the American side are in English only. We engaged in some obligatory border silliness of our own, including a photo with one of us in the U.S., one in Canada and one straddling the two countries. In addition to the shrubby and unfortified borderlands, an indication of the trust between the two countries—or, at least, Canada’s calmer approach to border security—is the fact that the Canadian immigration and customs station is a good 20 miles into the Yukon. We were fourth in line when we arrived at customs, but the RVs in front of us seemed to take eons, so we decided to pass the time by stuffing our faces with the produce in the cooler that we weren’t sure we would be allowed to keep. When it was finally our turn, the official gruffly asked us each of us individually if we’d ever had any DUIs in any state, ever, and then waved us along without any question about the produce.
- The Yukon: What is the Yukon? I have been trying to figure that out. I have always thought of this region of Canada as the Yukon Territory, but the T-word has been conspicuously absent from signs, newspapers, addresses, and everything else here. Now, it seems, it’s simply “Yukon.” Yet the guy at the bakery in Haines Junction—I love the fact that many of you will know exactly who I’m talking about—confirmed that Yukon is not a province and “does not have many of the powers of a province.” It’s as if the Yukon government and chamber of commerce decided at one point that the T-word sounds too undeveloped, too colonial, or too second-class. This clearly requires some more research… anyone know anything about the legal status of Yukon?