"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Chilkoot Trail Journals, Ch. 2, Getting There

During the winter of 1972-73, my friend Kathy decided it was time to get serious about a career, one with benefits like health insurance and retirement.   She gave notice to her employer at the Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood, Alaska, and loaded her belongings into her Toyotal Corolla  station wagon.   

In mid-June, she headed north, because  if you are in Alaska and yu want to get to southern California, you had to drive north a few hundred miles and then turn south on the Alcan Highway through Canada. When she passed through Canadian customs at Beaver Creek, she was in Canada’s Yukon Territory.   Not even a full-blown Canadian province, but a territory.

The Yukon, as it’s called for short, evokes its own colorful images—the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a town on the Yukon River called Whitehorse, and a gold rush that brought a hundred thousand hopeful, gold-rush-crazed people to a little spot called the Klondike.

At the same time Kathy was preparing to drive north/south, I decided my life needed new horizons.   Unlike Kathy, I couldn’t load all my possessions in my 1965 Ford Mustang, though I gave it a sporting try.
My lead dog, Kolega.
I boxed up most of my extensive collection of books in beer boxes because those boxes were the most readily-attainable cardboard storage containers available in a ski town, and hauled them to Anchorage to store at my parents’ house, along with a dozen boxes of things I couldn’t part with. 

I became the owner of a dubious  surplus military trailer and hired a local fellow to build a “camping box” on it.   It had a bed and two plywood cabinets on either side.  A couple boxes of books and boxes of clothing and supplies went under the bed.

And then I loaded six huskies—no, make that five because the lead dog rode shotgun with me in the Mustang—in the trailer.   But that’s not all I took with me.

Leaving Girdwood on a rainy day in 1973.  The Mustang is loaded, my lead dog is in the passenger seat, the trunk is loaded, and there are a couple 50-lb. sacks of Purina dog show in the back seat..  There are five huskies in the trailer, plus a bunch of supplies and stuff.  Tied on top of the Mustang is a dog sled, two spare tires, and a pair of snowshoes.  On top of the trailer is the base of a 3-wheeled cart for summer dog training, and a spare for the trailer.  I figured if it fit, the Mustang could handle it.

I’ll say this in my defense:  Had I known any better, I never would have had the adventures I had in the next two years, and I’m really glad they are part of my life.  I made it back to Alaska alive two years later, this time with seven huskies, because dogs kept in close quarters have a way of multiplying their numbers.

But in the meantime, Kathy and I were taking the scenic route to Whitehorse where we would meet seven friends.  We had two weeks to get there, so we included visits to Denali National Park and Fairbanks.   We also stopped in Anchorage long enough to say goodbye to my folks.  My mother almost fainted, while my dad just shook his head and turned away with a smile.

Our destination?  The Chilkoot Trail—a 35-mile hike from the gold rush town of Skagway to Lake Bennett, which straddles the boundary of the Yukon Territory and British Columbia.

I left behind my beloved cabin in Girdwood.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Two Updates

First Update:


Pablo has an appointment next week with He-Who-Shall-Not-be-Named to continue our search into why Pablo's air sacs are extended.   That's what I'm calling the guy in Anchorage who will administer a sedative (that should be interesting!) and then, when the beak is no longer a consideration, deflate my inflated bird.

Once that is accomplished, He-Who-Shall-Not-be-Named will take a blood sample from Pablo's jugular vein (ACK! ACK! ACK!).  Said blood sample will tell us what we need to know, including whether or not I need to feminize Pablo's name.

Please don't tell Pablo about this.   Although, I suspect my anxiety about the procedure will let him in on the whole deal.

YOU AREN'T GOING ANYWHERE WITHOUT ME!   Pablo camps on the hated Teal jacket.

Second Update:

The Good News:

A total jackpot of $318,500 has been gathered, all with the sale of guessing tickets at $2.50 each, for the Nenana Ice Classic.

This is one of a very few lotteries we have and of course it's guessing the time to the second that the ice moves the four-legged tripod on the Tanana River in Nenana  far enough to trip the timer.

I'll have to do some research.  I can't think of any other statewide lotteries up here.   Raffles, yes.  Casinos, no.  Lotteries?   Hmmm.   After the wild and wooly territorial days, there was a big Federal clampdown on gambling.  Old Stuffy-Heads.

The bad news:

It's going to be a while before that little town of Nenana has its 15 minutes of fame.   As of yesterday, the ice was 49.2 inches thick and showed no signs of melting on the top.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Chilkoot Trail Journals, Ch. 1, Spreading Faster than a Rumor

Stampeders on Golden Stairs, Chilkoot Trail

The only thing that travels faster than a  rumor is the word “gold,”and rumor had it that an inbound ship had a lot of gold in its belly.  They said a ton.   That wasn’t quite correct; it was more like two tons.

By the time the SS Portland tied up to Shwaubacher Wharf at 6 o’clock on the early morning of July 17, 1897, five thousand men  gathered to see if the rumor was true.  

We can surmise that rain dripped on those assembled because, after all, this was Seattle.  The sun was up, perhaps obscured by leaden clouds.  All that most likely went unnoticed by men who were already showing symptoms of fever, gold fever.

Two tons of newly unloaded Klondike gold on the wharfs of Seattle
Gold arrives in Seattle.

SS Portland

Three days prior, a different steamship tied up San Francisco, also loaded with gold from some place called the Klondike, wherever that was.  The men didn’t care, they were going anyway.   First, though, they had to get to Skagway in Alaska.


The fever spread faster than any viral or bacterial pandemic, and 10 days later, 1500 hopeful men departed Seattle for the gold fields and the riches there.  Two thousand New Yorkers tried to buy tickets within 24 hours, but the locals had purchased them first.

Later that day there were so many people in the streets of Seattle, the street cars had to shut down.  When word about the gold strike reached Seattle’s mayor, who was in San Francisco at a convention, he wired his resignation immediately and headed north, not even bothering to stop in Seattle along the way.

Eventually, more than 100,000 hopefuls would travel north to cross the treacherous Chilkoot Trail in Alaska.

Crowd tries to board sailing vessel in 1897.  Black and white image.
Leaving San Francisco for the Klondike gold fields.

By the time the rush was over in less than a year, only 30,000 made it to Dawson City in the Yukon Territory.

But, for now, the rush was on.

San Francisco, July 1897. The steamship Excelsior leaves San Francisco on July 28, 1897, for the Klondike
SS Excelsior leaving San Francisco for the gold fields.

to be continued

(I don't know what I did to throw blogspot into such a tizzy, but I'm going to have to post this chapter without adding how I am connected to it before I lose the whole thing.)

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Nice Day for a Drive Journals, Ch. 7, Fairbanks and the Ice Art

Our final destination, the reason for this trip.   The weather was spectacular, the highway in great condition, and the temperatures warm enough to be comfortable but cold enough to keep the ice frozen.

I was there the top Tuesday and Wednesday and got outta town on Thursday morning.   Yes, that's 16 and 22 degrees below zero.   Fahrenheit.   Celsius in is parentheses.

Ice art carving teams come from all over the globe to compete here.

If you're ever in Fairbanks in March, be sure to take this in--and be sure you return at dark when magic happens.

So, here are some day and night photos, with some detail close-ups.







The escapee


youth category



Guess who?   Come on in.


2nd Place, Multi block

One final photo: