A Klondike Experience

   By Sean  Â Â Â Â 

   Had we had our morning cup o’joe at the border crossing, we might have been attentive enough to devote some time to play a few leisurely holes at the world famous ‘top of the world golf course’. This grand establishment hosts annual tournaments attracting the most daring and ambitious minded RVer folk on the road. Lovely martinis at the club house, a stroke of pure graphite smashing gratification below the blazing lights of summer solstice, and perhaps the only well groomed piece of grass a thousand miles in every direction, this attraction doesn’t just pretend to seduce the green eco-sensitive American, it is the femme fatale of the Yukon wilderness. Unfortunately, we ‘slacker’ bike crew were enamored by a sunset dyed vermillion over smooth fur covered hills rolling in every direction. after a day of climbing up gravel hills with fickle clouds throbbing overhead with threats of sleet, and intermittent periods of rain, we deserved the last fourteen kilometers of thrilling downhill rush. We reached the twenty-four hour –Free- ferry to the city of Dawson just as some girls from Toronto were embarking to establish themselves in the bar scene. We made small talk, they inspected our peculiar vehicles, we consoled each other that maybe we’d meet up on the other side of the Yukon. We crossed the river, they drove away, and the three of us ended up in the nook of Bombay Peggy’s unsociably drinking expensive pints of Guinness. That’s all that young bike nomads need; the exposure to convenient acquaintance making opportunities that carry the hope of freshening and revitalizing lonely weary spirits and then having that opportunity drift out of sight in a maze of unfamiliar ground. This presents the inevitable consequence of counseling each other over one another’s social inadequacies –tightening the bonds of the band.  
               In the warm early hours of the morning, the drone of the river barge and the shouts of British kayak adventures to their yelping dogs harasses my sensitive ears. I crawled out of my sleeping cave and immediately became absorbed in the beauty of this Yukon River valley. After a quick cup of coffee, I resolved to take photos of Dawson till its eccentric citizens vowed to stone my foreign face and bury my intruding contraption in the depths of an old mining shaft. Actually it so happened that the spring and washer of my 35mm popped off the housing when I tried winding the film. The washer dropped to the dirt under the elevated floor boards of a bank. Furiously I swept the dirt with hands, ripped at the weeds with unkempt nails in an attempt to recover the tiny piece. Some people walking by thought I was a lunatic for sure –Jacob had to reassure one girl that I was just mining for gold, like a decent tourist should.
            I cheered up over the loss after having a calorie efficient breakfast of bacon, eggs cooked in bacon grease, bagels soaked in butter, cheese, and yogurt that we cooked up beneath the town gazebo. Setting up the old whisper lite stove in the very center of town activity proved to be a great way of attracting all types of tourist folk to come and shoot the breeze and express astonishment at our brazen ambitions. It became a routine to cook big meaty meals under this public gazebo under the noses of bourgeois café owners, where we encountered everyone from a trio of very serious business minded Berliners trying their luck in a Klondike gold mine, to Erin; the incredibly generous and hospitable gal who allowed us to use her home as our own for the duration of our stay. 
                  That second night we would not be cajoled to lay down that hefty weight of change required to get a decent drink. Instead we marched straight into the government supervised liquor store to discover that the menu was indecently outrageous. I spotted an old upright key-clanker and tried to vent my rage at the prices with a little rag; instantly an old lady manager came out from the shadows and told me to shut it tight and told goat that his bare feet weren’t welcomed.        Dismayed at the lack of bitter candy, we mounted our bikes and headed down Second Street. Some guy in the street yelled and threw his arms about wildly, making sure we’d have a pleasant time running him down. “You bastards, you shot my brother, I want satisfaction!� he cried. At first I thought he was some town freak show promoter attempting to prod us into a covered tent with all sorts of sedated beasts of the north doing back flips and catapulting pudgy Sourdoughs on seesaws, with enough convivial enticements to moderate the insanity of course. Then I got it into my head that he meant business, “hell, I’ll duel you.� He came up close to me and told me I was crazier than he expected; after all, it wasn’t satisfaction from me he wanted, he wanted to hire us to be errand boys, “find the blue van and get me a few grams, I’ve got the money�. Obviously our bikes would expedite the delicate mission of exploring the whole eight blocks of the town’s limits for this blue van. “I’ll go find this guy only after I get my satisfaction� I replied hoping to entice him back into the game, “joking or not you’ve injured my dignity with your accusations�. He didn’t have the guts to fight, but he did have the decency to get us into the bar and lay the majority of the tab to get a few pitchers of beer. It was light beer so it went like water. Our new boisterous friend –Michael- began talking to a girl who I thought was looking at me funny, I stared at her a second and Michael caught hold of my gaze, “she’s into you, buddy�. She sat down with us at the table, “what did you say?� casually curious. “Nothing nothing,� Michael assured her, then aside to me, “I could put in a good word for you but she’s already crazy about you�. They were obviously lovers, ex-lovers, good friends, taunting me with their con-job team. Michael had that lightening strike personality of an ex-speed addict, his friend Melissa appeared grounded and yet completely enthralled by the urgently energetic tones and spontaneous acts of boisterous public disturbances. He attempted to lecture us on Beat authors, trying to understand our ignorance of minute details “having been so close to Berkeley�. He brought me and Jacob up to his room so that we could hear him recite some lines of the poets of his home town –Toronto. The room was stuffy, cramped and I realized how lucky I had been sleeping for free in the wide expanse of wilderness. We returned downstairs to the bar; Melissa began telling us stories of her and Michael’s adventures in hitchhiking across Canada. It involved much nudity –flashing, and mooning the tourists at bus stops- and random acts of theft. The energy packed man got overly exuberant at some point and spilled his drink across the table, some of it spilling onto my pants. I batted not an eye, realizing fully the amount of drenching weather I still had to overcome. Michael became emotional took me by the shoulder over to a private chat, “I’m so terribly sorry, man�. I tried to reassure him; he wouldn’t listen to anything I said…ever in our short time of acquaintance. He did however buy me some drinks before he went over and threw himself on his knees in front of a table of old mining employees. In quite a humorous scene he expounded on all his virtuous qualities attempting to win himself a twelve hour a day shift at some diamond mind. Melissa had already gone over and initiated the job interview for the guy, but as she turned to us and explained, “For any of you guys it would be quite easy to get a job, even under the table. But for him…� she nodded her head; it was obvious that he was being overly excited in his dramatic approach. Tired, we managed to get out of that seedy bar they call the pit, much the pleading from Melissa that we stay and continue to chat. She didn’t look too pleased at being left alone with her madman admirer.
             It was around three in the morning when we went looking for the abode of Erin. She had an early rising job and was surely asleep.  We snooped quietly in the back yard trying to find a good place to crash. Jacob chose a flat wooden surface that once served as a door lying precarious in a pile of timber in the dark recesses beneath the house. Goat and I chose the patio deck that was between the two sections of the duplex. There were many toys scattered on that deck but with a belligerent swoop of my hand a good clean section opened up before me, and I passed out. I woke up the next morning to see a small kid of six or seven prodding the remains of a train track lying in ruins beside my sleeping bag. It must have been the product of much toil and care at some point; he looked mildly disturbed. He sat there trying to reconstruct parts of his train park, while I lay stunned at what a horrible and insensitive person I’d become. The kid finally got up and ran into the house having grasped the bizarre ambiance calling out, “mom there’s two men still resting out on the porch�. At that point I thought I was to be pummeled in the face with a filthy broom. But nothing came of it, Goat and I decided it was time to get up and try to find Jacob whose coffee obsessed mind clicks on incredibly early while in the vicinity of a quick fix.
            It became difficult to fathom how much time we were spending in Dawson. This night complimenting day transaction was ill-suited to a town where the party spills out onto the streets and into the rooms of hostels and co-op type environments after ‘Last call’ has been shouted fifty times. After enduring the haphazard rendition of Nirvana’s greatest hits at ‘the pit’, we found ourselves mingling with two German carpenters –they could be spotted all over town with their thick black corduroy work-clothes and matching black caps. One wore a sheriffs’ badge and proclaimed, “This is so no one ever gives you shit, and they know whose boss�. Some local kids felt it necessary to treat us to a night hike up the Dome –the peak of the hilltop overlooking Dawson. The idea stayed in the streets as comments compiled about the rugged terrain of marsh and woods. One night we made up our minds to try the ‘Sour Toe shot’. This was a much hyped affair involving the pickled relic of an authentic frostbitten miners toe; rolled in salt and added to a small shot of some cheap whiskey, for ten dollars you put your lips to the toe while a young man in Halloween store quality sailors garb recites a lot of rubbish to maintain the attention of the gathered crowd. Our attention was fortunately not kept for long. Three Australian men, who we had encountered earlier in front of a coffee shop, saved us from the tourist trap, digging right into the heart of our expedition, exerting no reservation in mouthing the cares of their minds, and buying us pitcher after pitcher of beer. To be sure, the Dawson experience contains much more than drinking. On one occasion we were supposed to meet the cashier clerk of the grocery store for a drink at the bar; we ended up not meeting her at all, instead opting to hear some more young people from Toronto spout their Anarchistic views on society, explain the food-not-bombs and dumpster diving scene in their fair city, and watch as two of them violently wrestled each other to the ground while one girl took dozens of pictures and sang softly in French. We did bike pass the bar eventually, two hours late to meet the cashier. We saw our friend Michael sitting on top of a long fiberglass canoe; he ran out into the street when he recognized me, shouted that he needed my help. I grew worried as Melissa came into view; face exploded in tears and flushed red from anger. She looked wrecked and wasn’t responsive to her employer as he lectured her about the irresponsibility of being associated with someone like her friend. She had been serving drinks that night, and for whatever reason Michael had thrown a fit and threw stones into the bar, possibly some that hit her. Another hotel/bar manager caught sight of Michael and yelled at him about the damages he had made to the hotel.  “The door is completely ruined, I just checked the room� the manager scolded him, to which Michael replied, “Fine, I’ll pay, I want to pay, just tell me the price�. This was reminiscent of a story that he had told us over beer, of being thrown in a police car, kicking out the back window, escaping, being reaprehended, then being issued a ticket for thirty dollars in damages. When he paid the police attendant he screamed, “Fools, I’d have gladly paid sixty dollars.� I hadn’t really believed the story, but now, with this mess before me I wondered about this guy.         Luckily Jacob had missed out on that scene, we found him later talking to some more Australians drinking out of green cans marked lager in the comfort of their motor trailer. They were listening to the stories of an old man with a Pug named Orville, who’d been a dredge operator in the Klondike many years before. Talking to them lightened mood, until Orville made the peculiar comment of, “don’t forget to get the place of their mothers�. He repeated it a second time, and yet we were all still stood perplexed by its meaning. He clarified us, “so we’s know where to send their bones when the bears’ are finished with’em�. Charming fellow that Orville, I would have loved to exploit his endless wit further, but it we’d need all the rest we could get if we were to escape this town the next day.
             We ended up leaving our mark on that eccentric town with a wild flourish of our own. Right outside the duplex –where we spent a much more solid nights sleep indoors- we were saying our thank yours and goodbyes to Erin and packing our gear onto the bikes. There was still some gasoline in one of our fuel canisters that we wanted to replace with fresh white gas. Jacob had the idea of etching some deep memory of the ephemeral moment of our passing into the mind of our benevolent host. He poured the gas in a cursive design of the word ‘Bye’ and lit a match. Instantly the dirt road in front of the duplex became a swirling inferno of fire and billowing black smoke that traveled high and must have been visible from all over town. At first I thought Erin would be too astonished to respond but she said sort of modestly, “I hope that goes out soon.â€� Realizing how prone we were to overextending our stay, we were really set on leaving that comfortable convivial town and heading straight into the thick of bear country. Initially we became aware that our snack supply was lacking and proceeded to purchase twenty dollars worth of candy bars, of the British company ‘Cadbury’ make. But what would ideally sustain our motivation and energy would be a Dawson city every hundred miles or so. Dawson used to be the ‘San Francisco’ of the North for the whole year that the hyped Klondike gold rush seduced thirty thousand people to come and settle the banks of the Yukon. Certainly a little bit of that ancient energy has survived to this day; it still attracts that sort of person not content to beat head against steering wheel in city traffic, or buy his dinners from the freezer section at Ralphs. There are still some citizens of this place who live in a cave, come into town every other week for supplies in a canoe, and live with only the noise of the river rapids. To me it would appeal as an ideal home, if only the winters weren’t so morbidly dark and cold.

5 thoughts on “A Klondike Experience

  1. Jenny says:

    Your details make me so very very happy happy happy

  2. Jenny says:

    Your details make me so very very happy happy happy

  3. Jenny says:

    Your details make me so very very happy happy happy

  4. melissa says:

    Who is Erin? What does she look like? Where did she work? I met an Erin from Dawson this summer and am looking for her. she sounds like your hospitable gal.

  5. melissa says:

    Who is Erin? What does she look like? Where did she work? I met an Erin from Dawson this summer and am looking for her. she sounds like your hospitable gal.

  6. melissa says:

    Who is Erin? What does she look like? Where did she work? I met an Erin from Dawson this summer and am looking for her. she sounds like your hospitable gal.

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