June 5, 2013 - Day 11
Apparently my body wanted to stay in Rancheria, Yukon. I can't say that I blamed it. Even though my tent was within a few hundred metres of the Alaska Highway, traffic was rare. The silence and scenery were glorious. There weren't any neighbours in the campground. Add it all up and it meant that I slept through my alarm. Why does one set an alarm on a vacation anyway?
I got up at 8:00 AM, devoured my typical on-the-road breakfast of oatmeal and hot chocolate and headed for the shower building. Surprise! It was broken. Disheartened, I wandered over to the main building to find out that because of the broken camping showers, campers were allowed to use a motel room shower. Bonus! I enjoyed a refreshing shower and shave and got on the road by 9:20 AM.
Within 15 minutes, I stopped at Rancheria Falls and hiked the new boardwalk down to the falls. I'm not usually overly excited by waterfalls (maybe because I've seen Niagara Falls and nothing compares to its power?) and this was no different. It was some fast-moving water travelling downhill. Big whoop.
I stopped for lunch at Morley River Recreation Site. Keeping an eye on me and patiently waiting for sandwich crumbs to fall to the ground were gray jays and ravens, both sure signs of the north. I proceeded on the Alaska Highway, stopping next at Lake Teslin Campground to search unsuccessfully for a bird observatory. Ah well, at least I added a varied thrush to my trip bird list.
By late afternoon, I had turned off the Alaska Highway onto aptly-named Atlin Road, which headed south towards Atlin, British Columbia. I stopped briefly to hike about a kilometre up White Mountain in a futile attempt to find mountain goats. Alas, no goats were present. I enjoyed the solitude and view of Lake Atlin instead.
After a long day of driving, I arrived in Atlin around 6:30 PM and found a campsite in Pine Creek Campground just outside the town. What a deal for only $10! After a dinner of couscous and steak and potatoes soup, I went searching for avian life in Atlin.
One bald eagle stood guard over the harbour (the locals told me his name was Eddie!) while another soared high above. Ducks and shorebirds were plentiful and I got my first photos of violet-green swallows.
June 6, 2013 - Day 12
Another glorious day! I paid for my campsite in Atlin, threw out the inevitable garbage that slowly accumulates in my car during a camping trip, and planned for my drive north back up Atlin Road toward Yukon.
I took a few pictures of Atlin's gorgeous scenery and couldn't help myself - I had to kayak in Atlin Lake.
The kayaking itself was rather tame but the mountains, ripple-free water, and abundant wildlife simply made my morning. I silently observed a common loon hunt for its breakfast and I saw my first ever Arctic terns cavorting about on the shore of the nearest island. I was only on the water for an hour but I could have stayed there all day. It was just so magnificent!
Around 10:00 AM, I packed up everything and drove north. I stopped again at White Mountain and just as before there were no goats to be found. I stopped for lunch at Tagish Lake Campground near Carcross and continued towards Whitehorse. I hiked the Wolf Creek Trail and saw nothing of significance other than a ruffed grouse.
I stopped at the Whitehorse Visitor Centre to take advantage of their wifi, set up camp at Robert Service Campground close to Whitehorse, and briefly looked for birds around town before settling down to bed.
June 7, 2013 - Day 13
The attraction of certain big-city perks was too hard to resist. Instead of my usual breakfast, I gave in to temptation and went to McDonald's. Not only do they let you avoid making food, they offer wifi! I also lucked in to a replacement regulator for my camp stove at Canadian Tire. There are advantages to being in a city, if only for a day or two every month!
It threatened rain in the morning so I went to places that kept me close to shelter. I checked out the Yukon Arts Centre and drove down to Miles Canyon, an historically significant part of past travels to the Klondike gold rush.
I stopped at Hidden Lakes, a great spot just outside Whitehorse. There was a tiny lake with lots of avian life - bonaparte's gulls, mallards, buffleheads, scaups, and a cooperative lesser yellowlegs that really wanted to perch on a sunken fence post.
Further from Whitehorse lay Chadburn Lake and as with Atlin Lake, I couldn't resist putting my kayak in and going for a spin. It was beautiful!
I stalked a pair of red-breasted mergansers as they repeatedly dove near the shore. The male looked completely drenched every time he surfaced!
Back at the campground, I enjoyed a dinner of fried potatoes and clam chowder. Afterwards, I went on a guided walk at Yukon College where I bumped into the same woman from New Zealand that I originally met days earlier in Watson Lake. Small world! The guided walk itself was almost a complete bust. All we saw was a kingfisher and two mallards!
June 8, 2013 - Day 14
What an interesting day this would turn out to be! It started with my routine breakfast of oatmeal and hot chocolate. What happened later was anything but routine.
The woman leading the previous night's bird walk had informed me that there was a birding festival in Tombstone Territorial Park. (Aside: How cool is it that the parks are territorial instead of provincial? I'm not sure why I like that so much but I think it adds to their mystique.)
Tombstone Park is more than 500 km north of Whitehorse and I hadn't necessarily planned to go that far away. However, I had lots of time so why not do it? What could possibly go wrong?
I gassed up in Whitehorse before 8:00 AM and got going towards Tombstone. South of Carmack was a new roadside mammal for the trip - a porcupine. Such unusual critters! By 12:15 PM I was in Stewart Crossing for lunch and a gas stop. I nearly choked when I saw the price - $1.66 a litre!
Just before turning on to the Dempster Highway, there was a mother black bear with two very cute little ones. The Dempster Highway is the stuff of legends. It has road signs for Inuvik, Northwest Territories! It takes you right to the Arctic Ocean! I had heard tales that the road causes so many flats that some people take three spare tires! However, I only had to travel about 70 km to the park's interpretive centre so what did I have to worry about?
The road started out okay but quickly got rather rough. The weather was perfect and I was driving an all-terrain vehicle but there was no chance that I would come even close to the speed limit. Just after 3:00 PM there was a particularly rough patch and then an indicator on my dash that I had never seen before - it looked like a tire with a line underneath it. What does that mean - rough road? Um, no. I had a flat tire!
On the bright side, I can not imagine a better place in the world to have a flat tire in terms of the natural scenery. On the down side, I had no idea how to change a spare tire (embarrassing but true!), I was way, way, way out of cell phone range and I had hardly seen anyone else on the road. How would I ever get back to civilization?
It was 15 minutes before a car passed in either direction - a nice couple from South Dakota named Floyd and Sylvia. They stopped and offered to let me use their pump to inflate my tire. Good idea! We hooked it up and it quickly became apparent that I would need an alternate solution. The air was leaking like crazy! Sylvia said that they were heading into the park and she offered to inform them of my situation. After a thank you, they were off and I was left to further ponder my predicament.
Vehicles drove by every now and then and I didn't want to stray far from my car in case one was there to help me. Plus, this was grizzly country so randomly wandering where there aren't trails wasn't a great idea either. I passed the time by reading (Richard Dawkins is the man!), walking up and down the road looking for birds, repacking all my food and gear, and otherwise enjoying my surroundings.
At 5:40 PM, the park interpreter thankfully stopped. She took my car's make and model and informed me that the tow company officially closed at 5:00 PM and there was no guarantee that he would show up that day. Gulp! She offered to take me to the park and find a spot for my tent but I did not want to leave my camera gear so I declined. She headed back to the park to use their satellite phone to call for a tow truck. When it would arrive was anyone's guess.
At least now I had a new way to pass the time - find a spot to put up my tent in case I had to sleep beside the highway! That was harder than it sounds. The road is above the surrounding environment and I couldn't find a nice flat spot nearby. Should I sleep in my car? Put up my tent on the highway in front of my disabled car? Wander further into the bush looking for a tent spot? None of those options appealed and thankfully, none were necessary. At 8:20 PM, Douglas arrived with a tow truck!
Doug was a very easygoing fellow and I enjoyed his company. He had every right to treat me like a stupid city boy that vastly underestimated the perils of wild Yukon. Was I as bad as Chris McCandless, who ventured into the Alaskan unknown with limited knowledge and no map only to die of starvation even though he was close to help?
Doug was supportive; he told me that we all make mistakes and his job was to bail out people like me in situations like this. He also joked that he should give me a sandwich for all my trouble. He wasn't joking! He actually gave me a salmon sandwich and a drink that I thoroughly enjoyed en route to Dawson City.
We finally arrived in Dawson City at 10:40 PM. Doug dropped my car off at the NAPA repair centre and I checked in to room 115 of the Bonanza Gold Motel & RV Park across the road. I was happy to be there but what was next? When would my car get fixed? Would I ever make it to Vancouver for my Shad Valley gig?