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Published: June 23rd 2008
We arrived in Whitehorse after a days run from Watson Lake. The terrain was not as mountainous and scenic as the day before, but lots of lakes and rivers and beautiful nonetheless. The town of Whitehorse is rich in history from the gold rush days, and does a booming tourist induscry. As the weekend we are here corresponds with the summer solstice, it also attracts tourists to see the very long days. In fact, on the night of the solstice, we left Whitehorse on a motorcycle ride that didn't start until 11 PM, and we didn't return until nearly 2 AM - all in daylight.
Whitehorse is a town of about 24,000 people and is the capital city of the Yukon territory. The main industries here are mining, tourism, and government. As a territory of Canada, they are more directly under Federal jurisdiction, and signs of federal involvement and largess are everywhere. The source of tourism comes from many sources. Many Americans travel the Alaska highway to visit their disconnected state; exploring the Yukon and Alaska brings many motorcycle adventurists who want to get the north on their list of travels. Getting up above the Arctic circle is popular using
not much night this time of year
the Dempster or Dalton highways; There are a lot of German tourists who seem to have a fascination with the history and wilderness that exists here. During the summer, large planes full of tourists from Frankfurt arrive on direct flights over the pole to the Whitehorse airport.
On our first full day here (Friday) some of our group decided to take a bus tour down to Skagway to ride the “White Pass and Yukon Railway”. I decided that after four days of motorcycle riding, and some 2400 kilometres, I would just like to stick around town and see a few sights. One of the other members of our group, Ted, decided to stay here as well. Ted actually lived in Whitehorse for two or three years in the early 1960's when he was around 10 years old. We walked around town while he reminisced about his time here. One of his memories was climbing around the old paddle-wheelers that were taken out of service in the 1950's and were beached on the shores of the Yukon river just downstream of town. In the late 1960's, the largest of the paddle-wheelers, the “Klondike”, was restored and relocated to just upstream
of town as a tourist attraction. Ted and I walked over to the boat and were just in time for the first tour of the day. Access to the boat is only with a tour guide. Ted pointed out things that he recognized from his childhood explorations on the boat. One of his memories was cutting his wrist while breaking a glass window to gain access to the wheel house, and then having to run home to the other end of town to get his cut attended to. After we finished the tour of the “Klondike”, we walked up stream to the dam where there is a power generation operation. We were particularly interested in the fish ladder that allows salmon and other fish to negotiate their way from below to above the dam. After we returned from our explorations, I lay down for a nap to bank some energy for the midnight bike ride that evening.
At about 10 PM we congregated at the Yukon College with other participants in the motorcycle rally, then set out on our ride north to the Braeburn lodge to have some of their famous and huge cinnamon buns. A long line of
Picture taken around midnight
about 70 motorcycles left the college shortly after 10 PM and headed north on the highway towards Dawson City. Braeburn Lodge is a little over an hours' ride north of Whitehorse, and we watched the sun set ( about 11:30) as we rode. Upon arrival, we all crowded around the entrance to the restaurant to buy our buns. One thing I have noticed up here are the bugs. They are everywhere in abundance. Even standing still in the centre of town with elicit a swarm. At the lodge, they greeted us in droves. Eventually I got to the head of the line and purchased one bun to share with Terry, my room-mate on this trip. It was all we could do to eat this thing between the two of us. After finishing the bun, we made our way back to our bikes. The trip back was not as organized as the trip out where we were one long line of bikes that stretched for nearly 4 kilometres. Terry and I rode back together, and made a bit better time than with the large group. We arrived back at the hotel around 2 AM and it was still light out. While
the sun had set at 11:30, it was still a comfortable twilight. It was beautiful on the way back to see the calm lakes and snow-streaked mountains bathed in this light.
On Saturday, we gathered again as a large group and rode south to Carcross, the across to Tagish, and reconnecting with the Alaska highway for the return to Whitehorse.
On Sunday we re-traced our route down to Carcross, but then continued south to Skagway. This trip presented me with some of the most fabulously rugged and beautiful terrain and exciting roads (for a motorcyclist). Thoughts ran through my head about how on earth the prospectors during the gold rush ever made it across this terrain. Then later, how a railway was ever built. The White Pass and Yukon railway was built from Skagway to Whitehorse in the late 18 and early 1900's. Carving a path through the rock, up the steep grades, across the gulleys with bridges, and tunnels through hard rock must have taken some effort. It is interesting that the trains continue to run to this day as a (mostly) tourist attraction. The road from Carcross climbs to over 3000 feet in elevation - there
was still some ice and snow around. The temperature dropped down to about 7 degrees at one point, making me glad that I had my electric vest and gloves on.
The town of Skagway itself seems artificial; made for the cruise ship passengers. I heard that many of the stores in the town are actually owned by the cruise ship companies. We had a brief stop in Skagway, some lunch and a quick look around, then left to return. Tomorrow we leave for Dawson City.
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