It has been said that driving the Pan American Highway is boring. Anyone can do it. The route does not require any specialized skills beyond extensive defensive driving. This is true. If you stick to the beaten path, the trodden trail, the main drag, the path of least resistance, (you get the idea) it can be boring. I have a tendency to observe the excitement splashing around in the primordial soup of life rather than jumping in and organizing an impromptu game of water polo. It is my nature to participate on the inside, watching and being wholly entertained, but missing out on the actual participation part of life. This has been more apparent to me as of late and as a result, I have resolved to become more involved. A road trip resolution of sorts. I’m pretty sure it will make the blog more interesting than an account of all the interesting things I could have done. Case in point; this blog post!
After the fun and folly of driving the Dempster Highway, Scott and I rolled into Dawson City for some rest and relaxation. We arrived late, hangry and exhausted to town, high-tailing it straight to camp. That night it was the Midnight Dome overlooking the city. Midnight Dome is a high point that was once the site of a grand party intended to watch the sun not go down on the summer solstice. Admission may have been charged. Soft drinks were served and the Who’s Who of Dawson City hob-knobbed about. Unfortunately, the sun did go down. This put a damper on the party. Fortunately, it rose again about an hour and a half later. I’m sure the event planners for that party felt a bit sheepish. From Midnight Dome we could see the confluence of the Klondike and the Yukon Rivers as well as the whole of Dawson City proper. We engaged the badasssss 4×4 capability of The Joan Wilder to access the hill above the Dome which was a bit more private. A quick and delicious pho (with Dad’s kimchi) alleviated the hangryness. We had a second wind propel us on a walk along some jeep trails around the Dome. It was there that we met an Arctic fox! It was digging around in some rocks when I spotted it. I crept up on it taking pictures along the way in case it ran away. Turns out I didn’t need to. I got right up on that little bugger. It gave me a glance and continued to dig. Deprived of the thrill of the chase, I grew tired of photo-documenting the fox and we headed back to camp. We were midway through our oral hygiene routine when our friend the fox showed up! He foxed around our camp posing for pictures long enough to realize that we had not left any delicious goodies within his reach. Thus, he moved on.
We slept through a gentle rain awakened periodically by the engines of folks headed up to the Dome for a dose of whatever it is people do when they park at scenic overlooks in Canada.
A misty morning found us ready to explore Dawson City and especially ready to find a hot shower! Hot showers were easily found at a campground in town. Feeling refreshed and smelling more like hippy soap than hippies we set off to see what Dawson City had to offer. The town of Dawson City has an old west theme. The sidewalks are wooden, the streets of the downtown are unpaved, the riverfront was populated with steam paddleboats ready to take you on a scenic cruise of the Yukon River, storefronts were all in keeping with the golden age of gold mining. We wandered about the town checking menus to find the best vegan options for Scott and mingling with a few random dudes that Scott befriended in the showers at the campground. One fellow was a repeat offender. Scott met him for the first time in the shower room at a campground up in Inuvik, and now again in Dawson City. We shared road stories and recommendations for the future in far-flung locations. We have no control over when our Road Friends come into our lives. Lately, it has been in the Men’s Room. Anyhow, after a full assessment of dining options in Dawson City we landed at the restaurant at the Jack London House. There we found veggie burger sliders for Scott and delicious draft beer. I had a cheeseburger with bacon. It was delicious.
Also, on the menu was the Sour Toe Cocktail. This adult beverage consists of the alcohol of your choice garnished with an actual severed human toe. This beverage comes with strings attached. The booze has to be 80 proof or higher, the toe must come into contact with your lips, and you mustn’t eat the toe (they are maybe on their 7thtoe?). I think the fine is $2500 if you eat the toe. It is a public affair culminating the receipt of a certificate (suitable for framing) verifying that you did, in fact, drink a cocktail with a toe in it. People line up out the door to take their turn putting their lips on someone else’s forsaken toe. This was one of those times when I had an opportunity to dive in and live life to the fullest. In retrospect, I should have tried a Sour Toe Cocktail. I would then know what it is like to have the severed toe of a stranger touch my lips – a severed toe of a stranger that has also touched the lips of innumerable bar patrons. With my new road trip resolution on the forefront of my mind, I will surely not miss the next proverbial Sour Toe.
Now mind you, I did not make this resolution in the timeliest of fashions. I managed to miss out on some really great stuff first! Like when we left Canada and reveled in the glory of setting foot on the fine soil of the United States of America. In Chicken. Chicken is an itty-bitty mining town with a summer population of Yer Momand a winter population of My Mom. Apparently, it was going to be named Ptarmigan (a wild bird that sustained the first settlers) but no one could agree on the spelling so they went with Chicken. We were lured in by the promise of cold beer and free camping. We had crossed the Top of the World Highway amidst rain storms and blustery winds. The well-muscled and well-fed customs agent at the border welcomed us back to the USA. After satisfying his curiosity about our lack of firepower and firewood he kindly liberated us of our citrus and sent us on our merry way. We are still unsure about why Alaska is concerned about citrus importation. It surely can’t be for pest concerns… unless there is a plan in the works for a large-scale hothouse operation. Hmmm. Anyhow, we rolled into Chicken thirsty and a bit hungry. The AM cook at the café attached to the Chicken Saloon, a jovial fellow who was enjoying some adult libations, greeted us at the door and made sure we had an appropriate parking place in which to sleep that evening. Then he told us that the kitchen was closing in 20 minutes so we need to eat now! The kitchen crew assured us that wasn’t the case but we ordered a couple veggie burgers anyways. Sometimes it is nice to get the eating out of the way. One less thing to think about. Our burgers arrived in gold pans. After dinner we retired to the bar and made friends with an Italian airline pilot, Marco, who was riding his motorcycle through Alaska. He confirmed for me that in Italy cappuccino is only consumed in the morning. Take note, afternoon cappuccinos are reserved for tourists. Anyhow, we were enjoying some Session IPAs form the Alaskan Brewing Co. Delicious but not debilitating. The night wore on and we made even more friends at the bar as one does when aided by effervescent social lubrication. Eventually, the panty cannon was deployed. I guess this is a good time to mention that the ceiling of this bar was covered with at least 20 years-worth of signed ballcaps and signed, charred, mostly ladies’ panties. Completely covered.
The bartender keeps a large sharp pair of scissors behind the bar for the purpose of removing your panties without removing your pants (didn’t think of that, did we, CAB???). The panties are then stuffed, along with the appropriate amount of gunpowder into a giant iron cannon, placed in a safe location in the driveway of the bar and ignited. We were lucky enough to see the bartender training another worker on the proper ratio of gunpowder to wadding to panties (up to seven pair) for a firing.
My big fail at this point was not cutting off my panties and adding them to the mix. It is one thing to watch panties being blown up but another thing entirely to blow up your panties, sign them and tack them to the ceiling of a bar. My panties that day were a bit too practical for display (the ceiling favored lace and gold lamé) and I was feeling pretty satisfied to just watch the show. How much cooler would this story be if I had sliced off my panties and blown them up at a bar in Alaska? Probably a lot. There we have another missed opportunity. If only I had made my road trip resolution a bit sooner. Sorry guys.
After Chicken, I realized that I was missing out on some opportunity to make great stories to share with my brother’s grandchildren so I resolved to start saying yes to opportunities that come my way. Like a few days later when a couple rolled up to our campsite in their pick-up out of the blue and asked us if we wanted to go for a drive with them. I looked at Scott with pleading eyes. Please, can we say yes? Even though we just rolled out of bed and are still working on our first cups of coffee and we have no idea who these people are or where they want to take us please, please, please can we go? They have boats on their truck! These are my people! Pretty please??? We said yes! That is how we met Dan and Pat from Soldotna. Dan was born in Chico! Small world. They took us for a drive through areas where the road had been washed out from high flows heading to the end of the road in the Wrangell- St Elias National Park. The aim was to get to the end and go for a hike. The road became impassable (even for Alaskans!) so we walked the last four miles to the trailhead and then decided to skip the hike due to the lack of energy, water and snacks. Plus, it had begun to rain and we were concerned about the status of the areas of the road the rivers had blown out that we had crossed. There was potential for worsening. None of us wanted to be stranded so we headed back to camp. The rivers flowing across the roads had risen a bit but they had a badass 4×4 so there were no problems getting through. Exciting though! Once we made it back to camp they gifted us with a couple armloads of firewood. Dan and Pat were super cool folks. The whole day was an affirmation that my road trip resolution was going to send us on a good path.
That good path led us to Seward for the 4thof July! Seward is quite the place to be on the 4thof July. They shut down most of the town to traffic and have a bit of a street fair. The main attraction is the Mt Marathon Race. It is billed as the toughest 5K in the world. This race starts in the heart of downtown and runs to the summit of nearby Mt Marathon and back down to town. It is serious business. The elevation gain is 3022 feet to the top and the entire race is just over 3 miles total. Scott and I volunteered to man the tables at packet pick-up and t-shirt pick-up. I checked in the ladies for their race and Scott handed out finishers awards to the juniors and the men. It was quite a scene when they started rolling in covered in dirt and roadtrail rash.
We finished our volunteer duties in time to watch the ladies race. I felt like I was watching an elite Olympian event. The starting line was reminiscent of an MMA weigh in; full of flexing, well-tanned, well-toned machines!
After we watched the start of the race we positioned ourselves at the finish. These ladies left nothing on the course. They were crossing the finish line and collapsing to the ground. Only the sturdiest of volunteers worked the finish line. Catching runners before they drop is serious work! There were about a dozen 5-gallon buckets upside down for finishers to sit on and be hosed off with cold water at the end. The temperature in Seward that day was almost 80 degrees which is ridiculously hot for local Alaskans. We didn’t see any pukers but it would not be a surprise if there were.
Once we had seen the top handful of finishers come in we retired to the Seward Brewing Company. They had a birds-eye view of the finish line from the upstairs pizza bar. From there we plotted our ascent of Mt Marathon. During the day I had checked in women of all ages and apparent abilities and felt strongly that I could make an assent of the mountain. Scott being the race junkie that he is had already planned out what gear and nutrition we would need to make the summit. And back. Down is the hard part. That puppy is steep. The top is a scree field. The middle is a rock pile. The bottom is a steep cliff complex. Sounds like fun!?! We planned to make it the following day.
We still had a good amount of the day to kill so we headed over to Exit Glacier to take a hike. We set off in typical Scott and Rachael fashion. Not enough water, no snacks, and a can-do attitude! It was one of those things where we are just going to hike until we don’t feel like hiking anymore with no real destination in mind except a good view of the glacier. I think we were about four miles up when the snow covered the trail and our bellies started calling out for dinner. I really wanted to get to the emergency shelter at the top and look out over the Harding Icefield but in the end, dinner prevailed.
On to our ascent of Mt Marathon.
The first bit is to either climb up the cliffs or take the switchbacks. I, being a west coast girl, love my switchbacks and opted not to take the cliffs. Those switchbacks were ridiculous! Maybe it was because there were hundreds of athletes ballsier than I barreling up the trail the day before, but that trail was loose! The soil was turned up and evidence of people slipping and sliding off the trail was everywhere. It was steep and loose and there were no real appreciable hand-holds. There were abundant roots to grab hold of my feet and send me downhill if fortune turned against me. More than once I started to get weepy. More than once Scott thought he lost me because it took me so long to cross a section of trail. I kept thinking of the septuagenarians I had checked into the race the previous day. I was thinking that if those ladies could do this so could I! Nope. Those ladies are Alaskan. I am a delicate flower. I also kept thinking that this was a very bad idea and I had no business on this slope. I thought about my questionable health insurance situation. I thought about how much it sucked to heal my broken wrist. I thought about how deeply buried our first aid kit was in the truck. I thought about a lifetime of slowly backing away from cliffs instead of jumping off into rivers. I thought about how much I would rather be washing my laundry. I did not have hundreds of racers behind me to catch me if I fell. Eventually, I found myself on the face of a steep dirt slope completely tharn (Watership Down- read it!). I stood there psyched out staring at my feet willing them to move. Nope! Not gonna happen. We weren’t even at the steepest part of the trail! Scott piped up, “Maybe this isn’t the best idea. It has taken us 52 minutes to go half a mile. Maybe we should turn back?” Heck yeah! It took me more than a full minute to turn my body around and accept that I had to head downhill (more freaky than uphill). In practice, it wasn’t that bad and then we took a wrong turn and ended up on an actual dirt road down to town. The dirt road dropped us a handful of blocks from the trailhead and we had to walk there fully outfitted to run but not dirty. It was totally obvious that we did not summit Mt Marathon. It was the mile-long walk of shame. I failed. I thought I had it in me but totally did not. We passed many people on their way to the trailhead full of optimism and people coming off the trail fully haggard. They knew I failed. Sigh. That is what I get for trying to be the person I am not. I guess it is good to be reminded of my limitations. Road trip resolution can fail me at times. It was worth the effort. The next day Scott ran the trail without me while I washed our laundry.
Both of us totally satisfied with our day’s activities. Once he was done with the trail we retired to the Seward Brewing Co for a pint and some snacks where he regaled me with tales of route finding and steep scary cliffs. I regaled him with tales of detergent pouring and jockeying for the best-looking dryers.
Looking forward, I hope to keep trying things that are bizarre (toe kissing and pantie exploding) and things that scare me (ridiculous physical feats). Even if I fail.