Day 32: North From Alaska
This morning in Haines began as have most days in Alaska this trip: cloudy, chilly, and trying hard to rain. Undaunted and suitably attired in our heated apparel and rain gear, we resolutely headed back to the bear viewing area at the Chilkoot River to try again for the perfect shot of a grizzly snagging salmon or defending its territory that would secure my place in the Grizzly Bear Photographers Hall of Fame. We arrived about 9 a.m., long after the first hopeful but dejected photographers showed up at 5:30.
But the bears must have watching, because they continued to stay hidden, I assume, until after we left at 10:30 to catch the 12:30 ferry to Skagway. I departed with only a couple of out-of-focus shots of distant eagles and a shot of a duck with a haircut like my great-grandson.
We had standby status for boarding since we hadn’t reserved space in advance, but the ticket agents assured us the boat crew could always squeeze in a motorcycle or two, so I wasn’t too worried. They sold us the tickets, and we lined up with other standby vehicles and waited. Our ferry, the LeConte, was relatively small and completing its run from Juneau to Skagway. Cars towing trailers that boarded in Haines had to back down the ramp (!) onto the ship. Fortunately all drivers made the maneuver with no mishaps, but the time-consuming process delayed our departure by nearly 40 minutes, making our arrival in Teslin, which is on Pacific not Alaska time, even later,
As the LeConte cleared Haines’ harbor and made its way up the fjord to Skagway, thoughts of enthusiastic young gold miners in the 1890s making a similar trip on a lesser ship, dreaming of nuggets and riches, came to mind. What must have been on their minds as they saw the same steep mountain sides, covered with scores of rushing waterfalls and overhanging blue-ice glaciers staring down at them? Did they have the same feeling of awe I had today as the modern ferry slowly ploughed through the cold water for an hour to the waiting dock in Skagway? I think they must have. They must have paused to consider the beautiful journey they were on, whether they struck it rich or not.
We had been told by other riders that the highway north out of Skagway would be a great ride. It was, climbing more than 3,000 feet quickly up the sides of the valley to views unlike any other we’ve had this trip. As we reached the mountain summit not far from the Canadian border and the waiting border agents with their now routine questions about weapons, alcohol, and wads of cash, the landscape became more rugged, almost treeless, and stretched nearly infinitely into the distance with small pools and large lakes adding color to the inspiring scene. The cool temperature dropped further, the whistling wind rose higher, and the gray clouds began to break up, showing hints of precious blue. Repeatedly we keyed the obvious into our mikes: “This is gorgeous.”
We added more cold-weather gear when we stopped at the border crossing, but the temperature never got colder, and as we rode back down out of the starkly beautiful mountains, we twisted the setting knobs on our rheostats lower and lower. The view on the highway from Skagway to Carcross was amazing and so was the road surface, apparently far less abused by heavy trucks and RVs than the cracked, broken, pot-holed rutted Alaska Highway. We had only one brief encounter with a repair crew clearing a small rock fall on the side of the road and the flagger’s STOP sign changed to SLOW before our tires could come to rest.. Today’s ride was, for several hours as we made our way to Teslin, wonderful.
Our lodging tonight at the Yukon Motel is clean and warm and quiet. I’ve no complaints there. But the wifi is problematic. Each person is given one-hour’s worth of Internet at a time, and it can only be used within yards of the small router near the check-in desk. The signal doesn’t even reach to our room, which is part of the same building. Having travelled in the far north cyber wilderness before, I’m not surprised. But if you note in the next few days that I haven’t posted anything, it’s not because I haven’t recorded that day’s adventure for posterity. There just may not be a way to share it with the 21st-century world.
As always, thanks to everyone following along on this incredible adventure.