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It’s washrooms, not bathrooms, everything around me is in French, and my dollar is suddenly worth (a little bit) more. I must be in Canada. Welcome to the Yukon.For as accessible as it seems, we almost didn’t make it here at all. As it turns out, about 90 miles east of an American town named Tok, and about 200 miles (ahem, 320 kilometers, excuse me) west of a Canadian town named Haines Junction lies a checkpoint on the American/Canadian border smack dab in the middle of nowhere. Right in the center of the middle of nowhere sits a Canadian border patrrol agent who obviously at some point in his life in the middle of the woods was wronged by some youthful, spry American, because this man had an overwhelming and shocking discriminatory bias against any American youth under the age of 30. At the border, if you were cleared to pass with no issues, you could proceed straight down the road and on towards Canada; if you were going to need further scrutinizing you must turn off to the left and wait in your vehicle. Off on the left was a crowd of people–all under 30 awaiting this man’s trial. Everyone continuing on straight towards Canada, over 30. Of all the people waiting off to left, we were the only 2 eventually cleared into the country. Everyone else, repelled. Two guys had just biked all the way from the Arctic Circle, and were planning to bike all the way to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina over the next 2 years. The nearest town in the direction they came is over 50 miles. And they were turned back by this man…on bicycle. Apparently in Canada, if you have a DUI on your record, it is a felony in Canada and you cannot gain admission…understandable. To this man, if you had every had anything on your record….ANYTHING…then you could not enter the country, no exceptions. This is how our dialogue went after waiting for 45 minutes in our car:
“You guys have any arrests on your record?
“Never been arrested for drugs? When was the last time you did drugs?”
“Never done a drug in my life sir”
“You sure about that? So if I search your car right now I’m not going to find any papers, pipes, syringes, anything of the sort? You sure? You’re not lying to me?”
He then proceeded to search our car thoroughly for 15 minutes. No one else was searched. Still not enough. Empty your pockets. Give me your hat. Let me search your wallet. Look in the car again. This man WANTED SO BAD TO FIND SOMETHING ON US. After over an hour of waiting, he finally reluctantly allowed us admission into the country. Profiling? The two guys on bicycles were turned around for minor infractions not amounting to misdemeanors years ago on their record. This man has serious issues.
Aside from this perturbed man, the country has welcomed us warmly. The last couple of days of driving have greeted us with an abundance of wildlife, as a female moose and her calf decided to delay our vehicle on the road for a little while, and a few miles down the road a lone wolf decided to shut down the highway and nearly jump in our window in search of food. Earlier this morning, a curious black bear decided to share the same trail as me. Allegedly, herd of elk roam the nearby hills as well, though I have yet to be so fortunate.
After crossing the border we drove all the way to Haines Junction and a little south of town to a Canadian Forest Service campground on Kathleen Lake. From my one experience thus far, the Canadian Forest Service seems to have it together, as they have nice visitor facilities, well-maintained campgrounds, and breathtaking scenery to work with.
Kathleen Lake campground sits just inside the Kluane National Park, listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, and deserving every part of its listing. This place is unbelievable. Towering mountains jut straight to the sky, and are backed by massive icefields and even taller mountains (Mt. Logan at over 19,000 ft. is the second highest peak in North America behind Mt. Mckinley). Kathleen Lake itself is a pristine, glacially formed lake home to one of the world’s only species of completely fresh water salmon that instead spawn from one lake to another. We were able to score a free campsite right on the shore of the lake, light up a nice campfire with some hot chocolate, and watch an amazing late-night sunset illuminate all the colors of the lake and surrounding forest. Waking to rain, the clouds slowly parted and released a brilliant sun that allowed for a short day hike up a steep rock slope to a spot 1800 ft above the lake aptly named King’s Throne. The slope levels out to what appears to be a massive armchair in the side of the moutnains and affords views of nearly the entire lake and the hill pimpled horizon that stretches on for miles. It reminded me of a spot in Edinburgh, Scotland named Arthur’s Seat which is a massive mound looming on the south end of the city that affords views of castles and the bustling downtown area. Arthur’s Seat, King’s throne, whatever is in a name, they both were panoramas worthy of royalty.
From the solitude of the park we descended back into civilization, and currently I am sitting in a funky little coffee shop in downtown Whitehorse, a surprisingly cosmopolitan little city that I would expect to find tucked away somewhere in Europe as opposed to some place in North America nearly tickling the Arctic Circle. Trendy boutiques and cafes line the main streets of downtown, and twisting bike paths hug the town’s lakes and rivers, carrying with them the loads of bicyclists and outdoors lovers on this balmy northern day. Sitting inland, the land actually heats up to a warm 75 degrees in the summer months and plays host to numerous festivals and outdoors activities. Flyers posted on community message boards around town boast of where to find the best trail rides as kayakers and canoes fly by in the background from the water released at the dam on the Yukon River.
Kyle’s official vote: cute town, great vibe. That being said I have been carrying around a $5 Canadian note in my wallet for nearly a year now in anticipation of being here, so I am going to go enjoy a Yukon beer and slice of pizza at the cafe down the street, and soak in just another day in the ever changing whirlwind I call my every day life.