|Coming into Skagway on the M/V LeConte|
Tom and I arrived in Skagway on the 30th, and were met by Nick and Sarah, our couch surfing hosts. They showed us to their home and helped us get settled before we went out for a quick hike to a coastal point. For those of you who haven’t spent much time in Alaska, it may come as a surprise that building codes are often non-existent, and people are happy to live in almost any kind of dwelling. Such was the home of Nick and Sarah; a veritable hodgepodge of part double-wide trailer, part Swiss family Robinson invention, and all around cute, cozy, and interesting. Sarah is from New York and just visiting for a few months, while Nick has seen and done just about everything, and currently works seasonally for the almost 1 million visitors Skagway hosts during the summer months. The rest of the year he travels, visits friends and, like most Alaskans, hibernates.
|Crossing White Pass|
Nick was kind enough to put us up for an evening before the four of us headed out the next day for the exciting and possibly dangerous trip up over White Pass and across the Canadian boarder to Whitehorse. The drive went fairly well with only a few moments of blinding whiteout, and we enjoyed the lovely rolling scenery as we descended down into Canada. Nick was a great tour guide, and gave us the names of many of lakes and streams we were passing, along with a brief history of some of the old, leftover mining equipment that still litters the hills out there. The highlight was perhaps passing two GIANT lakes that stretched on for miles (I’m not kidding), and took at least 20 minutes to drive past, each!
New Years in Whitehorse turned out to be a pretty fun time. We dropped Nick and Sarah with their friend in a Canadian trailer park, which was well kept, tidy, and not at all trashy. In fact, each trailer had a picture window, breakfast nook looking area, and lovely latticed porches and patios. If they didn’t have the trailer siding, they would have been mistakable for adorable elongated cottages. Thomas and I checked into the cheapest hotel we could find, which was simple but clean and warm, and then headed out for a walk around town.
|Tom standing in front of the snow drill mounted to the front
of the train that goes through White Pass
We went back to the hotel to relax for a bit, and then headed out again around 8pm to find a place to eat a New Year’s Eve dinner. We had picked out a pizza joint, but found that it and almost everything else was closed or in the process of closing. We walked several miles in the zero temperatures (though it somehow was sort of fun to search out our dinner) and then finally found a very nice place serving a Mediterranean fare. It was a little pricey, but we felt it was a good time to treat ourselves (and my parents had gifted me some NYE spending money just for this sort of occasion – thank you!) so we asked to be seated. Instead of being surly that we didn’t have a reservation (the place was packed), the hostess insisted that they would find a way to get us in, and found us a table where we enjoyed a spectacular meal. Afterward, we went to the Best Western Gold Panner bar (strange, I know) to take in some live music and have a few celebratory drinks. Nick and Sarah ended up meeting us there, and we toasted in the new year with an unexpected group of folks from all over Canada, New Zealand, and the states. We also met another couch surfing couple who had surfed all over Europe!
The next morning we awoke, checked the weather and found that it was going to snow over a foot in the treacherous White Pass. We quickly packed up our gear, grabbed Nick and Sarah (who were still feeling the acute effects of the previous night), and rushed for the boarder. Thankfully, we made it over safely (even if with a few white-knuckle moments), and stayed one more night in Skagway before thanking our hosts and departing for the ferry. Skagway, unfortunately, is such a seasonal town that it was very difficult to find a place to even get a cup of coffee. We ended up eating what was left of our cheese and crackers in the car while waiting for the ferry to load us on for our voyage to Juneau. The weather was incredibly windy, so we snapped a few photos but generally just tried to stay warm.
Skagway is incredibly rich with mining history, and nearby Dyea is the head of the Chilkoot Trail; thousands of potential gold miners hiked literally tons of gear up and over White Pass, and over the Chilkoot Trail only to begin a several hundred mile river journey to interior Alaska/Canada in the hopes of striking it rich in the gold fields. Few were successful, many died or suffered greatly from disease, crime, and exposure. Those who did strike it rich often lost their fortunes gambling or through the organized crime of Jefferson “Soapy” Smith (the famous criminal of Skagway) and his ilk. I studied this time period extensively in elementary school, and it was really exciting to see it all in person.
|Eagerly awaiting the arrival of the M/V Matanuska in Skagway|
Anyway, we boarded our boat (the M/V Matanuska) and enjoyed a late lunch and six hour sail to Juneau, where the lights of the Auke Bay glittered over the dark water. Now, we’re in snowy Juneau and looking forward to a few slower days of some local sightseeing before doing a day at EagleCrest (the local ski hill), and then planning our trip south to Petersburg and Ketchikan. My apologies for not having any photos to accompany these posts; I left the camera cord in Fairbanks and will have to find a replacement before I can upload them to my computer. In the meantime, thanks for reading and I’ll write again soon!