Wednesday, March 09, 2011

All Uphill From Here

Well it’s been about a month now and lots of fun things have happened. The highlight for me would be Amanda’s visit over reading week where I spent all of my hours with her when not at work (that includes lunch breaks too). Other things include a $1100 internet bill that I worked with the internet company to bring down to $800, 12 hour night shifts doing field work, longer daylight hours, and I’m finishing up my online course (I take a mandatory online course every work term). The internet bill required us to shut down our internet until the beginning of March and since I’m on night shifts now, updating the blog has been a bit of a hassle. All in all, I’m in good spirits as this point in time marks just past the halfway point of my work term and everything should go smoothly from here on. Of course, there are always unexpected surprises (can you have an expected surprise?) waiting to reveal themselves so I probably shouldn’t be too optimistic.

So it’s Friday Feb 18 and I’m picking Amanda up from the Whitehorse airport after another amazing Beer Friday finish to the work day. Our excitement is through the roof with all the things we have planned for the following days ahead. I took her to a small restaurant along the Alaska Highway just outside of town called Robbyn’s for some of the best fish and chips I have ever eaten in my life. The halibut they serve is full of flavour and the batter is so thin so that your piece of fish really is all fish and not a giant glob of batter. After dinner, I gave her a crash course tour of Whitehorse. To end the tour, we went grocery shopping, I filled the truck with gas, and we then made our way to my house to get settled in for the night. We ended up falling asleep watching Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Saturday arrives and we prepare for our trip to Skagway, Alaska. I have been told this trip was worth it for the drive alone based on the beautiful scenery and since neither Amanda nor I have been to Alaska, we deduced it was going to be a cool, new experience. So we take the Alaska Highway and head south for about 20 km where you turn onto the Klondike Highway and head southwest the rest of the way there. About 1/3 of the way there is the town of Carcross where you can visit Carcross Desert. We decided to hike for about a half hour at Carcross Desert and then made our way to check out the town itself. The town is quite small and old fashioned. It seemed every other house you saw had moose antlers hanging from the front and they were all made of wood. There are a few shops around but the town is essentially dead in the winter since there are hardly any tourists. We walked around town for a bit and ventured down onto the frozen lake for a bit before heading back to the truck to continue our trip to Skagway.

Carcross Desert

Town of Carcross

Walking down some wooden steps leading to a frozen lake bordering the town of Carcross.

We headed out of Carcross toward British Columbia (you need to pass through B.C. to get to Skagway) and almost as soon as we were in B.C. we hit terrible weather. Heavy snow and heavy wind made sure the drive was slow and not very scenic. There were these 20’ poles at the sides of the road which basically guided me the whole way since I couldn’t see 25’ in front of me and anything closer was blurred by the constant blowing snow.

The camera picked up better visibility than I could actually see.

Anyway, we eventually made it to Skagway after dealing with the American Customs (the guy was an asshole but at least he let us in) only to switch from -10 degrees and strong winds with blowing snow to 0 degrees and stronger winds with blowing rain. I’ve never loved the Pacific Ocean so much! So the weather was basically as bad here but at least we could actually see something.

It's difficult to see but there is violent rain and large waves.

A house that stuck out from the rest so I got a snapshot of it's uniqueness.

The outside of this awesome looking building was made entirely with wooden sticks.

Sadly, like Carcross, Skagway relies heavily on tourists and nothing was open when we got there (not even a restaurant)...oh except the liquor store, they were open. So after the long and snowy drive, it wasn’t as rewarding as we both anticipated. Oh well, it still made for an adventure and experience. So, we spent the rest of the day driving back to Whitehorse and relaxed for the rest of the evening.

It is now Sunday and we have quite an experience ahead of us. Neither of us had gone dog sledding before and we had a vague idea of how it would turn out. We drove to Sky High Wilderness Ranch for noon and got geared up in some heavy duty winter wear in the lodge. It was now time to proceed to the dogs to learn how to mush. We walked to an area where they keep the dogs chained up outside. There must’ve been at least 75 dogs or more just barking as loud as they could wishing they were chosen to pull the sled. As we finished learning safety precautions and the standard commands (*Go* = “Ready? Go!”; *Stop* = “Whoaaa!” while simultaneously stepping on the brake), we each got on our own sled and followed the tour guide down to the lake. Most of the 4 hour tour was based along a frozen lake that we eventually circled. The day was perfectly clear and the sights were gorgeous. The dogs were crazy; they will run and poop at the same time and not care, they will all bark nonstop when you’re stopped even if you think they’re tired, and they will always try and run even if you have the brake hooks pressed in the snow as much as possible.

Better watch out, I am ready to mush!

Amanda is all ready to explore the arctic.

On the way back, our tour guide decided to stop when we were almost back at the starting point and she asked Amanda if she wanted a picture taken. As Amanda went to get her camera, she was distracted from holding onto the sled while she was standing on the brake and her dog sled starting running away from her with no one on it. I was laughing pretty hard at this point because I looked up to see our tour guide and Amanda trying to chase down her sled as it had its freedom. Thankfully there was another group not so far ahead that was able to prevent the dogs from running any further and we caught up to get Amanda back to her dogs and sled. What wasn’t so funny was when after we caught up and were waiting to go again, Amanda fainted on her sled and she had to get a ride back in a snowmobile (hooked up to the dog sled in such a way that it looked like the dogs were pulling the sled and snowmobile).

Rescue has arrived!

It wasn’t a big deal since we were quite close by and now she can say she went dog sledding and rode a snowmobile for the first time. We all went back to the lodge to get changed where we ate lots of great snacks and prepared to head home for the day. Amanda and I capped off the night by making apple crisp and watching the rest of Raiders of the Lost Ark before falling asleep.

Monday was time to get back to work. The work day went smoothly and afterwards, I picked up Amanda and we headed to Jane’s for roast moose dinner. The dinner went great and everyone had a fun time meeting Amanda. It was Jane’s mom’s last day of visiting from Ontario so we couldn’t spend too long there since her flight was in the morning. After dinner we played 5 rounds of Uno and Amanda and I offered to walk Silver (Jane’s dog) since everyone seemed really busy. They were grateful of our offer and Amanda and I enjoyed a nice half hour walk letting Silver run around and fetch sticks as he used his built up energy from being inside all day. We returned Silver to the house, had a nice long chat with Jane’s mom before we left, and headed home afterward for sleep to start a new day.

Tuesday was a relaxing day after work. Our plan for hiking at Long Lake when I got off work didn’t go so smoothly when there was blowing snow conditions and a cold wind chill. We ended up still going out to buy some groceries for making fajitas. After our fajitas, we relaxed inside for the rest of the night and watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to continue our Indiana Jones marathon.

We ended up pushing our plans to Wednesday instead. However, during work hours, there was a surprise by the Keystone Kops. It turns out that the upcoming weekend is an annual celebration of Whitehorse called the Sourdough Rendezvous to help commemorate the point in time of the gold rush and the lifestyle people lived then. People dress up in vintage clothes of that time and there are events all over town from midweek to the end of the weekend. The Keystone Kops go around town with their trailer hitched jail cell to arrest people for things like not having a long enough beard or not wearing a garter. Since I had recently shaven, I was arrested and put in their jail for not having a long enough beard (although I guess I wasn’t wearing a garter either). To get out of jail, one has to sing a song, tell a dirty joke, or dance. I decided to get the whole jail dancing and we boogied our way to freedom.

So after work Wednesday, Amanda and I took a nice hike around Long Lake which is just northeast of town by 5 minutes. The trail circles the lake but we ended up cutting across the lake after the halfway point. We didn’t see any wildlife but it was still a good excuse to get out after work and good for Amanda after studying for her midterms inside all day.

It is Thursday and my last day of work for the week is over (instead of Family Day on Monday, the Yukon gets Heritage Day on Friday). Amanda and I eat some food and then head to Takhini Hot Springs for a dip in some natural mineral water in -21 degree temperatures. It turns out that Takhini Hot Springs had a hair freezing contest for Rendezvous so Amanda brought her camera to take pictures of us experimenting with our hair. It seemed to work out very well for me but not so much for Amanda because the longer hair doesn’t keep its form as well. I made a few frozen hair styles and then relaxed in the water for the remainder of the evening. We sent in the pictures that evening and I just found out a few days ago that my picture was in the newspaper because I got 2nd place ($75 prize). I’m basically famous now and everyone knows me. Okay maybe not but considering I wasn’t expecting to win I thought it was pretty neat.


Tried a new style afterward. Notice the hanging icicles.

Friday was a bit of a lazy morning. I didn’t feel like waking up after such a relaxing Thursday evening. Amanda and I eventually awoke and ate some breakfast. As we were eating breakfast, my roommate offered her and her boyfriend’s snowshoes to us if we wanted to go. We almost jumped at the offer and within the next couple of hours, Amanda and I were stylishly walking on frozen Chadburn Lake (10 minutes southeast of town). The snowshoes were working very well to keep us above the deep snowy patches on top of the ice. The scary part was when we found ice that was visibly cracking and when you stood still you heard several cracks propagating underneath your feet.

We turned around at that point and continued in another direction. After another 15 minutes in that direction, we could hear even louder cracks underneath so we decided it was probably best that we head back to the truck. The ice must have been at least 3’ thick and almost all of it was covered in a thick layer of snow but we didn’t want to chance anything happening so we played the safe card and went into town to check out the snow sculptures. Every year at Rendezvous there is an international snow sculpture competition. The teams of people each get a giant cube of packed snow and they have approximately 2 days to complete their sculptures before being judged. It is an international competition but half of the competitors were from different provinces/territories with the rest straying outside Canada. The Canadian teams were Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon. There were 2 American teams; Alaska and Idaho. The other teams were Argentina, Spain, Switzerland, and Japan.

Team Switzerland
(I think it broke and they just gave up trying to build it anymore)

Team Skagway, Alaska

Team Ontario

Team Idaho

Team Japan

Team Argentina

Team Manitoba

Team Spain

Team Yukon

Team Quebec

Team Saskatchewan

Saturday was an early morning. We woke up and made it downtown to the clay cliffs that overlook the city to watch the sun rise. It was a fun morning walk and it would have been nicer if the morning had been clearer but it was one of the cloudiest days of the week. The strong wind was blowing snow in our faces as well but that didn’t stop us. The view was still great and after I ventured to the tip of the cliff edge and back, we sat down and played ‘I Spy’ for a bit before heading back to the truck.

Later on in the day, we did Jane a favour and took Silver for a walk at Miles Canyon (about 5 minutes south of town) while Jane and her son did some Rendezvous activities. Miles Canyon was a good trek but the strong wind from the morning was even stronger now. Yet again, it didn’t stop us and Silver was ecstatic about fetching sticks for one and a half hours.

After we returned Silver, we went out for coffee with Jane at a place called Baked so that she could meet and talk with us one more time before Amanda left. It was a wonderful chat (and a wonderful mocha) and we parted ways. Amanda and I went to check out the ice sculptures one more time before going home and packing her stuff.

Sunday was not a very exciting day for either of us. We woke up and ate some cut up strawberries with cinnamon before driving to the airport for her 11:00 flight. Like all goodbyes, neither one of us wanted the other to leave. I stayed as long as I could but my truck was parked in the no parking zone (so that I didn’t have to pay) and I saw a seemingly important man wearing a reflective vest staring out the window at it before glaring at me. I took that as my cue to save myself some legal hassle and say my final goodbyes. Ever since then, I've been working night shifts. Yay!