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Show Me the Carmacks






-----It was a pleasant night's sleep in Dawson City and we awoke refreshed enough to leave at 11:00 sharp. On the way out of the hotel, we talked to one of the owners, who was doing housekeeping work and was telling us of the meat he was smoking for the night's dinner. One short scenic drive about town later, and we found ourselves on Front Street, which morphed into the Klondike Highway as we exited the city. It's one of the Yukon's most memorable places, to be sure, though hard to get to as it may be.


-----In the pantheon of wondrous roads the northwest has to offer, the Klondike Highway cannot rightfully take its place amongst them. It was chipsealed all the way down, with promised gravel breaks that never materialized but unpromised potholes that did. Swerving to avoid them and scanning for wildlife were perhaps the only things to do on much of the drive. In Alaska, such a route would doubtless pass through tiny communities or hermit families with trash astrewn about their claims, but the Yukon is fundamentally different in that there was just flat nothing but forest and a single line of telephone poles running for miles and miles on end.


-----There are tiny communities: Stewart Crossing, where the highway known as the Silver Trail peels off and advertisements for the absurdly tiny towns of Keno and Mayo may be seen, Pelly Crossing, home to the Selkirk First Nation, and Carmacks, where the Robert Campbell Highway peels off bound for Watson Lake. These are all very much blink-and-you'll-miss-them kinds of places save for their one commonality beyond mere existence on what is otherwise a dreadfully deserted route: they all were located at the bases of some very large hills, which decreased their speed limits beyond what was feasible as you descended.


-----We topped off the gas tank in Stewart Crossing and Carmacks to be on the safe side, as has been our custom; only a handful of times has the gauge fallen below half of a tank. Aside from these, we got out once more just beyond Carmacks to the Montague Roadhouse, which was one of the original stops along the overland trail along much of the same route as the modern Klondike. Nowadays, it's nothing more than a large log cabin husk, but it's well-preserved and acts as one of the last remaining relics of the old trail.


-----It was two hours between Carmacks and Whitehorse, and the road surface had improved from the potentially car-busting potholes we'd threaded earlier. The scenery also improved as we went on a bit of a ridge and saw beautiful glittering lakes to our west. The last of these lakes was Lake Laberge, made famous by its "Labarge" misspelling in "The Cremation of Sam McGee." (It's not your traditional lake, either—rather, it's just a place where the Yukon river widens in both directions by several kilometers.) It completed what I've come to call our "Sam McGee Loop," as we began with the Sam McGee cabin in Whitehorse, Robert Service's cabin in Dawson City, and now the lake.


-----Returning to Whitehorse made us feel at home, in an odd way, and after checking in, we went out again on a mission of errands where we were surprised to find out how well we knew how to get around. The first place we considered eating was a donair shop, but it was attached to an expansive liquor store and there were some rugged loiterers on the premises, so we went around a ways to a place called Giorgio's Cuccina, which was a blend of various Mediterranean cuisines. My parents both got the chicken souvlaki, which they enjoyed so much that they didn't even as much as offer to trade bites—as is their custom—for a sample of my excellent lamb souvlaki. Mine was tender and moist and cooked to a perfect medium, with vegetables—which included brussels sprouts and beets—that were nicely seasoned, and roasted Yukon gold potatoes spiced with oregano and probably something else, but by the time I got around to figuring it out, I'd cleaned my plate.


-----Our remaining Canadian currency needed to somehow be spent, so after paying for part of the meal in Canada's wonderful semi-transparent scratch-and-sniff bills, our next stop was ... Wal-Mart. We've gone to more Wal-Marts in Canada than in much of any other time in my entire life, and we went in there primarily for those maple cookies that my dad has been raving about getting since we left Whitehorse the first time. They didn't have them, but they had chocolate chip of the same brand, which is his second-favorite. We got a few other items for the Alaska Marine Highway and then got the final gas of the day.


-----Leaving the gas station led us to an intersection, and we waited at the red light for an absolutely inordinate amount of time before my mom's voice floated out of the backseat with the suggestion that my dad hop out of the car, run over to the sidewalk, hit the "push to walk" button, and then run back to the car in time for us to roll. A short while later, my dad did just that: hopping out, jogging over, slapping silly every button he could find, and then prancing back to the car just in time for the green light. We wanted to turn left at that intersection for the express purpose of finding a car wash, as the vehicle was never cleaned after going on the Top of the World and the Klondike just served to increase the filth levels. We were led to an industrial area, with oil tanks shaped like enormous golf balls, free and clear of all other human activity because it was a Sunday evening ... and not a car wash within sight.


-----Now, what you must understand about this entire journey—basically since we left Carmacks—was that my dad was absolutely entranced with the concept of eating a Tim Hortons maple donut. It stuck with him since his last morsel in Fort Nelson, BC, and as we checked off things to get and do, he got increasingly bouncy. So when we got to the crucial intersection, with Tim Hortons at the bottom of the hill and our hotel at the top, I was surprised to hear him direct me to turn to go up the hill. I looked at him square in the eyes and uttered the immortal line: "don't you want your donut?" This got him so excited that he told me to turn left at every available opportunity, even though the first few left turns would not have gotten us to the Tim Hortons with any alacrity. During this, his mile-a-minute pace included a bit of quixotic illogic that went along the lines of "I was so excited thinking about the donut that I forgot about the donut."


-----We did, indeed, reach the Tim Hortons, and we brought our trio of donuts back to the room. My dad did a little dance as he pranced around eating his, and a short while later, the car was indeed cleaned ... at a cleaner just adjacent to our hotel.


-----Tomorrow: back to Haines Junction and on to Haines itself as we leave Canada for the final time en route to the Alaska Marine Highway. With no Internet access at sea, entries may be sporadic until we reach the contiguous 48 in Bellingham, Washington.

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