Eagle doesn't rhyme with seagull

He’s staring at me down his beak
Looking massive, ferocious and sleek
This huge awesome eagle
Is so goddamned regal
I feel like a featherless freak

We were paddling down the Yukon River when I wrote this. There weren’t too many eagles, about one a day. Lots more arctic terns and gulls, and a few kingfishers.

Barry and I actually call eagles “iggles” and seagulls “siggles.” It runs in the family: We recently heard that Barry’s 2-year-old nephew calls seagulls “e-gulls!”

Off-the-beaten-path points

Getting Indigo into the slip assigned to us was a bit hectic this afternoon. Once the boat was secure, the fellow on the dock looked up at the five of us. “Welcome to Planet Craig,” he said with a grin.

Craig, Alaska, is on Prince of Wales Island. The library computer has a waterfront view, looking across at green and blue mountains. There’s a street, with cars and trucks. But I’m sure their odometers don’t read much, since the road doesn’t go anywhere. There are lots of boats, mostly fishing boats and trawlers.

We measure places in Alaska by how far off the beaten path they are. Hoonah received a high score, when we stopped there on our way to Glacier Bay. On our way back out of Glacier Bay, we saw a cruise ship docked there, and Hoonah’s score slipped. Sitka got high points for the marina, where we met fascinating people. One fellow had sailed with Allen Farrell, one of our heroes. We grilled him for details. We chatted with a woman named Jackie, whose family of four had cruised the Pacific for seven years on a shoestring. She and her husband are working in Sitka currently, their two children riding up and down the dock on bicycles. Another fellow invited us to join him and his buddies for beers on his powerboat. Sitka is a friendly place.

But for off-the-beaten-path points, Tenakee Springs was best of all: No cars, only a wide path with bicycles and handcarts. I like the idea of life without cars.

In a few minutes, when the library closes, we’ll explore Craig and its totem poles. We’ll let you know what kinds of people we find here. Hope they’re as friendly as Sitka!

Whitehorse, Yukon, 1:30 AM

A few feet away from our campsite
Some people are having a fistfight
It’s pretty surreal
This kind of ordeal
Is not s’posed to happen at twilight

We were in Whitehorse, Yukon Territories, the day before the summer solstice. There were a couple of hours of twilight in the woods where we were camping, but it was light all night long. The lack of darkness made people stay up late, drinking and playing frisbee and then having weird middle-of-the-night fights.

Drinking from the Yukon River

Upon our return from the Skagway library where I last wrote, we found the one picnic table in the tenting area of the campsite was taken by two older German fellows. Luckily for us, they offered to share…not just the table, but their stories. Manfred is from East Berlin, Peter is from West Berlin. Peter’s been visiting the Yukon for 30 years, paddling the river dozens of times. Manfred, who is 69, was unable to fulfill his travel dreams until the fall of the Berlin Wall. I asked him where he could travel before 1989. He wrinkled his nose. “Russia, Poland. Bah! Hungary.”

He’s making up for lost time — he’s seen India, South America, and climbed Mount Kilamanjaro. He has always wanted to paddle the Yukon, so this summer, he and Peter paddled from Whitehorse to Dawson City. “It’s easy,” they told us, and they gave us the brochure from the outfitter…so…

When we left Skagway, we took the train over White Pass, the one that followed the trail through the 1897 Dead Horse Gulch. Awesome ride, not to be missed. A bus took us to Whitehorse, where we stopped at the visitor’s center and watched a 15-minute film about the Yukon. It was full of what we thought was hyperbole. “When you come here, you want to stay,” the film said, over and over. Someone was quoted as saying, “If you drink the water from the Yukon, that’s it. You’ll never leave, or if you do, you’ll have to come back.” Cute movie, we thought. A bit over the top, though. What did we know? We were in downtown Whitehorse, for crying out loud. We hadn’t seen the real Yukon yet.

A couple of blocks from there, we rented a canoe and a couple of “bearproof” food barrels and purchased a strip map of the Yukon River. When we came off the river eight days later, after complete solitude and no trappings of “civilization,” I was starting to understand the movie.

We left the canoe at Carmacks, a little place where the road crosses the river, and boarded a converted schoolbus for the 5-1/2 hour trip to Dawson City, scene of the Klondike Stampede. Aboard, we met Jim and Heide, Corrie, and Dawn and Vern. I never cracked the cover of my book. We talked with them all the way there.

In his film, “City of Gold,” Pierre Berton says of the 1898 gold rush stampeders, “When they arrived (at Dawson City), many never dug for gold at all. They had already found what they were seeking.” Not hyperbole. By the time I’d spent five days in Dawson City, I understood what he meant.

There are tourists, and there are passers-through. There are lots of RVs. But there are also people who came 20 or 30 years ago, and haven’t left. We met a Vietnam-era draft dodger with roots in California. He bought a portion of the old school, moved it to a lot on the north edge of town, and now calls this place home. Across the river is Dieter, with his German accent. He’s been in Dawson City for 25 years, running the hostel for over 10. Our bus driver has been here since 1988. He’s not going anywhere, either.

This is no has-been ghost town, nor is it only a place for tourists. Dawson City is still a gold mining town, a special place that many people call home. We stopped to chat with a man perched on a boulder on Front Street. His name was Ian, his accent Scottish. Looking like a leprechaun (“I grew up only 12 miles from Ireland,” he admitted), he was trying to figure out the best way to make Dawson City a home for himself and his dog, Yukon. Another man, who leads Boy Scout trips up here from “down South,” is looking for retirement property. “It’s a special place,” he said. “It gets to you.” I doubted he’d seen the Yukon film, but he was quoting it directly.

When we paddled the river, we tried to drink from the tributaries instead of the river itself. But we must have gotten a sip or two by accident. Because I understand the movie now, and it’s not hyperbole. You can really get “the bug” up here, and then you have to come back.

I have this idea for a way to make some money, up in Dawson City. Once I work it out, I just might be back. See ya’ next year, Yukon!

Geologists rock

To fix all a boat’s broken gear
Requires more than one engineer
But for ID-ing schist
A geologist
Like Barbara, is great to have here

An older limerick, as yet unpublished, from our cruise up the Inside Passage. We had two engineers (Jim and Barry), one geologist and air quality expert (Barbara), and one writer of lame limericks (me).

The cruise ship gold rush

We’re in Skagway, Alaska right now, checking in via a public library computer. After three fantastic weeks aboard Complexity, sailing the Inside Passage with Barbara and Jim (and Scuppers the Bear), we bade them farewell and headed up the dock, wearing the frame packs we’d borrowed from them.

We were only a half mile down the road when a fellow with a van stopped and offered us a ride to the ferry dock. So we haven’t actually hiked more than a half mile with the packs! Still, it is a weird feeling to have gone so quickly from “cruiser” or “yachtie” to “backpacker.”

We’ve ridden ferries in places like Seattle, Brazil, and Newfoundland, but the one from Juneau to Skagway surpasses them all for beauty. My camera failed to capture it: The wide angle lens wasn’t wide enough to take in the width of the sky filled with towering rocky snow-capped peaks. We had over seven hours of breathtaking beauty, and that’s after three weeks of the Inside Passage!

Skagway has a lot of gold rush history, and they make a big deal about the historical buildings. But the cruise ship ports all look the same, selling the same plastic tourist junk from shops with cute wooden sidewalks. I’m getting more of a feel for it from Tappan Adney’s book, published in 1901, than from the town itself.

The saddest thing we’ve heard, and we’ve heard it in Ketchikan, Juneau, and now Skagway, is that the cruise ship lines are not putting money into the communities. Instead of supporting local businesses, they run their own jewelry stores and souvenir shops, driving the locals out. It’s a crying shame. “We’ve sold our soul,” said the folks from Juneau. “You can’t even walk down the sidewalk,” was the comment from a Ketchikan native.

We’re making our way into the interior, heading up to Whitehorse and Dawson City soon. Out of the range of the cruise ships, the beauty of the country will come through, and there will be more local folks to talk with. Right now, I think I’ll end this, because we need to hit the grocery store, and there’s an interesting local guy right here to chat with!

More than one way to get there

On our way into the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club basin, we passed the sailboat who’d just vacated our intended spot on the dock. “Lots of bumpers!” they called across the water, shaking their heads. It was a tricky spot, not much room and way too many waves for comfort. On the dock, the cluster of people who had helped them get away from the dock waited to catch our lines — the harbormaster and three yachties from nearby boats. I heard murmurs of admiration for Jim’s expert boat handling.

Looking up at the massive — and fortunately vacant — cruise ship dock, I felt a little smug about arriving on such a small boat. I picked up the camera and headed into town with Barry. We had traveled for days and seen nothing larger than a small village, so this “big” city seemed both huge and remote.

Prince Rupert, population 12,000, feels like the end of the earth, but it’s really just the end of the road — for Canada.

We were walking by a grocery store when we saw a curious sight. A Unimog was parked in front, sporting a pair of exotic horns and an unrecognizable license plate. We walked over for a closer look. This was no streamlined RV, but a huge, high-clearance monster truck camper looking like something out of the movie “Road Warrior.”

The owners were loading groceries into a rear door, too busy to talk. I caught a glimpse of an interior decorated with African art, but the owner told us, crossly, not to take a photo of that side while he had the door open. We went around to the front, noting some of the countries painted on the side — I saw Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, while Barry noted European countries.

I was dying to know about the trip. What did the slogan “African Power” on the front mean? Had they come from Europe via Africa and South America? Where were they headed? What kind of horns were they?

We continued through town and ran across another busy couple at the gas station across from the next grocery. Their mode of transportation was motorcycles, two dusty bikes with extra high suspensions and lots of gear. A closer look showed Quebec license plates. They, too, were too busy provisioning to talk.

By the time we saw the bicyclist, I was feeling considerably less smug about our mode of transportation. After all, we’d had a comfortable bed, hot showers, and gourmet meals aboard Complexity. This fellow’s bicycle held loaded panniers, and the young blonde rider was studying a map in front of the visitors’ center.

“Hello!” I said. “Where did you ride from?”

He answered with a German accent, “Do you mean today?”

“No, I mean the beginning of your trip.”

“From Los Angeles,” he answered. “I plan to ride to Prudhoe Bay.” I was impressed: Prudhoe Bay is on the Arctic Circle.

He was busy with his map and not inclined to talk further, so we walked on.

I guess you have to be pretty driven to accomplish these remarkable travel feats: Thousands and thousands of miles without much in the way of creature comforts. I lost a little of my smugness that day, but not all of it. Sure, we’ll never be in the Guiness Book of Records. But on the other hand, we are hardly ever too busy to stop and talk.

My one photo of the African-themed Unimog:
African-themed Unimog

A candid shot of the motorcyclists:
Long-distance motorcyclists

The bicyclist, studying his map:
Bicyclist who rode from LA