Alaska – Gravel, Grandeur & Goofy Grins (Part 4)
Having seen Dawson City’s colorfully painted downtown town district calling to us from above, we were excited to finish the rest of our descent and take it all in up close and personal. We jumped back on the bikes and scooted quickly down the rest of the mountain until we reached the Yukon River and the free ferry across. There was a short line of cars and trucks waiting for the ferry to make its way back across the river and pick us up. But before long, the ferry arrived and we were making our way back to Dawson City.
After a brief ten minute crossing, the ferry ramp came down and we had landed in Dawson. Suddenly we found ourselves in a wild west town of the 1800s. The streets were all dirt and the sidewalks were not sidewalks but elevated wooden board walks. Two story gayly painted buildings stood in front of us with hand lettered signs. There wasn’t a chain store in sight. There was even a horse drawn wagon. From our surroundings, I thought I could hear spurs jingling on my boots as we rode.
As we rolled into the center of town, we found the town hall/information center. It too was fronted by a dirt road and elevated wooden boardwalk and we decided to stop there and pick up some information on Dawson and the precise whereabouts of our little hotel. We pulled off the dusty roadway and parked. Kim dismounted and I was about to dismount when a bearded gentleman approached offered his hand and said, “You must be Kim and Mike.” We were flabbergasted. Here we were, in a tiny town in the Canadian Yukon literally almost 4000 miles from home and a guy we’ve never seen before in our lives picks us out just as we are getting off our bikes and says hello like he’s known us all his life. We love adventure riding.
Ahhh… Yes, yes we are, we mumbled or something to that effect. He introduced himself as Tracy. Tracy was the person that the couple at the McKinley View Lodge had told us that they wanted our email address for. He had emailed us previously and said he hoped to meet us at the Dust to Dawson (D2D) gathering, but wow, this was something. We both hadn’t even gotten off our bikes yet! We hit it off immediately and Tracy, Kim and I spent quite a bit of time together at D2D enjoying the events, meals and even a ride or two or three. By the time we had to say goodbye, we knew we had become steadfast friends. In fact, we are still friends to this day even though thousands of miles separate us from Tracy and his wife MaryLee. But we haven’t let that stop us, we’ve taken the time to correspond, and this past summer rode a good portion of the Trans American Trail together.
So when we tell you that adventure riding means more than just riding a motorcycle, think about this. Two people from New Hampshire have a chance meeting with a couple they’ve never met at a lodge near Mt. McKinley. This couple asks us for our email address to give to their friend who rides motorcycles. That friend tracks us down in a town in the Canadian Yukon and we hit it off so well that we spend three days together. That relationship is so cemented by the passion of adventure riding that the long distance relationship is maintained for four years and two couples then get together in Tennessee and ride across the country together mostly off road. I think you’ll agree that there aren’t many activities that provide the zest for life and yearning to be together to explore than adventure motorcycling.
But let’s get back to Dawson City, the D2D event and what can be found around Dawson. For a pretty small town, there is much to be found in Dawson especially during D2D. For those of you who may not be familiar, D2D is an adventure riding event hosted by members of AdvRider.com. It’s a gathering of like minded adventure riders from all over the world. Adventure riders are indeed shrinking the world. While we were there, there were riders from Europe and Australia. Planned events include group rides, a riding skill challenges and a large sit down meal. It’s just a terrific gathering.
But Dawson isn’t just about D2D. They also have some interesting historic venues. They have recovered and recreated one of Jack London’s actual cabins. It’s a tiny structure with a sod roof. It wouldn’t be big enough to be considered a one bedroom apartment today. When Jack lived in it, he shared it with at least one other person and sometimes more. Outside was an elevated and enclosed perch where food and other supplies were stored lest you attract bears into your living quarters. Every time you went to get food, you had to climb that high tree and get it. It was difficult to imagine all the hardships of dealing with the lack of running water, electricity, and just surviving the environment, never mind the addition of the absolutely challenging and unrelenting Yukon winter. The people of that era were the true examples of pioneers. To survive in these conditions, these people had to be ever stout and unbreakable of heart and mind. Some became rich, others bent or broke returning from whence they came and others unfortunately just perished.
With the conditions being so difficult, you may be asking yourself, why would anyone travel to such difficult climes? It was the lure of wealth. Gold. It was reported all over the lower 48, that gold could be found lying at the surface in the areas near Dawson and all one need do is travel there, stake a claim and riches would soon be theirs. So it was that Jack London was lured to Dawson and so it was that gold mining companies were lured as well. And they brought great machines at great expense. Huge floating machines called dredges capable of swallowing vast quantities of earth quickly. Many large iron buckets were suspended from a boom and they rotated one after another, endlessly 24 hours a day, gulping the earth from swamps, ponds and rivers. These machines, built more than 100 years ago, were so well designed and engineered that they extracted more than 95% of the gold that entered them.
In consuming the gold, they also consumed the men that operated them. No grease or oil was used in their operation for fear that the gold would be lost in the sifting process, as such, the metal on metal grinding sound was abominable. Men lost their hearing. There were little to no safety considerations and men were often injured in their operation and merely replaced with another man. The men worked in muddy swamps in the summer and as if to taunt them, extreme sub zero temperatures in winter. But there was gold to be found and this ensured a steady stream of people willing to try their luck to become instantly wealthy. This ultimately is the story of Dawson City.
Although Dawson revolved around gold, there’s more to talk about and we’ll tell you in Part 5.