Thursday, September 05, 2013

My Way, Your Way, Skagway

Today the Alaska weather we expected all along returned. On the dock in Skagway, at sea level, there was a heavy overcast of clouds and a steady surge of 35-mph winds, though the temperature was mild. Skagway, originally called Skagua by the Tlingit, means "wind and whitecaps" and the town was working hard to live up to its name today.

This was one of a small handful of places people came to in the mid-1800s for the Gold Rush. The town has a population of only about 850, but there were over 100,000 here when many used it as a base to launch their trek into the Yukon in search of gold. (For further reading, see my blog entry from 2008 on Liarsville.)

Sarah Palin lived here until she was six years old. Her father taught at the only school in town. Milk is more expensive than gasoline. Many of the people who came for the gold couldn't read but wanted to go to church on Sunday, so each church was painted a different color so folks would know where to go. A few years ago, we were told, the Methodist church painted their building a different color and the town council came along and forced them to paint it back to the original color as it was a historical site. The Tlingit people still own most of the land and rule with a stern, strict hand.

There were two heavily-traveled paths up into the Yukon: The Chilkoot Trail, which was steep and difficult and you had to make approximately 20 trips to get all your supplies to the top. The other was the Whitepass Trail, which was advertised to be easier and more pack animal-friendly, but the fact is it wasn't. A local man was quoted as saying that no matter which trail you took, you wished you'd taken the other. The Whitepass Trail, in fact, killed over 30,000 beasts of burden and became known as "Dead Horse Trail." When the railroad came to Skagway, it appropriated over 80% of the Whitepass Trail for its tracks.

When you reached Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would weigh your goods and foodstuffs. If you didn't have at least one ton (2,000 pounds), you weren't allowed to go on. So many prospectors were dying of the elements and starvation that they had to impose this rule to do what they could to insure a person's survival.

Today Pop and I climbed onto a tour bus and took a 40-minute trek up the Klondike Highway, through Canadian customs, and into the Yukon. We started at sea level and ascended to 3,292 feet. Interestingly, the weather at the summit was almost the opposite of dockside. The sun was out and the wind was slight, but it was quite cold! (See the photo of the day up top.)

We had come to walk across the suspension bridge over the Tutshi (pronounced "too-shy") River Canyon. The River is considered Class III whitewater ("Difficult") with some Class V Rapids ("potentially fatal"). The government completed the bridge in 2006 and it was purchased by a private owner in 2011; the same man opened a restaurant on the property.

After crossing the gorge and kicking around a bit, we were treated to a bowl of Bison chili (the owner also owns a bison ranch) and a gigantic homemade dinner roll that, frankly, was the best tasting piece of sourdough and carbohydrates I have ever put in my mouth. The chili was too spicy for Pop, and the hosts graciously supplied him with a bowl of chicken noodle soup to go. Sadly, cruise officials made us throw it away and would not allow it to be brought onboard. We knew there were regulations about taking food *off* the ship, but this caught us completely unaware.

When Dad and I were here two years ago, Mom had just recently passed away and Dad, wanting to signify a new chapter of his life, traded in his wedding band for a new ring of gold, onyx, and mother-of-pearl in a triangular design. He wanted to get a "companion ring" to wear on his other hand with a similar design to commemmorate this trip, which he believes will be his last. Well, though small, Skagway has a ton of shops in town and every other one sells jewelry and diamonds. (Pop jokes that "people in Alaska are still mining for gold, but now they're looking for it in the pockets of the tourists.")

He found his ring. It's a silver and onxy beauty with a triangular design. One triangle on each ring points left, and another points right. He says they remind him of Philippians 3:13 - "Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead." The verse reminds him of his life after Mom's passing. You can see the rings on my Facebook page.

We had lunch at the Sweet Tooth Cafe in town while waiting for his ring to be sized. This is my third trip here, and I've eaten there each time. It's a great place and everything on the menu is homemade. I highly recommend it. It's become a bit of a Skagway tradition with me. But there was one funny thing that just goes to show what taking three meals a day on a cruise ship will do to you. At the end of the meal, Pop got up and walked away, right out of the cafe. I was inadvertently stuck to pay the bill. (To be fair, he was incredibly embarrassed about the whole thing.)

He's in getting his last acupuncture treatment while I write up this draft, and I sure am praying they work as well as they did on our last cruise together. He deserves it.

We are both a bit flagged after a week of shore activities and are looking forward to our day at sea tomorrow. I'll probably give the blog a rest for a day and come back late Friday night (early Saturday morning for most of you) with a report on our activities at Victoria Island, British Columbia.

We are having a great time and making some fantastic memories together!


Mark's Musings is published on a periodical basis - right now on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays - but that may change without notice. Find me on Twitter at This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. There's gold in them thar hills!

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