Read This Now: ‘The Ferries and the Last Frontier’

26 03 2012

Alright, alright. So I’m throwing shame and modesty to the wind, and promoting one of my own Northern stories as a “Read This Now.” But this has been in the works for awhile, and I’m really excited to see it published.

My four-part essay series, The Ferries and the Last Frontier, is going live on World Hum throughout this week. It’s about my January trip through the Alaskan Panhandle by state ferry. Part one, “The Roughest Place in the World,” is up now – the rest will follow daily through to Thursday. Check it out!


Four Days In, Seven Thoughts About Yellowknife

19 03 2012

1. I knew, intellectually, that I wouldn’t be surrounded by mountains anymore, here – but I’m still surprised, every time I step outside, by their absence.

2. The Yellowknife-Whitehorse comparisons are constant and unavoidable. So far, Yellowknife is a clear winner in two categories: coffee shops that actually remain open into the evening (Javaroma, bless its heart, keeps its doors open until 10pm every night) and proper pubs – there’s at least one here, The Black Knight, which is one more than Whitehorse can claim since Tippler’s was forced out of business.

3. On Saturday night I saw by far my best Northern Lights yet, from my backyard right in the heart of downtown Yellowknife. I’d say that display alone makes the trip worthwhile.

4. Another comparison: So far it seems as though Yellowknife has a more dressed-up approach to office life than Whitehorse. One suggested explanation is Yellowknife’s orientation towards Alberta’s big cities, while Whitehorse cultivates that BC outdoor-casual aesthetic. Another is the presence of major multinationals here – among them, mining giant BHP Billiton – in contrast to Whitehorse’s masses of business-casual Yukon government employees. Whatever the reason, the end result is the same: I feel under-dressed in the office tower elevator.

5. I work in an office tower. I ride an elevator to and from the 10th floor, multiple times daily. File under: Things that do not occur in the Yukon.

6. Sometimes I hear snowmobiles passing by behind the house.

7. There is no love-at-first-sight plunge for me here, not like when I first visited Whitehorse. Still, this is the city where my mother was born and spent her early years; this is the other major city in this region I’m so fascinated by. I’m glad to be here.

Off to Yellowknife

14 03 2012

I leave for the NWT capital tomorrow. I’ll be spending a couple of months there, working at the Up Here head office before coming back to Whitehorse to work remotely. Looking forward to it!

I visited Yellowknife briefly when I was really young. I don’t remember a thing. Visually (and probably more generally, too) I think it’s going to be quite a change from Whitehorse – for one thing, it’s on the shore of Great Slave Lake, one of the largest lakes in the world. Also, there are highrises – I’ll even be working in one! – which is a major visual departure from Whitehorse’s four-storey rule.

I’ll hope to post some first impressions over the weekend.

Welcome to Frozen Danger Land!

10 03 2012

Last year on this site, I reviewed Mad Dogs and an Englishwoman, a Yukon dogsledding memoir by British travel writer Polly Evans. I was pretty hard on the book – in large part because, as I wrote, it seemed that Evans tended to “exoticize or dramatize the Yukon, which, really, is dramatic enough on its own terms.”

It seemed like Evans felt a need to introduce a (not entirely genuine, in my view) sense of danger: There are references to the proper techniques to prevent drowning, should she happen to fall through the ice on a frozen lake or river — this, despite the fact that she’s being taught how to mush by experienced guides at one of the region’s best-known tour operators, well able to avoid any potential weak spots in the (very thick) mid-winter ice.

At one point Evans referred to her arrival in “one of the harshest climates on Earth,” and I thought to myself: Come on, lady. We have not one but TWO Starbucks franchises in town. Sure, it gets cold, but when you get down to it Whitehorse is really quite a civilized place.

Later I referred to my home receiving a “sort of Frozen Danger Land! theme park treatment.” Evidently, said treatment made me a tad touchy and defensive.

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The Triumphant Return of Travelers North

28 02 2012

Many months later than planned, but I’m back! (I’ve been back in the North since August, but, well, life happened and the blog wound up neglected.)

Here’s the abbreviated recap: I spent June and July road-tripping from Whitehorse to LA and back, then, in August, I came home and got a job with a mining exploration company. I spent a month dirt-bagging in the Yukon bush, then a couple more months core teching, core splitting, and doing odd jobs around the company office and warehouse here in Whitehorse. I’ve been back to full-time freelancing since December – I’ve been doing a lot of work for Up Here and Up Here Business, and I also signed on as the Yukon Quest‘s in-house writer, which meant traveling the entire Quest trail. In January, I found time to do a ferry tour of Southeast Alaska, too.

Highlights of the last six months worth of Northern travels? There have been plenty.

My daily helicopter commute from camp to mountaintop during my dirt-bagging stint was incredible. I was in gorgeous country in the Rackla River area, with the fall color at its peak. And on my ferry trip, I fell madly in love with Sitka, absolutely one of the most beautiful towns I’ve ever visited, with great local beer to boot. On the Quest, I saw the Northern Lights filling late-night skies, and I got to watch the mushers and their incredible sled dogs do their thing.

I’m looking forward to sharing photos, tips and stories from those trips here on the blog. I’m also looking forward to more Northern travels – in a couple of weeks I’m off to Yellowknife for a couple of months (part of my new job), and I can’t wait to explore at least one corner of NWT.

Stay tuned!

The Northern Lights, At Last

23 02 2011

My time at Slaven’s Roadhouse last week involved a few “firsts” for me — first time outdoors at -45, then -50, -53… — but easily the most exciting was my first proper look at the Northern Lights.

I’ve had two previous sightings. First, as a teenager partying on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon, I spotted a dim green smudge on the horizon. Second, this past August in Fairbanks, I opted in to the aurora wake-up call offered at the River’s Edge Resort and stumbled out on to my patio in the brief darkness of an early, early Alaskan summer morning in time to watch a pale streak of green glowing just above the horizon. I’d have thought it was just an odd reflection of the city’s lights if I hadn’t seen it undulating, just slightly.

Both of those were a thrill, but I’d been waiting through the better part of two Yukon winters for the real show, and I arrived at Slaven’s counting on finally getting an eyeful.

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Dog Sledding: A Sled’s-Eye-View

1 02 2011

Writing about “Mad Dogs and an Englishwoman” last week got me thinking back to my own, brief dogsledding experience.

In December 2009 I went on a half-day excursion with the same outfitter that Evans stayed with on her Yukon trip, Muktuk Adventures. The occasion? A visit from my friend and fellow travel writer Mike Barish, who flew in just a week after I arrived in Whitehorse.

Mike made a fun video of his time inside the sled bag (we took turns driving), and he’s kindly allowed me to post it here. Check us out:

Dog Sledding in the Yukon from Mike Barish on Vimeo.