Yukon Series: The Final Push North

Originally published in May 2012

After days of driving across Canada, we’ve now crossed into British Columbia. We’re really north. I mean really, really north. We’ll drive 5+ hours without seeing much of any civilization. There are a couple of gas stations and accommodations along the way, but nothing substantial. It’s amazing to think about how people can make a life up here. What do they do for a living? Mining and logging?

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There a lot of moose crossing signs but we haven’t seen any. In all the miles we’ve put on driving across this beautiful country, I’ve only see a moose’s butt.

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When we arrived in Dawson Creek, B.C., we began at Mile 0 on the Alaska Highway. It’s Alaska Highway all the way to our new home, Watson Lake.

Dawson Creek, British Columbia
Dawson Creek, British Columbia
Signs for Watson Lake
Signs for Watson Lake

The drive from Fort St. John to Fort Nelson is some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. Driving the Rockies was breathtaking, but there’s something different about seeing them in the distance up here with miles upon miles of boreal forest and nothing else around. It is so beautiful that it makes my heart ache.

Alaska Highway in B.C.
Alaska Highway in B.C.

The drive we’ve been doing over the past few days since we arrived in the Rockies has really done a number on my innards. I’m melting over the mountains but feeling a little anxious about how north we are. This is serious. It’s exciting. It’s exhilarating. It’s my love of the north and my dream of coming up here happening before my eyes. Since we’ve started this journey last Monday I’ve had déjà vu 4 times. I had plans to move to Dawson City just before I met my husband.

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There’s a story about the north here, The Klondike Gold Rush. We’re following the prospector’s route. I’ve been thinking a lot about Jack London and his stories and disappointed that I left my books in Ontario.

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The Yukon is more than twice the size of Great Britian, and larger than all the New England states put together. Only 34,000 live on this frontier, over half of them in Whitehorse.

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Traveling to the Yukon is a perpetual adventure along the Alaska Highway that winds through birch-clad river valleys and alongside silent tree-lined lakes. It crosses dozens of streams and rivers that are part of two great watersheds, the Mackenzie, draining into the Arctic Ocean, and the Yukon, running nearly 2,000 miles to the Bering Sea. In the west it parallels Kluane National Park and Canada’s tallest mountains, the St. Elias Range.

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Muncho Lake Provincial Park

We arrive in Watson Lake tomorrow. Our new home, our northern home, and to our dream come true of a life. We are so lucky and we know it!

The Final Push North

Everything we’ve been doing over the last 3 or 4 weeks have all come down to today. Every thought, preparation, kilometer, city, forest, prairie, and mountain. Our final day of driving was the most remoteness we’ve experienced yet.

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The roads become less maintained, passerby’s less often, and a path to the world’s most buttery cinnamon bun. Signage leading up to that oh-so-good cinnamon bun goes like this: “Cinnamon Bun Centre of the Galactic Cluster,” “Tractor Beam Locked On, Captain. Cinnamon Bun Centre 2km’s ahead,” and “Flaps Engaged Captain, Galactic Cinnamon Bun Centre 1km Ahead.” After reading those clever signs how could we resist? Warmed up on a paper plate covered with cellophane wrap, it truly was the BEST cinnamon bun I’ve ever had… and hours away from any chain box store known. Yes, people can still create wonderful things without Walmart’s, Home Depot’s, Superstore’s and Bulkbarn’s.

Galactic Cinnamon Bun heated up in plastic wrap on a paper plate.
Galactic Cinnamon Bun heated up under plastic wrap on a paper plate.

The conversation that went along with that bun was discussing how great the fishing was around Watson Lake. But the residence’s reactionary response to the description to where we were heading was less than positive. “Watson Lake, oh headed there just for the summer are ya?” and “Not much in Watson Lake.” Upon hearing of our situation back in Ontario, what with the small town we grew up in, and living in a hunting camp for the past year that didn’t have running water, it was somewhat of a preparation for this part of our lives. The locals quickly back peddled with colourful descriptions of northern wilderness upon hearing we weren’t just Alaska Highway passerby’s from “Toront-ah”.

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Our final day of driving was an intense one. We had finally seen all kinds of wildlife. First we passed a huge sign warning us of grazing bison, then we saw a caution sign for bighorn sheep. Before long we approached 3 sheep on the road. We saw a mule deer and then wild horses.

My new playground
My new playground

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Big Horn Sheep,Alaska Highway, B.C
Big Horn Sheep,Alaska Highway, B.C
Big Horn SheepAlaska Highway, B.C
Big Horn SheepAlaska Highway, B.C

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We also passed a caution sign for caribou. I didn’t think we’d see any, but there they were walking along the road. I was very happy to see the caribou. What a beautiful animal!

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We saw a lot of clunky-hooved caribou, more sheep and then the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. There, standing just behind the tree line was a timber wolf.

The most beautiful moment of my life
One of the most beautiful moments of my life

I have never seen a wolf before. This beautiful, misunderstood creature just looked at us and then moved slowly into the trees and out of sight. The experience was so beautiful that it made my heart cry and tears ran down my face. A floodgate of emotions were opened up, emotions I had been holding back since we left Ontario. The wolf was so beautiful that it broke my heart.

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Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park
Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park

We saw snow falling up in the mountains and it was only a matter of time before we started driving through it.

Alaska Highway,B.C.
Alaska Highway,B.C.

Just when it started to snow, we spotted a black bear on the side of the road.

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Then we spotted the bison.

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It was all too much to handle. Both of us not believing the wildlife we saw on this particular day, and then there it was… the moose. It was the moose I had been anxious to see since we left Ontario over 7,000 kms ago. As much as I loved seeing the moose, the wolf was still the best part of the day for me.

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We passed a sign for Watson Lake with only 12 km’s to go.

Then we passed the Yukon sign and the next thing we know we’re driving into Watson Lake.

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Hello to my new neighbours Alaska to the west, Northwest Territories to the east, British Columbia to the south, and the Arctic Ocean to the north. It feels so nice to be nestled in between you!

To be continued on Tuesday’s.

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