Monday, May 23, 2011

#4: Day Trip to Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada: To Train and to Shop

The Fairless
Skagway is a one-horse town: 1 library, 1 bank, 1 post office, 1 gas station, 1 grocery store--the Fairway. We call it the Fairless. A gallon of milk costs more than a gallon of gas. $5.50 compared to $4.98. Everything is shipped up once a week by barge--arriving Tuesday afternoons out of Seattle. By the time it gets here the produce is either too ripe or not ripe. Safe to say,  by Wednesday afternoon it's all gone. Shelves are as empty as Old Mother Hubbard's. So our company, HollandAmerica-Princess/Alaska, combined a day of training with a shopping spree in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, 110 miles due north of Skagway.  Hip hip harrah! I love the company I work for!
Skagway River, early season: Bus Yard to the left
We began at the MP2 lot--the bus yard. MP2 stands for Milepost 2 of the Klondike Highway; in other words, it's 2 miles from Skagway's Port of Call. So it's at MP2 where the buses are parked and the bus shop is--with a crew of full-time mechanics who keep us up and running and legal--and the MP2 House where several of the Driver Guides live in a large dormitory. I did not choose to live there, despite the fact that it's right across the highway from Jewell Gardens where I worked last year and where some of my friends live, because it's where Blake lives--the boy, I figure, needs some space from his mother.
MP2 Bus Yard and Housing
So we began our day of training and shopping bright and early, the agenda being to learn how to gear down for the steep windy road ahead, where to pull off for picture stops, and to visit various venues we'll be taking our tourists to. Final destination? Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, and the Canadaian Superstore! We were excited. Food!
Stanley and Me at picture stop just past the
Captain William Moore bridge.

William Moore Bridge, crossing an intersection
of about 5 fault lines, 1 of 3 or 4 cantilevers in the world.
A common tour is the train up/bus down (or bus up/train down) to Fraser, B.C., Canada. The White Pass & Yukon RR is Skagway's biggest tourist draw and largest employer, and we subcontract with them to get their passengers thither and yon. I personally love the train--one of 136 civil engineering feats in the world, right up there with the Eiffel Tower, Panama Canal, and Statue of Liberty.
View from the train, overlooking Skagway River
As a HAPA employee, I will frequently drive up the pass to either pick up or drop off tourists from or for the train--at Fraser, B.C., specifically Canadian Customs. So we practiced here on how to go through customs, what to do if we "deadheaded" up--meaning going up empty to load passengers just off the train. It was at this point we were told that if we rolled into the train station with people aboard and did not report to customs, we'd be fined $10,000 and looking at possible jail time. The fine comes right out of our own pocket, thank you, and the day we do this in all likelihood will be our last with HAPA.
Train Tracks at Fraser, BC: Lake Bernard still iced over.

The border itself, however, is several miles back up the summit; customs is stationed here because the weather is less gruesome, "less" being the operative word.
Fraser, BC, Housing
One of our Driver Guides is dating a Canadian Customs officer. I asked her what she'd done so wrong as to be banished to this Siberian outpost. She's just paying her dues, she says, and hopes soon to transfer back to Ontario. Who can blame her? And wish her luck? Existence up in Fraser has to be pretty rough in the winter. And pretty darn boring.
Lake Bernard Picture Stop, just past Fraser
Just past Customs at Fraser is a scenic pullout and picture stop. It's also where we can stall for time if we're too early for the train. Most importantly, it's a mile marker in history because this is where the White Pass Trail veers to Log Cabin, a tent city that once surrounded the Mounties' 1897 Log Cabin. At Log Cabin, duty was paid before going into Canada. And where the Mounties made sure everyone had 2,000 pounds of goods. Hunger in the Yukon was a problem; this was one way the Canadian government sought to forestall mass starvation.

Log Cabin
Just past the turn-out are railroad tracks, the train route stretching farther north, through Log Cabin and on to Lake Bennett. Crossing those tracks, the visible cabin, however, is not Log Cabin. It's foundations lie somewhere in the woods nearby. The cabin we "pretend" is Log Cabin is actually a RR maintenance shed.
"Log Cabin Now"

We crossed the tracks and arrived into Whitehorse about 2 pm...where we were taken directly to Canada's Super Store.
I heard someone once describe Whitehorse as a
strip mall. That about covers it.

We were given an hour to buy everything our purse and cart could support. Everyone dispersed like flies frightened by a swat and we swarmed through the aisles grabbing frozen waffles, pencils, canned stew, raw honey, milk, granola bars, peanut butter.
After the Fairway, I mean Fairless,
the variety at the Super Store was mind-boggling.
If you spent more than $125 you got a free watermelon. I got a free watermelon.

Coming home, we were taken the back route to Miles Canyon, a once formidable spot on the Yukon River where white water rapids gave name to the city, it's frothy water looking like the mane of a spirited white horse--hence Whitehorse.

The formidable waterfalls also splintered the home made boats of 1898, built by miners at Bennett Lake. To get to the gold, miners had to catch a steamer out of Seattle for Skagway, hike either the Dead Horse or Chilkoot Trail, then build a boat on Lake Bennett where the trails converged--and then paddle 640 miles downriver to the gold fields. In 1898, Miles Canyon was turning the Yukon River into the River Stix for the majority, and so the Mounties again stepped in by requiring building codes that eliminated fragile boat construction.
Miles Canyom 1898
Miles Canyon 2011
Today there is instead a dam and Lake Schwatka, thus taming the Yukon and taming the White Horse stallion. Perhaps a pity.

But just in case anyone asks why I happen to like working for HAPA? What other company in the world takes you for a drive through paradise and calls it training? And gives you an hour off to go shopping? I mean, really?


  1. Since I'm almost done with your book, I'm so glad to be able to read you again. Sounds like you're having too much fun already. Good to hear!
    I love "like flies frightened by a swat". Congrats on the watermelon too. ;)

  2. Oh nuts! I didn't know about the $110/free watermelon! I spent $103! So close! Great blog!

  3. Hi Brenda,
    My name is Jane and I'm with Dwellable.
    I was looking for blogs about Yukon to share on our site and I came across your post...If you're open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you soon!