I've had some pretty cool birthdays, but one of the most adventuresome was seven years ago when I turned 59, one year shy of rolling into my sixth decade. I was driving motor coaches out of Skagway AK and on May 29, 2011, I opened my eyes to the Alaskan sunlight that had been pouring through the crack in the blackout curtains since 4:30 a.m. I no sooner got my teeth brushed and pants on when Shari two doors down the hallway texted, "Happy Birthday. Coffee's on."
"Want to go geocaching?" she asked when I arrived, cream from the community refrigerator in my hand for the both of us. "There're geocaches in Skagway!"
Two passions Shari pursues. Crosswords and geocaching. Who would believe there is such adventure in each?
We invited two others to join up: Stanley, my roommate, and Teri from the dispatch office. After a good breakfast, the four of us headed out to the lot behind our hotel and under my window to receive instruction from Shari on how to geocache, me side-tracked with a birthday call from a son.
|Standing below my window, talking to Blake|
|Instruction from Shari|
The game is the pursuit. The reward is the finding. Which involves a gizmo sort of like a compass. I'm not sure how it all works, but out in the parking lot we turned in circles, waiting for the needle to pick up and point.
Shari's neon yellow gizmo guided us northeast through the parking lot, across the road you see in the picture, and up past Captain William Moore's cabin three blocks away. We paused for picture-taking. Teri told us that if we put one foot forward and turn sideways we'd all look skinnier. Really?
|Me, Stanley, and Shari posing our skinny angles|
We moseyed on, heading north and deeper into the picture you see, behind the trees and over to an abandoned White Pass engine and box cars. Stanley poked her nose is one of the box cars. "Hey!" she said. "This is great place to come make out!"
I looked and said, "Hey! This is a great place to live!"
|"A great place to live!"|
Our needle started going a little wonky. Shari told us that when we're within 25 feet of the cache, it'll do this. You have to just start snooping around. So snoop around we did. Teri found it. Who'd o' thunk it was there? In a crevice of one rusty hunk of metal.
For Teri, Stanley, and me it was thrill. Shari stood by with a grin. We gave Teri the honor of pulling out her find, and the excitement of seeing what was inside took me back to childhood with my sisters, when we tried to drum up adventure, getting by on a whole lot of imagination. This took no imagination. Just look at what we found!
|Stanley, Teri, Shari|
|Me signing the log|
|AB Building -- Arctic Brotherhood|
Outside again, I wanted a photo of Stanley standing in the same spot a prospector once wearily posed under a heavy pack before setting off to find gold six hundred miles to the north. So here's Stanley doing her thing, not weary at all and with a whole lot of sass. And ass.
Dyea is the "other" gold rush town of 1898. Today it's a ghost of a place, silenced and secreted away in a century's growth of forest claiming the ground that rises out of sea. Glacial rebound in the area is about an inch a year, which in Dyea reveals itself significantly because the inlet is long and shallow. What had in 1898 been a dock, is now tide flats. What had been shoreline is now woods.
Both Skagway and Dyea were trailheads for the two routes over the Coastal Mountains, into the Yukon and fantastical gold. Prospectors who chose to go by way of the Chilkoot Pass instead of White Pass rowed four miles from Skagway, or they steamed into the long shallow bay of Dyea on a steamer out of San Francisco or Seattle. Today you drive. The road is a circuitous nine miles and around AB Mountain, around Long Bay, up the mouth of the Tyea River, over the bridge, and back down into Dyea.
Along the gravel road beside Long Bay we braked hard. An eagle had serenely perched itself on the branch of a Sitka Spruce and was looking down Long Bay without a care in the world. Suddenly, a second eagle swooped in, the two lifted together and circled south, landing in a tree behind us. I'm never not amazed at how tiny a sound these majestic birds have. One might except a mighty shriek. Not so. We tumbled out to take a better look...and to listen.
Back in the truck and coming around the north end of the bay, the needle jumped in Shari's gizmo. Shari found the cache hanging off a tree, quite soggy. Whoever hid this cache, didn't understand that Skagway and Dyea are in the Tongass National Rain Forest, and it took some time for Shari to peel back the wet paper so we could all sign the log.
Finally, Dyea. I love the place. Teri had never been.
The first stop was Slide Cemetery where 63 men lost their lives on April 3, 1898, in an avalanche that caught them under a 30-foot cloud snow. Today the cemetery a somber place, a quiet place, where sunlight dapples in through the spruce and onto gigantic, prickly devil's club.
It is, of course, hard for Stanley to remain reverent for long. Or was it me who suggested that one of us really needed to crawl into a sunken hole and have an eulogy said? Whatever, it was Stanley who of course jumped in.
|Here Lies Stanly, A Pirate Who Died Not at Sea But Under the Snow|
A Story of Woe Too Sad To Be Told
|1998 > 2018|
Middle building on the left is all that stands. And see how big the row of planted trees is now?
So tell me, now that I've gotten you to Dyea, is there a more satisfying place in the world?
|The Old Wharf, 1897, 1898, 1899|
|Creek running down into Lynn Canal|
And dare I get so mundane as to say, where else can you find a glacier fed creek bed full of gold? Winking up all shiny and yellow, and drawing me at least down into the frigid water?
It was of course fool's gold and I hobbled out with feet so cold I couldn't move my toes.
Driving back to town in company of new friends--and my first but not last geocaching adventure behind me--my 59th birthday seemed a magical thing. But the day was not yet over.
Back at the hotel, Jazz, a young girl from Michigan, had baked me not one cake but two! Two? Yes, two for all the HAPA drivers there to celebrate. And Davey had his own birthday gift for me. Just to catch you up, the year before, just two days before my 58th birthday, a preacher in town had told me I was too old to fit in. It was Davey I'd found in my tears, it was Davey who'd wrapped me in his arms and decried the preacher man who'd dare say such a thing. So what better way to end my birthday, another year older than the year before, with Davey singing me "Happy Birthday"?
I've had seven birthdays since that day, but as nice as they've been they don't quite measure up to the one where adventure and friends in AK put the Happy in my Birthday!