Not your average travel blog
Dawson City is not the start of the Dempster Highway (but it is where the paddle boats from Whitehorse once steam powered to).
Forty kilometres east of Dawson City, we found a petrol pump in a deserted gas station, at the start of the highway. KP had to go into a booth-like-Tardis and follow instructions (following the on-the-spot computerised training) in order to be blessed with a numerical code, so he could fill up with gas. For an ageing traditionalist, I find his capabilities as a techie Doctor quite admirable. He has a more up to date iPhone than me, and it works! While he filled up the chariot, I cleaned the windscreen like the Doctor’s replaceable bit of crumpet.
The first 70 kilometres looked promising. The Tombstone Mountains to the west are reminiscent of the Scottish highlands – intensely vegetated and dramatic – and the list of wildlife mentioned in the visitor centre both intrigued and entertained. Although slightly invasive on my part, I definitely felt as if I was about to delve into the realms of northern creatures. Even without a wardrobe, it was like entering Narnia (yeh, I’ve been). After a short, ascending drive on an empty track, the winding road around the low peaks plunged into an open and vast valley, drenched in greenery, purple fireweed, and slithering, shallow rivers criss-crossing the road. They disappeared into small, bushy canyons as mountains encompassed every vista. Without an abundance of trees in the first few hundred kilometres, the flat valleys, rolling hills and snaking waters don’t provide much cover for wandering bears, so it might not be the picnic party I expected.
Venturing further north, we have moved from below to above the tree line, and up here things don’t appear to either grow quickly, or tall. In fact, the highlands (only about 3000ft on this road) resemble a rather stagnant, pine swamp; somewhere you may find an ogre or two, living with their singing donkey friend. KP commented that it also smelt like a musty basement, but maybe that’s my flip flops on the back seat…
Without being able to ask anyone (there’s no one here), and without the internet for a few days, we deduce that the trees do not grow tall on permafrost, but the blackened, 8’ short trunks speak of singeing flames, rather than seasonal mould or blight. The sorry looking trees are likely a result of damaging forest fire, likely in the last twenty five years. Visually, the landscape seems dank and depleted; where anyone expecting the wild wonders of Narnia would sadly, find something that more so resembles a losing, sportsmans jock strap – sweaty, dampening and in despair.
The truck has drunk almost an entire tank of gas from the start of the highway, and now past the sweltering musty swamp between the sportman’s thighs, we are tentatively ascending on mere fumes, to the rest stop at Eagle Plains. Sharing a petrol station with two helicopters is a little strange, but it’s clearly just how some people roll up here. I don’t see them travelling with their own bed for the night though! There is a hotel and restaurant at Eagle for some lesser seasoned travellers, but we have our own chariot of dreams, ready-made for a night north of the gas pumps. One thing that Eagle cannot ever complain about, is a bad view from the office. I’ve never seen such an expanse from a mechanic’s back door! We’re leaving his remote pumps though, and driving into the mosquito-hazed evening, to find home for the night.