There and back again

No! There's the land. (Have you seen it?) It's the cussedest land that I know, from the big, dizzy mountains that screen it, to the deep, deathlike valleys below. Some say God was tired when He made it; some say it's a fine land to shun; maybe; but there's some as would trade it, for no land on earth - and I'm one."

-- The Spell of the Yukon by Robert Service

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By way of explanation, the stanzas above show where I've been the last two weeks. I wanted to send notes from the field, in the spirit of Mr. Service, but unfortunately the trees in Tombstone Park don't produce WiFi. So instead, I was sequestered with my old university buddies in a land that still enchants and tests those who wander into it; we had hoped to get to Tuktoyaktuk on the Dempster Highway - but the Yukon and her Arctic Ocean had other plans.

If you ever have the chance to go North of 60, drop everything and do so. Of course you must be prepared - four-wheel drive, spare tires, and enough extra fuel to make the Transport Canada people furrow their brows are bare requirements; if you're driving an older vehicle, let this be the moment you splurge on the LED lights for which you've long lusted.

"There are strange things done in the land of the midnight sun," but old firefly halogens are not one of them.

Other supplies are required as well, not least of which are reliable teammates; without a doubt, you will threaten physical harm to each other at some point, but so long as all can trust that no one will actually follow through on their slightly tipsy promise to gut another of your party, you should survive. Like the Yukon Trail game, it's wise to bring chums with attributes that will help, from bushcraft knowledge to the deep pockets needed for fun at the Dawson City Casino.

Do test your gear before venturing into a land that has taken many of the toughest human souls back to their Creator. For example, it's good to take a four season tent along, especially considering the snow you find falling the next morning at the campsite; but it will do you no good to be warm but entombed in your own CO2. Pithy as it sounds, no one wants "He read of Sam McGee's Cremation, but failed to predict His own Suffocation" as their epitaph.

How about food? Well the fare up there is beyond excellent, with much wild game and fish on the menu. However, to save cash or save face given your inability as hunter or angler, I'd make like the first prospectors, packing whiskey, bacon, tobacco and lard. For ruffage, the best solution is bannock or sourdough cakes, a regional specialty originating from when cultures would start in old flour. Whatever you do, don't bring kale - not even the caribou will eat that.

It is also important for alternative plans to be on hand. For example, if you wish to get to Tuk, but God's green earth conspires against you with early winters, washed out ferry landings and gale force winds, it might be wise to settle for some day hikes in Tombstone and the many tourist traps along the highways. It's not as romantic as facing the elements, but as the poet tells us in Law of the Yukon, "Send not your foolish and feeble...(them) I trample under my feet!"

And what of love? For make no mistake, you will fall in love with the place or the people or both - losing a member of one's party to either is all but certain. Those of us who cannot simply pick up and move to the North will have to live in unrequited desire, returning as often as we can. But for the few lucky ones who learn to never leave, there is no end to the adventure that can be had: if there is nothing else in the Yukon, there is absolute freedom for its beloved.

Clearly I survived my journey there and back again. A part of me wishes I could have stayed forever in that rugged place and lived out its promise: " with the hearts of vikings, and the simple faith of a child ...them will I gild with my treasure, them will I glut with my meat."

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