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Alaska Travel Magazinenext

Old Paint — that's my pickup truck. When new, it was red. Somebody then painted it white. Now, just about all that is holding the body together is a coat of green paint that looks as if was applied with a broom.

At service stations, Old Paint gets a laugh —"What year? "

"Well, '59 body sort of, but with an engine of '69, and look at this "four-on-the-floor" transmission from a Nevada junk yard! One window doesn't roll down, the other won't go up, but Old Paint and I have traveled many roads together. How many? I don't know as the speedometer gave up 100,000 miles ago.

Leaving home, we planned on heading north on the Caribou and Alcan Highway; something I've always wanted to do. Also, I have always had a yen to travel the Alaska Marine Highway, which is not a highway at all, but a ferry. We are now at Skagway, Alaska instead of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and Old Paint, he got left behind.

Before I get into the why of our change of route, let me say, in the spirit of international g'oodwill, that the Canadian province of British Columbia is as beautiful as a travel folder picture; the people hearty, handsome, and helpful.

Their problem, mine, and Old Paint's, was that the good citizens of Canada must have learned to drive from our other bordering neighbors, the good citizens of Mexico.

Is that too politically touchy of a statement? Another comparison then: Driving up the Caribou highway past the 100 Mile House and Lac La Hache, I found my fellow travelers as; 1) right wingers, i.e.: those with crumpled front fenders from passing on the wrong side; 2) middle of the roaders, chugging along at 20 mph with eyes closed, out of fear of being run over by a; 3) leftist fanatic passing at 80 mph. a line of truck tail-gating other trucks. All this on a narrow, sometimes single lane, highway with a cliff on one side, nothing on the other, frost-heaved pavement below, and road construction ahead.

All of this came together at the same time and, to avoid an international incident, Old Paint and I decided the most diplomatic thing to do was to take an alternate course of action.

The first bounce off the road bent Old Paint's steady bearing out of whack; the second bounce found us in a grove of trees that became our home for the eighteen hours it took to get out and get under, hitch-hike to the nearest parts shoppe, and then wire and tape the mess back together again. Grapes-of-wrath-on-the-Fraser, as Barry Jr. called our unscheduled British Columbia stopping place.

Anyhow, a new rattle added to Old Paint's collection of groans and wheezes, convinced us that we should detour to Prince Rupert and the Ferry up the Inland Passage. The Alaska Marine Highway is probably the most delightfully spectacular, and best-run ferry route in the world. A luxurious 600 mile cruise at less than steady bearing and gasoline prices.

Thirty-six hours, six ports, four whales, and a bald eagle sighting later, we arrived at the fjord village of Skagway, the beginning of the Klondike gold rush trail of 1898.

Skagway is a national monument, and a page out of a history book. A roaring, evil town at the time the not so gentle grafter and gambler Soapy Smith held sway. Today, Soapy's name adorns many of the picturesque shops catering to the number one livelihood of Skagway —tourism. Want to buy an old whiskey bottle? Empty? One upstairs window has a red light and a store mannequin posing as a bawd. What's with all this false advertising?

For all that, the modern stampeder, who mostly travel on the narrow gauge railroad over White Pass to the Yukon, is given more than a fair shake for his money. For example; the liveliest show in town is in the dance hall, can-can and the re-enactment of the shooting of Dan McGrew, put on by the locals for charity.

Soapy's grave is a "must see," and we visited the last resting place of the professional that did Smith in — for then, as now, the good guy of Skagway was a true gentleman. Dr. Clint Brown and his wife, former Portland, Oregon residents, decided to take us on a midnight dentist's tour, and we found ourselves picking land of-the-midnight-sun wild flowers at 1:30 a.m.

Another new friend was the 73year-old combination taxi driver, actor, and saxophone player, known to those that pass on the street, as a bearded sourdough hippie with the name of Pete.

Robert Service? Hardy, just the spell of the North. It is easy to see how Service and Jack London found sourdoughs, dance hall girls, and dentists more interesting than gold.

Tomorrow, we are off to Dyea, the trailhead of the Chilkoot Pass and the nuggets of history that lay beyond.


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