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Alaska Travel Magazinenext

Drifting.

Let the Yukon do the paddling.

Floating along on the big river, just another ripple. Fast enough at eight miles an hour to make a long day interesting. Slow enough not to insult the scenery by passing by without a good look. The sun is shining.

Now and then an eddy catches a bow and spins us around. At one time our three boats might be pointing three different directions. No matter. The countryside looks the same frontwards or backwards. On an oxbow bend —where the river-travels five miles sideways, when one mile forward would have done the job —it is possible to see the same mountain up and down river at the same time.

Here comes a whirlpool headed our way. We seem to be standing still. It is the trees along the banks, and the riffles caused by an occasional rock that seems to pass us by. Perhaps that whirlpool —more fun than dangerous it seems, after the thrill of shooting Five-Finger and Rink Rapids —will whip us around to point downstream again. No. Well, maybe the next bend will.

What else to expect from a river that begins 20 miles from the sea, but takes 2,000 miles to reach it again? What difference does it make if we float sideways, backwards, or any way except upside down? The river itself travels north, south, east and west to reach its final destination. Contrary.

We paddled yesterday, because a Yukon thundercloud came along with weather to match the river. That storm traveled every which way to drench us three different times in six hours. Around and around, "Look out, Paw, here comes that danged cloud again!"

What else, from a backwards, sideways river, but crooked contrary weather? For example, a red sky at night —sailors delight — blends, within a few hours into a red sky in the morning —sailor take warning. That morning might bring heat, cold, rain, sun, hail, lightning and wind from two different directions, all at the same time. Then the afternoons really get confused. No? How about raindrops and sunshine together out of a clear blue sky with only a crooked, contrary rainbow overhead!

Of course, it's the undecided rainbows that make the Yukon more interesting. After leaving Marsh Lake, which the old-timers called Mud Lake because it is marshy, we entered the Sixty-mile River, which is also called the Lewes, but known as the Yukon. Then came a beautiful sight featured in many of Canada's travel folders, Miles Canyon, named for the American Army General who claimed that the only good Indian was a dead Indian. Don't tell that to the Indians just downstream, cruising on their black Hondas on Main Street in Whitehorse. They might get as confused as Whitehorse. Paved road, 1,000 miles from the nearest traffic light.

Further down the Sixty-mile River the Lewes, Yukon, flows into the lake made famous with the cremation of Sam Magee. LeBerge —it says on the map. This is just one of four spellings. Robert Service call it LaBarge to rhyme with Marge. What is a Marge?

Anyhow, there was a real Sam Magee, spelled Mages, not from Tennessee, but California. Seems he didn't swear either, and was madder than hell to be cremated by Robert Service while still among the living.

We have been following the thin strata of volcanic ash exposed along the river banks known as Sam Magee's ashes and old steamboat charts. Trouble here is, that most of the landmarks shown are wrecked steamers from the day when the Yukon was the Highway of the North.

Therefore, it wasn't too surprising, after making thirty miles on the 30-Mile River, to sight the steamer Evelyn in the middle of a large densely wooded island. Why not? It figures. All one has to remember is that the steamboat fare from Whitehorse to Dawson was thirty dollars, and from Dawson to Whitehorse, sixty dollars. The Yukon, (Lewes, Thirty-mile, and that Sixty-mile) is a powerful river. The answer is that it took twice as long for the steamboats to go upriver.

An answer for everything. The different names came from different explorers, who all thought they had found different rivers.

Blast. I just felt a drop of rain. Roll on, you contrary river.


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