Driving south on the Alaska Highway we stayed in a Yukon roadhouse on Destruction Bay that looks Northeast across the frozen Kluane Lake. We breakfasted with a collection of travelers while we waited for it to get light. One was a guy from Kenai who drives a big rig up the Dalton Highway to the North Slope, the type of guy featured on “Ice Road Truckers.” At one point he said “I don’t know why I do this sh*t.”
“Money.” Suzi replied.
“Yeah, but why do they need two of this type of truck in Alpine?” He was driving a flatbed with two trucks on it. To be sure they didn’t look that robust.
Also at breakfast was a Sitka-Barrow family driving to the ferry. Like us, they were taking a vehicle they bought in Anchorage to Sitka. The grandfather was retired from Mt. Edgecumbe High School, his wife had been a dorm mother. Both were originally from Barrow. The granddaughter went to Mt. Edgecumbe and lives also in Sitka. The Auntie, a bubbly woman, directed the whole conversation. She lives in Barrow but attended Mt. Edgecumbe 50 years ago and was excited to get back to see what the place was like. We compared notes about people we knew in both Barrow and Sitka. It’s a small state.
But the most interesting character at our roadhouse breakfast was a 71 year old man. He’s lived in Canada and Mexico and moved to Anchorage about 40 years ago. He had no papers, just crossed the border and started working. The feds found him recently and deported him. He had been living at the Anchorage Rescue Mission, trading work for lodging. He says “I kind of had a permanent pass there.” He does not say where he lives now but he likes his Canadian pension and the fact that the Canadian medical system takes care of his teeth, US Medicare does not. He does some gold panning “as a hobby,” rides a pedal bike and hangs out at this roadhouse on the lake most winter days keeping warm while doing research in the Schwann Composer’s catalogue. He is compiling a list of classical pieces that deal with gold. He figures the Yukon Miners Association may have some use for it. You just don’t expect to find yourself in a discussion about the composer Emil Reznicek at a Yukon roadhouse (although the overture from his Opera Donna Diana was the theme for “Sargent Preston of the Yukon.”)
When it got light we took off down the Alaska Highway. About 45 minutes out of Kluane we crossed Christmas Creek. It is in the middle of nowhere but someone has tied a decorated Christmas tree to the sign identifying the creek. Another hour and we were in Haines Junction. Of course we had to stop to take a picture of “Our Lady of the Highway,” a Catholic church built in a Quonset left over from the Alcan construction.
At Haines Junction we left the Alaska Highway and head south on the Haines Cut Off. The road follows the old Dalton Trail over the Chilkat Pass. As we drove south we could see Southeast Alaska spilling over the mountaintops where the rainforest meets the dry interior. The Dezadeash Inn, on Dezadeash Lake, was closed, too bad because they used to have the best pierogi this side of Winnipeg.