Day 699: Toe Touching

Most of Dawson City’s 1,300 residents refer to it simply as “Dawson.” In 1898, during the heady days of the Klondike Gold Rush, its population swelled to 40,000. When the stampede ended in 1899, this number dropped precipitously to 8,000 and gradually declined over the years, reaching a low point of less than 1,000 during the 1960s and 1970s. Today population numbers have recovered slightly, due in part to mining, but mostly to tourism.

Laetitia and her group joined the throng of 60,000 tourists who come to Dawson each year. Her guests panned for gold, made an excursion to the Forty Mile Historic Site, and went to the Dawson City Museum. Author Jack London lived in Dawson for a while and later wrote novels and short stories about the gold rush. So did Robert Service, known for his tales of the gold rush written in verse. Service was transferred to the bank in Dawson in 1908. Though the gold rush was over, Service distilled stories he heard from the local folk into ballads, which were immensely popular and commercially successful, although they did not win critical acclaim.

Visitors returning from a visit to Dawson can gross out their drinking companions back home by having—or claiming to have had—a libation called the “Sourtoe Cocktail,” which allegedly contains a preserved human toe. Though it has no real connections with the gold rush, “doing the toe” has become a Dawson ritual popular with tourists. The tradition began when a local fellow named Captain Dick Stevenson found a human toe pickled in alcohol—said to have been the amputated appendage of a frostbitten miner in the 1920s—while cleaning a recently purchased cabin. Though the toes are pickled in salt and reused, they don’t last forever and sometimes need to be replaced with new amputations. Apparently one was even swallowed. The motto accompanying the drink is, “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips have gotta touch the toe.”

“Doing the toe” wasn’t part of Laetitia’s tour, but some of her guests said they tried it during free time. It spawned the limerick of the day.

With friends back home you’ll be a star
When you tell them of a Dawson bar
Where you “did the toe”
Though some that you know
May think you’re a trifle bizarre.

Day 698: Pas de Deux Taboo

Sipping from her cup of Rwandan dark roast in the Emerald Victorian Library, Laetitia contemplated the day’s tour. Yesterday was her last day in British Columbia, at least for a while. It’s possible to drive form Prince Rupert, British Columbia, to Whitehorse, her destination in the Yukon Territory, but it’s more than 800 miles. Laetitia didn’t relish trying to keep her group amused during 18 hours in a van, so she skipped the overland transportation and imagined herself in Whitehorse. Thanks to the ease of virtual travel, she and her group were there in no time.

The largest city in the Yukon, Whitehorse has 23,000 residents. It was named for the White Horse Rapids in the Yukon River, which some thought resembled a horse’s mane. During the heady days of the Klondike Gold Rush, these rapids wrecked more than 100 boats of “stampeders” who had crossed from Alaska over the Chilkoot or the White Pass and built watercraft on the shores of Lake Bennett or Lake Lindeman to carry them to the gold fields near Dawson.

In 1897, during the height of the gold rush, construction of the narrow-gauge Yukon and White Pass Railway began. It climbs through the White Pass, nearly 3000 feet in 20 miles, with grades often approaching 4 percent. Today, it’s popular with cruise ship passengers who board an excursion train in Skagway, Alaska, ride to the summit, and return. Laetitia and her group boarded a bus in Whitehorse, got on the train at Fraser Meadows, and rode it to Skagway. After two hours of free time in Skagway, the group returned to Whitehorse via motor coach.

Back in town, the group visited Whitehorse Centre and watched the local ballet troupe practice. During free time before dinner, four members of the group went to play a round of golf at the nearby Mountain View course. The limerick of the day was inspired by some gossip the golfers brought back to dinner. It was a story about two dancers from the local ballet troupe whose weekly game of golf was a ruse to disguise their extramarital liaisons. A flying golfball interrupted their amor al fresco in the bushes behind one of the greens.

At the golf course that’s called Mountain View
Two dancers were breaking taboo
When an errant chip shot
Hit a sensitive spot
Terminating their love pas de deux.

Day 697: Bear When Bare

The island city called Prince Rupert began life as the western terminus of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, which ran from Winnipeg to Canada’s west coast. Charles Hayes, the general manager of the railroad, had grandiose plans for the city, with its ice-free natural harbor, but they perished with him when the RMS Titanic foundered in 1912.

It may seem odd that a city in an English territory would be named after a German prince, but Rupert’s mother was Elizabeth Stewart, daughter of King James I of England. When his cousin, King Charles II granted a charter to the Hudson’s Bay Company in what is now Canada, Rupert was made its first governor.

The Mind’s Eye group’s principal activity was a visit to the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary, where their boat offered excellent close-up views of the bears, as well as sea otters, orcas, deer, waterfowl, and even an occasional wolf. Afterward the group visited the Museum of Northern British Columbia, and then Laetitia gave everyone some free time before they reconvened for dinner.

It is not uncommon for those who join Laetitia’s tours to become romantically involved. The gossip at dinner was about a man and a woman who had left the group. The pair had struck up a conversation during the day’s boat trip and found they had a yen for each other. During the free time they rented bicycles and went to a secluded spot on the edge of town, where their passion was interrupted by a bear. The story became the limerick of the day.

Certain risks are encountered when wooing
In a place that has good wildlife viewing
For a bear when you’re bare
Can give you a scare
That will be your libido’s undoing.

Day 696: Merry Ferry

As Laetitia walked down Raglan Road, she was in a good mood. She always looked forward to the morning’s first cup of coffee. She never knew what kind of beans would be in the packet next to the grinder, but whoever chose it knew what she would like. She was also looking forward to today’s tour. They were taking the ferry from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert. This would an easy day for a tour leader. The passing scenery would keep the group entertained, leaving her free to do what she wanted.

As the ferry left the terminal, Laetitia stood at the stern, watching the wake and the gulls hovering to snatch a tasty morsel churned up by the screws. She spent much of the time on deck looking at mountain peaks, birds, and wildlife as the ship moved through the channels of the inside passage. This was the route that cruise ships from Vancouver or Seattle take to Alaska, and they passed several of those large glittering sea palaces, which were making the return trip. Laetitia sat on a deck chair with binoculars and enjoyed the view of gulls, harbor seals, and the occasional blow of a humpback whale. When she saw an eagle land in its aerie, she wrote the limerick of the day.

‘Board the Best Inside Passage’s ferry
Is a trip that you’ll surely find merry
For it often reveals
Whales and some harbor seals
Or an eagle who lands on its aerie.