The last time I visited the Yukon, I was a much younger man. 18 years younger to be precise. After a season of tree planting in Ontario I was looking for an adventure before university resumed in September. My plan was to paddle 700 km down the Teslin River into the Yukon River to Dawson City by myself.
When I told my friend Paul about the idea he said “you’re going to the Yukon?”
“Okay, I’m coming with you.”
Paul is not the sort who waits for invitations and I’m not the sort to say no to Paul. So we went together. Then my cousin Andrea joined our troupe. It was a laugh-out-loud-pee-your-pants-fun kind of trip. We caught fish, bagged some peaks, relished the fury of a couple storms and read Robert Service poems aloud in awful Scottish accents. When we got to Dawson we celebrated by sharing a four liter tub of chocolate ice cream and making tiny bets on the roulette table at Diamond Tooth Gerties. Then we hitch-hiked home to Ontario.
The worst trip in the Yukon
Many years later when I told someone about that trip they said “you paddled the Teslin and the Yukon rivers?” I told them I had. “That’s the worst trip in the Yukon.”
They meant it in a nice way. They meant that compared to rivers like the Wind, Bonnet Plume, Hart and Snake, that carve their way through spectacular multi-coloured mountain ranges, the Teslin and Yukon rivers are unworthy backwaters. Paul, Andrea and I didn’t seem to notice. And it wouldn’t have mattered if we did – we couldn’t afford a charter flight to any of these more enchanted waterways.
Fast forward nearly two decades. I had perhaps 500 more days of canoe tripping experience under my belt, slightly more money and a desire to experience one of those famed mountain rivers that just wouldn’t go away. I also had a girlfriend named Heidi. Life is busy now, in ways that the Tim of 18 years ago couldn’t imagine. But somehow Heidi and I stubbornly hacked out the time to sneak away into the wilds of the Yukon for three weeks.
The Yukon River is worse than the Snake
But if your measuring stick is in units of pure excitement, adventure, lust for life and moments of awe and tranquility then I don’t recall that the Teslin and Yukon had any less of that to offer – at least not for the Tim of 18 years ago. The Snake was spectacular in every sense of the word. Dazzling even. But mostly what the Snake did was reawaken the Tim of old – that guy who was young, strong and foolish enough to believe that he could do anything. And I like that guy.
I also like that a wilderness sojourn can still bring him to the surface. The Snake reminded me that the Tim of old – that rascal – is still alive and well and that he still flourishes whenever I carve out enough space to let him breathe and get some sun on his face.