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Klondike Gold

Holy heavens, I might just move up here.

I think technically I didn't make it all the way to the Klondike on this trip, but I did spend some time on the Klondike Highway, including a couple of stops at the notorious Braeburn Lodge, home of Steve's $10 cinnamon buns which are the size of dinner plates.

I didn't buy a cinnamon bun either time, I'm sorry to say, because I didn't trust myself not to gorge on the whole thing. But I did buy a turkey sandwich that came on homemade bread and was also the size of a plate. It was delicious.

Anyway, I'm having the time of my life up here in the Yukon Territory. I had a relaxing Wednesday in Whitehorse that featured a very fun reading with my fellow Yukon Writers' Fest authors Jamella Hagen, Zsuzsi Gartner, Tyrell Johnson and Michael Winter.

And then on Thursday, the real work began.

I was up at 0630 to work out that morning, and at 0800 my YPL host and librarian guardian angel Mairi Macrae picked me up at the hotel to begin our epic, two-day road trip up the Klondike Highway and into the hinterlands.

Our mission was to drive 360kms northeast to Faro, YT (pop 344) for an afternoon reading at the library/high school. Then we would drive another hour down a gravel road to the community of Ross River, YT (pop 311) for an evening event.

The next day, we'd be up early to retrace our tracks 230kms to Carmacks (pop 493) for a 10:45am event at the local high school. And then we'd drive back to Whitehorse and, presumably, sleep.

Reader, it was a lot of driving. Or in my case, a lot of sitting in the passenger seat while Mairi piloted our Yukon government vehicle. And I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Faro used to be home to the largest open pit lead-zinc mine in the world. These days, its chief claim to fame is the Crane and Sheep Viewing Festival, which attracts tourists from all over the map to view migratory Sandhill cranes and presumably less migratory Fannin sheep, and that we would miss by a day.

Frankly, Faro's chief claim to fame should be its wonderful readers. This was a joint event with the high school, and the captive part of my audience was engaged, eager, and full of great questions.

But we were also joined by a group of great women who, Mairi had informed me, often come to author events in Faro, always have questions and are all voracious readers.

Katy, Elaine, Doris, Catherine and Kim all lived up to their billing and then some, and after the kids were dismissed they stuck around and we had a wonderful conversation and plenty of laughs. It was a great time, and I sure hope they enjoy the books!

Then Mairi and I piled into the vehicle again (a more-than-capable Subaru Forester) and bombed down the dirt road to Ross River, stopping briefly to watch a moose flounce across the road, and again to peer over the edge of a bridge at a beautiful canyon.

Though Ross River and Faro are nominally nearly equal in population, Ross River felt much smaller. It's home to the Ross River Dena Council First Nation, and boasts a beautiful school and a seasonal ice bridge over the Pelly River for vehicles headed up to the Northwest Territory, and a huge pedestrian bridge and ferry as well.

Mairi warned me that our attendance might be slim that night, because we were competing with a gospel concert, but, honestly, I was just happy to be there.

We were staying at the Ross River Lodge, a stunning, brand-new log cabin on the river, and when we pulled up outside we were greeted by the caretaker, Brian, who had a surprise for us: he was cooking prime rib for us, complete with Yorkshire pudding, stuffed baked potatoes and a chocolate cake.


I had been wondering what kind of food we'd find in Ross River, so to have an incredible home-cooked meal waiting for us was an awesome treat. And Brian was a character, in addition to being a hell of a cook; he regaled us with stories of his life working in the galleys of Great Lakes freighters and of motorcycle and long-haul trucking trips around North America.

I wished we could have stayed at the lodge longer, and I hope Fate brings me back to Ross River sometime.

The event was indeed sparsely attended, but what we lacked in numbers we made up for in enthusiasm. The librarian, Billie, joined us, along with two women from the community, Carmen and Tara, and we basically just sat around a table and they indulged me by laughing at my dumb jokes for a while until a flock of migrating cranes drew us outside to stare up at the sky in wonder as they flew over the town in seemingly endless waves. Very cool.

Sleep at the lodge was super comfortable and much too short; we pulled out at about 0710 on Friday morning, waving goodbye to Brian and to a local fox friend, and hurried back along the dirt road toward Carmacks, stopping briefly to take pictures of Little Salmon Lake, and again to avoid hitting a very large, very panicky caribou.

Our morning event was at the school in Carmacks, which was also hosting 450 students from around the Territory that afternoon for the 41st Annual Ridge Run, which is apparently such a huge deal up here that everyone I talked to implored me to run it.

Unfortunately, we couldn't make the run work in the schedule, but my group of kids were sure eager to get out and run, and we had a pretty fun and boisterous time talking about the writing life, Lucy, my lack of a girlfriend and The Notorious BIG, who I was happy to learn is still considered cool by

aspiring rappers and teenage hip hop heads.

The highlight of my Carmacks stay was when two students, Trent and Tyler, stuck around after the reading to talk about their own writing, as well as their passion for sports and science and their plans to take over the world.

These kids were so earnest and eager, so articulate and genuine and so dedicated to improving themselves in everything they were passionate about, that I won't be surprised at all if they really do take over the world, whether on the baseball diamond or in a robotics lab or the Billboard Top 100 chart.

Once again, I felt really privileged to be up here, and I felt pretty damn hopeful for the future of humanity.

All too soon, we were packing up and heading back to Whitehorse, stopping for the aforementioned large sandwich, and again to gaze out at Lake Leberge, before getting back to the Westmark hotel in Whitehorse in mid-afternoon, just in time for a pre-dinner run on the beautiful Millennium trail.

Saturday finds me in Carcross, YT in the evening, the last of my six readings up here. Sunday finds me flying back to Vancouver and prepping for the first American leg of the Gale Force Tour.

I'll be very sad to leave the Yukon. This has been the trip of a lifetime, and I'm so grateful to the Canada Council for the Arts and to Yukon Public Libraries (and Mairi Macrae in particular) for having me up here.

This won't be the last time I visit the north. There's a writer's residency in Dawson City and you'd better believe I'll be applying for it.

And maybe I'll start looking for permanent accommodation while I'm at it...

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