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|Written by Darren Moore|
|Thursday, 06 August 2009 00:00|
It can be as easy as shimmying out a window, opening a door, or closing one. Sometimes it's as simple as shutting your eyes and counting to ten, or going to bed early. Maybe you have a couple of drinks, or open a book, or turn on the television. Movies, video games, CDs, iPods, vehicles, shopping, gossip - there are a myriad options for those who wish to escape. Just about everything we do (or buy!) is an escapist act.
For me, an escape needed to be a little more extravagant. I'd already closed doors, opened books, zoned out in front of the television - this time, it had to be a challenge. It needed be something familiar, but foreign, so I got on a Greyhound bus and steeled myself for a five day journey.
I was Yukon-bound.And here I sit, writing this in the Whitehorse Public Library, a short walk away from the Yukon River, and a slightly farther walk back to my campsite at the Robert Service Campground, just South of town. And beyond that is wilderness - blessed, gorgeous, mountainous, sparsely populated wilderness.
The total population of the entire Yukon Territory is less than that of my 48,000-person hometown of Belleville, Ontario - the location of my jailbreak. Six years in a retail job, as enjoyable as it is to sell books, is too long for one man to be occupied without something to break up the monotony (aside from the occasional broken heart). What to do?
I'm 31, single, and childless. The world is my oyster. Unfortunately, it didn't come with a pearl. I had to do this on the cheap if I was to do it at all. At the same time, it needed to be big. Who knows if I will ever be able to do something like this again?
I looked into pricing. Plane, train, or automobile?
Well, a car was out of the question; I bicycle wherever I go. A plane ticket was pricey, no surprise there. Train was the same. Then I checked Greyhound. I actually had to hit 'calculate fare' three times before I believed it. One way: $120! I was floored. I'd found my method of escape.
Little did I know what I was getting into.
As the bus pulled out of the station, I waved goodbye to a handful family and friends. I was nervous, exhilarated, lonely, and excited all at the same time. When we stopped in Toronto, the nervousness increased. Like many people, I've never enjoyed big crowds, but by Sudbury I was feeling better, and I slept off and on right through Manitoba.
I was completely exhausted by the time we hit Edmonton. Sleeping on the bus is more akin to snacking. You get a bit here and you get a bit there, but it's never very satisfying. Eventually, you zombify; which was definitely the state I had reached by Edmonton.
It was then I learned the schedule had been changed, resulting in a 17 hour layover. There was only one thing to do at that point: go bed hunting. Eventually, I picked up a room at the Grand Hotel. It was a little pricey for what it was, and "grand" would certainly not be an adjective I would have used to describe it.
There wasn't much time to wallow, however, because before long I was back on the road. I think I knew I had officially escaped when on the Alaska Highway somewhere just before Pink Mountain, BC, our bus blew a tire. A blown tire means usually mean trouble enough anywhere, but it's even more troubling when the driver - and everyone on the bus similarly equipped - has zero bars on their cell phones. No cell service! Now this is remote!
Or so I thought before I discovered the land just beyond the hills of Whitehorse.
The city itself is an oasis of near-modernity. Sitting on the patio of a Whitehorse Starbucks (an entity that seems like blasphemy when compared to the landscape and local history that dwarfs it), a cosmopolitan crowd walks back and forth on Main Street. It really doesn't seem all that different than any other town of similar size.
Well . . . maybe there are a few differences. The streets are populated by vehicles with starburst windshields, angry dents (inflicted by who-knows what), RVs carrying American tourists, and trucks that look like dinosaurs: dust-covered multiple paint coated relics of the 60s and 70s. There are "Eat Moose" bumper stickers, long beards, wide-brimmed hats, and Malamutes on- and off- leashes. There are First Nations people of multiple lineages, and tourists from all over Europe and the United States. The rich and the poor walk side-by-side. It's a sight to see.
It is in escaping the capital itself that you begin to discover the real Yukon -- the one you imagine when someone starts Robert Service's classic poem, "The Cremation of Sam McGee": There are strange things done in the midnight sun / By the men who moil for gold / The Arctic trails have their secret tales / That would make your blood run cold . . .
Driving out to Carcross, you travel over a hundred kilometers, and see only one other car. The mountains tower over the roadway, bald eagles soar overhead, and when stop to take in the vista and snap some photos, you can see snow covered peaks in the distance - a glacier high atop a distant summit. This is exactly what I came here for: solitude. Miles and miles of empty, open land.
As we pull away from the view and head back towards Whitehorse, there's movement on the side of the road. It is a bear cub. We pull up alongside and it barely registers us. Is this the first vehicle it's ever seen? Perhaps.
Toward the end of next week, I intend to head further North, up to Dawson City, and maybe beyond . . . The Dempster Highway is supposed to be a real sight to see. It's gravel and the only way to get to Inuvik except by plane. I'm not sure my escape needs to go that far, but even after traveling over a quarter of the way around the planet, Whitehorse just doesn't seem far enough.
So here I am, planning to escape just that little bit further down Canada's most northernly highway. Some people said I wouldn't be back, when I told them my plans, and I can see why someone would want to stay here in this free and open and empty land. It's an introvert's paradise -- and for someone into solitude, you can't get much better than the lonely vastness of Canada's Yukon.
But I still want to see what's further up the road. I'm calling the rental agency this afternoon - there's one more escape to plan.