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  • Writer's pictureRobert Gidley

Mushrooms matter

Aug 18, 2022 (Thu)

11:15 am Carmacks, YT

We need to find someplace to hang out while our Yukon River video uploads, so we decide to investigate the mysterious "?" that appears on signs around town. Is this directing us to the house of ?, lead singer of ? and the Mysterians (known for their 1969 hit, 96 Tears)? Could it be that no one can figure out what it is? This is a lot of question marks, yes?

On the trail of a mystery!

The ? sign points us down a gravel road (or “highway” as the Canadians call it) and we end up at: A Visitor’s Center! This out-of-the-way location is staffed by a lonely looking woman in three rooms full of pamphlets and brochures (all of it neatly organized and in very straight stacks).

Robert chats with her for a while and finds out some interesting things about living here:

  • They get a couple of feet of snow in the winter (“Not too much”)

  • She doesn’t like to drive when it’s actually snowing, but if it’s not snowing, it’s pretty easy to get around

  • The Yukon River (the raging river shown in yesterday’s video) freezes over during the winter and people walk around and drive snow mobiles on it. Yikes! That gives us a good idea of how freakin’ cold it must get here. Brrr.

A pleasant side effect of his chat is that Robert gets the password for the admin Wi-Fi and our download goes much quicker once we log onto it.

Once that’s done, a long time later, it’s off to Whitehorse!

1:15 pm Montague Roadhouse

We’ve learned that whenever there’s a blue road sign that says anything really, “Rest Area,” “Viewpoint,” or “?,” we should pull over and check it out. Often, there’s something historical with signs and everything.

This particular “Rest Area” turns out to have the original Montague Roadhouse. Back in the olden days (100 years ago—about when Robert’s grandfather got married), they built roadhouses about every thirty miles, because that’s about as far as a person could travel in a day by stagecoach or horseback. (If you were on foot, you could probably take care of yourself.)

There—in the window! It’s the ghost of the Montagues! Or Robert…

This stop also tells us about “Skinners.” These are not people who skin animals (whew—we weren’t looking forward to those pictures!). Instead, Skinners were the rough-and-tumble guys who drove teams of horses in the snow and ice and with 30 meter drop-offs on either side.

They look pretty much exactly the way you would expect—beards and beat-up hats and cigar stubs clenched in their teeth.

Fun fact: passengers were expected to carry enough “over-proof rum” to keep their Skinner driver happy. It’s like if airplane passengers had to make sure the pilot was good and drunk instead of the other way around! We’re sure these were fun rides, when the roads were more “trail” than road.

Gini makes it very clear that we are not about to adopt that tradition…

1:35 pm North of Whitehorse, YT

We don’t think Drive-In movie theaters (or “theatres”) would do very well here. The first show would be about midnight (when it finally gets dark) and you couldn’t do double-features. Sixteen hours of daylight (plus an hour or two of twilight on either end) is plenty for us!

2:10 Fox Lake Burn, YT

Back in 1998, some campers failed to completely extinguish their campfire. As a result, it got out of hand and over 100,000 acres burned. It even smoldered during the winter and started up again the next spring(!).

[While fighting this fire, four firefighters had to take shelter in a freezing pond while they watched their equipment burn. When they were finally able to get out, they warmed themselves by their burning pumps. They survived.]

Since the burnt area was right next to the road, somebody figured, this would be a great place to explain about fires in the Yukon. It happens a lot (one of our sources claims that “there are no unburned forests in the Yukon”).

There’s a trail with signs that takes you through part of the burned area and explains how it comes back to life (mushrooms are important!) and finally leads to an overview of: majestic scenery (of course).

Turns out some trees caught in a forest fire don’t burn up to ashes. They get burnt to sticks and can stay standing for up to 100 years. These have been standing for 24 years.

Mushrooms love forest fires and like to bloom all over the place. They’re essentially for making good dirt for everything else to grow in.

Majestic view available at the end of the Fox Lake Burn trail.

3:45 pm Whitehorse, YT

We arrive, tired and hungry (of course) and head for a local Caribbean food joint, because surely tropical food will be done well here, eh?

It turns out that Antoinette’s indeed does a splendid job on Caribbean Lobster in Brown Sugar Rum Butter Sauce and the lime sherbet parfait and we are fat and happy (well, Antoinette’s can’t take all the credit for us being fat, but they have a great deal to do with the happy part).

Gini getting ready to eat two desserts! (But only half of each.)

5:00 pm Hi Country RV Park, Whitehorse, YT

This is where we stayed the last time we were in Whitehorse (“We’re regulars, eh?”) so we know the drill and settle in.

It turns out showers are free! So Gini avails herself (comments redacted, i.e. Robert’s crummy jokes) and we all settle in for a quiet night.


Our journey from Carmacks to Whitehorse shown as the yellow line.

Today’s journal in plain yellow terms

By the numbers

“Without mathematics, there is nothing you can do. Everything is mathematics. Everything around you is numbers.” Shakuntala Debi

Miles traveled so far: 3,129

Estimated Percentage of total road miles: 98%

Days so far: 26 days

Estimated Percentage of total road days: 76%

Gini & Robert

Harvey Staff

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