Teslin is an Inland Tlingit community on the edge of Nisutlin Bay on Teslin Lake, Yukon. It is, in fact, one of the largest native populations anywhere in the Yukon. We’d stopped here for gas on our last trip and noticed the beautiful traditional murals on public buildings. So we were happy to stop for a warm meal and gasoline at the Yukon Motel.
In the ladies’ room, a young woman was anxiously asking about campsites and routes to Seattle. I realized she was traveling alone and did my best to assuage her concerns. Mary asked her why she didn’t head south to Haines and take the ferry.
“I can’t afford it,” she said. “My friends collected $100 for me before I left and that’s all the money I have. I’ll be OK, really.” She was driving a small hybrid but $100 was pretty slim to get her from Alaska to Seattle, even camping and eating out of her car.
At that, another woman pulled out some American currency and pressed it in her hand. “No!” the young woman exclaimed. “I’m all right, really.”
“If I had a daughter traveling like this, I’d want to know that she was being helped by strangers,” said the woman. At that the young woman enveloped her in a hug.
Her car and clothing were too new for her to be a backroads adventurer. I didn’t know what she was running from or to, but it pushed her to drive this road alone, on the edge of snow season, with insufficient resources.
Earlier, at Dawson City, we’d met a man walking across Canada. Dana Meise is a forester from British Columbia and his goal is to hike to all three of Canada’s oceans. He started in Cape Spear, Newfoundland and intends to end at Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories.
Dana was stalled in Dawson City because his tent fly had been damaged and needed to be replaced; then he was heading north up the Dempster Highway to the Arctic. That last 800 miles is the end of his nine-year sojourn. Having just left the Arctic Circle ourselves, we knew it was snowing. “Oh, that doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I’m a forester; I’m prepared.”
We camped at Teslin Lake on Saturday night. Our only neighbor was another woman traveling with a child.
There is something about this land that brings out self-reliance, or perhaps it attracts the self-reliant. There is also a culture of the Al-Can that starts to grow on you as you wander here and there. “He’s kind of crabby, but he’s a great guy—a real Alaska Highway character,” a parks employee described a lodge-keeper I would encounter a hundred miles or so down the pike. There are young people who’ve escaped from more civilized places, and grizzled old-timers who take your money without a word, and truck drivers who make sure you have enough petrol to make the next services.
Mary and I are both still quite ill. It’s cutting into our progress. I’ve got one painting and a few hundred miles per day in me right now, and I’m so concerned about all the paintings that have gotten away. But the truth is, I could spend the rest of my life painting the Al-Can and not exhaust the material, so I can’t let it bother me.