|July 14, 2009
Whitehorse, YT - Five Finger Rapids, YT - 128.5 miles
On the road again. What a day!
Our host Anne has been just amazing! spoiling us with exotic jams and delicious local bread and later a great lunch. In the morning Anne, was still undecided if she would join the solar car circus or not. Fortunate for us, she did. Anne stay behind to catch up on some errands joining us later on after dropping off Kooty (her dog).
It was already afternoon by the time we arrived at the convention center to retrieve the solar car. We found a note from Lew on the support vehicle. He heard about the incident with the solar car, not knowing it was only fender bender he was concerned about me (thank's Lew), we gave him a quick call. He was on the way to meet us at the Convention Center, Vince was there too and later Mark Prinks joined us. I haven't seem Mark since he joined me on the tour last year, It was great to see my team mates again. We had some good laugh remembering our adventure and Taro, a young Japanese man who was hitch hiking and join the team when we gave him a ride. Taro stayed with the project for 44 days. There was so much to talk about, they have been following my adventures via the updates and knew everyone on the crew. They were also talking about rejoining the tour. That would be great! We said our goodbyes and got moving. First a quick stop at the Superstore and Kopper King gas station for a photo op and thank them for their support. Superstore gave us a discount our grocery bill Kopper King gave us a full tank of gas. Thank you!
Once we got on the road, it was smooth driving. The solar car was performing well, the bearings are still holding okay, the road was good. We left with a full battery pack, the sun was shining, it was all looking good. Slowly the sunny sky turned hase and overcast. Anne caught up with us just before Carmaks. In Carmaks we noticed two forest fire pick trucks and its crew in what used to be yellow uniforms now soiled and covered in sud, interesting sight. It was getting late we were planning on making a stop for the night at Five Fingers Rapids, we had about 20km to go. As we headed north, the air and the sky got filled with smoke. At Five Finger rapids we could barely see the landscape. Last year while driving through Northern British Columbia, Taro and I drove in an area covered by thick smoke, it was so dense it darkened the sky, we kept on driving until we cleared the smoke, found the sun shining on the other side.
Willy brought to my attention that someone on the crew wasn't comfortable with the situation. We didn't know how close we were to the fire, its intensity nor the extend of it. Not willing to take chances with the crew or make anyone feel at risk. I decided to get everyone out of there, to Carmacks. I want to proceed with the solar car on my own, keep on driving passed the smoke, the crew could catch up with me tomorrow. Being dedicated and concerned friends they didn't want to me proceed on my own, it became one of those situations either we all go or no one goes. I was convinced to proceed on my own. However, talking to a truck driver at the stop I learned the smoke got worst further north and it was covering an area of at least 200km, WOW! that's is a lot of smoke!. The batteries had only enough charge for about 20km to 30km, the 100km was much further than what I would be able to drive. I was excited to carry on but no point in driving under those conditions. Five Fingers Rapids was our stop for the night. Slowly the smoke clear, the light rain help clear some of the air, the clouds and the smoke were distinguishable, it was a scary and at the same time a sense of wonder to witness smoke as far as the eye could see in the sky roll over us.
In between all that, Josh and I went looking for Laura, she wasn't feeling well earlier, went for a walk without telling anyone where she was going. We found her near the river enjoying the view, being one with nature. In deed, it was a beautiful place. We were glad to see she was well and enjoyng her self.
Looking at the Yukon river reminded me of Taro and his canoe trip with a friend from Whitehorse to the Yukon River last year. The kind of adventure I would like to experience. It am starting to feel that I am just scratching the surface of an magnificent playground to be discovered. Already looking forward to coming back some day.
It’s 5 am in the tent in Anne’s backyard. I’m getting a head start on the wilderness adaptation. It’s a welcome change from the van. The solar car is parked safely inside the convention center again and the crew sleeps scattered in and around Anne’s house. Marcelo wants to be on the road by 9am. It’s hard to get to sleep when it remains light out until 1am, and there is good company. Whitehorse has cliffs right in it’s backyard. Everything is within walking distance. We enjoy tea, oatmeal and toast thanks to Anne. Our bodies and electronics have taken over her living room. Rose jam and maple syrup swirl in my mouth...hopefully Anne’s hospitality doesn’t delay us from our scheduled departure. Hours later we are walking to the local bakery to pick up a fresh loaf of bread for lunch, Anne is making sandwiches. The bakery offers organic, fair trade chocolate truffles made with local Yukon berries. This is my kind of place. It is no contest for the rosemary loaf that gets bagged up while I peruse the organic foods and juices on the shelf. The Alpine Bakery even uses compostable cups and utensils, and outside they have their own huge compost bin. After a hearty Alaskan Salmon salad on our herbed bread I am feeling charged and ready to get on the road. Alas we are stationary still so Anne takes Josh and I to Aroma Borealis, a natural botanical shop. They make a natural mosquito repellant from about 10 essential oils that is non-toxic and DEET free! We buy out their whole stock in preparation for the clouds of mosquitos ahead. Since the beginning of the trip I have received only one mosquito bite and I believe it was a result of rolling over on top of one while I was sleeping. They buzz and land on me but never bite, I wonder if growing up in the skeeter filled swamps of the everglades has anything to do with it or if it is my non-violent approach to blowing them away instead of slapping them into nonexistence. At about 5 in the afternoon, we retrieve the solar car from the convention center where we also meet up with Lou, Mark and Vince for ice cream and goodbyes. Before leaving we make a couple of stops for photos at the generous grocery store and gas station that sponsored us with donations. On the road again we enter into smoky skies, the setting sun casting an orange glow behind the thick curtain of smoke. The smell of the forest fire and ashy skies remind me of a fire in the Everglades about 10 years ago. The ash fell like snow covering cars and homes and landing on top of my head while I watched the flames in the distance. We stop at Five Finger Rapids to asses the situation and decide weather or not to continue. I take a walk down the path and into the woods, the sound of rushing water keeps me going. I’m sure there is a spectacular view up ahead and get small glimpses of the water through the trees. Farther and farther into the brush along the dusty path the trees thin out and before I know it I’m at the edge of the cliff looking down into the green waters of the Yukon River. The water foams and swirls at the base of the rocky island in between this cliff and the mountains in the distance. I crouch and perch myself at the edge like the seagulls across the way and just appreciate what is around me: the rust colored moss covering the cliff side, the leaves dancing in the wind, the white foam floating along the current, the sunset masked by the smoke but still casting amber light just above the mountain peak. It begins to sprinkle and the crew is probably wondering where I’ve gone off to, so I head back. About a third of the way I hear Josh calling my name. Him and Marcelo came down the path looking for me and I guide them to the view where we snap some photos and soak it all in. Marcelo starts talking about driving us all back to Carmax and continuing north into the smoke alone. I can appreciate his dedication and enthusiasm but do not understand the logistics of driving the solar car without radio contact in low visibility while leaving us all behind. We head back up the path to meet with the rest of the crew. With the smoke moving toward Carmax and the truckers telling us it hangs above for the next 200km, we decide to spend the night here, let the smoke clear and make our move in the morning.
We woke up today with the intention of leaving early, but spent the day downloading videos, and organizing the website. Anne made oatmeal with hemp and flax seeds for breakfast. After a day of getting ready, Claire, Laura, Willy and I got some Rosemary bread from the bakery down the road. Anne served up some salmon spread with the bread, and we even had some grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches to bring it all together. Laura, Anne and I stopped by a shop called aromatics to get ?some bug spray. After a very much delayed departure, we all reach the Yukon Convention Center, where the solar car was parked for the night. We met up with Lou again, who was in full clown attire this time. He had an awesome button that read “IYQ.” After getting everyone fueled up on ice cream, the team was on the road again!!! We got some awesome shots on the way to Pelly's Crossing, which was our projected destination before reaching Dawson City. We made it past a small town called Carmacks, and realized that we were encountering some smoky skies. Our day stopped around Five Fingers Rapids, due to the heavy clouds of smoke that enveloped the region. Apparently there were some major forest fires surrounding the area, and thick clouds of smoke were blocking the sun. We waited for a while, deciding what we were going to do. After deliberating whether to stay or go, we lost track of where Laura went. She usually goes off to check out some beautiful natural scenery in every situation, but given the local fires, we wanted to make sure she was alright. Of course, Laura was the first to find a beautiful and awe inspiring scenery for us to gaze upon. There was a gorgeous cliff face that overlooked the Yukon River. There were some of the most dangerous rapids for paddlers, according to Anne. We all decided to stay the night at the Five Fingers Rapids. I read a book that Anne lent me at around midnight, seeing as I can still read a book at night around here. It's pretty wild being up in the Yukon, and I sure hope the smoke clears way for some sunny skies in the morning.
"This is so beautiful. I am laughing so much. I am seeing so much. This is so beautiful." That was my outspoken mantra on the drive north towards Dawson City and writing this update a little late, this is the element ofthe day I most remember. It was an alliance of many perfects - the weather, the view, the destination, the company - and with Willy's departure from the tour on the horizon I made it a point to package these perfects and send them to my memory bank, where I could later unwrap it with hands of wholehearted appreciation.
Nearly the whole day was spent at Anne's house. I finished my computer work, tidied up the trailer, and cleaned up the kitchen. There was no clear direction on when we would be leaving, so I kept busy as long as I could and then retired to the lawn. I did some yoga and then sloppily laid back on the grass. Willy joined me and we shared smiles and lazed about. Around 6pm, we went to the Yukon Convention Centre to pick up the car and ended up meeting with Lou, Mark, and Vince. Lou arrived on his ice cream drawn chariot and not so understated clown jacket. I'm not sure if it's a compliment or offense, but seeing Lou adorned with pins, coat tails, and a sun hat atop his "Ice Smile For You" carriage was a most natural sight. The current crew didn't get many words in, watching them talk and jest was entertianment enough. We then stopped at Superstore and Fas Gas for a photo opp in appreciation for their sponsorship, and by 7:30 we were finally on the road.
As I have mentioned before, being on this tour forces you to anticipate the unexpected and to not be surprised when it finally surmises. Why hadn't I included forest fire on that list of "To Be Anticipated." About 120 miles into our journey towards Dawson City the smell and then sight of smoke grew heavy. With zero experience with forest fires, I had a slight hesitation with continuing on into the smoke soaked distance. With an erratic wind heading south, there was a possibility that the fire would be sweep likewise. We pulled over at Five Finger Rapids Recreation Site to talk about our options...continuing on, we might meet complete ashed darkness with no way to recharge the car's batteries and a dangerous breathing condition for an overnight stay, we could retrace our steps and stay over at the closest town until its deemed clear to move forward, or we could stay overnight at this site and wait things out till morning.
It was a surreal sight standing on the top of the look out deck. The mountains that stood clear against a blue sky earlier that day were now barely visible. The sky was coated in eeriely rippled, yellow tinted blanket. There was definite tension between team members on what should be done, but after some time there, a light rain and a calmer breeze quelled the anxiety and it was decided to stay there for the night. I never know what time it is anymore, probably midnight, but after a frustrating confrontation I chose bed over food and the usual presleep laughter in the trailer untied any remaining knots in my stomach. PEACE.
In the morning we ate breakfast and nothing happened too quickly. josh and i wrote a media release. we got bread from the alpine bakery and ate salmon for lunch. i can't remember when i made up my mind but i decided to jump on the solar car crazy train at some point... why not? i thought it would be fun and a valuable learning experience that would enhance my energy work with the yukon conservation society. i waited for the crew to leave so i could take care of some business, pack up and get ready to catch up with them later.
koodi and i met up with them before carmacks. quite suddenly north of carmacks the air filled with smoke from a forest fire. by the time we reached five finger rapids, the smoke was so thick we could barely see across the yukon river. perhaps better than the inescapable smell of burning garbage that rural yukon people are regularly subjected to, forest fire smoke is just as if not more oppressive, eerie and panic inducing. there was a semi truck idling in the pullout so i asked him if he had any information about where the fires were and their status. he said the smoke was thick for 200km up the road but didn't know much more. i asked him if he planned to run his engine all night. the noise, smell and heat coming from the truck added to the discomfort of the weather and smoke. forest fires in the yukon are scary because when you are out of phone and radio range it is hard to get information and it's difficult to know where the smoke is coming from or if the fire poses a threat. the team had different ideas on how to proceed. i experienced the first intense solar car tour problem solving process and the outcome thankfully was to stay put at five finger rapids for the night.
By Willy Wanka
|Good Morning Cooty!|
|Out with Claire's stiches, solar car surgery|
|It's a solar car convention..no other solar cars showed up|
|"It's all yours."|
|Ice Cream! Thanks Lou! We smile for you too.|
|Reunited with Mark, crew member from last year.|
|"Marcelo, you haven't showed them how to make a Yukon fire yet?!"|
|Lou, Mark, Marcelo and Vince. A final goodbye before we head out.|
|Thanks for the groceries Superstore.|
|Thanks for the fuel Fas Gas.|
|A little to the left|
|Thanks Kopper King!|
|Josh, ready to film|
|Duct tape, how would we survive without it|
|Josh expertly places the Solar Car Cam|
|Off to get some good fotage|
|Josh gives the thumbs up, ready for the shot|
|Hey puppy, wanna ride?|
|Traffic jam=photo op|
|There's no slowing us down|
|Slick oily roads ahead|
|"Hi, are you from this planet?"|
|Just follow the signs to Dawson.|
|Into the mountains|
|Onto the mountains|
|Whoa, dust clouds|
|Claire and Josh
Mountain goats or video crew?
|"Ok, so I take the interstellar highway and make a left after Mars?"|
|The smoke is thick|
|"How's the road ahead?"|
|"Well, it can fly, the trouble is landing."|
|Ah, fresh air!|
|A smoky sunset|
|Cliff view of the Yukon River|
|Don't look down|
|"I wonder how cold the water is."|
|A smoky goodnight. Hope it clears up in the morning.|