Before leaving Fairbanks, we took in the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (WEIO), a competition between Alaskan natives and other First Nations people in sporting events unique to their culture. Reading through the schedule beforehand, we found the names of the various competitions unusual, to say the least – Alaska Stick Pull, Kneel Jump, Ear Pull, Fish Hook, and Drop the Bomb to name a few. This was not going to be your typical track and field competition.
Overall, the WEIO was an event we were glad we managed to be a part of, and worth the extra few days in Fairbanks to take it in. In Pat’s case, it was even more worth it, since she won the 50-50 raffle.
As much as the rest of Alaska, Fairbanks’ history is entwined with the search for gold. What started as individuals panning the streams on their individual claims evolved into sophisticated dredges that churned up the landscape in a huge noisy operation. These ceased to operate over fifty years ago, but a few have been left behind and restored enough to allow us to understand how they used to work. We learned a lot about this industry through several events focused on gold’s heyday.
We had to make a stop in North Pole before heading south to see what Santa was up to in his off season. We saw his reindeer and visited his house. Mrs. Claus was out that day, but Santa was in good form. David and Fred checked the naughty list to make sure they weren’t on it. There must be some mistake . . .
So, our trip back to the lower 48 was going to take us back down the Alaska Highway for several hundred miles. We stopped to see a few things we had skipped on the way north. We took a hike in Haines Junction and visited the Village Bakery, which was an amazingly busy place for a small town. In Whitehorse, we took a stroll downtown and stumbled across music in the park, with a bluegrass band playing for a mostly hometown crowd. We were thrilled to see more big animals moving about, with moose cows and calves crossing the road in front of us a couple of times and a hungry grizzly bear grazing by the shoulder of the Alaska Highway.
But our trip on the Alaska Highway ended with still another 600 miles to go. We decided to take the Cassiar Highway south just west of Watson Lake. After a side trip to fuel up, get some Canadian money and check e-mail in Watson Lake, we headed south into British Columbia.
The Cassiar Highway is a less-traveled highway that passes through some remote northern BC towns, many of them populated by First Nations people. The road passes through the Cassiar Mountains, passing many glacial lakes before ending on the Yellowhead Highway between Prince Rupert and Prince George. Our first day’s travel took us a short distance to Boya Lake Provincial Park. This is an absolutely beautiful emerald-green lake. We found a spot on the lake and enjoyed time hiking the trails and then two days of canoeing through the many islands and coves. The beavers are active in the crystal clear water, with lots of lodges and an impressive dam. The weather cooperated for us as well, allowing us to break out the shorts for the first time in a couple of weeks.