Suzanne and I recently went on a two day trip to Dawson City. It was an interesting trip where we did and saw lots of interesting things. This post is not about those things. I’m not going to tell you about the encounters with two bears, or a moose, or some elk that we had. I’m not going to tell you about Dredge #4. I’m not even going to tell you about the town of Dawson City, old and cool as it may be. What I am going to tell you about is something that I was completely unaware of until my trip across a small part of this fair territory. A problem that not only seems to be plaguing Dawson City, but every small town and community between Dawson and Whitehorse. Now, though this crisis is not only hitting Dawson that is the first place it became apparent to me. And that, dear readers is why is post is called, and why it is about, The Dawson City Salmon Crisis ’13.
Suze and myself were on our second day of camping (sleeping in the back seat/trunk of her car in campgrounds) about to start making our way back to Whitehorse from Dawson City. It is about a seven hour drive with construction and breaks. We had lit a camp fire the night before but due to the absence of forethought we were left without anything to cook over said fire. It was too late to buy anything and myself and Suze were both seriously lacking in the fishing license and even fishing pole departments. Thus our fire was left without having been used to it’s full potential. We went to bed. As Suzanne began to sleep beside me I was stuck on an idea. A burning idea that gnawed at me, relentlessly forbidding me to sleep. An idea so simple, and so beautiful I knew it couldn’t fail. I had obviously forgotten about “The Stew That Saved The Day”. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I know this to be true.
That morning, after the fire, Suze and I awoke. I shared my plan with her and she agreed it was a great idea. The plan in question went as follows;
Go to the grocery store.
Buy fresh salmon.
Begin driving towards Whitehorse.
Stop at some point to camp.
Let campfireburn down to coals.
Cook salmon over coals.
I do not think that sounds overly complicated. Especially, as we were in a town connected to (via the top of the world highway) Fairbanks, Alaska among pretty much the rest of Alaska. Oh yeah, also about four or five rivers all famous for salmon running up them.
I’m sure by now you have figured out that we could not get fresh salmon in Dawson. In fact, we could not get any fresh fish at all. Now, for those of you that have never been to Dawson City it is small. In fact it is no city at all. It is a very, very small town. Look it up if you don’t believe me. Though it is small I will say that it is filled with lots of very nice people. But, no salmon.
So, Dawson is small. There are two stores that supply groceries to the town. One had some frozen fish that looked as though it had been there since the gold rush. When asked, the clerk said that they did not carry fresh fish and that if we wanted fresh fish to get a fishing rod. I believe I responded with mild amusement. The second and final store that may have had fresh fish also did not. Apparently, they would be getting a little bit in the next day but they didn’t usually carry it. Again, we were told that if we wanted fresh fish we should get a fishing rod. My amusement was fading fast.*
We now found ourselves at the local hardware store looking for tape for something completely different. While Suze grazed the tape isle I thought I would inquire about anywhere that may have fresh fish in the area. Again, I was met with get a fishing rod. I met this with a dead stare trying to hide my annoyance I smiled the nicest smile I could, which likely was no smile at all and excused myself. Suze found me starring with malicious wonderment at a barrel full of fishing rods priced between $47 and $79. That was much more than I was willing to pay for a fresh fish. Even if it was salmon. Not one to be easily deterred I allowed Suzanne to remind me that there were other towns between Dawson and Whitehorse. Surly, Dawson was an anomaly in the Yukon. There must be somewhere we could find some fresh salmon.**
As we drove hour after hour, kilometer after kilometer, pee break after pee break, it became painfully obvious that there was something wrong in The Yukon. Everywhere we looked, there was no fish to be found. Every store, town, community was dry. Was this some kind of salmon prohibition? Or, was this some kind of sick, demented joke? I don’t know. What I do know is that it seemed and still seems crazy to me that in The Yukon you cannot get fresh fish anywhere but in Whitehorse. It’s crazy!
We drove all that day hoping beyond hope that around the next bend we would find salvation in the form of a truck form the back of which an older man in a blue jean jacket and blue jeans would be selling fresh, wild, pacific salmon. Or hell, I would settle for charr or mackerel, or perch. Anything at all. Despite our hope and longing there never was a blue jean-ed man around any corner that we took. We were, as they say. S.O.L.
We drove all the way back to Whitehorse that day. Stopping everywhere we could along the way only to be met with disappointment after disappointment. By the time we got back into Whitehorse it was around 9:00pm. We knew that Super Store would have fresh salmon.
Beat down, and down hearten we drove straight to Super Store. We parked. We got out of the car. We walked towards the store and through the automatic sliding glass doors. We walked passed candy, and cans, pop, and chips, fruit, and meat. We walked directly to the back of the store and there it was. With all the other fish. One package with two beautiful, cleaned salmon fillets. It’s fatty pink skin dancing in my vision like a mirage in the dessert. At first I didn’t want to move towards it for fear that it may disappear. Deep down with in me I knew this was really happening. I knew that I had truly found what I was looking for. Fresh, wild, pacific salmon. Except wait!
As I reached towards all my hopes and dreams my eyes caught sight of the label on the package. What was it? Had I been duped? This wasn’t fresh at all. It had been previously frozen. I was in a mood to over look one flaw, two of my criteria were still in play. I read on. Farmed! “Well, you know what” I reasoned with myself. “It is a bit early in the season for wild salmon anyway.” At least it was still pacific salmon not Atlan…wait! I read on. Atlantic salmon!? How could it be possible that I was merely a few hundred kilometers from the pacific, in a territory that is famous for it’s salmon runs, and the only “fresh” salmon I could get came from a fish farm on the entire other side of the country? If I wanted farmed Atlantic salmon I would have stayed in Nova Scotia. Suze and I walked, my head hung low, towards the check out previously frozen, farmed, Atlantic salmon in hand. We paid and left the store.
It may not have been exactly what I wanted and it may have taken us seven and half hours worth of driving to get it but I was determined to cook that stupid fish on a fire that night. Nothing would stop me I thought. I’m an idiot.
There are two main government run campgrounds within twenty minutes of Whitehorse. As it turns out one, Robert Service campground, is much more a hippie commune than a campground. Of course, this neat fact was not discovered until we first drove twenty minutes out of town, in the opposite direction we had just come from, only to discover that the Wolf Creek campground was fully occupied by over sized RV’s despite the multitude of RV parks around Whitehorse all of which were far from capacity.
I know this because we drove around to all of them. As we drove around hopelessly in search of a campground where we could light a fire and cook some salmon a storm moved in.
I have been in Whitehorse since April 5th of this year. I have seen all kinds of different weather since I have been here, but I had not to that point, or since, seen a storm to rival the one that we found ourselves facing that night. Heavy rain, and lots of thunder and lightening. Our plans were completely doomed. We drove home in silence, our heads low. We went to bed with empty stomachs and empty hearts. The universe had spoken and we were not to eat salmon that night. We got home and went to bed defeated.
We both worked the next day. It was a pretty average day. Nothing great happened but also, nothing horrible happened. When the night was over Suze told me about a campground about an hour outside of town in a place called Carcross , home of the worlds smallest desert. She said we could go there. We left work, went home, collected our salmon and some other essentials and hit the road once again. First stopping at the Wolf Creek campground which was once again completely full of oversized RV’s. To Carcross we headed.
By the time we arrived at our destination it was late. Late enough to be getting dark, which in the Yukon, in the summer is very late. Around 1:00am. The campground though slightly run down, was almost empty and did indeed have a fire pit along with cut fire wood. As soon as the car stopped I went about making a fire determined to get that salmon cooking before anything else could go wrong.
After awhile the fire began to die down. I knew it wouldn’t be long before I had the glowing coals I needed to cook my fish. It was at this point that I went about prepping my salmon. It was a very simple preparation. A little salt and pepper, some birch syrup and some butter. The salmon was placed an a tinfoil cookie sheet with holes cut in the bottom and another cookie sheet placed over the top. Once my prep was done I went back to tend the fire.
As I sat in the glow and warmth of the fire, hundreds of stars over head, the woman I love beside me, I felt as though maybe, just maybe everything would be okay. It was in that instant I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. We were deep in the heart of bear country. That is a fact. Another fact is that bears love salmon. With Suze shinning the flash light and the lights of the car turned on we discovered another fact. We were not alone. Luckily, it was not a bear. I was not looking forward to having to use the bear spray anyway. It was in fact a fox. Though he was quite cute, he was way too curious about my salmon. After about twenty minutes of playing cat and mouse, or fox and hound if you will, car lights and flash lights being turned off and on, sticks being banged against trees, we finally were rid of our little pest.
Now, that we were pest free, there was a clear sky above us, and a fire burning before us, I began to cook our salmon. Our salmon that took us seven hours, 532km to find, and three days to cook was finally over a fire. By the time it was done and some asparagus had been grilled along side it, it was about 3:30am. We ate. It was delicious. Was it worth all the annoyance and all the stress, absolutely not. Well, the salmon wasn’t. The company, the journey, and the story however, I would say yes.
So there you have it. Yet another story of heartache and unbelievable adversity all in the search for the meal my heart desires. The things I do for love.
Until Next Time.
*I should mention that though this store did not carry fresh fish they did carry Agar Agar. If you don’t know what Agar Agar is look it up. You will understand why this seems so unbelievably odd to me.
**There are places in Whitehorse to get fresh fish. They are fisherman run fish trucks. Unfortunately, by the time we got back to Whitehorse they were both closed down for the night.