Original posted in London to New York blog, May 22, 2010
Dawson City, Yukon, Canada
“One of your guys looks like he’s been Chicken’d”
IT may be the smallest town any of us have come across, but the settlement of Chicken, Alaska, has left its mark on our band of weary travellers.
The top count was nine buildings of any major note – and four of them were toilets, or Chicken Poops as they are known at the bar – but its legend has obviously gone far and wide.
The guy who ran the hostel which housed us in our next stop, over the border in Canada, had no doubt about where we had been.
It wasn’t the Chicken T-shirts which have appeared throughout the group and should really require us to check what each other is wearing in the morning to avoid clashing (they have certainly been crucial in a week without any washing facilities).
No, he took one look at one our of younger members looking much the same grey as the rock he was sprawled on for much of the day and uttered the above words of welcome.
Sadly, his identify has to remain a secret due to the threat of a high-powered legal team being sent my way.
But suffice to say, Freddie (oh sod it, here come the legal letters) was merely the worst affected from a cracking evening in Chicken. You could say he got roasted.
It is a tiny town. There are a few houses tucked away somewhere, but Downtown Chicken – as it is proudly titled on a road sign – consists of three wooden buildings in the middle of a dusty, dirt area.
On one end is a café, linked via a chicken coop – complete with ‘Beware of the Attack Chicken’ sign – to a tiny bar which was not big enough to hold all of us that evening and a gift shop which we raided for Chicken paraphernalia.
Apart from that, there is the campsite at the old gold mine (very Scooby Doo) where we stayed, complete with a small café and shop.
And that’s all folks – nothing more to see or do, yet it provided us with a truly memorable short stay.
We arrived four days after much of the town (settlement? hamlet? fork in the road? shed?) had opened for the season, just as the first of the gold miners who head this way each spring have started to trickle into town.
But, sadly, a day before they had taken delivery of any gunpowder for the cannon used to fire underwear over the car park.
The torn remnants of knickers and bras hang from the ceiling of the tiny bar, along with hundreds of baseball caps, signed and donated by past customers.
The room also crams in a pool table which requires anybody playing half seriously to read the break to see which way their balls will run.
Having started off with five straight wins in our two visits either side of dinner, my form deserted me as Mike took control of the table for much of the evening.
The rest of us settled in to chatting at the bar, raiding the shop, meeting the locals and assorted summer visitors (which is where it all went a bit wrong for Freddie) and waiting for it to go dark.
We gave up sometime after midnight, with it still light, and went to bed.
I now boast a stamp from Little Gold Creek in the Yukon Territory in my increasingly full passport. Just try to find it on a map.
From there we rolled off the top of the world and down to Dawson’s Creek, where we were subjected to endless hours of teenage angst, played out by a bunch of all-American looking actors who left High School years before, who never get round to sleeping with each other and are incapable of using one word when an entire page of script will do… Oh, hang on.
Sorry, this was Dawson City, our first stop in Canada.
It wasn’t exactly a creek either, more of a bloody great river – the Yukon, scene of one of the great gold rushes of the 19th century. Back in 1898, the population was estimated at around 35,000, now it is a shade under 2,000.
How 35,000 fitted into the narrow strip between the river and the mountain backdrop is anyone’s guess, but it explains why (helped by a typhoid outbreak) the city spread across the Yukon (a river, does indeed, run through it) and why we needed to utilise the free 24-hour ferry between the two halves.
And well worth taking it is – not that staying back on the west bank hostel wasn’t a good option with another of the hugely relaxing early evenings spent sat out in the sun overlooking the scenery with appropriate iPod accompaniment (a bit of the Be-Good Tanyas).
But we headed east, first for an afternoon stroll into the delightful, small town and then for an evening sortie with the original plan of descending on Diamond Tooth Gerties Saloon for a burlesque show.
As usual, however, only a few made it as Nick, Mike, Barry and I were distracted by the delights of Bombay Peggys.
What was, again, meant to be only one dragged on rather longer as we settled in with the locals. Our excuse is that we are completely disorientated by the fact the sky is still a perfect blue at midnight.
As our numbers were swelled by refugees from Gerties (Pam and Marlo waving certificates to proved they had downed a Sourtoe cocktail – complete with mummified human toe), most of us eschewed an onward trip to The Pit, heading back through the 1am twilight to bed – in my case a cubby hole on the bus courtesy of the main sleeping area being stripped of mattresses by the tent dwellers.
Where one of those who did go to The Pit slept is anyone’s guess…
NB Mosquito update: The nasty little bastards are still taking their toll. My right knee now looks like some complicated constellation is tattooed on it.
But the most concerning area is the collection of bites around the base of my back and, to put it bluntly, the top of my arse.
Travel tip: Don’t wear low-slung jeans when travelling in mosquito areas (or ever, if my fellow travellers had their way).
Next time: My turn on cooking duty – half the bus is ill. Are these facts linked?