Tall tales and blue of the great out­doors

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - THE IN­CI­DEN­TAL TOURIST Michael Ge­bicki

HELLO, friend. My name’s Jon. That’s J-o-n.’’ Now, call me mis­trust­ful but when a man hoists him­self on to the next bar stool and seems in­clined to in­stant con­ver­sa­tion, my sus­pi­cions are aroused.

I am at the Snake Pit Bar of the West­min­ster Ho­tel in Daw­son City, in Canada’s Yukon. Daw­son City sits right along­side the Yukon River at the heart of the Klondike re­gion, the site of the rich­est gold strike, and most evenings the Snake Pit draws a fair rep­re­sen­ta­tion of what passes for so­ci­ety in present-day Daw­son City.

There’s a pi­ano along one wall, some­times played by Bar­na­cle Bob, but fur­nish­ings are sparse. Most items that can be thrown are bolted down. Some­thing that strikes me about Jon is that he ap­pears to have a full set of teeth. In the con­text of the Snake Pit, this is un­usual.

I am told that a full set of chop­pers is likely to stand a man in good stead with the women of Daw­son City but I have yet to put this to the test. Teeth aside, Jon has just had what you may call a run of bad luck.

Re­cently re­tired as a cor­rec­tions of­fi­cer in the US state of Penn­syl­va­nia, he de­cided to try his luck as a gold­miner, so he bought 21 min­ing leases for $US18,000 ($18,700) on the South Fork of the Fortymile River just out of Chicken, across the border in Alaska. He planned to spend the sum­mer up there with his part­ner, who has a gold dredge.

So he piled his camp­ing gear into the back of his truck, hitched up his boat and drove across Canada and up into Alaska. The only way to reach his leases is along the South Fork, but when he got there the wa­ter was too low for his boat. Also, some of his min­ing leases were in dis­pute, claimed by a fel­low who went by the name of Mad Wayne. He set up camp hop­ing for rain to lift the level, but af­ter a week that hadn’t hap­pened. He de­cided to walk to his claim, got about a half day in, snagged his foot on a tree root and gashed his leg so he had to come back.

Jon’s spir­its were at a low ebb by this time so he de­cided to head for Anchorage, where he planned to sell the boat. He was just out of Chicken when he waved at a ve­hi­cle pass­ing the other way, went off the road and on to the soft shoul­der, buried the nose in the gravel and bogged the truck.

He got a tow from an­other driver, but that must have done some dam­age be­cause when he started again the drive­shaft dropped off. He took it off and was wait­ing for some­one headed for Tok, but no cars came. It was get­ting late in the day and a lone­some road­side in griz­zly coun­try is not where you want to be at sun­down. Fi­nally an­other trav­eller came along headed the other way who took him to Daw­son City.

The plan was to get the drive­shaft fixed, sell the boat, go home and start mak­ing artists’ easels out of red oak, which he would sell on eBay. In the mean­time, he was short of cash. Could I shout him for the beer?

And, say, would I pos­si­bly be in­ter­ested in buy­ing a Colt .45? ‘‘ Real nice gun, never fired in anger. Here, take a look.’’ But I have a date wait­ing at Bom­bay Peggy’s bar and a gun in my pocket is the last thing I need.

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