Crossing the Yukon River-in a canoe in the dark! :)

(This post picks up in the middle of a long story. Someone had stolen parts off his Nash Rambler and he had to work to get enough money to fix it for his return trip to MS. He had to work to get enough money to fix it which narrowed his return window due to early winter snow. He'd been in Alaska for over 2 years and his MS driver's license had expired and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police refused to allow him to cross the border and escorted back to the police station in Tok, AK. He slept in the Rambler that night outside the police station and the temperature hit 20 below Fahrenheit. The story picks up here.)


Top of the World Highway


“The next mornin’ I went in that police station and got me some hot coffee and sat down again.”


I was a thinkin’, “If I worry ’em enough, they might try to help me do somethin’ about them expired license.”


A little before noon, I noticed about four or five people walk in there in uniforms and I knew they were some kinda’ law enforcement. I could tell they knew those other people behind that counter because they started to talkin’ to each other.”


And then I heard one of them uniformed fellas say, “Ah, we got our winter vacation early this year!” Then I started to payin’ real careful attention to what they was sayin’.”


One of them people behind that desk asked, “What happened?”


And one of them law enforcement persons said, “Man it came the biggest snow up there you’ve ever seen for this time of year and we had to close the border and all the roads.”


I thought, “Man, I ain’t gonna sit right here.”


I’d already cleaned up all them chicken houses and done a bunch of other stuff I didn’t wanna do. Now what I was really a tryin’ to do was get more information. I wanted to know where they’d closed that border down. I finelee’ waited until one of them officers kinda separated from the rest and I walked over there and started talkin’ to him. He didn’t know what I was sittin’ in there for and I sure didn’t tell ’em. There was a great big map on the wall showin’ the whole territory.


I asked him, “Where do you guys work?”


He said, “At the border on the Top of the World Highway.”[1]


A tryin’ not to be too obvious, I said, “Where’s that up there on that map?”


He pointed to a place on the map at the border.


I said, “That looks like a pretty long way, how do ya’ll get up there?”


He told me ever-thang!”


He said, “We usually drive Highway 5 up to Chicken and then east straight to the border."[2] We had to close the border down just this mornin’ because of all this snow. It’s really bad out there.”


I tried not to act too interested. I just nodded a bit and sat back down. I knew because that highway was closed there wut'n problee’ be any customs on either side of that border. Most of them roads when they say they’re closed, either have a gate with a padlock or a cable across it. Either one of ’em, I was gonna go through it.


I got in my mind, “I have that Winchester 30-30 rifle in the car, and I have a hacksaw. If that gate is locked with a padlock, I’m gonna take that 30-30 and shoot that lock off. If it’s got one of them cables across it, I’m gonna take that hacksaw and saw it in two.”


I made up my mind right there, “I’m gonna try to go over that Top of the World Highway.


Those law people left, and I waited ’til them people behind that counter looked busy a helpin’ others and I just walked out.”


Drastic circumstances call for drastic measures, like shooting locks off gates, hacksawing through cables and driving hundreds of miles through toe tingling terrain in three feet of snow in a very suspect Nash Rambler.


“I filled that little Nash Rambler up as full of gas as I could in Tok, and I got five gallons extra. I had one of them five-gallon cans with me. I got that map out and looked it over carefully. I’d heard a lot of them tourists on the Kenai a talkin’ about that Top of the World Highway, but I had never been on it before.”


I saw a guy a standin’ over there and I asked him, “Do you thank I can make it over that Top of the World Highway?


He said, “Man, naw, not a chance in your rig. I came through there three days ago with four-wheel drive and I barely made it. It’s a lot worse now.”


I didn’t have any other options, so I pulled out of Tok headed north on what they call the Taylor Highway.[3] It had started a snowin’ again real hard and I was havin’ to pull that string that I’d rigged for that windshield wiper so I could even see. I finelee’ got past Chicken and that snow was a gettin’ deeper and deeper.”


I finelee’ got up there to that border and rubbed the fog off the windshield. I looked out there and there was a sign that said, Top of the World Highway. That gate wut'n even locked so I didn’t have do nothin’ but drive on through.”


It got dark and there was so much snow you couldn’t even see the road. I drove that Rambler a tryin’ to stay out of them ditches and drop-offs, and I’d be a goin’ up some of them big mountains, and that speedometer would drop from forty miles an hour down to thirty, down to twenty and sometimes I wut'n be a goin’ but ’bout five mph up them mountains.”


I would look out there and thank, “I could walk faster than this car can go up these mountains.” But I’m sure glad I wasn’t walkin!”


I was still havin’ to pull that string to keep that snow off that windshield so I could see. Once I got to the top of a big mountain, it was completely the opposite. I’d just coast down ’em. It was so dark and hard to see, if I’d a wrecked or run off that road, there wudna’ been nobody to help me and guess I’d just been there.”


I finelee’ got to that Canadian border way after dark and there was a big ole’ buildin’ like all them other crossins’. I pulled up there and rubbed the frost and fog off the inside of that window and looked and there weren’t nobody there either! The gate wouldn’t even shut and so I just drove right on through. I kept on a goin’.”


On one of them high mountains, I started spinnin’ before I got to the top and that Rambler was just a barely movin’ forward. I got to the top and got out and let some air out of the tires and that helped me get a little better traction on that next mountain. That snow was so deep, that Rambler was actually pushin’ that snow like a snowplow. I don’t know how that ‘ole Rambler kept goin,’ but it did. That crack in the block was doin’ just fine as long as it stayed cold.”


I drove and drove and noticed the gas gauge a gettin’ close to empty, so when I got to the top of that next mountain, I stopped and poured the rest of that gas in that Rambler. The best I could tell, I still had more than fifty miles to go and I was worried I weren’t gonna have enough gas to make it. It seemed like I weren’t gettin’ very good gas mileage, I guess that car was a havin’ to work so hard.”


Crossing the Yukon River


“I finelee’ got down to the Yukon River sometime before midnight and I could see the Dawson City lights over there across the river.


I drove up there and said, “This ain’t right.”


So, I backed up and turned around and tried to pull off at another place and I said, “Man, there ain’t no bridge here!”


I thought, “Lord, what am I gonna do now?”


That gas gauge was on empty again.


Then I thought, “There ain’t but one thang to do.”


I had that yellow canoe on top that Rambler up there beside that motorcycle, so I got out and got that canoe off and pulled it down there to that water.


It was really dark and I started to paddlin’ across that river. I could feel big chunks of ice a hittin’ the side of that canoe, but it wut'n froze over yet. I guess if it had been frozen, I could have tried that motorcycle.”


I kept my eyes focused on them lights in Dawson City, but that current was so strong that it pushed me way further down. I got across and paddled up the other side, back up close to where I could see them lights. I pulled that canoe up on the bank and tried to hide it a little bit. I got my feet really wet and they felt like they was gonna freeze off. Anyway, I walked up that road toward them lights, and the only thang you could see open was bars.”


Captain Nelson


“I walked into the first bar I come to. I could tell I caught the attention of all them people. I sat down at the first barstool and ordered a beer. I think I asked for a Schlitz.


The bartender said, “Ah, we don’t have any American beers, we only have Canadian.”


I said, “Give me one of them Canadian ones, then.”


He said, “What kind you want, mate?”


I looked up there on that sign and I saw one that said, Blue.


I said, “Give me one of them Blues.”


He sat it down on the bar, and I reached in my pocket and got an American twenty and put it on the counter.


That bartender said, “I can change that, but your change will all be in Canadian.”


I said, “That’s fine.”


All I wanted to do was pay for it. He gave me the change in some Canadian bills and coins, and I left them coins a sittin’ there. What I was really tryin’ to do was get some information; I didn’t really even want no beer. But I knew in order to get that information I was a wantin’, I needed to look as normal as I could.”


I finelee’ said, “What would a fella do if he was a wantin’ to get his car across that Yukon River?”


That bartender said, “I don’t know what you would even want over there for, it’s not a thang over there but more wilderness and that road’s already impassible.”


I said, “Well I ain’t wantin’ over there, I’m over here but my cars over there.”


He looked at me kinda funny; I thank he thought I must’ve already had too much to drink.


He finelee’ said, “The only way you gonna be able to do that is to see Captain Nelson. He put the ferry up a few days ago. He’s been drunk for two or three days and he’s problee’ in one these bars around here somewhere.”


I said, “Well which one does he hang out in mostly?”


He said, “I imagine, the Borealis.”


I said, “Where would that be?”


He said, “It’s right down this street about the third or fourth street on the right. You’ll see the sign.”


I handed him one of them bills and left that beer a sittin’ there and walked down that street ’til I saw a sign that said, ‘Borealis’.”


I walked in there and that time I said, “Give me one of them Blues there, neighbor.”


He sat that beer up there and I drank a little bit of it and asked, “Where would I find a Captain Nelson?”


He said, “That’s him back there in that booth with that captain’s hat on.”


I sipped my beer a little bit and thought about what to do.


I asked, “What’s that Captain a drinkin’?”


He said, “Lord Calvert.”


I handed him some bills and told ’em, “I wanna buy one for that captain over there and while you’re at it get me one too.”


He took that money and poured me one and sat it on that bar and then made that captain one and took it over there to him. I was a watchin’ and I saw that bartender a pointin’ up there toward me. That captain raised his glass up toward me and I raised mine up back toward him. That bartender came back, and I kept a glancin’ over there at that captain, a tryin’ not to be too obvious.”


After, I got mine down pretty low, I said to that bartender, “Give Captain Nelson another drink.”


He took it back there and that captain looked up there and held his glass up again, and I held mine up.


I sat there a little longer and finished my drink and then told that bartender, “Give me another one, give me two of ’em and I’ll take ’em back there.”


I put some more money on that bar and walked back there and sat down in that booth across from the captain. I sat that other drink down there for him, he looked up at me and didn’t say anythang.”


I didn’t know quite what to say, so I just told ’em, “I’m a tryin’ to get across that river.”


He looked at me and said, “You don’t wanna’ go over there, you can’t go nowhere when you get over there.”


I said, “My car’s over there.”


He looked kinda’ surprised and said, “How’d you get over here?”


I said, “I paddled a canoe.”


I thank that must have impressed him a little bit, because then he said, “Ok, we might be able to see about that, I just shut the ferry down a couple of days ago.”


I told ’em, “I live in Mississippi and they wut'n let me go across at that other place. They said the snow was too deep on the road.”


So, I sat there a little bit more and he said, “Do you wanna go down to the...…”, I don’t know what he called it, but he was talkin’ about some other bar.”


I said, “Yeah, I’ll go down there.”


I really didn’t want to go, but at that point it was kinda’ like if he wanted me to stand on my head, I’d a tried it. So, we went down there and I bought him another drink. We sat in there a while and he wanted to know how I’d made it over that road and across that border in all that snow and I told him the whole story.”


He said, “And ya’ drivin’ a Nash Rambler, eh?”


I said, “Yep.”


He said, “I’ll get you across the river.”


We walked out of there back down that street toward the river and I thought we were headed down to the ferry, but he went into another bar. There was a lot of people in there a standin’ around that knew him and they were all a laughin’ and a talkin’. I was just a standin’ there acting like I was one of the captain’s friends. He talked for a while and by now I was hopin’ he’d hurry up. I looked out the window and could tell it was just gettin’ light.”


Finelee’, he said, “Let’s go”, and we walked down to that ferry.


He had to unhook all them ropes and I helped him do that. We walked up on the ferry and he told me, “You’ll have to sit up there in that passenger’s compartment.”


I said, “That’s fine.”


That captain fired her up and we headed across the Yukon and I sat there and couldn’t hardly believe all this was a happnin’. He let down that ramp and I walked up there and started that Rambler and drove her on. That gas gauge was a readin’ below empty and I was worried about runnin’ out of gas on that ferry. So, I turned it off as soon as I got on there. He pulled up the gate and we headed back across and now it was a gettin’ pretty light outside.”


He let down that gate and I drove her off on the other side. I still had to load that canoe, so I didn’t go up that hill. I just pulled over on some gravel beside that road. I helped him tie them ropes back on there.


He told me, “It was good to meet you, I hope you have good luck on the rest of your trip.”


I asked him, “Do I need to pay you anythang?”


He said, “You already did that.”


I told him, “I don’t know what I’d a done without you. Thank you and I’ll see you later.”


I knew I never would, but I still thank about that Captain Nelson sometimes.”


Like his poker playing prowess, in Moon’s death-defying adventures, he’s learned precisely when to “hold ’em” and when to “call ’em”. “Fold ’em” is not part of his vocabulary.


[1] Top of the World Highway, The Milespost, Alaska Travel Planner, 2016 Edition, p. 318 “The Top of the World Highway (Yukon Highway 9 and Boundary Spur Road) connects Dawson City with the Taylor Highway (Alaska Route 5). Its top of the world views make it a favorite with many travelers. The George Black ferry crosses the Yukon River from Dawson City to Top of the World Highway daily from about mid-May to the second or third week in October. CAUTION: Allow plenty of time for this drive. This is a narrow, winding road with some steep grades and few guardrails. Watch for soft shoulders. Slow down on loose gravel and wash-board.” [2] Chicken, Alaska, wikipedia “Chicken is a census-designated place in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area. Chicken is a community founded on gold mining and is one of the few surviving gold rush towns in Alaska. The population was 7 at the time of the 2010 census, down from 17 in 2000.” [3] The Taylor Highway, An Explorer’s Guide to the Taylor Highway, explorenorth.com “The Taylor Highway provides seasonal access from the Alaska Highway at Tetlin Junction (12 miles east of Tok) to both the community of Eagle on the Yukon River, and to Dawson City, Yukon, via the Top of the World Highway. The highway is closed in the winter.”


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When I first penned Moon and Sunn I included a truck load of chapter endnotes. I felt I needed to verify just about every historical detail of the entire book! After endless research editor Bobby Ha