Yukon by Mike Lemmon
It’s been over ten years ago now, but I can still remember how badly my lungs ached the first time I saw the northern lights. It was my second night in the Yukon after I moved, and I was in the back of a truck at a gas station in Braeburn waiting for dogsled teams to arrive at the first checkpoint of the Yukon Quest dogsled race. It was 2:00 am. It was February. It was -42 Celsius. I had a bottle of whiskey stuffed between my legs in my sleeping bag so it wouldn’t freeze.
I’d long abandoned the idea of sleep and was instead looking at the sea of stars when suddenly, what started as a meagre thread of light erupted into an explosion of greens and pinks across the sky. It quite literally took my breath away… which makes inhaling so much more painful than it should be. Air hurts like hell when it’s 40 below.
When I moved to the Yukon in 2008, I thought that it would be for a year. Maybe two. It’s a common story for Yukoners. The joy of northern living is hard to put into words. We come for the adventure and good job prospects when we’re fresh out of university, but something about this place is so magnetic that many of us end up staying for the long haul.
For a lot of people, it’s the sense of community and freedom to play. For people like me, it’s the sense of adventure and freedom to roam.
The Yukon is mountains. It is forest and tundra, rivers and lakes. The Yukon is larger than Germany, but has less than 40,000 people. The wilderness here is pristine, and yet surprisingly accessible if you’re willing to use a paddle or throw on boots and a backpack.
The scenery is, quite frankly, surreal. This far north, the landscapes are vast and unobstructed.
It’s the kind of place that begs to be explored. The Yukon has National Parks that only receive 100 visitors per year, but have 100,000 Caribou.
The Yukon is also the kind of place where sometimes you run into old friends 3 days off-trail into the back-country, and you stop to have a chat like you ran into each other in the produce section at the grocery store.
Years ago, we drove up to the top of a hill close to the arctic circle to watch the sun light up the autumn colours of the mountain tundra. Our dog was off chasing ground squirrels and we had realized that bringing a second box of wine was an excellent idea.
As the evening light started to fade, a little wisp of light emerged, and we got to see our first northern lights of the season. It was a perfect reminder of the magic that happens this far north. More than anything, to me, the Yukon is where I was able to make a happy, peaceful little life in the very biggest of places.