July 9th train from bennett lake to skaguay ...

Trip Start Jul 06, 1999
Trip End Jul 11, 1999

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Flag of Canada  , British Columbia,
Sunday, July 11, 1999

July 9th, Train from Bennett Lake to Skaguay

Up at 6:00 am as planned and hiking by 7:20 (we were a little behind schedule but it worked out) we made Bennett Lake by 9:45. In truth, my father expected me to hike a lot slower given the state of my feet but, like a horse scenting water, I couldn't be held back by such a trivial thing when we were so close to being finished. My dad's jaw dropped when he saw me break into a sort of jog/skitter (hey, you don't want to bounce too much with almost 50 lbs on your back) on flat parts to catch up when he'd gotten ahead while I was adjusting my boot laces. I decided that I could ignore my feet for this last bit and going slow wasn't going to save any actual steps, only prolong my discomfort. I also had found by then that telling myself that my feet were far away from my brain and focusing on other parts of my body that felt fine helped.

We woke up to the patter of rain on our tent but our spirits weren't dampened (pardon the pun) because we were almost done and if our tent or gear got wet, so what? We won't be using it tonight. The trail was still changing, getting damper with more trees and mosquitoes coming out again, and about a mile and a half before the end, the trail underfoot became sand. At first we were happy to have the less-jarring surface to walk on, but then it started to slope upwards and it's not easy to hike uphill on sand. Have you ever heard someone say that they'd had a nightmare in which they'd tried to run but they just couldn't and it was like "trying to run on sand"? I now know what they mean. This was the last trick the trail played on us though.

As we were nearing the crest of a large sand ridge my father remarked, "Boy, I'd like to hear a train whistle right about now." On that cue, a train whistle cut through the air and we gawked at each other in amazement. We reached the top and there it was below us, Bennett Lake and the end of the trail! It was coming up on 9:45 and we figured we had another 3 hours to kick around when we spotted the station with the train pulling in. It didn't seem like it could be OUR train but we recognized some of the hikers waited to board and hustled down just in case. Good thing we did because as it turns out, the 8:45 am time we were given as the train time was Alaskan time, not local time and with the time change we were actually just in time to make the early train by the skin of our teeth. Now we're on the train (one of the last narrow-gauge railways still in operation for you train buffs) and will be travelling in about 3 hours the 33 miles it took us 3 1/2 days to do on foot through the pass. Doh!
The train is only one passenger car and one baggage car and full of people we encountered over the course of the hike. It's very comradely and there is an almost palpable feeling of triumph in the air. We all made it! Woohoo!

Later June 9th, Skagway

The train rolled into Skagway at noon and we put a bit of pressure on the front desk to let us check in before the official 3:00 pm check-in time. They agreed to hurry it up a little for us and we got lunch next door and checked in at 1:00. I generously let Dad go first in the shower so I could take my time without feeling guilty when it came to my turn :). We're taking the ferry back to Juneau tomorrow and flying out tomorrow night. Dad's continuing on home and I'm extending my lay-over in Seattle for a week to visit a friend of mine in Vancouver (Hi Mark).

After I was clean I tended my feet. I had blisters on the back and bottoms of each heel, on the balls of each foot, on my big toes and little toes (one was covering my entire left little toe) and, ickiest of all, I had a blister on the toe-beside-the-big-toe on each foot under the toenail. When I'd noticed this on the trail I'd been sagely informed by a couple of hikers that they'd lost toenails that way before. It merely added to my impression that hikers have to be either tough or slightly masochistic. Perhaps a bit of both. On the other hand, the reward was doing a trail not that many people do and seeing things that you know relatively few people get to see first-hand. Above all you get to feel you've accomplished something that isn't easy. I'm proud I did the Chilkoot Trail. I may not do it again but I'm definitely glad I did it once. And that's what it's all about.
Thanks for taking me Dad.

footnote June 11th, Vancouver

It rained from the time we returned from the trail until we flew out of Juneau. We were very lucky with our timing weather-wise. We saw Orca whales from the ferry and I passed the time pleasantly chatting with people, both coincidentally from Boston (Hi Jay and Dave). I am now in Vancouver and hope to relax, check out the beach, maybe Whistler and/or Victoria, look up some friends and just hang out... kind of a vacation to recover from my vacation. :)
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