Silly question from summer visitor: “What do you do with your ice bridge in the summer?”
Snappy reply from Dawsonite: “We cut it into little chunks and store it in our freezers until we need it again.”
Unlike the line I used about breakup and street clearing a few issues back, I don’t know if this is a true story or not. It came to me from half a dozen different sources many years ago, along with chestnuts like “What time do they turn on the Northern Lights?” and “What time is the 8 o’clock show at Gerties?”
Along with a couple of hundred other folk I stood on the dike on March 11 and waited for the helicopter to come by and drop the skidoo onto the river ice covered with stakes.
“It’s Dawson’s version of darts,” I said to visiting blues musician Doc MacLean, who had just arrived with Peter Menzies to watch the event. Doc had recognized me from the headshot at the top of this column, and was kindly enthusiastic about the aforementioned street break-up column.
He had ridden some parts of the river on a skidoo the day before and was quite keen on the experience and on the river.
It may seem odd, but unless you actually make a point of going to look at the Yukon River, or have to cross it to go to work or get home, it’s quite easy to live in Dawson and hardly give it a second thought.
That’s the power of the automotive age, and a sign of how thoroughly highways have displaced all the traditional means of transportation in the territory.
I drive across the ice bridge several times each winter. I don’t need to. Most of my friends and associates live on this side of the river, and I see those who don’t when they are in town.
It’s just that it’s there, and it feels like I ought to use it once the government crew has turned the original icy track into a four-lane highway complete with boulevard ice ridge in the middle.
Everyone involved does such a thorough job of creating the ice bridge that it would seem a shame not to use it.
I haven’t gone so far as to drive the winding race course that some enthusiasts have laid out just north of the bridge. I’ve seen them having fun down there, and one of the 48-hour films made earlier in the winter showed a number of cars enjoying the sport.
I’m frankly a little nervous on the bridge itself, which has been flooded and thickened so that it’s safe enough.
I’m not sure about the other track and the image of that pickup that spent a couple of months half-submerged in Yukon River ice last winter is still sharp in my mind.
I walked out to take photos of that when it happened, walked slowly and gingerly, knowing it was safe, but feeling like I ought to run, like I ought not to be out there at all.
I’ll be down there again about the time you might be reading this, getting pictures of the Percy Junior mushers heading to Eagle on March 24, and I’ll be nervous when my feet sink into the snow beside the ice bridge.
Where does it go? The real answer is that it just floats away and breaks up as it squeezes through the high water channels.
In 2005, the year we had the International Sled Dog Races here, the entire starting area – almost the width of the river and several hundred metres in length – broke off with the bridge and slid away all in one piece. It was truly impressive.
But you have to admit that the bit about the freezers makes a great story.
After 32 years teaching in rural Yukon schools, Dan Davidson retired from that profession but continues writing about life in Dawson City.