BY ALICE CYR, Tagish

OHMIGOD!! This river is seriously running downhill!

I am the front paddler in the lead canoe poised on the brink of Five Finger Rapids. Ahead, at the bottom of a rushing green slide, a white jumble of standing waves lie in wait on the right with only a small path of escape to the left.

“I can do this!” is the mantra I repeated each night as I fell asleep with visions of the dreaded Five Fingers frothing in my head.

“Paddle hard!” Kari, our diminutive young Up North Adventures guide, shouted as we plunged down the slope, the suffocating panic in my throat giving way to elation at the accomplishment of a long-held dream.

Six of us, Kari and I, a couple from Switzerland, two men — one from New Brunswick and one from Czech Republic — put our three canoes into the Teslin River at Johnson’s Crossing.

At Hootalinqua, the Teslin joins the Yukon River, that silvery, sinuous thread stitching together the history of the Yukon Territory. This was the site of a major First Nations village at a time when rivers were the only highways. Later, sternwheelers connected the dots of settlement up and down the river and two of them still rest here, moldering along the shore.

Klondike history is my passion and this trip has special meaning. My husband, Paul, and brother-in-law Laurent, were waiters on White Pass sternwheelers chuffing between Whitehorse and Dawson in the waning days of the 1930s.

Laurent even tried his hand at mining along the river. He and Boyd Gordon spent the summer of 1940 churning out $2,000 of flour gold with a homemade dredge. The dredge, now highlighted with a historical marker, was a typical Cyr project with parts scrounged from caterpillar tractors, automobiles and various junk piles.

They’d always intended to go back, but never did, and the river has nearly reclaimed all their efforts. Laurent has been gone a year and it was here on the banks of the Yukon that I said my final goodbye, a bouquet of fireweed lovingly placed on a half-buried caterpillar engine.

Kirkman Creek, a well-known sternwheeler stop where Paul’s mother landed in 1918, was especially poignant. Recently widowed, she’d come North from Montréal with two young children and a promised job housekeeping for the mayor of Kirkman Creek.

Of course he was the mayor — he was the only one there, unless you count the goats that shared his shanty. He had, as they say in the North, missed one boat too many and the long, dark winters dimmed his judgement.

Marie Ange fled on the next boat returning upriver and later married a Tony Cyr, who had come in ’98 via the Chilkoot.

Paddling into Dawson was a jubilant affair — a hot bath, wine and a grand tablecloth dinner. The rest of the gang headed to Gerties. Not me. I went back to my quiet room, unwilling to give meld my larger than life experience into the everyday world. Not just yet.

Tell us your 500-word or less “Larger Than Life” story and you could win a full-day guided fishing trip for two, or kayak lessons for three or three prizes of $100 gift certificates. All prizes are from UpNorth Adventures. Send your story to editor@whatsupyukon.com. The deadline is Sept. 8.

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