by Doug Sack
For all its self-laudatory advertising inviting people from around the world to visit the magnificent sights, scenery and serenity of the Yukon’s thriving capital city, it is, in fact, a nightmare place to visit if you’re travelling in an RV, and there’s no one else to blame but the short-sighted politicians and bureaucrats who run the city and write its bylaws.
There should be yet another sign on the Alaska Highway reading: “Welcome to Whitehorse, the town that hates RVs!”
No, I am not a tourist with a bone to pick. This is a local whine chilled nicely by many winters in the territory but only two summers as a semi-retiree in a travel trailer inadvertently at the mercy of the baboons who write the bylaws of Whitehorse. You could call me a local undercover investigative reporter posing as a visiting tourist without stretching the boundaries of accuracy too much.
And here is the incident which caused my state of furious outrage and disgust with the administrators of Onehorse, er Whitehorse, which motivated this column:
My grandchildren, ages eight, six and four, live in the walled enclave with a drawbridge called Riverdale, which is off-limits to RVs via bylaws which forbid camping on city streets under penalty of death or at least forfeiture of your RV and a $1,000 fine for your second offense. As far as I know, their driveway is legal but completely impractical because it’s tiny and they have a tendency, with three vehicles of their own, to use it in the daily conduct of their busy lives.
I tried Grey Mountain road, completely illegal, and even gave some thought to a premature visit to Grey Mountain Cemetery to be close to old friends with the perfect excuse for bylaw officers: “I won’t be here long, officer, I’m just waiting to croak.” But there was no outhouse at that permanent campsite, another municipal oversight if someone elects to resurrect, so I tried the road past Schwatka Lake and Three Hidden Lakes to Chadburn Lake, a wonderful municipal recreation area with many beautiful level spots to camp, some with outhouses, picnic tables and firepits but eliminated by a redwood forest of “No Camping” signs.
Finally, I found the perfect spot to be a grandfather in an RV with nearby grandchildren in Whitehorse and it was only 3.2 kilometres down Wickstrom Road, behind the hospital, a quick drive to Riverdale for those manic moments when a child needs a quick ride to soccer practice, gymnastics, ballet, basketball or a Timbit fix.
So there I happily camped on a high cliff or bluff overlooking the gorgeous length of Long Lake with a panorama of snow-capped peaks in the distance with a view of city lights the other direction and nary so much as a “No Camping” sign anywhere and even a nearby outhouse, but no picnic table,
Sure it was busy during the days with kids swimming in the lake and city dump trucks hauling gravel, but it was serene and perfect in the evenings, nights and mornings, until some pothead reported me after my fifth night on the bluff. Or it could have been a half-grown beer drinker, judging by the nearby empties, or even a law-and-order off-duty bureaucrat upset by someone camping in his favourite spot to dip snuff.
At any rate, I was startled early the next morning while writing an award-winning piece of travel journalism by a loud and rude hammering on my door. When I looked out the window, there was a huge, bald, heavily tattooed man who looked like a Hell’s Angel dressed in a bylaw uniform on Halloween and he gruffly read me the riot act like a bully in a daycare centre for being a lawbreaking miscreant, concluding with, “You can’t just camp anywhere you want,” in a mean, nasty voice which he likely learned from a training video after his last job fizzled as a pro wrestler named “Killer Gorilla.”
Now, one enforcement technique that doesn’t work well with combat-decorated veterans of foreign wars (USMC, Vietnam) especially one who has just been interrupted in the middle of writing a cute poem about the beauty of fireweed for his granddaughter, is in-your-face bully braggadocio by a beefy biker. We were trained to attack when threatened so, without even thinking about it, I attacked verbally with, “WHY THE HELL NOT? I’M SURROUNDED BY 207,000 SQUARE MILES OF YUKON WILDERNESS AND YOU’RE BUSTING MY CHOPS FOR USING 16 FEET OF IT?”
Then I looked at his flat deck pickup which had a four-box dog jail on it and realized he was either the world’s least ambitious dog musher or, worse, the municipal dogcatcher and added, “You have nothing better to do with my son’s tax dollars than aggressively bust a 68-year-old veteran/grandfather who is only guilty of trying to camp somewhere close to his grandchildren?”
If he had laid a hand on me, there would have been a rumble on Long Lake Bluff between a Hell’s Angel and a Marine. I completely lost it, after the two -year frustration of trying to find a place to park in Whitehorse, like I’ve never lost it since the PTSD days in Dawson City after Vietnam. I was spitting and nearly foaming at the mouth. I was so furious, even though it never got physical, just loud. (He could have cleaned my old cuckoo clock in 20 seconds… maybe.)
I could see his ears lay back when I started in on the imbecile who signs his pay cheques and knew he was reviewing in his mind his last anger management seminar on how to properly handle a berserk wildman in the middle of a bust. My goal was to show him more disrespect than he was showing me. A Mountie probably would have conked me over the head and put me in cuffs.
As he drove away after writing me a warning ticket for “illegal camping,” I was bellowing about telling his boss to get off his lazy butt downtown and get back out here with garbage bags to clean up all the beer bottles and broken glass lying around what is supposed to be the most popular kids’ swimming hole in Whitehorse.
So I broke camp immediately, drove to Riverdale and told my cool, calm, collected daughter-in-law, who never gets rattled about anything, about my run-in with the dogcatcher, and she said: “Maybe you should get out of Dodge City for a while if Wyatt Earp is after you.” They were all leaving the next day for three weeks holiday in Victoria so I happily put Whitehorse in the rearview mirror and went back to the real Yukon, which is in northern B.C.
That was about a month ago, the non-Whitehorse Yukon and Atlin again calmed my distemper, and I’m back because the kids are coming home. When I got to the Whitehorse city limits, I pulled over for a contemplative moment and said to myself: “Now what?”
Think about it. There’s nowhere to even legally park an RV in downtown Whitehorse except those eight to 10 spots next to the visitor information centre, which are always full. There are no campgrounds for people who want to walk around and spend money, the closest being Hi Valley on the highway across from the top of the South Access, which happens to be where I’m writing this paying $30.55 a night even though I’m rigged out to dry-camp in the bush with a generator for next to nothing.
Camping for free at Walmart never even occurred to me because all my socks were clean, I didn’t need new underwear, don’t eat at McDeath’s, hate crowds, am not afraid of bears or locals, and parking lots are dangerous places for children to play.
Yes, Whitehorse is the most inhospitable “city” I’ve yet encountered for RV travellers, and while this makes it inconvenient to be a doting grandfather, the true stupidity of the whole unnecessary situation is the bottom line: How many thousands of retail dollars are bypassing Whitehorse every day because of the city’s bad attitude and indifference towards RVs?
Maybe I should run for mayor, fire all the dogcatchers and bylaw officers, then tear down all the “No Camping” and “No Parking” signs. “No Camping” signs in the Yukon always make me think of “No Gambling” signs in Las Vegas.
Better yet would be for the voters of Whitehorse to elect smarter people to run their city and rewrite the bylaws.
Fat chance of selling that to the dogcatcher who busted Grandpa.
Doug Sack was the first sports editor of the Yukon News and later a longtime sports editor of the Whistler Question and a columnist and features writer for Ski Canada magazine. He is currently semi-retired in Whitehorse.