Seven years ago, European travellers Detlev Schwartz and Renate Raudaschl parked their white VW van in the backyard, got their Canadian citizenship and founded Whitehorse’s Hide on Jeckell hostel.
Now, after almost a decade with a fixed address, the road is beckoning the two Yukon hostel industry pioneers once more.
“We like to keep moving,” said Schwartz.
“We’ve put everything into this house that we can imagine, and now it’s become routine … it’s time for a change.”
German and Austrian. Former bookstore employee and political science major. Schwartz and Raudaschl met as travellers in San Francisco in the early ‘90s.
The two travelled together for another two years and eventually bought a white VW camper van.
The van is still parked in a corner of the lawn, fully furnished and stocked, seemingly ready for the next adventure. The mud of three countries — Canada, the US and Mexico — is still caked on the inside of the wheel well.
“Hostel for sale” reads a notice on the Hide on Jeckell website. For a negotiated price, the hostel comes with everything included — even a summer’s worth of reservations.
Buyers can take the reins as soon as their cheque clears, said Schwartz.
On their first visit to the Yukon in the late ‘90s, the pair instantly saw a business opportunity when they learned there were no hostels in Whitehorse.
Besides, they needed to draft a business plan to finalize their immigration papers, said Schwartz.
When the Hide of Jeckell opened its doors in February of 2001, somebody had already jumped the hostelling gun. The Beez Kneez, Whitehorse’s first hostel, had opened almost a year earlier.
However, the relationship between the two hostels has been more than amicable.
On their opening day, Schwartz and Raudaschl were greeted by a gin-bottle-bearing Dona Novescosky Amiot, owner of the Beez Kneez.
Over the years, Schwartz and Raudaschl have lined the hostel with their own unique quirky designs.
Guests are housed in six continent-themed rooms.
The Australia room is in the basement.
“Down under,” noted Schwartz.
Guests sleep amid Aussie flags, boomerangs and posters of kangaroos clutching cans of beer.
The Africa room is on the shady north end of the house.
“The dark continent,” said Schwartz.
The Europe room holds a charming Russian matryoshka doll decorated with the frowning visages of Soviet leaders.
In the North America room, deer antlers covered in Mardi Gras beads seems to sum up the continent perfectly.
Along the basement ceiling, taller guests duck beneath Australian bush hats, German police caps, sombreros and bowler hats.
Schwartz does not remember exactly what led them to start fixing hats to the ceiling, but guests seized upon the trend.
Most of the ceiling hats were either left by visitors, or sent as gifts once they had returned home, said Schwartz.
Framed Far Side comics line the walls, thematically matched with different areas of the house.
In the hostel’s front room sits an epic collection of an entire winter’s worth of board games. On particularly long winter evenings, guests can even try their hands at Bibleopoly and Masterpiece: The Art Auction Game.
A massive wall-sized shelf holds an impressive selection of multilingual books.
A stretch of yellow bindings dominates the shelf: 60 years of National Geographic magazines. A hostel standard.
As vibrant as the hostel décor is, the unique northern travellers it has seen over the years have been more colourful.
A Russian girl once stayed here. She had cycled across Siberia and Alaska in the dead of winter, said Schwartz.
Or Karl Bushby, a former paratrooper who is still looking to complete the first unbroken walk around the world.
After staying at Hide on Jeckell, he had crossed the frozen Bering Strait dragging a metal cart full of equipment.
“People riding their bicycles from Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego (Argentina), that’s normal,” said Schultz.
Above all, they have been careful not to label themselves a “youth hostel,” said Schultz.
“Sometimes (me and Renate) are the youngest ones in the house. And we are over 40,” he said.
So far, the oldest has been an 87-year-old Alaskan woman, said Schwartz.
For their first major voyage in more than seven years, the pair has their sights set on Japan. Already, Schwartz is brushing up on his Japanese.
Will they miss anything from hostelling?
“Nothing. We’ve lived our life here, it’s coming to an end and it’s time to go.”