Ryan Uytdewilligen traveled to the Yukon earlier this month. (Mariana Aramburu photo)

Ryan’s Regards: Pack your mask and hit the road

A Yukon summer vacation was filled with fun times and social distancing measures

Even with an economy-stopping, border-closing, life-altering pandemic in full effect, I was still able to squeeze in a holiday this summer.

And with summer weather stretching on for just a little while longer, so can you!

Here’s how you do it! Pack a mask, hit the road, and get yourself lost in the great white north.

Boy I tell you, I needed a refresher. “Coronavirus this” and “COVID that” was cluttering my mind, just like I’m sure it’s doing to yours.

I had two weeks of holidays that I didn’t get to take when COVID first took hold back in March, so I moved them to August, with little hope of actually getting to use them for anything more than couch time.

READ MORE: Yukon to reopen travel from B.C., N.W.T. and Nunavut on Canada Day

READ MORE: Vancouver Island photographer captures spirit of the north with Yukon Quest experience

But last month, the Yukon government opened their borders to B.C. residents only for tourism and non-essential travel; we got scrambling mere weeks before we headed out on the highway.

For those who don’t know, there are less people living in the entire Yukon territory than there are in Walnut Grove – it’s very sparse.

The land of the midnight sun had been a place I always wanted to visit, and with nowhere else to go and endless nature calling my name, my girlfriend and I hit the road and headed up through B.C. via the Alaska Highway.

We were nervous when it came time to cross borders, but there is a crew waiting to screen all cars entering the Yukon (there is pretty much only one way to drive in and out).

We passed the screening test and were told to cautiously enjoy ourselves.

I can’t think of a better place or type of trip or to try and social distance – we spent more than half the time alone driving in our car, a quarter of the time hanging out in campgrounds, and the final quarter taking lonesome hikes where the desolate tundra meets stunning mountain ranges.

We hardly saw a single soul on this trip, but when we did, or when we entered a business, we donned masks and added a new layer to our increasingly pungent sanitizer-slathered hands.

We spent our days watching wildlife (we counted 24 black bears in one single stretch of highway one evening), attempted to see some kind of resemblance of northern lights (it was only dark from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m.), and even successfully panned for gold!

The only thing we didn’t get to do was drink the infamous toe shot they do in Dawson City. Some bizarre bar has had the tradition of plunking an actual preserved human toe in people’s drinks for decades.

I figured any establishment that was willing to put a toe in your drink didn’t give two hoots about any kind of health standard; to my surprise (and probably for my own good in more ways than one), that tradition was stopped until further notice.

I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to get a change of scenery and some fresh air. I know most folks around here have had trouble nabbing a camping spot… I guess all you have to do is be willing to drive a little further.

The people of the Yukon – nicknamed Sourdoughs for reason too long to explain here – proudly boast rugged lives still lived in harsh conditions that are very much reminiscent of the Klondike days.

Learning about the local history made me feel refreshed, even relaxed, for the first time this year.

If people could face the elements 120 years ago to settle the place and have the patience to strike gold in the middle of nowhere, we certainly have the strength in ourselves to face this pandemic.

It turned out to be a great summer after all. If you get the chance, be safe and head north.

Ryan Uytdewilligen is a reporter for the Langley Advance Times. For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

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