On Top of the Dome, Whitehorse


Thoughts from atop the dome.

  1. To say the world is small is to deny it of its mass.
  2. In terms of universal history I am no more than a speck on the lens of a microscope. In terms of human history I am still no more than a speck on the lens of a microscope.
  3. The sunset, man, is out of control.
  4. Why does this town exist? We are in the middle of nowhere. Worse. It’s light outside 6 hours a day in the winter and in the summer the mosquitoes breed en masse to feast upon our virginal, pinkish meat. So why does this town exist?
  5. I wish this strumstick, beat to hell as it is, was in tune.
  6. The dome … what a way to express yourself.

We were in Whitehorse, Yukon. I was drunk and committing myself to my promise of journaling – once a day by pen, audio, or video – atop our host’s semi-famous ‘dome,’ a 15 foot tall sphere of zip-tie bound bicycle wheels. I was feeling poetic in the fading light of the long day. It was midnight, or one. The sun was just beginning to crest under the horizon. The sky was a golden and pink spectacle.

Flushed as I was from the beer I recognized the coming cold. Since riding north out of Fort Nelson, BC the days had grown more chill. We were beginning to wear jackets while packing our bikes in the mornings. Now that we’d reached Whitehorse our evenings seemed to be cooling quicker. We had at last found the north.

I settled down atop a wheel well, wrapped myself in my jacket, and plucked at Tyler’s strumstick.

It sounded horrible. I can’t tune the thing. I am deaf to such fine adjustments. I put it down and pulled a beer out of my pocket. I drank and listened to the sounds of Whitehorse.

Tyler was holding court inside the house. Our host, Catherine, was laughing at his attempts to speak Quebecois. Across the street a man was stumbling west into downtown. He might have been drunk. Cars and trucks passed by. Most passengers did not bother looking up at me but at those who did I waved. The air hummed with the vibrations of this modern life. Humans being humans, making manmade noises.

This is an important fact to know about the Yukon: here there are 35,000 inhabitants. While it is the smallest of Canada’s Northwest Territories the Yukon is larger than California with its 38 million population. Of the 35,000 people in the Yukon, 30,000 live in Whitehorse.

Whitehorse is the first city we’ve been to that I could legitimately see myself moving to. It is a funky town. Folk here have a perverse pride in Whitehorse. A lot of their love seems to derive from their ability to survive such a remote and harsh place. Love from duress.

Whitehorse is a town without wallflowers. To be a wallflower is to blend in with the upholstery at a party. There is none of that here. Stand out or get out, that might as well be the town’s motto. Everyone has a story to tell, a memory to share, advice to give.

Folk were generally unimpressed with Keys to Freeze. And why not? Whitehorse is the stop in the Yukon. Get groceries or starve, essentially. So when you have a hundred cyclists a year navigating their way to or from Tierra Del Fuego – the southernmost tip of the South American mainland – what’s so gnarly about a few fresh-faced Statesiders on a 8,000 mile tour? This realization, the reminder that we are little fish in a great ocean of folk doing bigger and badder things, is a good thing. With Keys to Freeze we are digging our noses into just the outer fog, catching hints of the complex aromas of adventure.

Get this, for example – Catherine spent the last ten days before hosting us in the deep bush of the Yukon camping and picking morels. That’s wild. No services, hours from anything. Just her and the mushrooms.

Or this – Jackie Chen, a cyclist from Taiwan, allotting 3-5 years for his around the world cycling tour. He was struggling up a steep Yukon chip gravel hill with 150 lbs strapped to the back wheel of his bicycle.

Or this – Jennie, a casual adventurer, island hopping the Aleutians by kayak, having to make bonfires every night to scare off the massive bears that have been fish feasting till they’ve grown to 10 feet tall while standing on their hind legs.

Little fish in a great ocean, quite the reminder.

The dome brought it all home for me. We didn’t get to meet the artist who built it. Phillipe was on a rafting trip while we were in Whitehorse. He had art projects sprinkled around the home, most made out of bike parts. Once owner of the local Whitehorse bike shop there were 200 bicycles stacked in his backyard to pull parts from.

The dome itself was made of hundreds of wheels. A mighty porous globe, sturdy enough to host my bulk plus beer plus strumstick. Sitting atop the dome I spun myself into a certain mood. I felt … small.

I think that’s a realization I keep coming back to. There’s something to it. In the time since Whitehorse I’ve had the time and space to consider such a powerful emotion, this consideration of one’s place within our world. Here’s what surfaced once I’d boiled off the fat: through Keys to Freeze I find new communities that are doing things differently than what I was raised to know.

By nature of living and growing in North Carolina I came to understand a very small culture. I love my hometown of Winston-Salem and my college towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. They are familiar and consequently comfortable. I can make a home there if I choose to. I can be myself and know where to find a population of people who know and appreciate me. I can build and reinforce my bubble and roll along in it.

Through Keys to Freeze this bubble frayed and popped and was built again around Tyler, Brady, Rachel, and our road-bound lifestyle. We are exposed to the communities and cultures and experiences I had only read about, had formed in my mind as foreign and unrelated to home. The creole lifestyle of Louisiana, the cattle farms of Texas, the desert lifestyle of Nevada, the West Coast, the rough and rugged ways of northern British Columbia, and now the Yukon. The vast and unpopulated Yukon and the people who have chosen to call it home.

What a big continent I live in. What a big world. I sat and watched the sunset fade to a dusky dim, the black night never fully coming, and knew myself one of the lucky few to have sat atop the dome.