By Georgeanne Irvine
My toes have now traipsed on the Trail of ’98 and my heart is filled with a gold mine of treasured memories from the experience! I’m just back from a splendid trip to Alaska, where I was the guest enrichment lecturer on a Silverseas Cruise ship. In my June 1 blog, I explained how the upcoming trip inspired my interest in the Alaska (Klondike) Gold Rush of 1898, especially because my grandfather, Pete, was a Klondiker. He trekked the Chilkoot Trail in bone-chilling 40-below-zero temperatures, rescued other prospectors who were buried in the famous Chilkoot Pass avalanche, shot the perilous White Horse rapids, survived typhoid fever, and encountered the notorious con man, Soapy Smith. This blog picks up where the other left off.
To Talk or Not to Talk About the Klondike
The day my three Klondike Gold Rush books arrived in the mail, I immediately read two and skimmed the third. I continued my online research, downloaded more historical photos, restored the family photos of Pete’s adventures, and reviewed two additional Gold Rush books from my sister. Even so, I hadn’t decided whether I should or would include a talk about Pete’s Gold Rush experience in my cruise ship lecture repertoire. I had been asked to prepare four talks about critters and conservation because my expertise is animal stories. In addition, the Alaska expert on the cruise would undoubtedly lecture about the Gold Rush. Pete’s story was a personal, first-hand account of this dramatic moment in history, though, so I emailed the Silverseas enrichment program manager with my suggested non-animal topic. Within seven minutes he responded, “What a wonderful idea! Nothing like personal experiences to get people’s attention.”
Are Two Klondike Talks Better Than One?
In late July our ship, the Silver Shadow, set sail from Vancouver en route to several Alaskan ports including Skagway, a gateway city to the Gold Rush. My three animal talks plus Blazing the Trail of 1898: My Grandfather’s Experience as an Alaska Gold Rush Klondiker were Powerpoint ready. As I expected, the Alaska expert was featuring a talk about Gold Rush history. I was OK with that because I knew my story was unique—until one of the staff said he was surprised that two lecturers were speaking on the same topic. Gulp! What should I do? I had prepared several extra animal presentations. Should I scrap my Klondike tale for Bentley the Tree Kangaroo’s Big Apple Adventure? No…at least yet.
Instead, I took a break from studying my own presentations to listen the other Klondike talk. I wanted to see how similar it was to mine. Trail of the Argonauts: The Great Klondike Gold Rush was fascinating but very different! What a relief! A few of the photos overlapped but that was inconsequential because the two talks truly complemented each other. The Alaska expert's historical perspective of the Gold Rush set the stage for Pete’s personal experience—and the passengers attended and loved both of our talks! To my surprise, I received more compliments on my Klondike tale than any of my animal presentations.
The Grand Finale
My Alaskan adventure was filled with incredible wildlife sightings, from orcas and humpback whales to sea otters and spawning salmon. We explored fjords, gazed at glorious glaciers, posed for pictures on the pontoon of our float plane after it landed on a glacial lake, and meandered through rain forests lush from the 150 inches of annual precipitation. My most magical experience, however, was a misty morning on the Chilkoot Trail, sloshing through mud, slipping on rocks, and climbing steep hills, all in memory of Pete! The guide was ecstatic because I was the first Klondiker descendent he had ever met. He treated me like a celebrity plus he wanted to know every detail about Pete’s story on the Trail of ’98.
Although we hiked a mere 2.5 miles of the Chilkoot Trail’s 33 miles, just being in the area made me feel closer to Pete, who has been gone for 45 years. (Note that the remaining part of his journey to gold country was another 550 miles.) At the end of our hike we floated by raft down the Taiya River to what was once Dyea, the boom town from which my grandfather’s journey began. I was amazed—and delighted—to find that Dyea has been reclaimed by nature. It is now a wildlife-rich forest on the edge of an estuary, inhabited by black bears, bald eagles, porcupines, deer, and many more animals.
I can never retrace or relive Pete’s extraordinary adventure but I can imagine and appreciate the hardships he endured as well as share his pioneering spirit through my Klondike talk, which now has an animal element after all.