Books

The journals of a modern explorer

ROUGH ROAD TO THE NORTH: Travels Along the Alaska Highway by Jim Christy

Ian Brown July 7 1980
Books

The journals of a modern explorer

ROUGH ROAD TO THE NORTH: Travels Along the Alaska Highway by Jim Christy

Ian Brown July 7 1980

The journals of a modern explorer

ROUGH ROAD TO THE NORTH: Travels Along the Alaska Highway by Jim Christy

There’s Dawson this Creek, 2,500-km B.C.,to highway Fairbanks, from Alaska, and Jim Christy has written a book about it. It’s a fine book because Christy loves the road (the Allaska Highway), the dream of... well, whatever it is that lies at its northern extremity, and he has the good sense to look to the road and the people on it to tell their own stories. George Washington Carmack is here with Tagish Charlie and Skookum Jim, the three men who found gold in Rabbit Creek in 1896, along with the region’s explorers and settlers and a string of Indians, dogfaces, prospectors, sourdoughs and cheechakos (tourist types: there are a lot of those in the book) who followed them and met Christy along the way.

They didn’t make the road, of course: that was the work of U.S. army engineers who built it in 1942 as a defence against invasion by Japan via Alaska. It was all kind of accidental but, at the time, the soldiers were expecting to be jumped in the muskeg by the Japanese

army. So they constructed Burma Shave-style signs along the way: This road ... is built ... to send the Japs ... to hell. . . when you . . . build it.. . build it well. Nice. It was deadly work too, plagued by cold and loneliness and mosquitoes and mud. But by starting from both ends the army finished it in record time, and in Christy’s opinion it rivals the Panama Canal as a feat of engineering.

He should know. He has been on the road to and from Fairbanks a lot in the past 10 years, and Rough Road is both a modern explorer’s journal, with its lonesome conversational style and fine descriptions, and one of Christy’s continuing investigations into the nature of common longing. There are early settlers’ journals and trips with bush pilots and even literate bits, vignettes of Yukon writers such as Rex Beach and Robert Service and some intriguing impressionistic threads about music and John Wayne and a whole cast of clichés which,appear from time to time.Unfortunately, though they seem important, Christy never really tells you why. He tells you how easily the Americans bowled into Canada to build their vital causeway, but he never does anything with the nagging fear he sows that one day soon they’ll be back again, only permanently. There are half-eaten snacks like that throughout the book. They don’t spoil it but they do leave you hungering for something more. All in all, Rough Road to the North is kind of like the sign to be found on Mother’s Cozy Corner Restaurant at Haines Junction. SMALL IN SIZE, it reads, BUT BIG IN HOSPITALITY. Ian Brown