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Interview with Yukoner Murray Lundberg of the ExploreNorth Blog

Murray on the Haines Road between the Yukon and Alaska

Ever vacation somewhere and wish you never had to leave? Well, Murray Lundberg actually made it happen. In 1990, five years after his first vacation to the Yukon and Alaska, he saw a job for a tour bus driver in Whitehorse and left his Vancouver-area home of forty years to resettle in the Canadian north.

Now a cruise consultant, photographer, tour guide and blogger, Murray launched a Yukon/Alaska Web site in 1997 and started his blog, the ExploreNorth Blog, in 2004. His insightful posts about Yukon life range from the useful—like comparing snowshoes: traditional versus the slick, newfangled ones—to the inspirational, like a helicopter photo tour of Whitehorse. Murray is a seasoned world traveller, too, and his cruising experience has landed him in ports of call from Istanbul to New Zealand.

What first drew you to the and why did you decide to move there?

As with most people who tell this story, it’s a combination of the land and the people. They’re both raw and unpretentious: “We are what we are. If you don’t like it, go home”. But I’d been drawn to the North since I discovered Jack London and Robert W. Service when I was about 10 years old, and a stint working in a mine in a remote corner of northern BC in 1975 strengthened that connection. Most people never do seem to discover where they truly belong—many of us in the Yukon have.

What does a cruise consultant do, exactly?

I’m a specialist travel agent—cruises, in particular off-the-beaten-track cruises and small-ship cruises, are what I focus on as much as possible.

Your photos on the Web site are amazing. What’s your photography background?

I bought my first good SLR camera in 1967 after having some “classic” cameras. I’m self-taught, but taught night-school photography for many years in Chilliwack (southern British Columbia) and then Whitehorse.

One of the things I discovered as a result of those classes is that people in those two places see the world very differently. In Chilliwack I had to urge students to see—not just look at—what was around them. Most of the Whitehorse students knew that innately: to really see what was around them was an important part of who they were.

For someone doing a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Yukon what are some things that should absolutely not be missed?

My first suggestion may seem odd to many people. Find a quiet spot and just sit and absorb the feeling. Many people are quite unnerved by total silence because they’ve never experienced it, but it’s easy to find here. Visiting Dawson City is next on my list: If you haven’t experienced Dawson you can’t really understand the Yukon. White-water rafting in the coastal mountains is world-class, whether it’s on a little-known river such as the Tutshi or a world-famous one such as the Tatshenshini. Get up into the high country above or beyond the treeline, either by hiking or driving up one of the mountains near Whitehorse, or driving up the Dempster Highway. Finally, take a flight in a small airplane or helicopter to see just how untouched most of this land is.

What’s a common misconception people have about the Yukon?

The biggest misconceptions are that it’s always cold and that the bugs are terrible.

Are there any interesting foods or drinks visitors to the Yukon should try?

Sadly, no. Government regulations prohibit selling the game meat that would encourage that. The Sour Toe Cocktail at Dawson City is commonly called our unique drink, and although it used to be a lot of fun, the experience now bears very little similarity to what it was when “Captain Dick” was in charge.

How has the area changed since you’ve lived there?

Whitehorse has lost a great deal of character in the years I’ve been here. Too many people have moved here and then decided they want things they had back home: more regulations, more streetlights and fewer old shacks, for example. Only one of the many colourful bars that existed in the early 1990s remains (the 98, which most people consider a dive). The Walmart parking lot gets as many RV overnighters as any of the RV parks (we were sooooo close to stopping Walmart from coming to Whitehorse in 2000). That said, there is some amazing wilderness that surrounds the city.

The biggest loss to the Yukon in general may be the modernization of the Alaska Highway. When I started driving it commercially it was really unique, but now it’s just a highway.

In the Yukon, what one place or experience is on your “greatest hits” list for each of the following?:

soft adventure

Rent an RV and do the Whitehorse–Dawson City–Tok, Alaska–Kluane National Park loop, preferably with some side trips as well, to Keno City and Haines, Alaska in particular.

serious adventure

River rafting on one of Canada’s finest wilderness rivers, the Snake.

natural beauty

Now that’s a tough one—we’re buried in beauty! Spending a day or two canoeing down to the West Arm of Lake Bennett puts you into some of the finest, though, with pristine waters below and glacier-studded peaks above.

a fantastic drive

The Dempster Highway to Inuvik, Northwest Territories.

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