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Bookends: Northern Epiphanies between the Toe and the Circle March 6, 2012

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: Northern Epiphanies between the Toe and the Circle

By Dan Davidson

January 18, 2012

Star, Jan 20/18

– 844 words –

The Sourtoe Cocktail Club

By Ron Franscell

Globe Pequot Press

244 pages


Ron Franscell began dreaming about traveling to Dawson City to sample the Sourtoe Cocktail sometime after his life fell apart. The way he puts it, he died.

“It wasn’t a proper death, of course, but my life stopped in every way when my twenty year old marriage imploded. Our undoing wasn’t infidelity, money or abuse; we had simply and sadly stopped believing in each other. We had evolved into strangers who slept together. And that’s all I will say about that.”

Ron moved out, relocated from Wyoming to Arizona and took a job as a travelling reporter for the Denver Post, “driving 1,000 miles a week.”

Among his many efforts to continue father-son bonding with Matt, Ron searched for weird items on the Internet, hoping maybe to find some special trip that they might take together. He found Dawson City and the Sourtoe Cocktail and told Matt about it. Matt was fascinated.

“I promised to take him someday when he was old enough to walk into a bar with his old man.”

Five years later Ron was still hemming and hawing about the relationship that he’d been in for just about that long – still gun-shy about real commitment. Matt was in his freshman year at college and the Sourtoe Cocktail was on his mind. The next summer they made the trip.

Like most road trip books, this is about a lot more than just arriving at a specific destination. We learn a lot about Ron. For instance, one of the reasons he’s so anxious to be a half decent dad is that he didn’t really know his birth father. Thom Lane] bugged out before Ron was born, and while he was perfectly happy with the man his mother married, the man who raised him, the abandonment bothered him, scared him. He didn’t want to be that man, while at the same time he needed to know who that man was, So he tracked him down and got to know him, and we get that story.

He’s been a travelling reporter since the marriage disaster, and we get some of those stories.

Then there’s the trip to the Yukon, which begins about page 70 and which produced some 300 hours of digital audio that Ron spent time working with between 2007 when he made the trip and 2012, when the book was published.

Ron and Matt drove a car to Calgary, then rented a camper van for the trip north. The story about renting the van is worth a few chuckles, as is their experience with a GPS unit they called Sydney, which sounds disappointed that there’s really not much for it to do one they get onto Alberta Highway 43. Almost everyone reading this review will know this trip well. Once you get to Dawson Creek, go straight until you hit Whitehorse. Still, their impressions of things along the way are kind of fun.

Mistakes are fun too, and there always seem to be a few. Take this one: gold was found on Rabbit Creek by some salmon fishermen “near the ramshackle town of Dawson in the summer of 1896.” Ah well, at least he knows “The Yukon is not Alaska.”

They take in the Signpost Forest and wish they had brought a sign, They camp at the Pioneer Campground outside Whitehorse and learn how not to empty their wastewater tanks. They get all kinds of warnings about taking their van up the Dempster Highway without extra tires.

“I’d sooner skid nekkid down a mountain of broken glass. Without a sled,” is the helpful advice they get from Howard, a fellow traveller.

They do make it to Dawson and apparently park at the Goldrush Campground because after that they wander over to Klondike Kate’s for a meal and read the lines from Robert Service painted on the building across the street. They fetch up at the Sourdough Saloon and are pretty much in their cups by the time that Capt. Al Sider initiates them into the Sourtoe Club. The story of that evening is also quite amusing, and Ron probably needed the audio recording to help him recall some of it.

The next day, hangovers and all, they drive up the Dempster Highway to the Arctic Circle, marveling at the inukshuks and taking part in a strange little ritual that will probably compel Matt to make this trip with his own son when he has one that is old enough.

The trip home doesn’t matter. It’s disposed of in a few paragraphs. There have been some epiphanies on this trip and one lovely result is that Ron overcomes his fear of commitment and proposes to Mary when he gets home. That’s a lovely way to end the story.

“Almost exactly a year after returning from the Arctic, Ron and Mary were married on July 5, 2008, in San Antonio, Texas. Matt was his father’s best man.”




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