Tuesday, January 27, 2015

My Wallet Card's 8000-Mile Canadian Yukon Aurora-Hunting Adventure

I took my Griffey card to see the Aurora Borealis (aka the Northern Lights) from a little town in Canada called Whitehorse, the biggest population center in the Yukon. It was an awe-inspiring trip to say the least, and every opportunity I got to include my trusty wallet card, I took.

Leaving New Orleans for significantly colder climates. It was a smoldering 75 degrees when we left. In Whitehorse it barely broke freezing. Despite Griffey's four sharp corners and lethality with a bat, I did not have to check him.

I got a whole lot of reading done. Griffey just sat there smiling, creepin' everybody out.

Canadian currency is awesome. It's plastic, colorful, has holograms and translucent elements, and every bill contains raised braille indicators for the visually-impaired. Check out the kids playing hockey on their fiver. I had to adapt quickly to their total lack of any bills smaller than a five. They use one- and two-dollar coins instead which they call loonies and toonies, respectively. I saved a few, but most of this cash went towards tipping, alcohol, beef jerky, exotic Canadian candy, a Roots backpack, and a sweet Vancouver Canucks shirt.

There was a lot of First Nations art in the Vancouver airport, but surprisingly few baseball cards. Lots of hockey stuff, though.

When we took off from Vancouver this is what the mountains looked like.

It didn't take long before everything was snow-covered. EVERYTHING. Griffey is thinking "So this must be where all those home run balls ended up."

I have lived on this planet for 33 years, and this right here is the first real snow I've ever seen. I've seen ice, a little sleet, and even an occasional flurry, but nothing like this. Beds of snow a foot thick or thicker, hills and mounds of powdery accumulation around every tree, rock, and post. It was hard to hide my excitement.

More firsts, here is my first encounter with yellow snow. Around this spot were massive paw prints that made me just a little uneasy until I finally met the creature who made them:

Loki, future champion sled dog. The paws on this guy...

This was taken on Marsh Lake, a massive frozen flat with nothing to hinder your view of the horizon. It's a solid two miles wide and nineteen miles long, the vast majority of which was frozen over several feet thick. We spent a lot of time just seeing how far out onto the ice we dared walk. I don't believe we got even halfway across. That horizon is tricky.

As you can see here, Griffey's penny sleeve started getting mighty crinkly. He got something much more substantial when we got home.

We took advantage of the conditions and made out first ever snow angels. This is mine.

This is Griffey's. Sadly his is more of a snow rectangle. Relax - penny sleeve, guys. Penny sleeve.

On the first of two snowmobile treks through the forest. This particular shot was taken on Caribou Lake after a meal of elk sausage and hot chocolate. I just couldn't pass up a shot in front of those mountains.

Living in south Louisiana I grew up fishing, but this was something else entirely. It was an absolute blast, though, digging our own hole with a giant ice auger and jigging this tiny pole in search of lake trout. We didn't catch anything, though, except a runny nose.

Whoops! Some of the folks we came out on snowmobiles with had a little accident as a result of some visor fogging. It looks a lot worse than it really was - nobody was hurt, but we did have to cut down a tree to get it out. I ended up getting this very snowmobile up to 50 mph out on the ice not 24 hours later.

After two days of fun in the snow but no Aurora we started to worry that we may not see it (which we knew was a possibility from the start). Lucky for us this was the forecast on the morning of what was to be our last night in the Yukon. We decided to tailgate out on the frozen lake that night until we saw it. It was all or nothing.

We got out there around 12:30 am, reinforcements in hand. Don't worry - I was a boy scout. We left nothing but footprints.

Out there the stars are the first thing you notice. I've been on numerous camping trips and several cruise ships, but nothing could prepare me for how bright those things were out here. For example, I (like many of you) have been living under this constellation my whole life:

With the naked eye you almost completely lose it against the background star field. Jupiter was also out that night and looked like an actual planet as opposed to just a really bright star which is what I'm used to.

The stars were almost my favorite part. Almost...

After a good 90 minutes on the ice and the beer starting to run out, a spike of green finally sprouted in the distance and slowly exploded into a solar storm that filled the North sky. In my excitement I almost forgot the Griffey.

Now, I came here, card in wallet, to take a photo of the Griffey in front of the Aurora. Before we get to that, allow me say a thing or two about how photography works when trying to capture the Aurora.

You have to use a really good camera and a very long exposure to give the lens enough time to gather up all that light. The exposure times ran between 6 and 45 seconds which means tripods and absolute stillness as well as a lot of patience. I, armed with only an iPhone, took none of the Aurora pics you see above. Luckily we were out on the ice that night with two other couples, one from the UK and another from Australia, both with cameras far better than mine,

We tried a few different techniques of capturing an image of the Griffey (a few feet away) against the Aurora (miles up in the night sky). We did our best with flashlights and chairs and Jaegermeister (okay, I was the one with the Jaegermeister), and this is as close as we were able to get:

There ya go. The 1989 Upper Deck #1 Griffey Rookie and the Aurora Borealis, together at last. Yes, that's me holding the card. Don't let the giant winter clothing fool you - like many card collectors I am a husky man.

I need to tell you that if you've ever considered going to see the Northern Lights, you should. We had a fantastic time on the ice before it started creeping over the horizon then gently flowing across the sky like a curtain in the breeze. When we finally saw it, all we could do was yell and giggle. Chopin was playing in my head, and my eyes were a hard blink away from full-on tears. It was magical.

The morning sky applauded our effort with an amazing sunrise (at 11 am) and a visible crescent moon (the sun and moon chase each other only in this one small segment of the sky). The lake never looked finer than on our last morning.

No Griffey needed

In our final hours we decided we should take advantage of all this snow we may never get to see again. This is my snow Jabba the Hutt.

My wife managed to morph Snowjabba into a reasonably identifiable snowman which I decorated.

With a few hours left before our flight we took some time to visit town with two goals in mind: first, find the LCS. There is one comic and card shop in Whitehorse. No baseball cards, but plenty of hockey cards and a reasonable selection of comics and gaming items.

Our other goal was to find some poutine and eat it, and we accomplished this in fine style. I was expecting something comparable to chili cheese fries, but these were nothing like that. I am now in love with the stuff. Yes, that's a penny sleeve - no gravy on this Griffey.

I took this picture because if you've ever flown on a plane you need to read this part.

After about ten minutes in the air, the flight attendant comes down the aisle and asks, "Hey, would you like a beverage?" Um, okay. Drinks on a plane. No stranger to that.

A few minutes after that, same flight attendant, "Chicken cordon bleu or roast beef?" Say what? Real food? Yeah, chicken sounds great, thanks!


A few minutes later, "Refresh your beverage?" A second beverage, you say? Why, this is unprecedented.

A few minutes later "Say, would you like a slice of cheesecake?" Say WHAT? Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes! I am a mighty SULTAN!

The kicker? The flight was an hour and a half.

One of the first things I did when I got home was take to Twitter and put Air North on blast about how amazing they are. Can you even imagine service like that on an American airline? What's more, they actually answered back to my tweet, and now they're sending me an Air North hat. Just keeps getting better.

Funny end to that story - the very next plane we were on was a 5-hour American Airlines flight to Dallas where they tried to sell us $6 Pringles. Psh. No thanks, I'm full. Full of Air North hospitality, that is.

Vancouver was reasonably fun. I won't get into our shenanigans there, but we did run across an interesting menu item:

This one's just for you, Chris.

This seems like a good place to end it: one of the world's largest collections of Donald Duck figurines. This display was two-sided, so take all those Donalds and double 'em. That's a lot of speech impediment.

I hope you enjoyed this post! My next wallet card entry, barring something spectacular and/or tragic happening between now and then, will be from on a Mardi Gras float. Thanks for reading.

Yes, that's me. Male pattern baldness is a bitch.


  1. Great stuff - I'd love to see the Northern Lights myself sometime!

    I also enjoyed the Nachos Grand-Eh sign. If you have a nice image of that can you email it to me? Who knows, maybe I can turn that into a banner image when/if I ever make another one for my blog.

    Also, your Griffey card is having way more fun than I am this winter. All I've done in the snow is shovel, shovel, and more shoveling.

  2. amazing trip and the night photos were fantastic. Griffey is lucky to have a great wallet to travel with!

  3. Not sure how anyone can top this.

  4. That wallet post will be hard to beat. What a unique trip.

  5. This is the winner. I just tore my wallet card in half and threw it out.

  6. This is the busy season for me, so there's no way I can travel during the winter (or really want to). But that is pretty cool and worth setting as a goal. Canada is oodles of fun, been there many times, but I still can't get past the look of poutine.

  7. Very cool. It's surreal for me that my little wallet card post has helped inspire so many cool posts (and it hasn't even been a month yet). And yeah, this one has got to be among the best. Nice work, TJ!

  8. The Northern Lights.

    Epic post and it sounds like the trip of a lifetime!

  9. great story--and here in Canada, one of the first rules you learn as a kid--Don't eat the yellow snow

  10. I had no idea that Junior liked XKCD. :-)

    It looks like quite the trip - thanks for sharing!

    You also look a lot different in real-life than I had pictured you in my mind. I always had you looking a little bit like "McLovin." :-)

    -Josh D.

  11. Epic trip, epic post, epic Griffey snow angel. I'm not sure how anyone is topping this wallet card post.

  12. Now THAT was really a great read, thanks for that !

  13. Wow! What a trip! Some awesome Wallet Card pics!