There were three people standing ahead of me in the line for showers in Carmacks. They were filthy. They were filthier than anyone I had ever seen- and that’s saying a lot coming from a thru-hiker whose “longest time without a shower record” stands at 1 month.
Their faces and hair and clothes and shoes- every inch of them was covered in soot and dirt. Grime was worked into their very skin so that even when they emerged from the showers, their hands were still black.
They were my age. They were laughing and happy and full of life. What the heck are these people up to? I wondered. They were mushroom pickers. Hundreds and hundreds of people had come to pick mushrooms from all over the Yukon and all over the world. Many of them had found the work accidentally, had been traveling through the area and heard about the riches you could accumulate after a week or two of picking.
“Made 500-600 dollars every day at the beginning of the season” one gentleman told me. “All you need is a knife and a bucket. The mushroom buyers have stands all over the place, so you just sell right to them. . . You can join us of you’d like.”
“No. I should keep paddling down the river.” Was my first response.
Mushroom picking. I have no business mushroom picking. I’ve never done that before. I’d make a mess of it for sure! Mushroom picking? That’s for hippies.
Am I a hippy? I don’t think so. What is a hippy? I don’t know.
Mushroom picking. 500 dollars.
Well. I can’t resist a new adventure. So by the next morning I had convinced myself to take a vacation from the river and I wandered out to the burn with my new friends Alfred, Sharon and Jack. A first nations family from Watson Lake and Whitehorse. They were nice enough to let me tag along and show me the ropes. We drove to the burn on the other side of the river in Jack’s boat and took ATVs out deep into the woods.
Sharon showed me how to pick the mushrooms and what to look for. She looked through my bucket after we’d been picking for a half an hour or so to see how I was doing. “Those are too dry! The buyers won’t take them. The ones in the red areas are the best. That one’s not even a mushroom!”
Eventually I got the hang of it.
We drove further back into the burn. Ran into some of their friends who gave me more tips. I couldn’t believe how friendly and open everyone was. By the end of the day I had a nice collection and Alfred kept saying to me “You’re worse than a squirrel!” Sharon went back to camp and Alfred and I picked into the evening and then drove back to the river where I was able to sell my collection to a mushroom buyer.
Went back to my camp in Carmacks feeling full and happy from the adventure and ready for a shower.