Ironwoman Senator Of The Yukon

Compared with the rough-and-tumble Chilkoot Trail, the Senate is a walk in the park for Ione Christensen.
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In the case of White-horse, Yukon Territory, resident Ione Christensen, appearances definitely are deceiving. If you pass her on the street, you won't be able to tell that last year, for the 20th time, she hiked the 33-mile, back-busting Chilkoot Trail in Alaska and Canada (see "Hell Can't Be Worse Than This Trail," February 1995). Or that she paddled the 450-mile Yukon River Quest canoe race.

The townspeople probably do recognize her, though, as she strolls the sidewalks. This 65-year-old ironwoman, raised in a log cabin in a wilderness outpost, is the Yukon Territory's senator.

BP: Why do you hike the Chilkoot every year?

IC: It's a challenge. My great-grandfather and his four sons came over (during the Klondike Gold Rush) in 1898, so it's a historic link, as well. And it's a gauge, too. Each year, I do it and say, "Am I getting slower? Are my knees a bit stiffer?"

BP: Which is harder, climbing the Chilkoot or getting legislation passed?

IC: Legislation. At least you know your time limit on the trail. You know that if you persevere, you'll be successful. With legislation, you're never sure.

BP: How has the wilderness experience changed in your lifetime?

IC: When I was growing up, the things we do now for recreation were things we had to do. It wasn't for fun. I had a dog team and a trap line when I was a kid. I had to fish all the time, and I used to hunt because there was no other way to get food. My father never could understand why I would want to put on a backpack and go on the Chilkoot Trail. He went on it a lot in his lifetime on patrol (in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police). It was not fun as far as he was concerned. So, you know, yesterday's work is today's pleasure.

BP: What changes are in store for the Yukon?

IC: More and more people are going to come into the North, not only the Yukon, but the Northwest Territories and Alaska. We still have relatively pristine, unspoiled wilderness. How long that will last, I don't know.