Mining for gold isn’t easy, but the ultimate goal of striking it rich can be a powerful motivator.
The fantastical promise of hitting it big looms large over the men and women who do this for a living, and their journeys have been chronicled for five seasons on History’s Yukon Gold.
This season, there are two new mining camps in front of the cameras, including the two-man team of Paul Joseph (also known as PJ) and Andy Tai, childhood friends who set out to dig in the Yukon’s volatile 50 Mile Valley. Dangers are many — overflowing rivers and flash floods happen regularly, there are bears and other carnivorous animals — and it’s not uncommon for equipment to fail, which is a major problem when the nearest sign of civilization is three hours away by car.
The pair also has opposing personalities; Joseph is an outdoorsman and equipment operator, while Tai is a semi-professional poker player and venture capitalist. These novice miners (they only have one additional mining season under their belts) have set a 600-ounce goal, enough to dig themselves out of $1 million in debt.
If PJ and Andy don’t make a profit this season, they won’t be able to afford mining next year. Global News sat down with the guys in Toronto to discuss the perils and hazards of gold mining, what it takes to make it in the field and what they have to say to critics of the show.
(Like any good gold miner, Tai had a container of gold pieces in his pocket.)
Global News: There are a lot of jobs out there. What drew you to this particular choice in career?
Paul Joseph: It was a venture… for me, it was doing something different to create a future for my family. Mining was how I was going to do it. I called Andy and asked him if we wanted to join in on the venture, and…
Andy Tai: I was in a bit of a lull in my life. I’m originally from the Yukon, but I’ve been in B.C. for 20 years. It was an opportunity for me to come back to my roots and do something really fun and exciting. I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie, so I thought I’d give the whole “becoming a gold miner” thing a shot.
What are the worst challenges you face?
PJ: Keeping the equipment running, that’s the number one.
AT: Then keeping the men running, that’s tough too. [Laughs]
Do you go through a lot of equipment?
PJ: People ask me if there are as many breakdowns as we see on the show. I always tell them it’s about 10 times more than what they say. The reality is, I’ve been in a machine that broke, looked over at another machine and watched it break… and by the time I got out of the machine, something else was broken. We’ve had a trifecta happen! [Laughs]
AT: Those are the days that really test your patience, and your wherewithal to battle through.
Are there things that happen off-screen that the viewers don’t see? This has to be more arduous than it looks.
AT: I would say… how much physical work there is. The length of time, for sure. This show is an hour long, our part is about 15 minutes. But hey, we’re there 12 hours a day, every day, day in and day out, night and day. It grinds on you. Staying energized and with it is tough, especially if gold is lean and you’re not getting a lot. That’s one thing they’ll always tell you in gold-mining camps: when you’re getting lots of gold, it’s a lot easier on everybody.
Can you describe the feeling you get when you find a substantial amount of gold?
AT: It is a big rush, that’s for sure. We had some pretty hot days last year, and runs I’d never seen before. It made it seem all worthwhile in those few days. You never get too excited, because it’s a long way to fall from there. You have to try and stay level. On those good days, it’s not like you’re doing a river dance or anything. [Laughs] You’re obviously happy, but it just drives you to have more days like that.
Would you ever encourage or discourage anyone to do this job?
PJ: I would encourage people if they had a dream or goal in life, but I would always give them the knowledge I’ve learned, the trials and tribulations I’ve gone through. A lot of people see the gold aspect, but they don’t see everything it takes to get to that.
AT: One of the coolest experiences I’ve had with this whole thing is our ability to inspire some people out there. We came out of the mine last year and stopped at a native town with a little gas station. There’s a 10-year-old kid sitting there and I hear him whisper to his mom, “Those guys are from Yukon Gold! They’re from Yukon Gold!” He shook my hand and was so excited. I love thinking about the little kids watching. I like knowing we can inspire them.
What qualities do people have to have to be successful at this kind of work?
AT: Hardworking, driven, intelligent, quick learner.
PJ: Work ethic and physical strength, yep.
I’ve gotta say, I’m surprised you guys aren’t wearing dozens of gold chains.
AT: [Laughs] We’re simple men.
PJ: I don’t even have anything gold! [Laughs] We’re just regular people.
In my research for the show, I discovered a lot of old-school miners who didn’t appreciate Yukon Gold or [other gold show] Gold Rush. They didn’t like how the industry was depicted. What do you have to say to those critics?
AT: I’d say, ‘Come out to our camp for one day, then tell me how you feel after that.’
PJ: Everybody is going to have their opinions about us, but we know that we do the exact same things that other miners have to do. We do the hard work, the people, the equipment, the weather, all the same issues. This is what it is. We work morning and night.
What can we expect this season from you guys?
AT: A lot of hard work, a lot of real-life drama. There are ups and downs, breakdowns, crew…
PJ: You’ll see some gold. [Laughs] Some good gold.
AT: There are a couple surprises. You’re going to have to watch and see!
PJ: Some tearjerkers in there, too. [Laughs]