She is smartly dressed in her khaki green uniform and bubbling forth with information.
“Not only is Denali a National Park but it is also a Wildlife Preserve. This means that aside from a handful of maintained trails and the one main road that leads 92 miles into the park, the remaining 6 million acres is untouched wilderness. No motorized vehicles or even power tools are allowed off of the main road. A recent suspension bridge repair was completed with the use of sled dogs and hand tools.
When people choose to hike the backcountry here we don’t offer much in the way of route advice. We want each person to have their own experience, their own interaction with the wilderness and as a result, their impact is varied and leaves minimal damage to the vegetation and to the wildlife. To be honest, it can be a very humbling experience to be dropped off by a park bus and set out on a hike without a path to guide you. Being uncomfortable is a good thing. We want you to be reminded that as humans we are the visitors, Denali does not belong to any one of us.”
I discover that she is right. Being here in Denali and stepping out into the wilderness is humbling. I’ve experienced equal parts respect and reverence, discomfort and grand appreciation. On my end, the discomfort is due to my desire to embrace the wilderness, but not necessarily the proximity to animals (mainly grizzlies) which I don’t typically share my space with. It’s not an unusual tradeoff (experiencing something new in exchange for facing a fear), just one where the stakes seem slightly more elevated. Yet the desired effect is achieved—I don’t feel at home here. I am the outsider trespassing on land that is not my own.
As our time in Denali unfolds, I find myself enjoying more and worrying less. My routine now involves grabbing bear spray before heading out the door and my vocabulary has widened to include the ranger suggested, “Hey bear!” alert call as I move through the trees. I venture out to hike the Mount Healy Overlook trail with Ashlyn and three other friends, ascending over 1,600 feet to overlook the park without Trent’s protective presence. It feels like a double victory to return home both alive and successful in our hike. Continue reading “the value of being uncomfortable, homeless and alone”
In the late summer of 1896, while our country was coming out of a financial recession, three men followed a hunch and found gold in the Klondike River of Canada’s Yukon Territory. As news of their new gold discovery spread south to Seattle, it lit a flame in the hearts of the recently impoverished people. That flame licked its way across the continent and set the hearts of over 100,000 ablaze with the hope that they too could strike it rich. Leaving behind families and jobs, they flocked north hoping to cash in and turn their luck around.
The journey was long and arduous. Most were not prepared for the extreme conditions that awaited them. 70,000 were forced to turn back before reaching their intended destination of Dawson City. About a year after setting out, the remaining 30,000 began arriving into Dawson only to discover that claims had already been made on the land containing their treasured riches. A few stayed on to seek employment. Most turned back, empty-handed.
The city of Dawson, complete with dirt streets, now stands as a capsule of time reminding us of how quickly a dream can come and go. Tailings* stand in lonely heaps just outside the city’s border reminding me of a child who has lost interest in his toys and was never asked to clean up the mess. The original dredge used to coax great riches from the hidden folds of the earth has been retired from active duty and now stands as a silent sentinel guarding the memories of the past.
For Quinten’s 9th birthday we tried our luck panning on the banks of the Klondike River. With hopes held high but expectations kept low, we scooped and swished like the best of them, eyes alert for the elusive gold glitter at the bottom of our pans. While the experience proved memorable in both a historical and educational sense, we were left with gold dust so fine you could only enjoy its glitter before washing it away in the stream. Continue reading “how to find eternal value in a short-lived gold rush”
Our trip through Canada to Alaska has been educationally gratifying. My mind has soaked up the opportunity to learn about the Klondike Gold Rush and whaling industry of the late 1800’s and the Steamboat era that soon followed. However, another aspect of personal application has been a lesson on limited living or: how limited water, food, and internet can be good for you.
A NEW TRAVEL APPROACH
In many ways, this road route has differed from those that we have done in the past. For one, we are traveling with another family for an extended amount of time, sharing the ebb and flow of travel days, trip planning, and potty break pullout stops. For another, we don’t have a pre-scheduled itinerary with campground reservations stretching into the weeks and months ahead. Instead, we have a general overview of our route and every few days we review the next leg of our trip and make tentative plans for our upcoming stops.
This method of travel is made possible due to advanced planning on my husband’s part who worked to ready the RV for extended dry camping endeavors. The beautiful thing about dry camping is the cost (often free if you are simply parking at a roadside pullout) and the flexibility (Want to stay longer? No problem! Ready to leave sooner? Let’s go!).
As our little caravan pushes northward, I am settling into a predictable rhythm:
Prep the RV for travel.
Hit the road between 10 and 11.
Chat with our traveling friends (the Sloans) via walkie-talkie about road conditions, a joke, riddle or perhaps a verse of the day.
Help the kids with school in the car.
Watch for animals.
Pause for breathtaking vistas, overlooks, lakes and towering mountain ranges.
Call out animal sightings (black bear, moose, wood buffalo, and rock sheep) over the walkies.
Stop for a potty and lunch break.
Spy additional animals.
See more spectacular views.
Discuss where to stop for the night.
Find a pullout and set up house.
Prep lunches for the next day.
Pull down the shades to block out the sun.
Head to bed.
We are currently on day six of this routine. Our hair is greasy. My laundry basket is plump and we are ready for a solid 24 hours without movement. Yet, despite the fervent pace of our travels, we’ve been blessed by several beautiful pauses:
Back in January, we attended a Fulltime Families Retreat in Southern California. One evening, we invited the Sloan family over to get to know them better. Part of our conversation included upcoming summer destinations. They planned to visit the East Coast and our plans included Alaska.
The next morning the Sloan’s informed us that their summer plans had changed during the night—they now planned to go to Alaska with us! Surprisingly, this isn’t that unusual in our lifestyle. You meet people. You like them. You travel with them. But it is funny to take myself out of the fulltime travel mindset and try to picture a scenario like this happening. You invite someone new to the area over for lunch after church. You talk about your upcoming plans for a family vacation to Florida. The following Sunday they announce surprise: they’ve booked the same flight and plan to tag along! I can’t imagine that ever happening, yet it does when you live your life on the road and get the freedom to choose your neighbors and travel companions.