After some too many months working to get back out on the road, I met some skiers who were climbers and mountaineers, readying themselves to journey up to Alaska to do some climbing in the Denali region, known as McKinley National Park.
Although I was still very much a novice skier, I was already a fairly seasoned road traveller, and when they invited me along, I said OH YES!, and began to process through the mechanics to leave my job as a live-in nanny, store the few things I owned, put together a backpack, and head to the train station…again!
Just the idea of a train journey was enough to bring all the rest of the details into order! The team had gone on ahead, leaving the Laurentian area we had been living in, heading back to Colorado, then to Montana, on the way up to Edmonton, where we arranged to meet up, once I could get there.
I admit, with the thought of Alaska, jeeping on up through the Yukon Territory, and reaching so distant a place of dreams, the train trip I took that spring is not one that stays cemented in my memory. Perhaps I was already at my destination in my mind, although I have no doubt all the train trips I made across Canada were full of fun and laughter, meeting other Canadian wanderers, hearing stories, and looking out the window at incredibly beautiful scenery!
In Edmonton, there was a brief allowance for buying mountaineering equipment and supplies, stocking up the jeep. For me, the most important and exciting: my very first pair of really truly seriously heavy-duty mountaineering boots, Vercours by Galibier. All along the earlier years, I walked and hiked in whatever I had on my feet, be it tennis shoes, sandles, barefoot, or ordinary boots the kind we wore with everything. This investment in caring for my feet was magical. I never fully understood how important it was to have the support, the fit, the sturdy mechanics of a proper boot meant for protecting the feet from injury. I was in love! My feet were so happy. Well, there were other things needed: a down jacket and a down vest, a proper sleeping bag, down of course, rated to -40F. Uh Oh. Never mind, I had lived in Canadian winters long enough to understand cold, maybe not slept outdoors in it, but Hey! I was 22, ready for anything, and no way was I going to change my mind!! And last, a marvelous new red hat, made of wool, to be worn for all the reasons!!
At that time, in 1973, the AlCan Highway as it was called, for Alaska-Canada Highway, was unpaved for at least 1200 miles. This was the era before Canada had transitioned to the metric system so all routes were still tracked in miles. As we left the paved and maintained roadways, it felt the adventure had really begun! The road journey itself was demanding, potholes a jeep could get lost in. Places where river rising with melt off of winter snows had washed out whole sections of road, to be reinforced by a nest of logs, hewn for the purpose of connecting the broken pieces of roadbed just enough to allow a vehicle to pass… fascinating. Challenging. A little bit scary.
As we rode deeper and deeper into the Yukon Territory, the days slowly growing longer, silence, clean clean clean Mother Nature all around us, I felt I was becoming one with the Earth, in a way I had never known. The mountain summits, snow clad, glacier packed, immense, stunningly beautiful. We did not see much wildlife, an occasional moose, no bears yet. I was on the lookout for bears, as I loved them and was ready for more bear encounters of the best kind, as I had been on our trip across Canada a couple years earlier. The road went on and on, we were in no hurry. We had planned a week at least, making time to hike, spent a marvellous afternoon and evening at a remote hot springs, how good that felt, words fail to describe!
In reminiscing now, I look back nearly 44 years, and I ask what was the most memorable piece of that adventure, and it would have to be how staggeringly beautiful it was to see, and HEAR, the Aurora Borealis for the first time in my life. Out in the vast and remote regions, no air traffic, no vehicles passing by us, as we pitched the tent night after night, up would rise the Lights: serene, riveting, commanding, mysterious. The privilege of standing below the majesty of the night sky, no matter the cold, our clothing was more than sufficiently warm, gave me the sense that I was indeed being held witness to some Glory greater than mankind has ever or will ever create. The power, the electrical force, the enormity of space lifted us to a dimension closer to eternity than to any other experience we may share among our fragile and insignificant lives. Perhaps it is that which has meant the most to me all these years: the Universe is unfolding as it should, we are but passers-through, and to feel humbled in that insignificance somehow decades later, seems a gift beyond all measure.