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Reflection! Travel North Part IV

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta


Destination Sunrise, Alaska Highway between Whitehorse and Haines Junction. Yukon

There is something special about a solo, extended road trip. My recent trip north encompassed thirty days, over eight thousand miles, two provinces, a good part of our 49th State, and sightings and photos of more than thirty black and grizzly bears (not that I was counting!). Not statistics -- but memories, milestones, and keynotes to reflect upon.

Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. Alaska

Add these memories to the round-every-bend, vast-without-number visuals of umber dwarf birch, yellow willow, snow dusted mountains, clear lakes, sunsets, sunrises, herds of caribou, and great roads driven to tally the real value of this trip.

Grizzly, Kluane National Park & Preserve. Yukon

Now home, it is time to go back and dive into what I have done, seen, and learned. What moments did I enjoy the most? What lessons did I learn? How did this trip and experience help me grow? The short answer: great people, great beauty, time with my camera, re-adjusting my own personal lens on life and who I am, and understanding the pure love of travel.

Merganser, Chilkoot River. Alaska

Traveling alone, you get so deep and introspective. No interactions, few distractions. Silent at times, aware, and constantly and acutely present. Traveling alone, the mountains, lakes, and roads before you are seen through your own personal lens. You are wide-eyed, amazed, and in the moment. As others have said, traveling alone “your mind looks inward while your soul looks outward.”

Tanana River with Alaska Range Backdrop. Alaska

Numinous is a Latin word meaning a powerful feeling of both fear and fascination,* of being in awe and overwhelmed by what is before you. This trip was exactly that. Along with other previous trips through wild places, this was a close spiritual experience and brought a deep appreciation for what creation has provided and which now lies before me down the road.

Million Dollar Falls, Taknanne River. Yukon

Reflection now, but introspection while on the road. Traveling alone provided time to think about other roads I have taken in this life. Work decisions, friend and family decisions, what I believe in, and of course those special people who allowed me to be who I am, helped shape the person I have become, and in so many ways, provided the opportunities, perspective and drive to have been on this adventure over the last month.

Nenanna River Gold. Alaska

Traveling alone can get weird sometimes, but in a good way. Throughout the trip, I constantly had a co-pilot sitting next to me. Who was navigating changed often, but always bounced between four people who have now passed. These four really impacted my life, shared my views, and they bring back memories being invoked with each new road. They would each offer vastly different takes on the trip and what we were seeing, but they are my perfect travel companions for a wildlife, wild places trip to the North.**

Sunrise, Stewart-Hyder Road, Highway 37A. British Columbia

Most of these four have some link to my time in the outdoors, my work on conservation, or my time paddling on moving water. But most often it was my dad because he would have just loved this so much!


I can count on one hand how many times my parents ventured beyond Pittsburgh and traveled to New Jersey or Maryland for family events. They dreamed of going west, but never made it. Dad was not happy when my family and I moved “as far away as possible” from Pennsylvania, and I wish daily that he could have seen and experienced life and beauty in the Northwest. I have traveled a lot, and I am constantly amazed and in awe of the magnificence of new places. I can only imagine Dad’s feelings and emotions as he journeys along with me on this trip.

First Crossing, Tanana River. Alaska

Sehnsucht is a German word that means a wistful longing and yearning in the heart for travels past and future. When you wish you could do the trip all over again. That too is a part of this reflection. Coming home, I realized that I may not get this far north for a long time. I will be back, many times I hope, but not immediately and that is a bit of a downer.

Mirror Lake 2. Yukon

Longing to get home after time away but with an unscratched itch to keep going north and see even more – Gates of the Artic, Artic National Wildlife Refuge, Northwest Territories. Reveling in all of the northern beauty – now with a southern, return perspective. Making a list of all the places I didn’t get to. Planning the next trip. All this swirling in my head as I drive home. Sehnsucht, reflection, introspection – not dragging it out, just soaking it in until the very last possible moment.


Endnotes:

* Fascination, awe, being overwhelmed, all describe this trip. Fear is a bit different. Not fear of the travel or being alone, but fear of missing something, of overstepping boundaries with wildlife, of drawing the attention to wildlife during hunting season, and certainly fear of not making it back to this amazing northern land.


**I always get a kick imagining these four together, and the discussions they must be having. So different in personality and experience, connected only through me. None of these deceased friends would ever have let something like death deter them from joining a great road-trip. A lesson for those still alive.


If you are heading North, you need to take a copy of the most recent Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon, Northwest Territories planner, The Milepost, with you. Here is one description: “Kluane National Park and Reserve of Canada in conjunction with the Wrangell-St. Elias and Glacier Bay National Parks and Preserves in Alaska, and the Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park in British Columbia form the largest terrestrial UNESCO world heritage site on the planet… characterized by majestic mountains, expansive icefields, and spectacular glaciers.” Many of the images in this blog were taken in or near this amazing area.


Bears have been in the news a lot this summer and fall (or more correctly, people doing dumb things near bears). Know that all my images, unless otherwise noted, were taken with a large telephoto lens, an extender, and with major cropping to bring the magnificence of these animals to those following my travels.

Grizzly 2, Kluane National Park & Preserve. Yukon


The farther you go, however, the harder it is to return. The world has many edges, and it’s easy to fall off.” ― Anderson Cooper




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