Rebirth in the North

In the late spring of 2017 I headed north… destination Alaska. The reasons were many, complicated and personal. My 30-year marriage had dissolved a little more than a year earlier and then in March my father had passed away after a short but intense battle with cancer. I was feeling a little lost, beaten up and completely lacking in direction.

The primary reason for going was to simply get away, alone, to reflect on life and where I was and hope that somewhere along the way some answers to the many questions I had would present themselves.

Another was the fact that my parents had made the journey years before and Dad had always said he’d like to do it again. He didn’t. And to be honest I was having a hard time dealing with the fact that he hadn’t despite being in a position to do so. I wasn’t so much angry with him for not making the trip but it wasn’t “sitting right” either.

The grand thinking was well you didn’t do it Dad but I will. That part I kept to myself but I think most who know me read in the part left unsaid.

After announcing publicly this was my intent to friends, family and of course social media, right up until the moment I left and for even a few days after I was absolutely terrified of what I had very publically committed myself to. The plan, drive 13,000 kilometers, alone, through some of the more isolated parts of this country in search of something… answers… yeah that was well thought out.

In the first few days, there were more than a few moments when I pulled over, stopped on the side of the road and with effort controlled my breathing to help get through an impending panic attack. Symptoms of which I had become very familiar with over the past few years as life became, well, complicated.

When the cold sweats, the tightness in the chest and lack of breathing ability finally abated I always came to the same conclusion – I’ve committed to this there is no way I can turn back.

The Marten River Gas Station that saved my trip.

The distraction of this internal struggle was the source of a few misjudgments in the first 72 hours of the trip. I almost ran out of gas in Northern Ontario distracted by thought to the point of not realizing I was running on empty until it was almost too late. Then somewhere west of Sudbury a web project I was working on went sideways and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to fix it remotely. Finally leaving Kenora to start day three on the road my back was so sore I could hardly sit in the truck.

A less than auspicious start and still yet to come on the third day was a Manitoba snowstorm that made the highway a treacherous slick of heavy, wet snow and truck spraying slush that seemed certain to cost me a full day of travelling. With a schedule that was unwisely razor thin on rescheduling options serious doubt again started gnawing away at my fragile resolve to get through this.

That Manitoba storm or more exactly my manoeuvring out of it was the turning point, not just of this trip, but every one that has followed. Decisions made that day set the stage for Iceland, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, the West Coast, Jasper, Memphis, and all the many, many points in between. I now don’t think any of those happen without that moment of doubt and resolution in the snows of Manitoba.

Manitoba snow and a decisive moment.

Pulling off to the side of a wind and snow swept side road somewhere near Brandon, I took several deep breaths got the phone out – checked the radar, read and re-read the forecast and finally looked at a map. It appeared that if I counter-intuitively headed due north instead of continuing west I’d come out of the storm reasonably quickly and then could proceed on to Lloydminster where my oldest daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren were waiting.

It worked. Thirty minutes after deciding on the plan the skies were clear, the sun was shining and I was making up for lost time. Most importantly, a feeling of confidence that had been missing for some time, years perhaps, began to surge through my being. That simple feeling of knowing you know what to do and when to do it – it’s elusive but so necessary if we are to succeed at almost anything other than just taking up space.

A few days of respite from driving while visiting my oldest daughter and my grandchildren was just the mental break I needed and then soon enough it was time to get on with the main leg of the trip. Northwest to the Yukon and then a short trip into Alaska before returning back to home via Jasper and the Trans-Canada.

Breakfast along Kluane Lake – mug courtesy of the grandchildren.

Back on the road again weaving my way through a tight passage in Northern BC on the Alaska Highway I’m reflecting on life and the journey each of us takes when I come around a bend in the road on the way to Destruction Bay and my heart stops. I literally stop breathing and audibly gasp as I rush to get air back into my lungs as I stare at what has suddenly appeared before me.


At that moment, that exact moment, I know not just that the decision to make this trip was the right one but the decision to make the next one is going to be correct as well. Fears, worries, moments of remorse and regret dissolve as I stare at a panorama that stretches my mind to places it has rarely been. Whatever forces came together to create this are beyond my comprehension but the feeling of wonder and calm settling over me I welcome.

I spend an hour or so wandering the causeway that bisects the western end of Kluane Lake hoping to at least get a few images that come close to capturing the feelings I’m experiencing. It’s an intensity of wonder, a washing over of waves of amazement, that I’ve not felt for a very long time, maybe ever.

Rebirth. Renewal. The end of one trip the start of another – it’s all those things.

Amazingly, I have cell service and call my Mom to describe to her what I’m looking at and she tells me she remembers the corner and being amazed by the scenery. Across the vast distance that this country covers there is a connection, a common perception of something that is impossible to describe but conjures up deep feelings.

The corner in question is at the bottom of the lake right where the Number 1 is in this Google Maps Image.

Reluctantly, eventually, I climb back into the truck and continue north knowing that things are going to be all right. Life is full of wonder.

Postscript – The image at the top of this article, printed on metal, sits in the meeting room at our office. Every day when I come out of my office door it sits there beckoning me to return. Return to gaze. Return to be amazed, to rekindle the wonder and be renewed.

I will.

Kluane National Park and Reserve are two units of Canada’s national park system in the southwest corner of the territory of Yukon. It is near the Alaskan border. Kluane National Park Reserve was established in 1972, covering 22,013 square kilometres (8,499 square miles).
The Reserve includes the highest mountain in Canada, Mount Logan (5,959 metres or 19,551 feet) of the Saint Elias Mountains. Mountains and glaciers dominate the park’s landscape, covering 83% of its area. The rest of the land in the park is forest and tundra—east of the largest mountains and glaciers—where the climate is colder and drier than in the western and southern parts of the park. Trees grow only at the park’s lowest elevations.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia