Bury me in Ibex valley. . .
After meeting my new friend and setting a few loose dates for my return, I pointed the truck towards Alaska and continued on with my previous plan. I spent just over a week back home. Running in the woods and exploring the valley in the town I grew up in. Revisiting the place I used to run away from home to and camp as a kid at the base of the Chugach Mountains, a ritual I indulge in each and every time I visit home, and doing my part with some construction on the family cabin. I stayed pretty busy, but throughout my week home I had a very difficult time remaining present and engaged in what I had directly in front of me. Here I was in the place where it had all started. Where the dirt and the cold and the wild had worked its way into my blood and bone. The place where I had set myself up to expect some kind of great epiphany for how I would wrap up this year of exploration I have committed myself to. Anticipating a bookend as I pulled into the town I will always call home. Instead clarity and the answers I was expecting never came.
I was still in the Yukon, and it was time to go back.
So to the chagrin of my family, I cut loose and headed back to the Canadian wilderness a whole 2 weeks earlier than expected. A few days later I reached Kluane Lake and the small stopover known as Destruction Bay, booked a room in the modest motel and turned inward to prepare myself for the days to come in the trapper cabin.
Sleep never graced me with its reprieve from the long days behind the wheel leading up to this point. The mental gymnastics I had performed to keep myself engaged while I was visiting home had led to a noisy brain and a thought process akin to a hamster on a wheel. Going nowhere but working up a sweat turning out endless repetitions. All of the unexplained baggage I had surrounding this place had landed squarely on my face and I was hopelessly punching at anything that may have offered me any answers. A place so quiet and serene during the day had become alive and turbulent with the spirits that travel through the night. I visited with as many as I could. Writing furiously in an attempt to capture some of the experience. Hoping that I could open my notebooks when I got home and find some sort of answer to what exactly it was about this place that stuck to me like chewed bubblegum on the bottom of my boot. Looking back now, it’s too heavy to share here and now. I will save it for another platform, another outlet, another audience, or just another time.
The next morning, after not sleeping, I lashed my bag to the roof of my truck, kicked the tires, and moved on. The place that had had such a heavy grip on me every other time I’d passed through previously faded away unceremoniously in my rear view as I sped away ahead of the sunrise. Happy to be moving on to the cabin I had arranged for a few weeks before.
I pulled off of Highway 1 and on to the “road” that I honestly doubted would lead to anything but a severely disabled vehicle and an equally deflated ego. I remembered the warnings and inspections my new German friend had conducted and emphasized during our first meeting. It had rained in sheets for days leading up this, and the rutted and sloppy “road” looked more like a mud wrestling pit 10 miles long. When I jumped out to lock the hubs I realized that I had been smiling so hard since pulling off the highway that my cheeks were burning. This is what I really came here for. I wanted to be challenged. I wanted the landscape so many drive by in their massive homes on wheel and trailer to beat me down. I wanted to be reminded that this was the place where pioneers and would-be prospectors had given up their lives fighting their way through this wilderness. They came for wealth and notoriety, I came for peace and dirt. And humility. When the cabin appeared in the distance, in a stand of poplars and aspens, I shifted into the mud and forced the truck to stand up at attention. Slinging heavy clods of filth in every direction. I rolled my window down and stuck my head out. The bookend I had expected started to tease me. I shifted into neutral and pulled the key from the ignition as the road ended, jumped from the cab before the engine had stopped turning and let the truck bring itself to a stop. The feeling of briefly moving through the air and leaving the vehicle to its own destiny as I skidded, digging the heels of my cowboy boots into the muck below me felt nostalgically similar to ghost-riding bicycles in my youth. I found the door to the cabin unlocked with a note pinned to it –
“Welcome back to the Yukon, you’re on your own now. The freeze is coming any day so I left the axe to split any more wood you may need as you asked. The sauna hasn’t been used since last season so bang on the stack before you build the fire. The basin is by the well. You will figure that part out. Be patient. The propane tank is full. Tea is in the tin. I’ll be by in a few days to check on you. If you don’t know what you’re doing, go to Whitehorse. There is whiskey in the jar on the shelf. Enjoy – “R”“
The rest of the afternoon was spent splitting wood and keeping the stove stocked enough to keep me warm through the night. I went to bed when the sun disappeared behind the mountains. Dead people don’t sleep as heavily as I did that first night. Or the next three after that.
August 23, 2015 – Yukon, Canada
The cabin is constructed of hand-shaved timber and is scribe built. Each log cut by hand to fit the one below it. Stacked eight logs high to build the long, low walls and twelve high at each end. As the stacks climb higher, the log’s diameter grows smaller. Utilizing the girth of the longest ones as a base.
There are two windows, one on each of the longest walls. Beneath the southern facing window, on the inside, is a writing desk and one single chair. Both made of hand-carved wood. On the opposite side, the north side of the small house, is a much smaller window. Beneath it, on the inside, is a waist high counter. On it is a small 2-burner propane camp stove and a fresh water jug. Shelves span between the legs of the counter and on them are the neatly arranged stacks of plates and bowls for one. A jar of whiskey pushed to the back to relieve any temptation of drinking when I should be writing. Above the stove hangs two pots, both small, and a strange cast iron skillet. Large sized. Just enough for two eggs, a ham steak and a handful of button mushrooms. Maybe I’ll bypass the ham and cube a russet in its place. Maybe not.
At the end of the work bench / “kitchen” counter, and acting as a small divider, is a bookshelf. Made up of small planed logs and thick branches with the ends shaved into rounds. It ends the kitchen on one side and becomes a footboard for the lonesome bed on the other. The bed lays lengthwise along the northern wall and is directly across from the writing desk. The frame is made of the same logs used to build the cabin and is almost one foot too long by six inches too wide for the lumpy, albeit criminally comfortable, grass-and-down-stuffed mattress it supports. A headboard of sorts has been fashioned from poplar limbs bent together to resemble a rising, or setting, sun.
Straight away from the space between the bed and the desk is the entrance to the humble cabin. As I stand six feet three inches high, the opening is as tall as the center of my adams apple and three inches wider on either side of my shoulders width. As you enter the cabin, directly to your right, is a “Yukon” stove. Standing atop mortar filled soup cans with the labels stripped is a black, tin, oval canister. At approximately one and a half feet wide and just over two feet long, it is a modest stove. The pipe and chimney are attached at the rear and just before that an opening the size of a coffee can. Aside from the small vent at the very front there’s really nothing else to it. A small stack of kindling and two split log sections shorter than the length of my forearm will heat this small one room home for half a day.
When I left, there was nothing. Any expectation I had when I started the journey north had been shed. Every trail I’d ridden or run would be left behind for the next animal to enjoy. Not to be shared here. Not to be exploited or advertised. Left to be one of the few peaceful places in this world for those that know peace and tranquility require a degree of sweat to truly be appreciated. You can have your Disneyland’s and your Six Flags.
The rest of us have The Yukon.