Lessons from the Far North
December 31, 2022
Various insights and takeaways from six months in Alaska and Canada, and from living on the road in general:
Wherever you go, there you are.
The world is really screwed up and incredibly abundant. Both are true.
Meaningful connection happens with other people far more readily when the way you're living is an authentic expression of yourself.
Give people an opportunity to help you by simply asking for things you'd like in a sincere way. Not everyone will be able or willing to help, but a lot of people probably will.
I don't need to wait for anyone's permission or blessing to spend my precious remaining time on this planet in the exactly ways that make the most sense to me.
Whenever the time comes, I want to die knowing I gave my life everything I had.
If you want to be living differently than you are now, at least run the numbers before assuming it can't be done.
It's one thing to recognize and talk negatively about the shortcomings of society. It's another to reshape your life and/or others' lives accordingly.
Dreams are just nice ideas without action. Plan and pursue them rigorously. Entelechy.
I considered backing out of this Alaska/Yukon plan last spring, thinking maybe I’d feel more ready some other time. And I was often scared while doing it. In my experience, it’s incredibly powerful to first get clear on why it matters to me and then simply withhold the assumption that it can’t be figured out. With that, confidence becomes largely irrelevant. With any big plan or goal, doubt is very likely to creep in. Doubt and fear were present throughout this entire journey up north but I went ahead with it anyway, leaned on the systems I'd set up ahead of time, and found more of myself through it. This summer also revealed to me an even more audacious vision for what my life could be. I'll certainly encounter lots more doubt and fear while bringing this to life over the next few years, which just seems to be how it works. But the seed is there and it’s all already set into motion. The last 20 minutes of Can't Hurt Me will serve as an excellent guide in navigating this.
Confidence and motivation crumble pretty quickly without that clarity of purpose.
Careful planning and routine and optimization etc are all great. But also don't be afraid to throw all that shit to the wind and live in the grip of life sometimes. Some experiences and perspectives seem to require doing so.
Some of the very best ideas germinate as a result of living in the grip of life for extended periods of time. Where you aren't trying to plan anything. While thinking is a tremendously useful tool for turning an idea into something tangible, it can be very hard to think your way to an initial understanding of what really matters to you and what will bring you the most joy.
Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're probably right.
If you just set a direction and go all in, you might be surprised with what you're able to do. (of course, it can take quite a bit of forethought and intentionality to set a direction that will serve you well)
You don't need everything figured out in order to start. To borrow from The Lion Tracker's Guide to Life, just locate the next track (and then then next one, and the next one...) which often happens through attunement both inward and outward.
Things also don't need to be perfect to do unbelievably awesome shit. This is apparent from looking back on how much I've done this year while not even feeling close to full capacity.
You can pack years of life experience into a few months if you really just go for it.
I did everything I set out to do this summer and more. I saw everything I especially wanted to see in this part of the continent aside from the Kichatna Spires, Arrigetch Peaks, Cirque of Unclimbables, and a bunch of stuff in the Aleutians— all of which I decided ahead of time were too dangerous and/or expensive to get to this summer.
This corner of the continent is a large enough arena for a lifetime of exploration. Large enough to pour every ounce of my being into and never come close to exhausting the possibilities here. The limiting factor is me and my competence. Testing and forging myself in a place like this is really invigorating. It's simultaneously empowering and humbling.
The Alaska Range and Saint Elias Mountains are among the very most powerful and inspiring places on the planet, perhaps only behind the Karakoram and Himalaya. Baffin Island, Queen Maud Land, and Patagonia are probably in the conversation too. Sure it's a subjective list but only sort of.
Nothing in the lower 48 even sniffs at what's in Alaska and Canada.
The skillset I've developed in the Sierra still transferred pretty well. The most significant new variables were grizzly bears and glaciers. The weather patterns are less predictable and the light hits the mountains differently too.
The line between civilization and wilderness can be almost imperceptible if you aren't paying close attention. Being acutely aware of when you've crossed this boundary and begun engaging with real nature is critical for safety.
Being able to distinguish between fear/discomfort and objective risk is also critical for backcountry safety and decision-making. They often all come together, and fear/discomfort can be wonderful signals suggesting that something might be dangerous. But not always. You can be afraid and in great discomfort without any real danger present, and you can be in a dangerous situation without any sense of fear or discomfort. I like to create an exhaustive list of potential dangers before a trip along with detailed procedures to mitigate/eliminate each one. If I start feeling uneasy during the trip, I'll ask myself if that feeling is pointing to any of those potential dangers. I'll listen to that feeling if so and I'll keep going if not.
I've learned at least as much about the nervous system from the last few years of solo wilderness adventuring as I have from any classes or research. Theory is great but can only take one so far. Be a practitioner too. There's a big difference between knowing something intellectually and grounding it in visceral lived experience (though having the theory can certainly serve as a container to hold and better understand experiences).
Humans are just another type of animal. Our nervous systems are designed to engage with nature and other animals in it in ways that keep us alive.
Realizing your gifts and sharing them with the world is incredibly healing.
My mom gave me the following poem the day I left the Bay Area in February 2022. Everything described in the poem has turned out to be accurate in a shockingly short timeframe.