This is when I was hiking in Northeast Alaska.
The next day, feeling mentally depleted, I only hike half a day. From Potato Creek, rain falling the entire time, I swim in brush for hours, fatigued, cold, and discouraged that I can make it. “What the hell am I doing here,” I keep saying. I want to cry. It’s the worst I’ve felt so far on the trip, like what I’m trying to do is impossible and pointless. People just don’t do it, hiking across this country in the summer.
Will gets into the habit of running off at least once a day to chase a moose. Not just little jaunts, but hour-long disappearances through the outback where I suspect he’s running hard the entire time burning up precious energy reserves. With all the brush, I can’t hike with him on a leash, and even by scolding him it still doesn’t stop his instinctive drive to give in to the chase with all his heart. All I can do is watch him go, getting thinner by the day.
Since undertaking this Brooks Range adventure, I’ve learned to get by with almost nothing, just my tent, sleeping bag, a few eating utensil, and the most basic food. It’d be nice to live under a permanent roof so I wouldn’t have to stow all my food and gear every single night before going to sleep like I’m doing here. It’d be nice to wake up with it all laid out on a counter, dry and ready for use, with no fussy digging through my pack every morning to make a cup of coffee. I have calluses - one splitting apart - on the tips of my fingers where I’ve tied and untied items so many times to get things out of my pack and put them back each time I use them.
I haven’t bathed in twenty-three days and don’t see myself bathing anytime soon. It isn’t that I can’t bathe. I just don’t see the point in going through all that trouble of cleaning myself when I have many other things to worry about – mainly the endless marching. A fenced yard would also be nice so Will could lounge around on the grass under a shady tree without being tied up. I like thinking of him resting on some shady grass after a nice jog, without mosquitoes pestering him. I think he still misses his brother; I’ll watch him sometimes, while he’s sitting on a nearby knoll looking out across the country, stoically, like he’s looking for someone far off in the distance waiting for him to return after a long absence. I think about that a lot, and how I’d feel if I had only one friend in the world, and no one else, who disappeared one day and never came back, and how I’d feel if I didn’t know what happened to him. Sometimes I’ll think about that while I’m looking at Will and get all choked up inside, like I should get him a female Airedale to keep him company. He’d want to fight all the time with a new male and when Will gets old I don’t want a younger male beating him up.
I still have so far to go. If there were a trail, I could probably cover the distance in one long day, but instead it will take me at least four because I have to swim in brush. From Surprise Creek I climb steadily up a ridge leading into the Old Crow Range, where I plan to walk the high divide between several creeks, half that drain north and the other half that drain south. The higher I get the more the brush dissipates and by the midafternoon it’s all gone and I’ve reached the crest. It’s a huge stroke of luck really, that I won’t have to descend to cross any major creek valleys all the way there, as far as I can tell – the desperate break I need.
Jimmy, right, two weeks before he died 2012. Will is right.
Will, Alaska, 2013