Can it really be twenty years ago? On this day two decades ago I boarded Delta #719, Akron to Atlanta, where I caught Delta #218 to Seattle, then connected to Delta #169 to Juneau, Alaska. Next morning I flew on a small plane to Skagway, Alaska, and I was starting to feel afraid. Can I do this?
In the summer of 1993, I was finishing a sabbatical year, which I'd spent working on the book that would become The Call of the Wild by Jack London: With an Illustrated Reader's Companion (Univ. of Okla. Pr., 1995). I'd been going meticulously through London's novella, writing down things I figured most people wouldn't know (geographical names, historical events, slang, etc.) and doing research the old-fashioned, pre-Internet-has-every-answer-way: letters to librarians and archivists and authorities--and visits to same. It had been an exciting year, and I had been surprised that I was actually able to discover some things about that book that no one else had ever found. These were not, of course, Nobel-worthy discoveries, just small fruits of scholarship that are to researchers a form of ambrosia.
|Chaplin's version of the Chilkoot Pass|
So that summer of 1993 I started training. And I quit drinking. I'd never been a big drinker--beer only. A little wine when I had to (I was not much of a connoisseur, believe me.) But beer had been a part of my social life since early in college. And in the summer of 1993, I was nearly forty-nine years old. That's a long time.
Another motive: Two friends had recently gone into alcohol rehab--and alcohol would kill one of the two, a few years later, quietly, alone, on the floor ...
As I wrote in this space quite a while ago: I had no trouble quitting. I was lucky--not addicted. And not especially virtuous. I was just able to stop, cold, and have not missed it in the slightest since then. I have not had any alcohol at all (except in dishes I've been served) since the summer of 1993--not even at our son's wedding.
That summer I also started losing weight (a perpetual problem with us Dyers, who have a Fat Gene clinging like a gob of goo on our chromosomes). I lost nearly 30 pounds that summer (down from about 195 to 165; I would lose a dozen more after I got back--they've been back for extended stays a few times since then). I adhered to the only diet that works for me: no seconds, no desserts, no snacks, no fatty foods at all. Chicken, fish, you know ... I was also working out twice a day. Running five miles every morning, biking a hard 20 min in the afternoon on our Schwinn Airdyne. I practiced walking with a 50-lb pack, too, around the streets of Aurora, drawing odd looks and shaking heads from those who drove by. What is that idiot doing?
I had a family motive for going, too. My own great-grandfather, Addison Clark Dyer, had gone on the rush in 1898, riding a horse from Spokane to Skagway, where he crossed the White Pass--the other route across the mountains (and also a factor in Wild)--and headed to Dawson City, Yukon, where he found enough gold to make a solid down payment on a family farm near Walla Walla, a farm that the banks reclaimed during the Depression when he could no longer make his payments. (It's still a farm--no longer in Dyer hands.) Great-grandpa had kept a diary, and son Steve and I in 1986 had driven into the Yukon, all the way to Dawson City, and had found a number of places Grandpa had mentioned in his diary.
But now I was alone. And I was ignorantly ignoring the warnings from the National Park Service and Parks Canada (which jointly maintain the trail), warnings about hiking alone. Do not underestimate this trail or overestimate your abilities, declares A Hiker's Guide to the Chilkoot Trail, a Park Service publication. I kind of did both.
In the next few days I'll be telling you about some of the things I did those days on the trail. Most of July 30 I spent on airplanes and in airports (as I said), but things would change--a lot--in the ensuing days.
SOME LINKS THAT MIGHT INTEREST YOU ...
1. National Park Service: Chilkoot Trail
2. Skagway, Alaska
3. Klondike Gold Rush
4. Chaplin and THE GOLD RUSH
5. Text: THE CALL OF THE WILD