Dipnetting the Chitna River

The urge to travel is hereditary, and I inherited my wanderlust from both sides. My mother grew up with the Air Force. She lived in the Philippines and Turkey before meeting my father during college. My dad is, and I think always will be, a canoeman. The summer before my parents were married he set out for Hudson Bay, paddling Canada’s Churchill River and barely making it home in time for the wedding.
They started me young. I bicycled across Minnesota just after my eighth birthday. I bounced from summer camp to summer camp, and spent the time in between with my younger brother Joel, fishing, camping and paddling every wild area between North Dakota and the Mackinaw Bridge. My childhood heroes were Antarctic explorers—Will Steger, Ann Bancroft, Ernest Shackleton—and writers, especially those who wrote about wilderness and adventure. For me, Robinson Crusoe wasn’t a survival story, but a goal to strive for.
My parents taught me to have realistic dreams, and so far I’ve been mostly successful at only working six months out of a given year. I’ve spent half a decade without a permanent address. During that time, I traveled by bus, boot, and bicycle across a couple dozen countries, spent a season in Antarctica, and filled notebook after notebook with accounts of my journeys.
At some point, I decided those scribblings might be enough to make a career of travel. In 2010, I headed to Alaska for a degree in creative writing. I figured the far north would be the best place to hole up and make sense of it all.
As it turns out, Alaska doesn’t always encourage sitting still. In the summers, I built hiking trails, fought wildfires and roamed a landscape that spanned from temperate jungle to Arctic tundra. During winter, I spent more time on skis than I did at my writing desk. I became the owner of a sled dog named Sadie, who refuses to pull a sled. Somehow, I managed to earn a Master’s degree. And, more mysteriously, I fell in love with Mollie.
Today, Mollie Murray and I have been a “couple” for more than a year. I guess that’s what you say when a friendship predicated on chasing loose dogs—dogs nipping at the heels of a cow moose or a herd of caribou—becomes something deeper, turns so slowly into romance and then into a relationship that we begin to confuse the timeline of things. Did that campfire happen before or after we were together? Did we meet that couple when we were a couple, or before? By forming our bond in Alaska, sometimes it feels like we have managed to eschew time—to make ourselves feel timeless.
We’ve left Alaska. We’ve learned to share a sense of adventure and a need to write. We’ve created this blog out of that need, and because we want to share our next adventure. For the next several months we will be hiking the Appalachian Trail with our dogs Sadie and Magnolia. The AT seems to me a main artery for travelers—a 2,000 mile journey along ridges and through valleys that lie just outside the backdoor of half the population in America. From the trail, we can branch out to capillaries along unknown courses, or discover what lies closest to our hearts.


One response to “John

  1. Hi John, I ran into your folks and asked about you. They sent me here. Wow, what an amazing journey you have been on in your life. Long way from our little Rice Lake pool. Amazing traverse of the Appalachian Trail. How wonderful to have a partner like Mollie and your beautiful dogs. I will have to watch for your next adventure. Your old swimming instructor, Bambi

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