June 11 – The Spirit of Adventure

The sign on my office door says, “Not All Who Wander Are Lost”.  I bought that sign because I was already contemplating the trip I have now finished, and felt it an inspiring slogan to remind me each day to find the courage to stick with the plan.    

I’m proud of myself for giving myself the permission to wander for a bit, alone, far from all that is known and familiar.  I will admit that my thrill at having an adventure was tinged with apprehension, wondering if I was biting off more than I could chew.  But apprehension is merely your subconscious reminding you to wear sunscreen, take a map, and don’t do anything that would embarrass your mother.  So I put that fear and caution on the back burner, and I went.  And I learned, so very, very much.  I have already shared many of the things I learned, but as this is my final trip blog, let me get a philosophical.  The biggest lesson I learned about myself is that I like to wander. 

And I know I am not alone.

The Yukon, as it was a hundred years ago, is filled with wanderers.  Some temporarily, like the wide-eyed tourists stepping off their buses and stepping into living history, and some permanently such as Bill from Richmond Hill who wandered up to the Yukon 40 years ago and now runs the Wildlife Preserve just outside of Whitehorse.  Some wander to the Yukon seeking their fortune, like the young, wide-eyed “sourdoughs” of the Gold Rush, and some wander to escape misfortune like Caveman Bill cutting ties with the sad world that seemed a puzzle to him.

But I’m convinced that at the heart of a Yukon, there is a touch of wanderlust, and I think if you ask many Yukoner’s, they will share with you some version of this ideal; “life should be an adventure.”  Their entire territory was born out of the spirit of adventure.  Adventure is their story.  It seems to be in the DNA of the place.  I think their slogan should be, “life is an adventure, and if it’s not, you’re doing doing it right.”

This idea was captured so well by Pierre Berton, who wrote the most famous book on the Klondike and lived in Dawson City most of his life.  He said that even when the Gold Rush was done, it never was.  Because the stories and storytellers kept is alive, kept fueling its fire, kept sharing the adventure.  The adventurers of old, now old men, would sit outside the porches of local restaurants or saloons and talk with great fondness and enthusiasm of their days seeking gold.  Berton said the stories that they told over and over again were not the stories with happy endings. They didn’t replay the times they found a chunk of gold in the black dirt of Hunker Creek, or safely made it through the five finger rapids, but they would tell the stories of being holed up for long winters in tiny cabins with scarcely a bite to eat.  They would tell and retell the tales of floods, fires, wild animals, trickery.  They would talk about the time their horse got stuck in the quagmire of mud on the Chilkoot pass, or the fights that would break out over the dancing all girls at Diamond Gert’s Saloon.  And they would tell them with great fervour and passion.  These men weren’t shaped by the gold, as much as they were shaped by the adventure.  And they knew it.    

Whether we wander or stay put, we all thirst for the same thing – we all want a little taste of adventure, something to awaken us and to remind us that life is more, so much more, than often what we settle for. And even when our adventures don’t work out how we think they will, even then, the hardships and challenges that are in the marrow of every quest, will shape us and deepen us, and broaden our knowledge of life, and of ourselves.  A true adventurer, really can never lose, for they will always be shaped by the struggle and sacrifice that every good adventure requires.    

To me one of the great adventurers of the modern world died this past week.  His name was Anthony Bourdain.  He was the chef, writer and world traveller, whose show “Parts Unknown”  inspired millions to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zone.  He knew what an adventure was all about, and he took us along with him.  He once said this, “travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable.  Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart.  But that’s okay.  The adventure changes you, and it should change you.  It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body.  You take something with you.  Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

On the grand scale of adventures, mine was pretty small, but what made it special, was the fact that it was mine!!  I will always be grateful for the opportunity to have travelled to the land of the midnight sun, a place where there is gold in the soil, and wanderers are a dime a dozen.  I now know that this adventure won’t be my last.  There are too many roads that beckon. 

But I also want to conclude by saying this.  Every adventurer needs a place to call home.  For what is an adventure if there nothing or no one to draw us back again.  As I write this blog, I am sitting in my back yard surrounded by what is familiar, comfortable and live-giving, and for that I am grateful too.     

For isn’t it true, it’s great to go away, it’s even better to come home again.