Day 4 – Truly on the RoadOctober 5, 2015
Day 6 – Not dat lake, Dease LakeOctober 6, 2015
Words by Yolanda:
I woke up to a landscape encased in fog. The whole community was blotted out, softened around the edges as if smudged by an eraser. This must be what Sandy described yesterday when she spoke about the “spirit-fog” that rolled in from the mountains. Exploring Gitanyow in this was an exercise in surprise: you couldn’t see anything until you were directly in front of it: a woodpile, Halloween decorations, some scruffy dogs. And then — totems, at least twenty of them, rising up out of the mist and towering over the creek and gas station. Tall, skinnier than Haida Gwaii, and much older too. There’s no salt water in the air here, so the poles don’t erode as quickly. We spend ages in their midst, wandering, each pole revealing itself in turn.
A few hours later, and several hundred kilometres North, we pass a senior man pushing a stroller down the middle of a stretch of road that stretches into nothing as far as the eye can see. We pull a U-turn and loop around to introduce ourselves and ask his story. This, it turns out, is Jim.
Jim is 72 years old, from LA but currently on a five year mission to walk from the North End of Alaska to the South End of South America, “el fin del mundo” in Patagonia. He’s on day 104. We gasp and we splutter and we talk over each other trying to get our questions out: How is he doing it? Why? How fast is he walking? Does he know that winter is on it’s way? He laughs and indulges us — but at a cost. We trade him a banana, an apple, and an orange in exchange for his stories. He walks 15 miles a day, he says, coordinated exactly with his GPS. He pitches a tent in the first clearing he finds after the 15 mile mark. He’s cached water and soylent at each stop: soylent, the substance which is being marketed as a complete meal replacement, the only substance you will ever need for a balanced diet. Jim has lived off of it since Day 1 of his trip, and looks fit as a fiddle. He admits he makes up different stories as to why he’s doing this journey, tells us of fending off moose and bears, and how he has previously done the whole trip on motorcycle decades ago but is loving the slower pace. We take an obligatory photo together, and leave him with an apple pie as a parting gift. As we drive off he is already walking, one foot in front of the other. This will be his pattern for the next four and a half years.
Finally, after hours on the road, we reach Dease Lake, a series of houses tucked along the remote Cassiar Highway. Just south of the Yukon border, it’s part of Tahltan territory. And although one of only two thoroughfares from Yukon down south, it seems to consist of just a gas station, store, and chip stand. We don’t know where we’re going, but thankfully the first person we stop and ask does. He leads us directly to Curtis’ house where we will stay the night.
Curtis, formerly a councillor with the Tahltan Nation, now works with youth guiding them into the back country. He’s a wealth of information and we spend the night learning about the region. He speaks about the challenges facing his nation, about the tension between the idea of a pristine environment that feeds into the ‘noble savage’ trope versus whole-scale development or ‘savagery. Moving forward he suggests moderation, a pathway that falls somewhere in-between those two polarizing ideas. He is passionate about the importance of focussing on youth as a priority, as their greatest resource. Curtis lights up when he speaks about the potential of youth, and the positive impact they can have if they are given the necessary support, trust, and opportunities. We’re emboldened by his words and excited to follow up with an interview the next day.
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