January 16, 2014, Category: Alaska, Travel

I make it home. Adventure complete. Did I get what I was searching for? Yes and no…

Day 22: There’s No Place Like Home

Check out the novel: Trudge On, Soul

front
The icy wilderness of Alaska is the perfect place to lose yourself. But Warren doesn’t want to lose himself. He wants to lose someone else.
The book, Trudge On, Soul, is the result of three long years of late nights, critique groups, and editing. If you haven't read the blog, I'd suggest you stop reading and at least click here to read the preview chapters of the book. The blog and pictures have spoilers and the book is a much better read. Think of the website as a documentary, and the book as an engaging movie. Triumph Motorcycles did an article on my Adventure here. A Photo Album of the trip is available here. Click here if you want to jump to the start of the blog with an index of each day.

The Adventure Continues...


WP_20130906_003Despite Mike’s comments last night, he didn’t act too surprised at the lack of blood, mangled body parts, and wolf skat in our campsite. Instead, he found me snoring away, dreaming safe and warm in my triple layer sleeping bag. I opened my eyes to my last morning with Mike’s big face hovering above me.

“Hi-yo Silver, Away!” he bellowed out with a grin and pointed to breakfast, waiting on my pannier.

Except that is a lie. Not the breakfast, but the “Hi-yo Silver, Away” part. I told it to spice up the story (yes, like garlic).

“All good stories deserve embellishment.”
Gandalf the Grey

WP_20130906_007That is my disclaimer so when I’m on Oprah talking about how Sean Connery captured the Haines Strangler, Oprah and I will still be friends when she finds out the truth (that in Haines, Mike chased a squirrel out of his tent with his Sean Connery accent). That’s how stories go in the midnight sun, where the men moil for gold. Some Artic tales need a little help from Gandalf to make your blood run cold.

But, that said, despite touches of frosting here and there, the sugar filled garnish has been used sparingly and generally limited to humor (did Mike really lost a testicle to a rabid ferret…you decide). I’ve told it like it was. The cold was real. The mud was slick. The wind and the rain were brutal. And the humor was bone dry.

I would say this has been the trip of a lifetime, but I can’t. Why? There are two reasons, and they aren’t what you might think.

First of all, I would shrivel into a depressive ball if I thought I couldn’t go out adventuring until the day I die. This isn’t the trip of a lifetime because I plan on expanding my boundaries, challenging my comfort levels, and seeing new parts of the world again and again.

Second, I’m a lucky man and have already had similar experiences. In the past few years, in Africa with my son Curtis, Italy with my daughter Aubree, Greece with my youngest daughter Mikayla, and Costa Rica with my wife Sandi. (Costa Rica blog will begin posting soon.)

Therefore, this has been a trip of a lifetime. I love to travel, experience new things, and believe it is the best form of education. I have tried to pass that passion on to my kids and fanned a spark in others. But at the least, I hope I can share some of what I have learned in the process.

And with that out of the way, it is now time to wrap up my final day. It is time to go home.

As we packed up our gear for the last time, we talked about the trip. It had exceeded our expectations. But where a vacation typically means relaxation and lounging, this was more like three weeks at troubled youth camp. It was exactly what both of us wanted and needed.

We wound down the mountain, wondering again about change. The day was overcast, but not raining. The mountains were as inspiring as they were three weeks before. About 50 miles north of Vancouver, we reached the ocean water that creeps up the bay and with the lush green mountain rising into the clouds on our left and the salty waters several hundred feet down the cliff below us, we wound our way closer to home. I’d never been on this particular stretch of road and with a smile plastered to my face, I enjoyed the gentle rocking as my bike pulsed left and right like a giant, slow pendulum as we worked our way along the road.

Would I really be different? Could my life take new direction once we got home? How could I hold on to all of this, knowing that within the next few days I’d both fall back into my everyday routine? Within a few weeks I’d gain back the 13 pounds I’d lost eating a diet of instant mashed potatoes. The awe at seeing water gushing from the glaciers and spilling down the mountainside will soon wash away. The thrill of watching grizzly bears pulling salmon from the river will be replaced by Xbox and football games.

For both of us, the reflection of the Northern Lights burning in our eyes would quickly fade under the shadow of our cubicles. It’s not what I want to happen, but I’ve been here before and I know it is coming. Everything goes back to normal, despite my attempts for otherwise.

Or does it?

I know that nothing in my life has ever caused me to suddenly, instantly become a drastically different person (for better or worse). My individual experiences, whether deeply spiritual, horribly discouraging, or just plain exhilarating, have offered brief moments of extreme emotion but they have not instantly changed who I am at the core (at least at a noticeable level). Yet when I stop and look at my life over the past thirty years, I get a little choked up. I see growth. I see changes in myself and a world full of beauty and wonder. I am not who I am today because of one trip, one adventure, or one motivational “this will change your life” speech. I am who I am today because of all of them.

There is still so much I want for my life. So many areas I’ve fallen short and I’m not getting any younger. I still wanted something more from the trip.

Heavy traffic in Vancouver was the first harsh reminder of home. Then the clouds began dumping water. We sat in the pouring rain for an hour waiting to cross the border into the USA. And, yes, I stressed about stopping and starting my bike the whole time. This all seemed to churn up the murky waters on the neurotic side of my brain and images of my office cubicle, bills that need paid, and my bum rotator cuff floated through my mind. I also noticed that I was almost out of gas.

I felt a little sick to my stomach. It was really over and an urgency to find that one thing turned into a mild panic. Like I’d lost my footing on a steep glacier and was sliding helplessly down towards a crevice ready to swallow me. My hands scrambled and flailed in search of a ledge to stop my fall. Something that I could latch on to with the potential to change my life. But the ice was slick and I couldn’t find anything. How could I make this trip more permanent? How could I hold on to the emotions and feelings? How could I ensure this trip changed me? A fear more real than the wolf that stalked me last night set in, I’m not going to find anything.

WP_20130906_011We finally got our turn with the border guards and were allowed back into the USA. We also made it to a gas station without having to dig out our spare cans. We wouldn’t be stopping again. This was it, our last leg. We passed Bellingham and rode through what I used to call mountains but now saw as hills. The same road where, three weeks ago, a hub cap had sent me into a panic. But I decided that despite their lack of glaciers and craggy peaks, everything was green and beautiful.

We dropped out of the mountains, and followed the long straight road through the valley that would take us home. Houses, storefronts, billboards, and tall office buildings sprawled along both sides of the road, where we used to watch for bears and moose. With a deep breath, I let go. I stopped trying to grab the ice. I was ready to fly into the crevice.

IMG_2379But instead I found myself standing on a ledge, high in the Alaskan mountains looking at the canyon that is my life. I saw the giant glacier, immense and fierce, sitting silent and still. There was no crashing, no massive carving of the mountainside. In fact, it looked almost exactly like it did three weeks ago when I left my house. But I looked closer, at deep gouges torn from the rock and granite shaved into massive cliffs where the eagles nest and mountain goats roam. I searched the sheer face of ice that appeared to stand as firm as the granite and noticed bits occasionally tumbling into the pools of water below.

It was beautiful. The glacier seemed as stalwart and solid as the mountain cradling it, but I knew that some years some can move nearly eight miles. And for me, in a year when I’ve traveled and pushed myself, I knew it was carving, cutting, smoothing rough edges, and forging my life and soul. And as I looked out over it, I had no regrets. Don’t get me wrong, there are some nasty gouges, disasters that have torn away whole sections of beautiful forest. I’ve made mistakes that I know can never be fixed and I will always carry remorse for certain choices. But when I stepped back and looked at the whole, I saw my children, wife, family, and friends. I saw Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America. I saw laughter, tears, and even the turquoise, cubicle walls that surround me for more than 13,000 hours each year.

It is all a part of me. I am blessed and life is good.

I knew I would yet weather many storms, where stress and despair would darken the skies and hide the beauty sitting so majestically in front of me. And at times, I would forget this moment, perhaps even curse it. But I knew even such dark times have been critical in creating the expansive view below me and so I couldn’t condemn them. At least, then, in that moment, I saw it all. I saw each and every plain day, stacked end to end. Each a meaningful piece of this giant puzzle.

And suddenly it came to me. The one thing I wanted to commit to that might be help nudge my life along. I had to pour my soul into capturing the passion, emotion, and beauty of this trip. I had to write it all down and share it. I had to relive it over and over again over several months, processing and burning these memories forever into my mind. I can do that, and I will. (And now I have.)

IMG_2850

I was okay, knowing that I wouldn’t be going home to settle in to a brilliant new me, as I hoped. My vices were waiting to pounce on me. But at the same time, I knew this trip could never be erased and I would have these memories forever. They have been added to my collection of experiences and, therefore, I am not exactly the same person I was before. I will keep adding new experiences, I will keep the glacier moving and changing my world so that in another thirty years I can look back and feel the same sense of exhilaration. This is the gift Alaska has given me. An image of a massive canyon with granite peaks towering on both sides as millions of tons of ice creep ever so slowly through a magnificent canyon.


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5 thoughts on “Day 22: There’s No Place Like Home

  • By Keith Pipkins - Reply

    Great ride report. I have enjoyed your travel log from the first and know that in this last installment, you have perhaps, changed some perceptions I had about traveling by bike to the northern realms of Alaska. If, I get the chance to go, I hope to remind myself that the physical ride cannot be separated from the mental ride.
    Thanks for the ride-a-long.
    Keith, in Natural Dam, AR
    aka: NaturalDamRider

  • By Liz - Reply

    It took me a few days to read the full ride-along and now that I have finished reading I feel like I’m going to miss your, Mike’s, & of course Sean’s, company. A great read and with really useful advice that we can put to good use this June when we do our own version of the Alcan adventure. Thank you and wishing many more great adventures!

    • By Warren - Reply

      Thanks for the feedback and I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’ll be looking forward to reading your version of the adventure! Watch out for the Haines stranger!

  • By Sal - Reply

    Read this blog from Day 1 to Day 22. I came here looking for advice for my own Seattle to Alaska motorcycle trip this summer but left with an appreciation of the little things we take for granted in our lives. Excellent! I may contact you when I’m planning my trip over the next few weeks.

  • By Ted Ingham - Reply

    Couldn’t stop reading it from start to finish. Heading up there next month myself. Thanks for the beta and great writing!

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