Puncture Wounds

Today I was bitten by a dog.

It’s been a while.

It was the neighbour’s dog, and, well, what’s a puncture wound or two between friends? But I have thought about it since. I thought I did everything right. I had gloves on, I removed one, and when the dog approached – barking, I stood still and let him sniff and lick my fingers.

So far so good.

I let him lead me to his master. I followed. Only when I was done talking, and started walking back off the property, did the little bugger sneak up and bite me behind the knee.

Puncture wound.

Singular.

The last time was a full on scrap, out on the sea ice, with dogs at the end of ganglines, fur, teeth, and claw. In my inferior wisdom and with a colossal lack of judgement, I waded in – empty-handed. But, I now have a wonderful tattoo on my right arm – Vitus’ teeth in a half crescent.

Puncture wounds.

Plural.

Adventurous Spines: Slaven’s Roadhouse

Stayed two nights at Slaven’s Roadhouse. Received an incredibly warm welcome from Randy, Cindy, and Shaelyn. Amazing service in an amazing place. We started in Whitehorse and we’re on our way to Emmonak, as long as it’s safe and fun, we’ll keep paddling! We have two children in our party: Tiuri (9) and Liva (7), and the Rangers made them feel right at home. Keep up the excellent work – we appreciate it so much!
Best regards: Lars, Suzi, Tiuri, Liva, Jane and Chris
www.lifeisgoodfollowus.com

Slaven’s Roadhouse is a halfway house, a little patch of heaven in the Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve. It was also our home for a couple of days and nights, time to recharge before pushing on deeper into Alaska. The Rangers were supercharged with humour, compassion and hospitality. They received us, our gear, and our kids with open arms. They were our heroes.

A little too dramatic for you?

Try a month on the Yukon River, through lightning, forest fires, heatwaves, rainstorms, and mud… lots of mud. Sure, we were having a great time, but a little home comfort was no small thing, and we found heaps of it at Slaven’s.

Slaven’s was also, for me, the culmination of a teenage dream. I had devoured all of Jack London’s books and stories about the Yukon, Klondike, and all things Canada and Alaska, when I should have been studying for my exams – all of them, over several years of school, high school, and university. When I put London to one side, it was only to pick up books about dogsled racing on the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest. Dreams of the North took me to Alta, Norway, where I worked as a sled dog kennel helper for the very first time, but it was at Slaven’s, as an emerging writer, that I sat in one of the places I had read about, without realising it. There, on the wall, was a Yukon Quest poster signed by the dog drivers, and I realised I had arrived, and that dreams, once again, can come true, albeit not quite how one imagined them.

The kids had fun too. Tiuri and Liva explored the cabin, the outhouses, the woods, the dredge. They panned for gold, got nailed by mosquitoes the size of small aircraft, and we talked about bears – good eatin’, apparently. Or was it the skins that were good? It didn’t matter. We were on an adventure, staying at a roadhouse built for the purpose.

Suzi and Lars chilled out too, although the sting of a Yellowjacket almost ended Suzi’s Yukon adventure. We had talked about bee stings back in Denmark, before the trip. We had not talked about wasps. Suzi was stung earlier in the trip, with no reaction, but these Yellowjackets – about twice the size of a “normal” wasp – well, it took her out of the game for a while. Once again, the Rangers were on the case. She couldn’t have been stung at a better location.

Jane and I enjoyed Slaven’s too, although Lars’ boots introduced a percussive element to the experience that we had not prepared for – damn big boots, mate! But the Roadhouse was a chance to spread out and dry out. We hung our gear on the same lines with the same pegs used by dog drivers. We sat at the same table, slept in the same beds, and lived the Alaskan life I had talked about on trips in Scotland, in our home in Greenland. This was everything Greenland was supposed to have been – that is, an Arctic environment, with trees!

Adventurous spines drive one to find adventure in far-out, remote, and exciting places. I sent a copy of The Ice Star to the Rangers in Eagle, Alaska, and hope they can wedge it alongside their gear to leave it on the bookshelf at Slaven’s. I found adventure there, in the wilds. The thought of a dog driver dipping into my book during a layover… well, that’s another dream come true.

Adventurous Spines

A lot of books get an awful lot of abuse, but the best-loved and most abused, in my opinion, are the ones squeezed onto hastily-erected shelves in frostbitten huts plunged into darkness for three to four months each year. The Ice Star has yet to join the hallowed spines of polar greats, but it is on its way to the Arctic, in the library of an Aurora Expeditions adventure cruise ship – they just posted about it on their Facebook page.

I have discovered interesting books in remote cabins in the far north of Greenland, Canada, and Alaska. Tracing a finger down the cracked and splintered spine of a much-read, and much-abused book evokes a sense of adventure for it takes an adventurous spirit to reach such cabins in the wilds.

In the same way that frost can often eat into a book in a remote cabin, books can eat into the miles taken to reach such places. When the stove is burning, your wool socks are thawing on the line looped between the rafters, and you’re kicking back in a bruised-wood chair, a sleeping bag wrapped around your knees, a cup of cocoa in one hand and a book in the other, well … you get the picture. There’s nothing better after a long trek, paddle, climb, or ski than following the path of another adventurer through the pages of a book.

I plan on sending more books into the wilds, perhaps you’ll find one someday.

Photo of Shackleton’s bookshelf from The Smithsonian.