Alaska has always been a place that captures the imagination of the intrepid, the untouched wilderness of the great north has inspired some of the greatest art and adventures in human history. My two years in Alaska was perhaps not as wild as Alexander Super Tramp or Jack London, yet my trips into the vastness were nonetheless a window into the ferocity and beauty that the landscape provides.
Days spent alone in the Alaskan wilderness present an entirely new understanding of loneliness and solitude, an appreciation for the latter and a respect for the former. Loneliness in Alaska does not come from missing just one person, but rather people as a whole. When on a backpacking trip in Denali National Park I found myself missing laughter, smiling at a passing stranger, even arguments because I longed for the warmth of human interaction.
Yet during these forays into nature, you find enormous beauty and happiness amidst the loneliness, and in some cases because of it. When perched atop a mountain with the tundra stretching out miles in every direction you accept loneliness and you look past it. You see the beauty of the unchanging earth, and you embrace and understand the passing of time. The dancing green of the northern lights show you that the same type of beauty has occurred and will occur for millennia. This knowledge brings a catharsis, a sense that you are privileged to observe such beauty even for a fleeting moment, and perhaps even the mortality of your life makes it all the more worthwhile.
Just because you can experience a cathartic moment in the wilderness doesn’t mean that it’s any more forgiving. Nature cares not whether you live or die, or whether you’re having a good time.
Before moving to Alaska my thoughts of what it meant to be alone in the tundra were ignorant. I drew my perceptions of the wild from stories of Jack London and other such tales. Despite the authors’ descriptions of rugged terrain and hardship, I believed that wilderness was a place of freedom and happiness. I thought all you needed was the courage to step into it in order to experience joy. Yet, when you experience being truly alone in the midst of the tundra in the Alaskan winter you understand that the wilderness does not care about your cathartic experience or your delusions of grandeur. I recall being paralyzed by fear while simultaneously marveling at the beauty. That is what Alaska can give you: ultimate beauty and ultimate danger. In short, a life worth living.
“Ten days and nights of freight trains and hitchhiking bring him to the great white north. No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks along upon the land to become lost in the wild.” – Christopher McCandless