For some, Denali National Park is seen as Alaska’s greatest tourist trap. While those people aren’t necessarily wrong, Denali also boasts a gigantic amount of untamed wilderness, accessible to few and sought by even fewer.
The sled dog program was pretty entertaining and I was happy to love on some Alaskan Huskies. But it was pretty clear that to get a real taste of Denali, we’d have to hop on a camper bus to get dropped off in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but our backpacks and a poorly printed black & white topographic map.
This 24-hour stint in the wilderness taught me a heckuva lot in a short time. Three things that stuck out to me had to do with solitude, intuition, and complaining.
Photo: Justin Fricke
As Justin and I were dropped off at Unit 8 of the Denali backcountry, we watched the bus disappear into the distance and realized how alone we were. You couldn’t hear anything besides the wind and your own heartbeat. It was a little unnerving at first. Without the whizzing of cars, ringing of phones, or drone of background conversation, your thoughts get much louder.
It takes some time to get used to, but true solitude is hard to come by these days and I realized how necessary it is. When I got used to the utter silence (aside from Justin and I trying to make sense of the map), I was able to do a lot of uninterrupted thinking; something that’s hard to do with life’s constant distractions.
Over the course of this year I’ve become much more independent. What I didn’t realize was that although I rely less on my inner circle, I rely on my phone pretty heavily. Without Google to reference, Justin and I had trouble with the crappy map and we had to trust our intuitions to get us where we needed to go.
In these scenarios, Justin usually takes the big brother/leader role (since he’s the big brother and all) but sometimes age doesn’t equate to wisdom when it comes to wandering around in the middle of nowhere. I found that when we were both clueless as to where to go, or how to react when being sniffed out by a caribou, our instincts were plenty sufficient to get us through less than ideal situations. I was surprised at how well I could get along without help. The intuition is a handy tool if you choose to listen to it.
Everybody knows that nobody likes a complainer. It’s unattractive and annoying, although it feels nice to get those feelings off our chest. But as we were route finding, filtering water from rivers, making modest meals over a tiny camp stove, and trudging back to our pick-up spot through a rain storm (all while trying to stay away from bears), it became clear how pointless complaining really is.
It doesn’t solve any problems and it can actually dramatize the reality at hand. We figured out that to stay sane, complaining was not an option. We’d have to power through the rough times and turn it into a good time. Even when I slipped and fall in the mud trying to get back onto the bus, humor was the only way to make an embarrassing situation fun!