Once upon a time in the West

I’m reading a very good book called “Into the Wild” by Jon Kraukauer, which chronicles Chris McCandless, an adventurer who sought a simple life of solitude that did not end well in the Alaskan wilderness.
The novel has been good reading on a winter’s day snuggled up in my living room chair with a cup of tea, especially when outside eight inches of snow crash lands, followed quickly by 50 km/h winds and a windchill warning.
A quote by novelist Wallace Stegner appears in the book and stood out for me, as did McCandless’ obvious independent drive to “find himself”—even though he died trying to do that.
“It should not be denied . . . that being footloose has always exhilarated us. It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations, with absolute freedom, and the road has always led west.”
When I was growing up, my parents took my brother and I on regular summer vacations. The ones I remember best were spent in the American West visiting historical places that included North and South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana.
I was only 12 or 13 years old and while much of that time of my life escapes my memory, I vividly remember our visit to Deadwood City, S.D., where some famous figures of the Wild West lived and died.
I stepped inside the saloon where “Wild Bill Hickok” was shot, and also visited his gravesite and that of “Calamity Jane.”
I grew up in an era of American West story-telling. Getting the chance to see that at least some of it was true has fuelled my imagination for it to this day.
I’ve always loved to read and among the books of my youth was “The Last Canadian” by William C. Heine. It was more science fiction than adventure and yet it sparked in me a strong desire to throw a packsack and sleeping bag over my shoulder and walk into the wilderness and live off the land.
In fact, what I really wanted to do as a young girl was walk the train tracks into the backcountry and just keep going.
I’ve been drawn to the wilderness all my life. There were acres of it at my backdoor growing up as a country kid and I was knee deep in it every chance I could get.
I had my hunting licence at age 15 and hunting was more important to me than having a driver’s licence (which, in fact, I didn’t get until I was 22 years old).
When I was 17, I spent 10 days on a canoe trip in Quetico Provincial Park. We had to carry our own gear, and portage our canoes and learn how to survive in the outdoors with little amenities from the civilized world.
It was one of the best experiences of my life—marred only at journey’s end when, on pick-up day, my parents told me that Elvis Presley had died while I was on the canoe trip.
I later lived in British Columbia for a year in a small village smack dab in between the Caribou and Rocky Mountains, with a million-dollar view of the mighty Fraser winding through the Robson Valley. I thought I’d been given the key to heaven.
There were wilderness trails everywhere around McBride and I was walking the unbeaten paths every chance I could. I’d venture off on my own with my walking stick and my packsack and my young pup, “Dot,” never once worried about talk of big black bears, the occasional grizzly, or cougar.
I’m so thankful I didn’t let anything stop me from living out at least part of the experience I’d always dreamt about.
I suppose one might wonder where I’m headed with this fragmented chicken scratch mosaic of reminiscence and, as a matter of fact, I’m not really sure.
But then again, perhaps I do.
Everyone has a story to tell. What’s yours?

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