Jacobs on Canada walkabout

Posted: Monday, June 02, 2003

In the Australian bush, adolescent aboriginal boys prove themselves by journeying through the desert alone for six to eight months in an ordeal known as "walkabout." If they survive, they are hailed as men on their return.

Kevyn Jacobs is neither adolescent (he's 35) nor aboriginal (he's from Kansas). But on Tuesday he will set out on his own walkabout, a journey on foot from Skagway to Canada's Atlantic coast.

"A young man comes to a point in his life when he needs a change. So he goes walking and just walks until he meets himself," said Jacobs, who came to Juneau a year and a half ago to work as the Empire's new media director. "I've worked as a Web geek for almost a decade. It's a sedentary job, and I think it's taken its toll on me physically. It's time for a radical change."

To that end, Jacobs quit his job, cashed out his stocks, and got rid of his belongings. He bought $1,600 in gear at the Foggy Mountain Shop downtown, and will carry all his possessions on his back. They include a sleeping bag, water filter, three shirts and three pairs of pants, a windbreaker, extra hiking boots and a walking stick. Jacobs also will carry a two-person tent - at 6-feet-7-inches tall and 300-plus pounds, he casts a large shadow. He fully expects the shadow to shrink some. After a month of training, he can pull his jeans out several inches from his now-slimmer waist, he demonstrates proudly.

Lastly, Jacobs will carry a cell phone, on the insistence of his mother.

"It makes her happier. If I ever get into an emergency, I can call the Mounties," he said, noting that he may be out of the range of cell towers on much of his journey.

Jacobs plans to walk about 10 miles a day to start, and says he'll follow roads the whole way. He won't hike during the wintertime, and hopes to traverse the 1,470 miles from Skagway to Vancouver by mid-fall. He'll arrive in Skagway on the ferry Tuesday afternoon, and begin walking north toward the border and Whitehorse. He'll continue southeast from Whitehorse on the Alaska Highway to the Cassiar Highway.

He'll live on the road between towns, eating trail mix and non-perishable food. He'll have his eyes open for hospitable new friends and good steakhouses each time he reaches civilization.

And though Jacobs won't have an income, he won't be destitute. Several years ago, in preparation for the trip, he began socking away money in an account at Scotia Bank, a Canadian institution.

"My intent is to be self-sufficient," he said.

He plans to winter in Seattle before beginning the second leg of his trip, from Victoria heading east. Jacobs isn't sure how long the walk will take, and assumes that his daily walking rate will increase as he gets into shape. The route is more than 5,000 miles long, and he is counting on plenty of adventure along the way.

"I really believe when you open yourself up to new experiences, the universe will hand them to you," he said.

Jacobs isn't worried about being lonely - "I'm a really introspective person," he says - and plans to keep a journal. When he comes across Internet access, he'll update his Web site - www.kevyn.com - so that friends and family can follow his progress.

Among those friends is Betsy Fischer, who owns the Foggy Mountain Shop with her husband, Scott, and who outfitted Jacobs for his trip.

"It's very uncommon for someone to just quit their job and plan a big trip like this," Fischer said. "It's an extreme act of faith and courage. But he's got the spark. I've seen people go off on climbing expeditions that weren't as certain as Kevyn is about what he wants to do."

With parents in the military and a subsequent ingrained wanderlust, Jacobs certainly seems sure.

"Travel has always been in my blood. I get restless," he said. "But once I get past this, I'll probably settle down and become a productive member of society again."

Masha Herbst can be reached at masha.herbst@juneauempire.com.

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