It's cold and raining. The pack, once comfortable, now feels heavy like lead. The desire to stop, to camp and to satisfy a hungry belly plays on repeat. How perfect a set of dry clothes sounds. There was a clearing on the topographic map, but through the tunnel of dense brush, it feels miles away. Questions hang heavy; stop to rest or push on to what may, or may not, be a better camp ahead.
For anyone who has completed an off-trail, solo wilderness trek, these are familiar conundrums. In his new book, "Walking Home," local writer Lynn Schooler contemplates these questions as he explores Alaska's wild in his search for solace.
He writes, "Walking on, I felt beat down and stiff. There was a steady ache in my back and hips ... I decided to make camp, build a fire, and dry out. I knew, too, that going on when I was already tired might be imprudent. Fatigue leads to poor judgment, and poor judgment leads to accidents. In such remote location a careless slip could have serious consequences."
The book, released this past year, has all the makings of a vivid story. Many accounts were so biologically accurate, it seemed I was breathing my way through the bush, too. Personal experiences, fueled by his descriptive prose, seem to leap off the page and come to life. Schooler details accurate and artful natural history observations, which demonstrate his rich knowledge of ecology, wildlife biology and outdoor survival. As a reader, it's easy to feel, hear and see yourself as a travel partner during his explorations of near Lituya Bay, around Cape Fairweather, and north to Dry Bay along the Gulf of Alaska's wild coastline.
"I realized my shoulders were aching," he writes later. "I watched a plover disappear in the distance, wondering if I should turn around and head home again ... The wind grew colder. I looked down the beach toward Lituya, and then north to Cape Fairweather. It was gray and raining in both directions. I shifted my pack on my shoulders, tightened the hip belt to take the weight, and started up the beach after the plover."
Schooler weaves historical and biological facts into his chapters that lead readers into a deeper understanding of the harsh, stark wild of the Alaskan wilderness; one that has tested and inspired so many souls before him.
Whether an avid wilderness adventurer, biologist, ecologist, historian, or just one who seeks nature to nurture the soul, you will love this book. Schooler has written a heartfelt, accurate and beautifully penned account of a personal journey into the wilds of Alaska.